Ace Ventura – White Devil

Chapter 1 – A Royal hunt

1

Gaewick Forest, Perthshire, Scotland.

Three middle-aged men, dressed in green camouflage overalls and hiking boots, tread heavily through dense forest. The morning air is cool and fresh with a distinct pine aroma. The wood is a typical Scottish forest with a variety of different trees – oak trees, silver birch, majestic Scots pine, ash, sycamore, Douglas fir, the ancient yew tree, horse-chestnut trees and many more. The morning chorus, courtesy of singing Thrushes and Crested Tits, and the tapping from relentless Woodpeckers, and the peculiar beak clicking of lekking Capercaillies, creates an extraordinary ambience.

Two of the men carry on their shoulders a carved wooden pole, and tied to that pole, hanging from its feet and swinging lifelessly, is the dead body of a stag. The third man, leading the other two, carries two hunting rifles, one over each shoulder. They are in high spirits after a satisfying hunt, laughing and jeering.

‘They can camp outside of the old hag’s palace for all the good it will do them,’ sneers the man in front, the eldest of the trio, a regal looking man whose pink and bloated demeanour reveals his obvious over-indulgence living the high life. His platinum-coloured side parting clings to the sweat on his brow. ‘What they forget is it’s the one percent that give them the freedom and the means to have their bloody protests.’

‘Jesus, don’t talk to me about protests,’ laughs the man at the rear, his English has a slight low countries ring to it. He is balding but sports a full and furry mahogany-coloured beard to compensate. ‘I’m now under investigation,’ he calls, to the man up front, ‘from, none other than, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.’

‘Nothing to do with me, Povsen, I’m the Duke of Gloucester, not the President of the RSPB,’ the Duke says. ‘What’s the charge?’

‘Poisoning the predatory birds in the forest.’

‘It’s your bloody forest,’ snarls the third man, another balding man, tall and chunky with an extraordinarily large head. He has the jowly, ruddy-face of a banker, with two blue penetrating, deadpan eyes that are oddly positioned too close to each other. He is out of breath. He is clearly not used to this level of sustained exercise.

‘Exactly Stephen, I can’t have falcons, and the like, killing all the valuable game birds, can I? I can get forty pounds per bird.’

‘What, are the farming subsidies not enough for you?’ the Duke teases.

Alleged farming subsidies,’ Povsen smiles.

‘I thought First Minister Hameron was easing off on the hunting bans? I attended last year’s Warwickshire hunt without incident.’

‘Foxes, maybe?’

‘Bloody hippy liberal left-wing busy-bodies,’ says the Duke.

‘Bloody internet, more precisely,’ Stephen interjects. ‘It used to be a lot easier to conceal one’s affairs back in the day, but nowadays with alternative media sites and viral videos, any degenerate journalist, any…twelve year old with a laptop computer, can snoop into anyone’s business, sign some online petition, pour over Wiki-leaks, and then there’s the bloody hackers. No one seems to be really doing anything to stop it. It’s simply bad for business.’

‘I hear you were forced to waive another bonus?’

‘It’s hard being under so much public scrutiny, the preconceptions that come with being a civil servant, so I couldn’t very well live up to their expectations, could I? At least not openly. And what do I get for my trouble? I lose a neat million.’

‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, huh?’ Povsen adds.

‘Well, it’s but a thorn in our sides, but an unwelcome, unnecessary thorn none the less,’ the Duke sighs. ‘Let’s just see what our friends in the RIIA, Downing Street and across the pond can do with these censorship bills. And a reliable source tells me tackling certain social media sites and hacking groups are definitely on the CFR, Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg agenda this year. It’s only a matter of time.’

Just up ahead, the Duke, carrying the rifles, breaks through the bracken, his boots finding gravel.

‘Ah,’ he says, back to the other two. ‘Here’s the road.’

‘It’s about bloody time, ‘ Stephen gasps. ‘They may be able to spring around the forest like they are lighter than air, but this bastard is heavy.’

They all chuckle and make their way down the dilapidated single lane road to Povsen’s Land Rover.

‘It’s been a splendid hunt though, I must say. Truly thrilling,’ the Duke says. He gazes at the dead deer as it bobs and swings, lifelessly, its tongue, hanging from its loose jaw, flapping with each step. ‘And his magnificent head will make a fine addition to my study.’

‘What with all the others? Must be getting a bit crowded in there now?’ Povsen says.

The Duke chortles.

‘Yes, I suppose it is, but I’ll squeeze him in somewhere.’

‘Well, I wish I could have the luxury of just taking trophies home, but I’ll have to sell the meat. Unlike you, your Highness, some of us have to earn a living.’

‘Careful!’ the Duke laughs, but thumbs his nose and winks at Povsen. ‘Hey, nobody is forcing the public to…pay our wages, sorry, I meant – pay their taxes.’

‘And here is me thinking they’re the same thing!’ Povsen cries.

They laugh together but their laughter fades when they arrive at the vehicle, and drop their prey with a wet thud, in shock.

‘What the hell?’ Povsen exclaims.

The vehicle is badly vandalised. The tyres are slashed. The windows are smashed. The panels and roof are caved in. The hood is open and the engine parts have been destroyed, presumably with a sledge hammer. Needless to say, a write-off.

Povsen runs to his jeep and looks in at the broken engine.

‘Oh that’s just great,’ he yells. ‘That’s just fucking wonderful.’

‘Well, who the hell?’ Stephen mutters.

They all spin around, desperately searching the forest to see if the vandals are still around.

‘Stephen, get the police here, now,’ the Duke says quietly, nervously scanning through the trees.

‘Jesus,’ whispers Stephen, as he hurriedly reaches into his coat. He finds his mobile phone and pulls it out of his pocket.

‘Oh, fuck it to hell,’ he yells. ‘No signal. We’re miles from anywhere.’

‘Try it anyway,’ the Duke snaps.

Stephen dials 999. Nothing. He tries a few other numbers, in vain.

‘Fuck, cunting, bugger, blast it,’ he utters, fumbling with his phone. ‘Bloody Branson. I’ll squeeze his fucking throat closed.’

‘Stephen,’ Povsen says, firmly. ‘Just calm down.’

Povsen turns to the Duke.

‘We have to leave, right now.’

The colour drains from the Duke’s face and he drops the guns. They clatter onto the road.

‘This is those animal rights people,’ Povsen says, in a hushed voice. ‘They’ve already sent me threats.’

‘Who the RSPB?’ Stephen asks.

‘I hardly think the RSPB would send threats or trash the jeep, Stephen. Jesus,’ the Duke scoffs.

‘No, a different group,’ Povsen says. ‘APE or ACE, something like that. They obviously mean business.’

‘Jesus, Povsen, what the hell have you gotten us into?’ the Duke asks, wiping sweat from his upper lip.

‘This is bad,’ Povsen mutters. ‘Really bad. We’ll have to walk back. Follow the road. But we have to go now. Bring the guns.’

‘How the hell did they find us?’ Stephen asks.

As the Duke begins to bend down to pick up the weapons, there is a loud crack of gunfire.

Stephen screams and falls to the ground, clutching his thigh.

‘Jesus,’ yells Povsen.

He grabs the Duke, who is standing there feckless in shock, and drags him to cover, behind the jeep. They duck down at the rear wheel arch.

Stephen is crying out in agony, holding his bloody leg.

‘They shot Stephen, they shot him,’ the Duke says, frenziedly. ‘Christ, we’re going to die.’

‘Oh…God!’ Stephen cries. ‘Help…help me…Povsen!’

Povsen slowly peers around the jeep. He can see Stephen reaching out a hand towards him.

‘Please…don’t leave me!’ Stephen screams, his voice a couple of octaves higher than normal, much like a frightened child.

Another gunshot. Stephen’s face erupts in a black and red explosion. Povsen, wide eyed, mouth agape looks down at Stephen’s gaping head. Blood and pink mush pour from the hole that used to be his face.

‘Oh God…oh God…oh God…’ Povsen says, as he stumbles backwards in a panic. ‘Run.’

‘Povsen?’ the Duke asks.

‘Just run!’

They bolt into the forest, followed by another gunshot which ricochets off a few pine trees. For men in their later years, they find they have the speed and agility of the deer they had killed just an hour ago. But the Duke lacks stamina. Blood pumps into his cloudy head and he clutches his tightening chest.

‘I can’t go on,’ he gasps, as they run. The Duke tumbles and crashes down onto the forest floor. Povsen looks back over his shoulder and skids to a stop.

‘Povsen?’ the Duke calls out.

Povsen follows the sound of the Duke’s voice and finds him, a few feet away, in the undergrowth.

‘Help me,’ the Duke says, gasping for air, ‘I can’t…I can’t breathe.’

Povsen quickly scans the forest and then turns back to the Duke. He makes the decision, to leave him. He takes a couple of steps backwards, looking into the Duke’s desperate, confused eyes.

‘I’m sorry,’ Povsen whispers.

‘No, please,’ the Duke says, frantically shaking his head.

‘I’m so sorry.’

Another gunshot. Povsen’s shoulder bursts open spraying hot blood across the Duke’s aghast face. The force of the impact spins Povsen, hurtling him to the ground, and out of sight. The Duke, terrified, suddenly finds his second wind and clambers to his feet. He aimlessly takes off deeper into the forest.

Povsen clasps the mess that used to be his shoulder, trying to stifle his groans. The pain, immense. He drags himself along the forest floor. He edges towards unconsciousness.

‘I’ll live,’ he tells himself, ‘I can survive a shot to the shoulder…I’ll live.’

As pain overwhelms him, he hisses. Spit runs down his chin. His vision blurs and fades to grey. He almost welcomes passing out. But he shakes his head trying to dispel the fog.

‘I’ll live,’ he tells himself, again.

But he then hears footsteps, slowly drawing closer. His heart sinks.

‘Still alive?’ a man says, in a gruff voice. ‘I suppose I had better finish you off. It’s the humane thing to do.’

‘No!’ cries Povsen.

He slowly flips himself onto his back. He grasps his shoulder in pain and his vision fluctuates. He looks up, straining his eyes, to see a hazy figure raising the nozzle of a high powered rifle towards his face.

‘No, please,’ Povsen pleads, shaking his head, trying to clear his vision. ‘Please, don’t kill me, please, you can’t do this…I have money, I can give you money…I own this forest…I can’t die in my own forest…this is my forest!’

There is a pause. Ravens caw melodramatically in the distance.

‘You don’t own this forest. You can’t. But, you can…become this forest. When I kill you, and I will, should I leave your body here, the animals, the insects, will move in. Eventually, the forest would take your body and replenish itself. What better way to repay the forest for the crimes you have committed against it? Now, I’ve got a legal and moral right to make the humane kill, so I’m going to let you choose the method.’

Povsen just stares, in shock, and says nothing.

‘You’ve got three choices. One, a shot to the brain, quick and easy. Two, the neck break, a little bit trickier, but, still effective. Or three, my favourite, clubbing the head, one good blow should kill the brain.’

Povsen remains silent, petrified.

‘Well? Come on, according to the literature on your hunting events website, titled – the best methods for a fast and humane dispatch, these are all legitimate ways to kill. So, Anders H Povsen, Laird of Gaewick, what’s it going to be?’

Elsewhere, in the forest, the Duke gawkily heaves his exhausted body further. His lungs burn and his muscles ache. His heart feels like it might pop any moment, and it very nearly does, when he hears a gunshot in the distance, behind him. He looks over his shoulder.

‘Povsen,’ he gasps. ‘No.’

The Duke doesn’t notice the ground before him steeply dropping away. His stepping foot finds air and he topples forward, falling down into a lowered clearing. He lands awkwardly on his leg with a snap and a sharp jolt of excruciating pain.

‘Eeeugh!’ he screams, hitting the ground like a flailing pig. Air rushes out of him, winding him. He rolls back and forth clutching his flapping broken leg, gasping for a breath.  A wave of cold calm washes through his body and mind as his brain is flooded with numbing chemicals. He thinks he is dying. Slowly, his lungs begin to accept air back into them and he breathes a little easier. But the pain returns. He’s never experienced such pain before. A life of privilege and luxury has, ultimately, made him weak. He’s never fought for anything in his life before. But he knows he has to fight now. Fight to save his skin.

He summons strength and begins to drag himself on his belly to the middle of the clearing. He can see a heavy growth of ferns on the far side, ahead of him, if only he can reach it and hide, and rest. His broken leg snags on foliage, yanking and twisting it. Another wave of pain makes him cry out again. But then, he hears a heavy thud behind him. He knows it is his assailant, jumping down into the clearing. He looks ahead at the undergrowth. His hiding spot. He thinks he can still reach it and drags himself further.

‘Ah, your Royal Highness!’ bellows a man’s voice from behind him. ‘Lovely day for a hunt.’

It is too late. The Duke flops down, face on the ground, with a defeated groan.

‘Or do you prefer Prince Richard?’ the voice asks, now closer. ‘Or is it just…Dick?’

The Duke realises he is going to die and begins to sob. For all his wealth, his title and sense of glory, he knows he is going to die, alone, in this forest, and nothing and no one can save him.

‘Please, I don’t want to die,’ he wails.

‘Oh, come now, Dickie. We all have to die. Even Royalty. And I didn’t see you shed any tears for that dead deer back there.’

‘Is that what this is about?’ the Duke cries. ‘One dead deer?’

‘That’s reason enough!’

‘Please, don’t kill me, it was all Povsen’s idea, the hunt…’ the Duke says, beginning to look around at his assailant.

‘Don’t turn around!’ barks the man.

The Duke quickly looks ahead and resumes his sobbing.

‘No Dickie, it’s not just about this hunt, or the many previous hunts. Your death is a message, to your people.’

‘A message?’

‘You are all accountable for the slaughter. The abject terror and cruelty. And when you kill them, you kill me. When you torture them, you torture me. But I won’t be tortured anymore. I can only take so much before I strike back.’

‘I…don’t understand…’ the Duke cries.

‘See, Prince Dick, no one is untouchable. You can all be gotten to. Any time and any place. You and your cronies, you won’t even see us coming. We’ve been watching you. Watching for so long, while you raped and pillaged and destroyed. Centuries of imperialistic brutality, privilege and internal decadence. People like you think land can be claimed, bought and sold, and innocent life can be hunted, killed and priced. Well, no more. You, and your kind, call yourselves chosen, sacred mediators to God? Where is your God, your Christ, your Saint John, when you make your blood sacrifices? Where is your God as I make mine?’

The Duke hears the rifle being reloaded, and continues to cry. He knows it is time. There is no way out. He is going to be murdered. And he knows his God has deserted him. Quietly sobbing, he carefully begins to pick himself up. He cries out in pain but slowly gets himself upright, and onto one leg, the other, useless and hanging limp. He finds some balance and composure. He stands straight, corrects his side parting, arches his back, raises his chin and holds his head high, and begins to sing loudly.

‘God save our gracious Queen…duh, duh, our gracious Queen…’

It is either the pain, his dire situation, or he clearly just doesn’t know the words.

‘…save the Queen…’

He even sings the brass section.

‘Pah-pa-pa-pa-pa-ra-duh, duh, victorious…duh, duh, and glorious…duh, duh, duh, duh ,duh, over us…God save the…’

Gunshot.

He is executed.

A startled flock of game birds tear upwards, through the light mist and lush green canopy, into the celestial late morning sky.

1b

Chapter 2 – He’s not loving it anymore, he’s dead!

2a

New York, Avenue of the Americas.

A cream Mercedes stretch limo with tinted windows glides down 47th street. A forty something man sits in the back seat, cleaning make up from his face with a towelette. He leans back into the luxury leather in his thousand dollar slate-coloured suit, ruffles his saddle-brown hair, and loosens his silk tie. He lets out a long breath.

‘The interview went well, Mr Eastbrook?’ the driver asks. He’s an older man, in his late fifties, dressed in a modest navy-blue woolen suit and tie, bald, but with a carefully kept silvery beard, as though his hair had dropped to the bottom of his face.

‘That place just gives me the creeps,’ Stuart begins, ‘Republicans always have. That damn ignoramus interviewer kept interrupting me at every opportunity. I think he forgets he was in our goddamn commercial. I couldn’t get into my flow. Of course, I was collected and in control, but inside I just wanted to smash his skull in with his own laptop. Ugh, Fox News. I got the spiel across, despite that uncharismatic prick.’

The driver chuckles.

The opening bars to Mack The Knife plays on the stereo.

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white…

‘I always loved this song,’ Stuart says, perking up slightly.

‘Well, it should have a special meaning for you, Sir.’

‘And why is that?’

‘Seeing as how the company used the song in a string of advertisements to promote a special.’

‘Is that so?’

‘Yeah, was in the…late eighties. As I recall they changed the lyrics from ‘Mack The Knife’ to ‘Mac Tonight’. Must have thought that the original lyrics about a knife wielding murderer were a bit too risqué.’

Stuart chuckles.

‘I’m surprised you can’t remember that one,’ the driver says.

‘I joined the company in ninety three.’

‘Before your time.’

Stuart laughs again.

‘Did it work?’

‘The campaign? As I recall, it did the trick.’

‘Sold more burgers,’ Stuart smiles.

‘Indeed. Although, Bobby Darin’s family weren’t too happy about it. Sued the company in eighty nine. No more Mac Tonight.’

Stuart chuckles again.

‘That’s the way of the world. It’s called litigation finance.’

‘Wasn’t it Picasso who said – good artists borrow, great artists steal?’

Stuart gazes out of the window, grinning.

Now on the sidewalk, whoo, sunny morning, uh huh
Lies a body just oozin’ life, eek
And someone’s sneakin’ ’round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife..?

‘So, back to JFK?’ the driver asks.

‘Yes, I’m flying back to Illinois. Some family time.’

‘That’ll be nice.’

Stuart lets out a dry laugh.

‘Or…maybe not?’ the driver asks, peering in the rear view mirror at his passenger.

‘It would be nice, yes, only it’s our monthly PR trip to the McDonalds at Oak Brook.’

‘Ah.’

‘Ah, is correct. Force another quarter pounder with cheese down my neck? The things I do for this business.’

‘Every job has its downsides.’

Stuart chuckles.

‘That is very true.’

The driver notices a bright red and blue light flashing in his wing mirror. An unmarked police car is tailing him.

‘What the hell?’ the driver says.

‘Something wrong?’ Stuart asks.

‘As I was saying, downsides to every job. The police.’

Stuart turns around to look out of the back window.

‘Were you speeding?’

‘No, Sir. You know me.’

‘Sorry George, of course. Then, what the hell does he want?’

‘I’d better pull over.’

George signals and pulls the car to the side of the road. George watches in his wing mirror as the police car pulls up close behind. A police officer, donning his hat and Aviator shades, climbs out of the car and approaches. George pushes a button to lower the window, as the officer arrives at his door.

‘What can I do for you, officer?’

The police officer pulls out a badge and shows it to George.

‘Can you please step out of the vehicle?’ the officer says, bluntly.

‘Do you mind telling me what this is about?’ George asks.

‘Step out of the vehicle, please.’

George hesitates. He looks in the rear view mirror at a confused Stuart.

‘Maybe you should do what he asks?’ Stuart offers. ‘I’ve got a plane to catch in an hour or so.’

Stuart watches George slowly nod and reluctantly climb out of the vehicle. He closes the door. Stuart can faintly hear a short exchange of words. Then he hears George raising his voice, in protest. Then there is a strange discharge sound and something or someone slams against the side of the car, rocking Stuart inside, sending him into a state of alarm. He begins to breathe heavier.

‘What the fuck is going on?’ he says, to himself.

He leans forward to look out of his window to see what has happened and to his shock he sees George sliding down the side of the car and disappearing out of sight.

‘George?’ he whispers.

There is a tense pause as he tries to decide what to do.

‘Officer?’ he calls out.

The driver door opens quickly and the police officer climbs into the driver seat, slamming the door closed. Stuart watches him, unsettled.

‘Officer, what is going on here? I think there has been some kind of mistake. I’m Stuart Eastbrook, CEO of the McDonalds Corp…’

The officer turns around, sporting a pair of sunglasses and a very toothy grin, and raises a strange looking weapon at Stuart. It’s a taser gun.

‘I know who you are,’ the officer says.

Stuart looks at the weapon with wide, frightened eyes. The police officer fires the gun into Stuart’s chest. His body turns rigid and violently spasms as fifty thousand volts of electricity tears through him, until he finally flops down onto the seat, unconscious.

Sometime later, he awakens and immediately grimaces and draws in a gasp of chilly air as he feels the aching discomfort from every muscle in his body. For a moment he thinks his neck muscles must still be rigid, as he can’t seem to move his head. Then he realises he can’t move his arms or legs. He panics and writhes in the seat of the tall dining chair he is taped into. His arms, legs, neck and head are taped to the chair with duct tape. After struggling to free himself, and failing, he huffs and rests for a moment. His eyes scan his murky surroundings. He can see that he is in some kind of abandoned, decaying warehouse. He recognises a loading bay.

‘Manhattan docks?’ he whispers.

He tries to free his hands again, but they don’t give.

‘Help!’ he yells.

His call echoes through the empty premises. Then silence. But then he hears footsteps. Someone approaching from behind him, out of sight.

‘Hello!? Who’s there? Please, help me!’ Stuart cries.

Someone brushes passed him on his left side, startling him.

‘You have to help me!’ he says.

The figure stands in front of him. Stuart’s expression changes from one of desperate hope to confused despair. It’s the police officer who had tasered him in the car earlier.

‘Oh, I think you’re a little bit beyond help now, Mr CEO,’ the officer says.

‘You? Who are you? What do you want with me?’ Stuart says, trying to sound brave. ‘Listen, I don’t think you realise the trouble you have gotten yourself into here, my lawyers…’

‘From my point of view, you look like the one who is in…okay, let’s say more immediate trouble here, Mr CEO.’

‘That’s right, Mr CEO. You don’t know who you are fucking with!’ Stuart yells, writhing in his seat again.

‘Be careful with all that strenuous activity there Mr CEO, coupled with all those quarter pounders and cheese you claim to eat, in time, you could have a heart attack.’

‘Look, who are you? I’m guessing you’re no cop!’

‘Never mind who I am. Who are you?’

Stuart looks baffled.

‘What?’

I know who you are. What you do. But do you?’

‘What are you talking about, you crazy son of a..?’

‘Who are you!?’ the officer yells, shocking Stuart.

‘Stuart East…’

‘Not your name, who are you!?’ the officer shouts. ‘What do you do?’

‘I’m…’

‘Yes!?’

‘I’m in the restaurant business.’

‘The restaurant business? Is that what you call it?’

‘Yes, McDonalds…what would you call it?’

‘I call it the needless slavery and slaughter of animals business.’

‘Let me guess, you’re part of the Animal Liberation Front?’

‘I call it the disease spreading business.’

‘What are you talking about? That is ridiculous!’

‘Is it? Cardiovascular disease. Cancer. Liver disease. Stroke. Asthma. Obesity. Diabetes. All linked to meat and fast food consumption. And the list goes on.’

‘We’re not forcing anyone to eat our products. What about public accountability? In moderation, our products can be eaten as part of a healthy balanced…’

‘Except for the fact that people, children, aren’t eating it in moderation, are they?’

‘How is that the company’s fault?’

‘Well, when you bombard children with advertising, promising them all the latest toy from their favourite movie franchise, collect them all, they tend to harass their parents into another visit to your restaurant. Which means another happy meal, and another risk to their health overall.  I mean…to name it happy meal? There’s nothing happy about it. The cows and chickens that becomes that meal certainly weren’t too happy being led to their untimely mechanised deaths. And when all those children grow up with thickened arteries and diabetes, I can’t see them being too happy either. And you think that by throwing in a cheap plastic toy made by underpaid Chinese people, that this can salvage your happy meal? Useless environmentally destructive pieces of plastic perpetuating the meaninglessness of materialism? So you’re not just in the animal killing and disease making business, or the restaurant business as you claim. You’re in the toy making business too. McDonalds being the biggest distributor of toys in the world.’

Stuart sits quiet, scanning the ground as if it might offer him a way out of this nightmare.

‘See, I know who you are, what you do. And I think deep down, you know too. You know what you are. What you do. You know what that evil corporation does and you want to be the new face of it? Selling your genetically modified sludge to billions of people, spreading over the globe like a cancer, like the cancer you know your products cause. Pollution, deforestation, lobbying and advertising, manipulating children with cartoon franchises and toys like a paedophile at the swing-park. Come with me little one, here look I have all these treats and goodies and toys for you, all you have to do is come with me, and here…put this in your mouth. You filthy repugnant bastard, I’ve seen you sitting in there with your own kids shovelling it down their necks too for a fat pay cheque and a Ralph Lauren suit. And all the while, over sixty years of animal cruelty and suffering. All those cows, chickens, pigs and fish slaughtered, and for what? Profit and flipping burgers and a big yellow M stamped on the world’s consciousness with a hot branding iron?’

‘I work hard at what I do, damn it. I do it for my family, my children.’

The officer laughs out loud.

‘Ho ho hoooo! Fiction can be fun. Your family, you say? My family, my children? As if there is some kind of honour or nobility there? Or truth? You think you are protecting them? Setting them up for life? But what kind of life? At what cost? When the world is so polluted it’s hard to breathe, and it’s so irradiated that we are sick all the time. When it’s hard to find clean water that isn’t polluted with agricultural run-off and micro plastics. When it’s hard to find clean organic food when GMOs have cross contaminated the planet and pesticides have destroyed our soils. When the lungs of this world, the rainforests have been decimated to grow cattle feed. The oceans, fishless, turned to acid. When corporations are run by psychopaths who will help perpetuate such a destructive industry and its products that are proven to cause many hideous illnesses in humans. In children. So tell me again Mr CEO, who are you doing this for? Your kids? Future generations?’

Stuart says nothing. His eyes well up.

‘Really, you are selling your own children out. Selling out their future. Aren’t you? Don’t you see? Ultimately, you are in the death business.’

Stuart begins to weep.

The officer steps in close to him and gently strokes his cheek as if comforting a child.

‘Shh shh shh. It’s okay, I know, I know, you can’t help yourself, can you? You just get so…carried away, don’t you, you business folk?’

The officer’s strokes become less comforting and more of a heavy scrape. Stuart grimaces.

‘As my old man used to say, it’s all just fun and games to you. Isn’t it? Juggling businesses and franchises and whoring their gruel. You take a giant meaty shit on humanity and sleep like a baby.’

The officer slaps him in the face.

‘Well, not anymore. Now, as I know you like your fun and games so much, and I love a good game too, we’re going to play a special game now.’

‘A…game?’

‘That’s the spirit,’ the officer smiles. ‘Yes, a game. A special game. It’s called, can you guess what is going to happen next?’

‘Next..?’

‘Don’t worry I’m going to give you some clues along the way.’

‘Clues..?’

‘That’s right, you just keep on repeating my words if it helps. Yes, clues, now, are you ready to play?’

Stuart doesn’t answer.

The officer stands next to a tall machine of some sort which is covered with an old dustsheet. There is a coiled hose on the ground. He bends down and grabs the hose with one hand and holds it up for Stuart to see.

‘Now, here is your first clue.’

Stuart looks at it with fearful curiosity. He looks back at the officer.

‘A…hose..?’ he utters.

‘Coooooorrect!’ the officer cries. ‘And your next clue…’

The officer grabs the dust sheet and pulls it to the floor revealing an old beat up custom water pump. The hose and a large plastic container are crudely attached to it. Stuart peers at it and then back to the officer who is gesturing to the pump with his hands and grinning like a bimbo from a game show.

‘A…water pump?’ Stuart tries to shrug.

‘Aw,’ the officer frowns, ‘and you were doing so well. It is a pump, but it doesn’t pump water. No, this pumps something else, something much more sinister.’

The officer opens the large container perched on top of the machine, and dips a finger into the substance inside. He quickly approaches Stuart and shoves his finger under his nose. Stuart screws up his face.

‘Ugh, what…is that?’ he says.

‘Surely you should know your own product when you see it? You’ve been feeding it to the world’s population for who knows how long? Pink slime, mmm.’

‘McDonalds do not use so called pink slime in our…’

‘No, but you did. And the only reason you stopped is because it was exposed to the world by a fat-tongued TV chef.’

Stuart sits quiet again.

‘Now, back to our game’ the officer says, returning to the pump and picking up the nozzle end of the hose. ‘The maximum capacity of the human stomach is two to four litres. I have ten litres of pink slime.’

He switches on the machine. He turns and slowly begins to approach Stuart again.

‘So, Mr CEO, can you guess what is going to happen next?’

Stuart’s wild eyes, fixated on the nozzle, reveal that he has a pretty good idea of what is about to happen. He starts to squirm in his chair again.

‘Listen, what do you want from me? Money? I can pay you…a healthy amount?’

‘Oh, I know all about your ridiculous salary. But I’ve got enough money, thanks.’

‘Well, what the hell do you want!?’ Stuart cries, becoming terrified, as the officer slowly edges the nozzle towards his face. ‘You wanted to scare me? Okay, I’m scared! Say I’m sorry? I am sorry! You’re right, I know what our company does. What we do…to animals…nature…to children. But what do you want me to do? Resign. Please, just tell me, I’ll do it! I’ll resign!?’

‘It’s not enough. You’ll just be replaced. I need to make an example out of you.’

The officer begins to push the nozzle against Stuart’s lips.

‘Jesus Christ…Please!’ Stuart cries, through pursed lips. ‘My children…children…Christ…’

The officer crams the nozzle into Stuart’s mouth, rattling passed his teeth, with a sudden surge. The nozzle nestles into his gullet, and he immediately begins to gag and writhe. He breathes erratically through his nose as he fights the urge to vomit. The officer uses some kind of elastic cord to fasten the hose to his face. Stuart watches, with bug eyes, the officer’s hand reach for the valve and he panics, gagging and trying to scream. The officer turns the valve. The pink meaty goo sprays with considerable force down Stuart’s oesophagus. He gags and swallows repeatedly and shakes violently in his seat, as his gut is filled with the vile slime. After a short while, slime starts spluttering and spilling from his mouth and nose as it fills up the cavities in his face. His bloodshot eyes roll back in his head and protrude and he shakes in his seat as the slime finds its way into his wind pipe. As he drowns in pink slime and slips into unconsciousness, the slime begins to gush out of his skull’s orifices. Slime gushes out of his nose and perforates through his ear drums. His eyes pop out, and are carried down his face, as the goo oozes from his sockets.

The machine pumps the last of the slime into Stuart’s head.

The officer walks over and switches it off. He returns to Stuart’s lifeless body. He reaches into his own trouser pocket and pulls out a small white card and a mobile phone. He tucks the card into Stuart’s shirt pocket, and takes a picture.

As the officer leaves, he smiles and whistles a familiar catchy jingle.

Chapter 3 – The beast is slain

3

Kowloon, Hong Kong.

A 59 year old Chinese man, with slicked-back silver hair and a thin frame in a thousand Yuan suit, is sitting in the back seat of his limousine, en route to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, with his mobile phone to his ear. He sneers and peers intensely across the car at someone else in the back seat with him, while he addresses someone on the phone.

‘These financial concerns are yours, not mine. You will have what we agreed when we agreed. You make the payment, we ship the merchandise. There will be no alterations to our dealings.’

He grins, his eyes ablaze as he listens and stares lustfully at his companion. A pale, thin twelve year old Indonesian girl in a tigger onesie. She looks afraid and shifts in her seat and tries to avoid eye contact with him.

‘Well, I’m glad you feel that way. It is in your own best interest, really. We can always find new trackers. New poachers. New buyers for our merchandise. But delays, alterations can be tiring, and costly and I will not tolerate it. It would be extremely unwise to disappoint me. The last person to disappoint me was very unfortunate. He was paid a visit by my triad partners. You can meet him if you like? He’s at the bottom of Victoria harbour.’

His grin widens until it looks like it would split his face as he hears what he wants to hear.

‘Well I’m glad to hear that. Expect our shipment to reach you in two days. We will be in touch.’

He hangs up the phone, his eyes never leaving the anxious, trembling girl.

‘It’s simple my dear,’ he begins as he edges closer to her, ‘business brings money and money brings power and power gets me what I want. And whose business is it,’ he says, his face now inches from hers, ‘to tell me how to conduct my business?’

The girl’s wide, fearful eyes well up.

‘No one tells Mr Qian how to do business. And no one can stop me getting what I want.’

A tear rolls down her cheek and Qian spots it. He reaches up and catches it with his finger.

‘You look so adorable when you cry,’ he says, his eyes glazing over. ‘So adorable I could…eat you.’

He scoops her tear with his finger and pushes it in his mouth, swallowing, drinking her tear. He temporarily loses his breath, savouring the moment.

The terrified girl whimpers. The car slows to a stop which snaps Qian out of his lechery.

‘The Ritz-Carlton, sir,’ the driver says, over the intercom.

Qian sits back in his seat, irked by the interruption. The car door swings outward, opened by the hotel doorman. An over-enthusiastic ingratiating man, with an obvious brown hair piece and black framed spectacles with thick lenses, giving his eyes a fisheye-effect appearance.

‘Ah, Mr Qian, it’s always a pleasure and privilege to have you back with us. We are once again honoured and humbled by your powerful presence, sir.’

Qian climbs out of the car.

‘Yes, yes,’ he says, clearly agitated by the annoying doorman’s alliteration. ‘My usual room. Is it ready?’

‘Oh, absolutely affirmative, sir, we have been excitedly expecting your apprised arrival,’ the doorman says, holding the hotel door open for Qian, who strides in. ‘You can collect your kept key from reception right over there, sir.’

Qian stops in his tracks and steps in close to the doorman.

‘Oh and doorman, wait half an hour and then have the girl and my bags brought up to my room.’

The doorman peers into the limo and spots the young frightened girl. But he is particularly interested in a beige case on the back seat.

‘I trust you can handle this with discretion?’ Qian says, giving the doorman a fierce expression.

The doorman sucks in a breath, left with only one answer.

‘Of course sir. Leave it to me.’

A short while later, in the hotel’s Grand Victoria Harbour suite, Qian has already showered and is wearing his gold silken dressing gown. Standing at the hotel mini-bar he stares out of the floor to ceiling windows at the panoramic view of the island. It is lit up like a giant pinball machine.

‘And I am in control of the flippers,’ he muses, and begins slapping the sides of the mini-bar counter, as if they are buttons on a machine. He laughs for a moment. He whips his head around and gazes at the king-size bed for a moment, his hand gently massaging his genitals. He quickly draws in a breath, and licks his dry lips.

‘I need a drink.’

He turns back to the mini-bar counter and reaches for a bottle of single malt. He is about to pour himself a drink when there is a knock on the door. He slams the bottle down onto the counter, annoyed that the ill-timed interruption has ruined his moment. He rushes over and opens the door to reveal the doorman holding two flight cases. Qian’s eyes flash with lust when he notices the girl, now wearing a long hooded coat, beside the doorman. Her head is lowered and her eyes never look up.

‘Discretion?’ Qian asks, flatly.

‘No problems, sir. No attention. Really smooth.’

Qian stares hard at the doorman. He walks back into the room.

‘Come in. Put the bags here,’ Qian signals with his hand.

As the girl slowly edges into the room with the doorman behind her, Qian returns to the counter to pour that drink.

The doorman places the cases down and turns to Qian.

‘Is there absolutely anything else I can dutifully do for you Mr Qian, sir?’ he says, smiling.

‘Yes,’ Qian says, pouring whisky into a glass, ‘get out.’

The doorman’s smile drops and he quickly shoots a helpless, sympathetic glance at the girl, who is pleading with him, with her eyes, to help her in some way.

He looks away, his head hanging low.

‘Of course, sir,’ he says, as he makes for the door, ‘no problem at all, you just have yourself a good night.’ He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small white card, and places it on the bedside cabinet. Qian doesn’t notice, but the girl does. The doorman shoots her another glance, one she can’t quite understand, but takes a little reassurance from.

‘Take care now. Bye bye, then,’ the doorman says, and quickly steps out the doorway and pulls the door closed with a thump.

Qian sits the bottle down and turns to the girl.

‘You can take off that coat now dear,’ he says.

The girl doesn’t move. She just stares at the floor.

‘Look at me.’

She slowly looks up at him with fearful eyes.

‘Take off the coat,’ he says, firmly.

The girl obeys and removes the coat. Qian moves close to her. Standing in her onesie, she trembles as he reaches out to her. He takes the coat from her and walks over to his bags. He throws the coat onto a chair and reaches down for his beige case. He enters numbers on a numerical keypad and the case unlocks. He slowly opens the case. It is full of compartments. He reaches in to one, labelled personal, and pulls out a small glass test tube containing a cream-coloured powder. He turns to the girl and holds up the tube.

‘Do you know what this is?’

She looks at the tube and struggles with her answer.

‘Drugs?’ she finally says, in a shrill voice.

‘How quaint. Yes, drugs. But not just any drug. Cocaine and heroin have their place. Their time. But this can be taken every day. To take the components of an animal. Grind it down. Ingest it. Rhino horn, it has the power to heal. Tiger bone, it gives you strength. And should you ingest the penis of a tiger? Let’s just say it is very stimulating. And if combined, you can become a very powerful man indeed. A beast. Well, at least  that’s what we tell our clients.’

Qian walks over to his drink. With his back to the girl, he pulls the stopper out of the test tube and tips the contents into his drink. He swirls the liquid around and turns to the girl who hasn’t moved.

‘You really don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?’

The girl just stares blankly at him.

‘Adorable,’ he says, huskily.

He gulps down the contents of his glass, hisses, and places the glass back on the counter.

‘Oh, our product does most of what we say it does. That’s why it’s a multi billion Yuan industry. The west, they just can’t accept it. Does the penis of a tiger make a man more virile? That is up to the man. Mind over matter, dear. But we have a substance, very similar to Viagra, that we add to each batch, completely unbeknown to our clients. Actually a western creation. An aggressive drug. It really does stimulate in all the right places. Complete satisfaction. It’s just better for business.’

He slowly begins to approach her.

‘So what if a man who is already powerful, already like those wild animals, a man who is already a  beast, takes our product?’

The girl begins to tremble as Qian moves in close to her.

‘Well, you’re about to find out, dear.’

The girl looks desperately into Qian’s insane eyes. From one glistening eyeball to the other. A huge dirty grin stretches across his face. But his smile quickly turns to a grimace, as if he is in pain. Confused, he shifts his body and he seems to recover. His eyes fall back on the girl and his smile returns.

He seizes her suddenly. She cries out as he rushes her onto the king size bed. The bed catches the back of the girl’s legs and she falls back, with Qian crashing down on top of her. He begins writhing around, laughing hysterically, as the girl cries and squirms around under him.

He gets on his hands and knees over her as she cowers under him.

‘Adorable glass eyes like an innocent baby deer, unaware of the tiger, poised in the grass, ready to pounc…’

Qian’s expression changes to pain and confusion again. His eyes bulge and become bloodshot. His face reddens. This episode lasts longer and seems more intense. Qian groans and his body shudders. He breathes heavy as the feeling fades.

‘I must have taken a bigger dose than I thought,’ he says, with an anxious laugh. He looks down at the girl who is gawking up at him, terrified.

He laughs and pushes himself up onto his knees. He quickly unfastens his belt and whips his dressing gown off, throwing it across the room. He is naked and fully erect.

‘Oh, you’re in for a rough night!’ he bellows, grinning.

The girl hugs her body and cries, her fearful eyes transfixed on the rigid pulsating penis.

Once again, Qian’s expression quickly returns to pain and confusion. This time he cries out loud.

The girl lies silent and motionless.

He reaches down and clutches his member. He cries out again and appears to be in agony.

‘Something is wrong!’ he gasps.

Then another wave of pain. He gasps for air as his face and eyes redden, his face seems to be swelling. He grasps at his body. And then back to his penis. He cries out again with another wave.

The girl manages to scramble out from under him and quickly clambers off the bed. She gets to her feet, turns and slowly edges away from Qian who is now writhing in agony, clutching and grasping all over his body. He slowly reaches a hand out to the girl.

‘Please, you have to help me!’ he cries. ‘Call an ambula…aaaagh!’

The petrified girl watches as Qian begins to scream and hold his penis. He falls forward onto the bed and rolls onto his back frantically writhing, holding his penis, which now appears to be erupting in blood blisters. Qian’s scream rises in key until it shatters his empty glass on the mini-bar counter, his mouth so wide it may split, as his penis begins to dissolve into a dark red pulpy mess.

The girl screams, shaking her head, not quite believing what she is witnessing.

Qian flails and tries to gargle a scream as his skin, all over his body, begins to bubble and blister. A rank murky grey smoke is beginning to rise out of his body. Blisters pop in mini explosions of blood. Qian’s movements become fewer and sporadic as he slips into unconsciousness. His body starts to dissolve into a smoking, charred, barbecue sauce-coloured bloody mush and his eyes melt and sizzle like two over-fried eggs in a pan.

The girl screams again and runs for the door. She pulls it open and runs out and down the corridor, tearing passed a shocked porter, screaming the entire time.

tigger-scared

Chapter 4 – Dying on ice

4

Ice sheet on the Eastern coast of Canada, Newfoundland.

A whiteout of a blizzard rages. A dull white glow appears in the distance, getting closer, and brighter. It is car headlights. The dark shape of a jeep emerges. The brakes squeal and the jeep skids to a stop, the ice crunching underneath the wheels. The driver door opens and a figure, a man, dressed in storm wear clothing, emerges. The man opens the back door and collects a long bag from the back seat. He pulls the bag onto his shoulder, the strap across his chest. He walks to the rear of the car and opens the trunk. Inside the trunk is a shivering and partially frozen naked woman. It is Canada’s Fisheries Minister, Gillian Sheit. She is forty something, short and plump, and her short firefox coloured hair stands on end like frosty baby carrots. Her hands are behind her back, bound with tape, and her feet are taped together. Her eyes and mouth are covered with tape. The man reaches in and pulls the naked Minister from the trunk and throws her down onto the ice sheet with a dull thud. She heaves and groans, winded. She is then flipped onto her front and dragged across the ice by her feet, moaning and struggling. The sharp ice slices into her skin leaving a faint trail of blood behind her.

After a short while the man stops. He lets Gillian’s feet fall to the ice.

‘Here should do,’ he says. He removes his bag from his shoulder and places it down and unzips it. He pulls out a tripod and quickly sets it up. He reaches back into the bag and pulls out a camcorder. He fixes it to the tripod plate and gets the camera operational.

‘Okay, we’re rolling,’ he says.

He picks up Gillian’s feet and sets off, in front of the camera, dragging the naked Minister with him, before coming to a stop and releasing her feet again. They slap down onto the hard ice. He pauses for a moment, his hot breath rising up into the night. He reaches down and spins the whimpering woman into position. He quickly returns to the camera.

The man adjusts the camera.

‘Nice rule of thirds,’ he tells himself. ‘I know it’s murder, but I’ve still got to think about production value.’

Gillian raises her head, searching for her abductor.

‘Perfect,’ comes a call from through the blizzard, and the man rushes back.

He rips the tape from Gillian’s mouth and eyes. She cries out, gasping, as several hairs from her eyebrows are torn out with the adhesive. He then cuts the binds on her hands. She instinctively rolls onto her side, curled like a foetus, and hugs her freezing body.

‘Please…’ she cries, shaking. ‘What do you want from me?…What are you going to do to me?’

‘Roll over onto your front,’ the man says, grimly.

Gillian peers up at him, straining to see through driving snow in her eyes. All she can make out is a dark silhouette. She stalls.

‘Now! Onto your front!’ the man yells, taking a threatening step towards her.

‘Okay,’ she says, awkwardly turning onto her front, crying. ‘Please, don’t hurt me…I’ll do anything you say…please…what do you want?’

Nothing. The chaotic white noise of the storm and her heavy gasping is all that can be heard.

‘Money? A political favour? Are you mafia? Please, just tell me what…’

‘Bark’ the man says, cutting her question off.

She looks up at him, frightened and perplexed.

‘What?’ she asks.

‘Bark, minister. Bark like a seal would bark.’

‘B…b…bark?’

‘Y…y…yes. Like a seal.’

She stalls again, in confusion and fear. The man sighs and reveals a previously unnoticed hakapik. Gillian notices it and becomes terrified.

‘You want me to bark like a seal?’ she whimpers.

‘Holy testicle Tuesday,’ the man mutters, under his breath.

He lifts the hakapik and jabs the flat top end at her head.  She cries out in pain. The blow is enough to prompt her.

‘Okay…okay,’ she says. She starts barking, mimicking a seal.

‘That’s…actually not bad,’ the man says, sounding impressed. ‘Although…that’s more elephant seal than harp. It’ll have to do. Now, look up at me.’

She slowly and reluctantly looks up. And then breaks down, wailing.

‘Please, I know what this is about, but I can’t just change the law overnight…I can’t reverse an age old tradition…people’s livelihoods…the investments…Russia…Norway…’

‘That’s more rambling, than barking, minister. And besides, I’ve heard all that Canadian Sealers Association, DFO propaganda bullshit before. And all based on profiteering and weak contentions. All those millions you waste in subsidies for the sealing industry, ice breakers, search and rescue, on lobbying other countries to support your barbarism. All at the tax payers expense, minister? Livelihoods, you say? As if fishing industry buyouts don’t happen, or don’t work? Compensate and develop alternative industries. Eco tourism, for example, it’s not perfect but it’s better than the insanity of mass murder. And, you mentioned Norway, don’t worry, I’ll be paying a visit to a particular minister in the Norwegian Government in the very near future too.’

‘Please,’ she pleads, ‘you have made your point.’

The man leans down, close. The minister can see her dire and desperate condition reflected in his snow goggles.

‘Not yet, I haven’t,’ he says, gravely.

‘Please, I’m going to freeze to death.’

‘It’s not the cold that is going to kill you, minister.’

She grimaces and breaks down again.

‘I can change,’ she cries. ‘But, I’ll need time…I can…campaign…I’ll lead a campaign against the cull.’

‘Oh, it’s a little late for that. And why don’t you call it what it is, minister? Murder. You politicians are always coming up with different ways to say the same thing. It’s not murder, it’s collateral damage. It’s not murder, it’s immunisation. It’s not murder, it’s the McWhopper. It’s not murder, it’s the cull.’

The minister just quietly sobs.

‘Now you and I both know you won’t lead any such campaign. You would only return to doing what you politicians do so well. What you always do. Serve yourself and the elites and the businesses with vested interests. And if it’s not you, it will be someone else. Someone just as corruptible and complacent. And besides all that, you aren’t going to be leading any campaigns because you’re not leaving this ice alive.’

‘Please,’ Gillian panics. ‘You can’t do this.’

‘I can and I am. Now start barking, minister.’

He lifts the hakapik onto his shoulder.

‘Please,’ she pleads, ‘I’m a human being. They are just dumb animals.’

‘Just dumb animals are they? So, that makes them obsolete, disposable? We’re all made up of the same genetic material, minister. Human and chimpanzee DNA are a whopping ninety-eight percent identical. So, if a chimp is an animal, what does that make you? An animal, with a serious superiority complex. Humans are animals. We are a construct of nature. We are all life. What, do you think you are special? Superior to any other life on this planet? Why, because you are sentient, self-aware, or can feel pain or fear? All animals are sentient. You think that every seal doesn’t feel pain from every botched bludgeoning? Some of them aren’t killed outright. They die a slow agonising death as they are skinned alive. Thousands and thousands of them, year after year, minister. For every seal cub that is hacked to death, you think it doesn’t fear the threat of death or it doesn’t have the instinctual urge to live? Like you, right now? But no, you’re a special animal. You’re not obsolete or disposable, you’re the honourable minister. They are just dumb animals? I wish I had a mirror. I’d show you the dumbest animal of all. Now bark!’

The man jabs the club handle into her face. She cries out as her nose bone snaps and blood pours from her wound.

‘Oh God help me,’ she squeals, and starts barking.

The man raises the hakapik into the air with both hands tight on the handle. He widens his stance.

‘Please!’ she screams.

The man raises the club higher.

‘Now, look up at me, minister,’ the man shouts, as the minister barks and cries.

‘Please!’ she screams again, and continues to bark, with blood streaming from her nose into her mouth. And as the hakapik reaches its peak she looks up with terrified, glassy eyes as she barks hysterically.

‘Aw,’ the man says, with a deranged curiosity in his voice, ‘look at those cute adorable eyes.’

And in the view screen on the camera, which has been recording the whole scene, there is a horrifically familiar sight. Two dark silhouettes through the blizzard on cold, barren ice. A sealer in mid-swing and a seal desperately looking up at its killer. The hakapik is finally thrust down. A flash of red. And then the seal lies dead, convulsing and bleeding out onto the ice shelf. But the sealer doesn’t skin this animal. He simply leans down and leaves something on the body. A small white card, tucked away in her armpit. He approaches the camera.

‘And…cut. That’s a wrap everyone. Thank you, really, you’ve all been wonderful,’ he says, as if addressing his crew.

He reaches up to the camera and ceases recording.

4a

Chapter 5 – Dream within dream

5a

A high rise apartment bedroom, New York.

An attractive young female awakens, as a figure quietly moves around the room. She brushes her tangled, treacle-coloured hair from her face with one hand and sits up in bed, resting on one elbow. A news broadcast is quietly playing on a flat-screen television set.

A young man, her husband, in a sharp sharkskin-grey cotton suit, with unkempt taupe coloured hair, finalises getting dressed. He straps a holster and gun to his body and notices the stirring female, watching him with her glacial blue eyes. They have never looked so elfin.

‘Hey,’ he says, gently.

‘Hey,’ she says, sleepily attending to her tired eyes.

‘I have to get going,’ he says, pulling on his blazer.

‘Mmm,’ she toys. ‘Duty calls, huh, Agent?’

The man nods to the TV, drawing her attention to it.

‘They’ve found another body. I’ve been called in.’

The news anchor is a charmless woman with a tight sandy-blonde bob. Her face is a light tangerine colour, caked in make-up, clearly trying to mask her middle-aged complexion. She reports with a mixture of disbelief, and professionally stifled fear and excitement.

Again, the main, breaking news, Canadian Minister, Gillian Sheit, has been found brutally murdered, on an ice sheet, in a location known as ‘the front’ in Newfoundland, where the annual seal hunt takes place every year, in April. Minister Sheit’s direct connection to the cull and the execution style murder have led to the local authorities’ preliminary statement.

The picture changes to a gruff, bordering on obese, Detective Sergeant being interviewed at the scene. His belly is dangerously close to breaching his tight navy blue uniform.

Due to the nature of this brutal crime and its location and the association with the seal cull, we at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary believe that this heinous crime bears all the hallmarks of an underground animal rights group we now know as ACE.

The picture returns to the news reader.

Deputy Director Mark Guerra from the Washington faction of the FBI could not confirm, nor deny, ACE’s connection with Minister Sheit’s murder but made this comment a short time ago.

The picture changes to Deputy Director Guerra, a forty year old dark Italian Iraq war Veteran, dressed in a dark suit and coral-blue tie, hurriedly making his way to a vehicle as a venue of reporters chase him, firing questions.

Deputy Director, do you support the Newfoundland Police’s statement?

Guerra rolls his eyes, looking up to the heavens as if asking for a break. He pauses to answer the question.

I cannot say indefinitely that ACE are responsible for Minister Sheit’s murder at this time, nor can I confirm that this recent string of high profile execution style murders, that have been broadcast so vehemently by the world’s media, are in any way connected. I haven’t even been to the scene yet. Look, I will make a full statement when we learn more. Now, I have a plane to catch, so get out of my way and let me do my job.

Guerra pushes his way through the frenzied reporters, towards his car.

The woman turns away from the TV screen and looks up at her lover as his mobile chirps. He reaches into his pocket for it.

‘Guerra is not sure the murders are linked,’ she says, unconvincingly.

Jamieson looks up from his phone, straight-faced. He looks down at her with caring, sympathetic eyes.

‘I’ve got to go, my love,’ he says.

‘You’ll call me later?’

‘Of course,’ he says, leaning down to kiss her.

They embrace and, as they break, she holds the back of his head, gently.

‘Be careful, Joshua,’ she whispers, emotionally.

They stare into each other like only lovers can.

‘I wish this moment could last forever,’ he whispers, with a melancholic smile.

5

Chapter 6 – Find the bastard and flush him out

Washington, Dulles International Airport.

Jamieson quickly bounds up airstairs into a private Cessna Mustang light jet.

He boards the aircraft to find Assistant Director for National Security, John Black, sat alone, barking complaints down a mobile phone about the press knowing too much from the so-called Canadian authorities. Black is a mature, stocky man with a stony weather-beaten face seemingly hardened by a life in law enforcement. His hair is greying and trimmed short and neat. He has a Magnum P.I. style moustache to match, and a deep tan, as though he has just holidayed on the Hawaiian Islands. He wears a black Cashmere suit, the classic FBI Agent attire, his blazer removed and hanging over the empty seat next to him.

He notices Jamieson and hangs up.

‘Ah, Agent Joshua Jamieson, so nice of you to finally join us! I thought we’d be taking off without you!’

‘Ha…yeah…sorry,’ Jamieson stutters. ‘I was held up with…’

‘Sit down,’ Black interrupts, clearly not entertaining any excuses. He points to the seat opposite him.

Jamieson quickly sits down.

Black, intensely stares at Jamieson for an uncomfortable period of time. Jamieson nervously shifts in his seat.

‘As you are no doubt already aware, I am Assistant Director Black, and you report directly to me from now on, are we clear, Agent?’

‘Very clear, Sir.’

‘You’re familiar with the organisation known as ACE?’ Black asks.

‘Yes, Sir.’

Jamieson begins to feel uncomfortable, once again, as Black continues to stare.

Black prompts a response in Jamieson with an expectant expression.

‘Oh right…ACE,’ Jamieson begins. ‘It stands for Animal Cruelty Extermination. An animal rights group dating back to the nineteen nineties. Initially associated with Greenpeace, WWF, ARPUSA, and eventually more extreme groups like SHAC and ALF, until their activism and demonstrations became criminal in nature and they were denounced, at the turn of the millennium, from almost all the animal rights groups. Even PETA. I don’t have much more on them. They are believed to be disbanded.’

‘Okay, you’ve done some research, Jamieson, but tell me this…Who is in charge? Who controls it? Who’s the guy funding this and pulling all the strings?’

‘I thought ACE were a multi-celled group, highly professional and organised but without central leadership?’

Black stares at him, knowingly.

‘But you’re going to tell me that I am mistaken,’ Jamieson adds.

‘It seems we were all mistaken. We’ve had some new intel from the goddamned CIA. They’ve decided to collaborate on this and share information for a welcome change. It would appear that ACE are very much active, and someone’s brainchild. Now, the CIA have found a financial trace from a 4×4 vehicle hire company in Newfoundland.’

‘That’s one helluva lead, Sir.’

Black checks Jamieson’s eyes, to determine if he is being ingratiating. Satisfied that he is, Black relaxes back in his seat.

‘Yes. Someone has, finally, slipped up.’

The boarding crew, two twenty-something women, a blonde and brunette in matching uniforms, close and seal the cabin door and busy themselves as the engines come to life.

Black lifts a mobile phone out of an open briefcase from the seat next to him, and hands it to Jamieson. Jamieson takes the phone and looks at an image on the screen. He immediately begins to study it. It’s obviously a crime scene shot.

‘There’s more. Flick through them and tell me what you see, Agent Jamieson,’ Black says, testing the young Agent.

Jamieson takes a breath and presses the screen, taking him to the next image. And another. The images are brutal and graphic. He has seen dead bodies before but nothing like this.

‘Umm…I see dead bodies…blood…’

‘Come on, Jamieson,’ Black yells.

‘It’s obviously the Royal massacre, in Scotland, Sir. A Duke, a bank manager and a private land owner?’

Three naked bodies, with various gunshot wounds hang upside down from a beam in a murky shed.

‘Prince Richard, who was Duke of Gloucester. Stephen Pester, Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Dutch billionaire businessman, Anders H Povsen,’ Black explains. ‘All pro-hunting.’

Jamieson squints at the image on the screen, one of the men has half his skull missing. He flicks to the next picture.

A man taped to a chair. His face is caked in a gross congealed substance, and a rubber hose hangs out of the goo.

‘What is that pink…stuff…on his face? Wait a minute,’ Jamieson says, looking closer, ‘it came out of his eyes?’

‘Stuart Eastbrook. CEO of McDonalds.’

The McDonalds?’

Black nods.

‘He was pumped so full of pink slime that it burst out of him.’

‘What the hell is pink slime, Sir?’

‘You don’t want to know. A kind of ground beef.’

The colour drains from Jamieson’s face.

He thumbs to the next picture. Only, it’s a video. He shakes his head and looks up at Black.

‘Play it,’ Black says, coldly, loosening his violet tie.

Jamieson hits play and watches the screen. Someone has looped video footage of Canadian Minister Gillian Sheit’s execution and synced it to some rather crude dub-step music.

‘Jesus,’ is all he can say.

‘I know. Damn thing has went viral. We can’t stop it.’

‘No, I mean, Jesus, that is one fat beat,’ Jamieson smiles.

Black just stares blankly.

‘Not appropriate,’ Jamieson says, losing the smile. ‘Just sometimes when I’m nervous I…’

Black just continues to stare.

‘Well, who the hell filmed this?’ Jamieson says, quickly changing the subject back to the case details.

‘We think…the man in the video. Her killer. Obviously the hood and goggles, and the driving snow, are obscuring his face. Go on,’ Black instructs.

Jamieson moves on to another image, a crime scene shot of the minister, naked and frozen on the barren ice sheet, her skull caved in.

‘He…shamed her?’ Jamieson mumbles, disgusted.

He thumbs to another image and recoils, reviled.

‘What the hell is that?’

‘Right, that is Wang Qian, a lucrative businessman from Honk Kong. He used to be the head of the National Traditional Chinese Medicine Strategy Research Project. Made his money dealing in drugs and arms, and setting up fake zoos and wildlife research centres for the cultivation of Rhinos for the traditional medicine market. Since his unfortunate departure information has appeared on WikiLeaks linking Qian and his illegal activities with delegates in the Chinese Government. It’s a mess. And now, so is Qian. CME says he ingested some kind of super-concentrated highly corrosive acid mixed with a black market version of Viagra, along with rhino horn and god knows what else. The acid dissolved him from the inside out, dick…first,’ Black says, distraughtly gazing off into the distance.

He adjusts his position in his seat.

‘Surely not suicide?’ Jamieson asks, shocked and shaking his head at the picture.

‘No, we think someone tampered with his personal stash. He may have been a bastard,’ Black says, loosening his tie further, ‘but that’s no way for a man to go.’

Jamieson points a finger at the screen.

‘Maybe I’m just cynical, but I’m detecting a certain degree of irony in the nature of these killings.’

Black narrows his eyes, knowing.

‘How so?’

‘Well, the hunters become the hunted. The burger man has his fill of beef. The Chinese medicine peddler is killed by his own erectile dysfunction potion. And now the minister, killed just like a seal in the cull that she supports and subsidises?’

Black nods.

‘Go to the next picture.’

Jamieson flicks to the next picture to find a pristine white card.

‘A card..?’ Jamieson looks up at Black. ‘A calling card?’

‘Now look at the pictures again, Jamieson,’ Black says, with intensity.

Jamieson flips through the pictures, slowly, carefully studying each macabre image. At each murder scene, in close proximity to each body, there is a card.

With wide eyes, he looks up at Black, who says nothing.

‘They are all connected,’ Jamieson whispers.

He hurriedly flicks through the pictures. One of the three dead men hanging in the shed in Scotland, an older looking man who Jamieson presumes is the Duke, has a white card slotted between his pimply buttocks. An inch of white card can be seen from the pocket of Stuart Eastbrook’s shirt. Another white card slotted in Minister Sheit’s armpit crevice. And a card sits on the cabinet beside Wang Qian’s remains.

Jamieson glances up at Black again in disbelief and anticipation.

Black reaches into his briefcase. He hands Jamieson a picture. Jamieson quickly takes the photo. It is a close up of the blood-speckled card. Printed on the card, in bold black ink, are two words.

‘Equinsu…Ocha?’ Jamieson asks, puzzled. ‘What is that, Latin?’

‘We’ve had our experts on this for two weeks. They just couldn’t find a translation. They initially thought it was an anagram. We’ve had everything from unique chaos to aqueous chin.’

Jamieson smiles, but cannot tell if he is supposed to find this amusing. Black’s default stony expression clarifies this.

‘Ever heard of the Wachootoo tribe from central Africa?’

‘No.’

‘Neither had I, or anyone else for that matter.’

A steward interrupts and asks that they fasten their seat belts. The aircraft is ready for takeoff. Jamieson is impatient and annoyed at the interruption as he quickly fastens his belt. The engines roar as the aircraft begins to move down the runway.

‘Chief,’ Jamieson says, raising his voice over the engines, ‘why are you showing me all this? Why am I here? Are you bringing me in on this case?’

Black leans forward in his seat.

‘I’ve heard good things about you, Jamieson. Recommendations. Yes, I’m bringing you in on the case.’

The aircraft is tearing down the runway.

‘Thank you, Sir. I won’t let you down.’

Jamieson looks out the window.

‘So, what is our heading?’ Jamieson asks. ‘Are we going to Newfoundland?’

‘No, we’re not.’

Jamieson glances back to find Black’s wry smile.

‘I’m going to Newfoundland. I’ve got something else in mind for you, Agent.’

‘Something else, Sir?’

‘I read from your file that you went undercover for a year with a major drug cartel in Chicago.’

‘Counter narcotics team,’ Jamieson nods. ‘Led to ten convictions and the seizure of five tonnes of Panamanian cocaine.’

Black raises his eyebrows.

‘That’s a lot of coke.’

‘Yes, Sir. But what has all this got to do with the ACE case?’

‘We think we are dealing with a serial killer who is going after high profile targets, using the ACE organisation and its members to carry out his terror. Assuming of course that our killer is male, we are only basing that on a sketchy statement from Eastbrook’s driver and the viral video footage. But I’ve seen cases like this before and the son of a bitch is usually a man. He is currently considered public enemy number one. He’s obviously trying to send a message to the world. The worst kind of lunatic, a killer with a cause. We need you to infiltrate ACE. We need you back undercover.’

‘But why infiltration, Sir? Why not just take the organisation down, one swoop?’

Black shakes his head and rests back in his seat.

‘It’s not enough. If there is a mastermind behind all this, we need you to find the bastard and flush him out. Before he kills again. And besides, we currently don’t know the whereabouts of the organisations HQ.’

‘Then, with all due respect, Sir, how do you expect to infiltrate ACE if you don’t know where it is?’

‘The vehicle trace has led us to an address in Colorado, and a young man, called David Archer. Turns out he’s been an active member of ACE for a short time. The CIA already have him in custody and, thanks to their coercion methods, he is proving to be a valuable source of information.’

Black takes another picture from his briefcase and hands it to Jamieson. Jamieson looks at the photograph of a young man, and, for a moment, thinks he is looking at his own face.

‘We want you to impersonate him,’ Black says. ‘Stay in his apartment and await contact from ACE. That’s your way in.’

‘Wow, we do look…strikingly similar.’

‘I would say uncanny.’

‘And I thought you wanted me on the case because of my experience.’

Black smiles.

‘Can’t it be both?’

Jamieson frantically flicks through all the pictures. Murder. Massacre. Mutilation.

‘Agent, we are asking you to put your safety, your life, on the line here. Are you up for the job?’ Black asks, firmly.

‘Um…uh…’ Jamieson stutters, as his gaze rests upon the close up shot of the calling card. ‘Yes, Sir, you can count on me.’

Jamieson’s mind races.

Serial killer. Undercover. ACE. Wachootoo tribe. Equinsu Ocha?

‘Equinsu Ocha,’ Jamieson mumbles, looking up, ‘Sir, the translation, what does it mean?’

The jet leaves the runway and takes off into the air.

Black stares coldly into Jamieson’s wild eyes.

‘It means…White Devil.’

Jamieson cannot tell if it is the take off, but he suddenly feels very sick to his stomach.

Chapter 7 – The phone call

7a

Apartment – 2A, Downtown Denver, Colorado.

David Archer’s apartment is a small and dingy bedsit located above a small backstreet theatre, called Shoddy Actors Entertainment. The apartment is in serious need of updating. The walls are painted nicotine yellow. Fake plastic plants, coated in a thin layer of dust sit, ugly and useless, in Chintz style vases throughout the place. The beech-style laminate flooring is covered with a multitude of mysterious colourful stains, used tissues and napkins, the odd piece of stale toast, empty plastic water bottles, and crumbs that felt like tiny glass shards to Jamieson’s bare feet on his first night in the apartment. There is a large pile of dirty laundry piled up against one wall. The single bed is unmade, the bed sheets, in need of sterilisation, are soiled with a substance that looks like plum jam. There is a large stain in the centre of the mattress covering. Upon discovering it Jamieson could not tell if it is red wine or blood. Regardless, the bed is off-limits. There is general mess everywhere. The CIA obviously hadn’t bothered tidying up after their thorough search and Jamieson couldn’t bring himself to do it either. But after two weeks of festering in the hole, alone, eating takeout food, the mess, and more so the rank, stale sweet and sour with a hint of semen, smell, had him almost reaching for the Shake ‘n’ Vac.

Jamieson is settled on his camping bed, in his sleeping bag. He is naked, with the exception of his white underpants. With his hands clasped behind his head as a make-shift pillow, he gazes, in a trance, up at the Artex ceiling and a non-functional ceiling fan covered in dusty cobwebs, thinking of the last time he saw his wife’s face. It was only a couple of weeks ago, but it feels longer than that. It feels like an awful long time ago. He sighs and pines for her in his loneliness, somewhat emotional.

Archer’s mobile phone, several feet away, rings and rattles loudly as it vibrates on the kitchen bunker, startling Jamieson. The ringtone is ‘I Wanna be Sedated’ by The Ramones.

‘Shit,’ Jamieson blurts. He tries to move his arms and cries out. They feel like dead weights, stiff and aching. As he slowly regains control of his arms, he begins to groan and chuckle at the same time as paresthesia settles in. He searches for the sleeping bag zipper. His fumbling tingling hands just cannot seem to find it. He fights with the bag for a manic moment.

The phone keeps ringing.

Just put me in a wheelchair, get me to the show
Hurry, hurry, hurry, before I go loco…

Jamieson, having lost track of time, gets himself into a panic that he might miss the call. He swings his legs off the camping bed and tries to stand, but the sleeping bag slides along the floor. He slips and falls backwards, crashing down onto the floor.

‘Je…sus…’ he wheezes, slightly winded.

I can’t control my fingers, I can’t control my toes…

He flips on to his front and gets into the press-up position. He then walks forwards on his hands, dragging his feet as they slide out of the sleeping bag, and in an awkward graceless motion, Jamieson unsheathes himself. He clambers to his feet and reaches the phone on the kitchen bunker, just as it goes off.

‘Goddamn it!’ he yells. ‘Probably should have kept the phone a bit closer to me in hindsight.’

He runs over and kicks his sleeping bag across the room. It lands on top of a heap of open pizza boxes with mouldy, half eaten pizza inside that has been left to rot, and some other unknown substance growing out of what looks like a noodle box. He grimaces realising he should go and rescue it from the grime, and begins to make for it, when the phone rings again.

Ba ba baba, baba ba baba, I wanna be sedated…

He spins around and snatches the phone up to his ear.

‘Hello?’ he says, desperately trying to regain his composure and slip into character.

Silence.

Jamieson waits.

‘Archer?’ a young woman’s voice asks.

‘Yuh huh.’

Silence.

‘Why didn’t you answer the first time?’

‘Oh, I was…in the shower. Just freshening up…you know how I like cleanliness,’ Jamieson says, scanning the befouled room, he frowns at his contradiction. ‘Who is this?’

‘You know who this is. We need you to get on a plane.’

‘A plane? To where?’

‘Cincinnati. Someone will be waiting for you at CVG.’

‘Okay. When?’

‘The next flight is in one hour. I suggest you leave now.’

The caller hangs up. Jamieson looks at his watch. 20:00 PM.

‘Time to go,’ he says.

He quickly gets dressed into black cargo pants and a black polo-neck sweater. He pulls on a fleece rain coat. He pockets his phone, picks up his keys and heads for the door. He pulls it open and steps into a cool and crisp early evening air. He locks the apartment door and turns to face the night. He draws in a long breath of refreshing air and slowly exhales. After breathing in the musty apartment air for so long, the fresh air is invigorating and it sharpens his mind to face the magnitude and uncertainty of what lies ahead of him.

‘One foot after the other,’ he tells himself, ‘one step at a time. You can do this.’

He pulls up his coat collar and then hastily makes for the streets to hail a cab.

7

Chapter 8 – HQ = Q&A

8

ACE Headquarters, abandoned Subway, Cincinnati.

Jamieson clumsily follows two people down a long and large, dark tunnel.

He had been met at the airport by a young man, tall and dark-skinned, with a short well-kept Afro and wearing gold-framed sunglasses, who accompanied him to the airport parking lot where a young woman, with John Lennon spectacles and long hair, dark like black coffee, was awaiting their return in an unassuming titanium silver Honda Accord.

After a half hour drive, of relative silence, the woman had pulled the car onto an unused dilapidated rail track and proceeded to park around one hundred feet inside the entrance to the tunnel, next to a beat up nineteen seventies Chevrolet.

The man and woman both have torches and shine their lights in front of them as they make their way through the tunnel. Jamieson stumbles over a piece of track. He gently collides into the woman.

‘Careful, Archer,’ she complains. ‘Why didn’t you bring your torch?’

She hadn’t spoken much on the journey in the car, but Jamieson reckons it was she who had spoken to him on the phone.

‘Sorry. I must have…left it…back at the apartment,’ Jamieson says, thinking fast. ‘My head’s a bit fuzzy today, I was…drinking pretty hard last night.’

‘You know how he feels about drugs and alcohol,’ the woman says, with anger in her voice that Jamieson can’t understand. ‘We have to be ready to go when the orders drop. That means a clear mind, able to drive and function as an operative.’

Jamieson bites his bottom lip.

‘You’re right, of course, it…was just a one off, I felt a bit…depressed, so I thought I would cheer myself up with a few drinks.’

‘A few drinks!? A few drinks is all it takes to render you useless, dangerous even. I’m concerned that your hangover will impair your judgement.’

‘It…was a bad call. Look, it won’t happen again,’ Jamieson says, rolling his eyes in the darkness, clearly regretting this particular lie.

‘You said you felt depressed?’ the man in front asks, helping Jamieson to dig his hole a little deeper. ‘You’re not having regrets about joining us are you? Second thoughts? You’re about to meet the main man.’

‘The main man?’

‘You know who we are talking about,’ the woman says.

‘The main man…of course,’ Jamieson says, trying to sound sure. He sees an opportunity.

‘Listen, about that. I’ve been wondering what to call him, you know, when I meet him? Is it Sir, or..?’

‘Just call him by his name.’

Jamieson grimaces.

‘His name. Understood.’

‘You didn’t answer my question,’ the man says. ‘Second thoughts?’

‘No, no, if anything I’m more eager than ever. Joining this organisation has been good for me. Last night…I was just…lonely. You know, missing some company from that special someone kind of thing?’

‘Ah, well, I know that feeling,’ the man says, ‘it’s been a while for me too. But you know how he feels about relationships.’

Jamieson screws up his face and shrugs in the darkness.

‘Yeah, I know,’ he says.

‘It’s only temporary guys,’ the woman says, ‘you know that. After we win this war, there will be plenty of time for pussy.’

The man and woman just chuckle.

They walk in silence for a moment. Jamieson considers the woman’s statement.

This war? This is how they see themselves. Fighting a war. Winning a war. A war against who? Animal abusers? Royalty? The Chinese?

‘Here we go, up ahead,’ the man says, shining his torch on a floor-to-ceiling chain link fence.

The fence completely blocks their path. They locate a heavily padlocked door within the fence. Jamieson notices a Danger! Keep out! sign. The man produces a key and proceeds to unlock the padlock. He unravels the chain and swings the door open. They all pass through. He chains the door again and locks the padlock. They move on. After a while they reach a similar fence. After passing through and carrying on they encounter a third fence. They carry on until, gradually, light begins to fill the tunnel.

The low end rumble of generators can be heard.

Now the sound of people. Chattering. Activity.

Media? Computers?

They reach two metal bins, with logs inside, blazing a fire and producing a welcome heat. The ripped guard with the mullet-style hair-do, who looks like he belongs in a wrestling ring from the nineteen eighties, clutching a shotgun, however, doesn’t look so welcoming. But he recognises the man and woman, and lets them all pass, curiously nodding to Jamieson. Jamieson just half smiles, nods back, his eyes fixed on the shotgun, and walks by.

They climb some stairs up onto a platform and Jamieson is impressed at what he sees.

The concourse is lit up by a couple of well-positioned powerful floodlights on stands. There is a large network of computers and monitors on stainless steel workstations. People, maybe twenty, everywhere, moving here and there with purpose and fluency. And standing in the centre of the platform, overseeing it all, is a rugged looking man in his early fifties, tall and thin, with greasy long lank hair. He is dressed elaborately in red and black pinstripe pants and a white vest, with an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt with a smoking machine-gun toting shark motif. Jamieson watches him quietly muttering to himself as they approach. His jerky body movements almost look involuntary. Jamieson guesses this man is either clearly lost and mental, or he clearly must be in charge. Possibly the serial killer himself. Assistant Director Black’s voice echoes through Jamieson’s mind.

Find the bastard, flush him out. Before he kills again.

‘Wait here,’ the woman says.

Jamieson pauses. The woman turns and slowly approaches the main man. He greets her fondly, resting an arm on her shoulder. Jamieson can read a deep kindness in his eyes as he gazes at her.

The dark-skinned man who accompanied Jamieson on his journey remains quiet and skulks off down a sub tunnel. Jamieson stands alone for a moment as the woman explains the situation.

A faint, familiar song begins from somewhere on the platform.

‘People are strange when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone,’  sings Jim Morrison.

The man and woman look him up and down.

Are they suspicious? Do they know?

He beckons Jamieson over. Jamieson approaches.

There is a tense pause.

When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain,’ Jim explains.

‘Bumblebee tuna?’ the man seems to ask.

‘Sorry?’ Jamieson says, shaking his head, trying to make sense of the words he’d just heard.

A code-word?

The man just huffs.

‘Never mind. Archer, huh?’ the man says.

Jamieson swallows.

‘That’s me.’

‘Welcome to Liberty Street Station.’

‘It’s good to finally be here,’ Jamieson says, scanning the area. ‘Liberty Street Station, I like it. Did you make that up?’

‘No, it really was named that, back when the subway was being constructed in the early twentieth century. It was converted to a nuclear fallout shelter in the nineteen sixties. We’ve cleaned it up a bit. It’s home, for now.’

‘Well, I like what you’ve done with the place.’

‘So, how long have you been with us?’

‘A…short time.’

The man seems to stare into Jamieson. He studies his face.

Does he know?

‘Why am I having trouble recognising you, Archer?’

‘Because, we haven’t…met before?’

‘Yes, but I always carry out a background check on my recruits, which means studying detailed pictures of their faces.’

‘Yes?’

The man wiggles his finger at Jamieson.

‘You seem…different,’ he says.

He knows!?

‘Different?’ Jamieson says, keeping his cool.

‘You’ve had a hair cut?’

‘No, no, same…hair.’

‘Shaved your beard?’

‘No, always clean shaven…’

‘Wearing make up?’

‘What? No.’

‘Eye transplant?’

‘Eye transplant?’ Jamieson laughs, but the man looks deadly serious. Jamieson looks to the woman and then back to the man. His laughter fades. ‘No…’

‘Face lift?’

‘No.’

‘Sex change?’

‘Of course not!’ Jamieson blurts, confused by the strange Q&A.

The woman laughs and walks off.

‘All right,’ the man says, with a devilish grin. ‘You just look a little nervy. Edgy. Spooked.’

‘To tell you the truth, I am a bit nervous.’

‘Well, don’t be,’ the man says, softly, suddenly looking sympathetic. He extends a hand. ‘Just take my hand.’

Jamieson, distantly, looks down at his own hand automatically reaching out. The man quickly grabs it tight, yanks it towards his mouth and barks loudly like a vicious dog. Jamieson jumps and pulls his hand free, in shock.

The man just laughs hysterically.

‘That one never gets old,’ he says, seemingly addressing himself, ‘although, I have modified it a bit…freestyle, keep it spontaneous…real…on my toes…’

He realises Jamieson is watching him, bewildered.

He quickly steps forward until he is touching noses with Jamieson. Jamieson’s eyes widen as he watches the man’s eyes dart back and forth.

‘You do have a sense of humour, don’t you?’ he says, grimly.

‘Uh, humour…yes…of course,’ Jamieson stammers.

‘I can’t abide a person with no sense of humour.’

‘No…me neither…especially the ones who say that humour is relative…’

The man’s eyes narrow.

Jamieson looks down.

‘Hey, nice shirt,’ he says, trying to smile.

‘Do you like it?’

‘Yeah, what is that, a shark with an AK47?’ Jamieson nervously chuckles.

‘Know your guns do you? What are you, a weapons expert?’

‘Well, Call of duty, really.’

‘Ahhhhhhhhhh,’ the man sighs, rapidly blinking his eyes and exhaling excessively into Jamieson’s face. ‘Yes, sharks. Another endangered species. Four hundred million years old, sharks. They’ve survived every extinction event on the planet. Now endangered by humans. Humans, having only been around for, at most, two hundred thousand years, and in just that short space of time we’ve endangered, not only sharks, but countless other species too, with hundreds becoming extinct in just the last few hundred years alone. My, aren’t we a destructive force of nature? Now, doesn’t that just make your heart feel like someone is repeatedly stabbing it with an ice pick? Doesn’t that make you wish that when Indonesian fishing fleets sail out onto those Indian waters in search of fins, that sharks really do have AK47s?’

There is an awkward and tense moment of close proximity staring at each other.

‘When you’re…strange,’ Jim sings, bringing the song to a close.

Someone approaches from the right.

‘Sorry to interrupt.’ It’s the woman. ‘But, we’re into their mainframe. We have full control when we need it.’

The man continues to glare at Jamieson.

‘All righty then,’ he says, gruffly, with a twinkle in his wild eyes. ‘You and I are going on a special mission,’ he says, to Jamieson.

‘Special mission?’

The man takes a step back.

‘Are you sure I am ready for this?’ Jamieson asks, feeling everything moving too quickly.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll be watching you.’

Jamieson doesn’t know whether to feel comforted or nervous about that statement.

‘Okay,’ he nods, ‘what do you need me to do?’

‘Go with Penny. She will brief you on the mission and your role.’

Jamieson gazes wistfully at the woman.

‘Penny, what a lovely name,’ he says.

She smiles.

‘Follow me,’ she says, and she makes for a computer station.

Jamieson nods at the man and follows Penny. The man watches him, intently, the whole time.

They arrive at the work station and Penny begins to outline the mission.

‘The target is the Headquarters of Proctor and Gamble, here, in Cincinnati,’ she explains. ‘Your mission is to sneak into the basement level of the building and cut a power cable that controls the electronic locking mechanism on every animal cage in their laboratory. Setting the animals free and creating chaos.’

Penny is fairly efficient on her laptop as she pulls up the building’s blueprints and shows him his entry and exit point. An entrance at the rear of the building. And once inside, she shows him his route to the electrical service room.

‘What about the alarm system?’ Jamieson asks.

‘Our tech-head has access to their mainframe, when you are in position, dial his number and he can disable the alarm system. He just can’t unlock the cages from here.’

‘I thought you said he had full control?’

‘Everything but the cages.’

‘And that’s where I come in.’

‘Exactly. It should be a swift and easy operation.’ Penny nods to the main man. ‘He’ll be going with you, as your driver, and back up should anything go wrong, but we don’t foresee any problems. We’ll supply you with a mobile phone and insulated wire cutters.’

‘When do we leave?’

‘Tomorrow.’

‘To…’ Jamieson blurts, but then lowers his voice, so the main man cannot hear him, ‘morrow? Isn’t that a little…you know…soon?’

‘We’ve been planning this for weeks. Studying schematics, learning personnel rotas and routines, breaking into their mainframe. Timing is crucial. It has to be tomorrow.’

Jamieson tries and fails to swallow a lump in his throat.

‘I understand,’ he says.

‘You leave at twenty hundred hours. Breach at twenty one hundred. I suggest you get some food and some sleep,’ Penny says, her hand gesturing to a sub tunnel. ‘The three of us can fine tune the mission in the morning. And you can get better acquainted.’

She motions her head to the main man, who is still blatantly watching Jamieson.

Jamieson nervously smiles at the man, who does not return a smile.

‘I’m looking forward to it,’ Jamieson mumbles, unconvincingly.

‘I’m sorry you haven’t been introduced until today, but you have only been with us for a short time and we have a strict screening protocol around here.’

She smiles but there is something behind her glistening eyes that leaves Jamieson curious.

‘That’s fine, I understand,’ he says.

Penny just gazes at him for a moment, smiling, until he feels a little uncomfortable. He decides to try his luck.

‘Penny, I…wanted to ask you about his name?’

‘His name?’

‘I was just wondering how he came to be called what he is.’

‘Well,’ she smiles, ‘perhaps that’s a story he can tell you himself?’

Jamieson is disappointed, but hides it well. He nods.

‘Of course, maybe tomorrow morning?’

Now Penny nods.

‘Anyway,’ she smiles, ‘You’ll find something tasty in the canteen, if you are peckish.’

‘Great, I am hungry. Would you care to join me?’

Penny smiles.

‘Maybe another time. I still have some duties to attend to.’

‘Okay, well, goodnight,’ Jamieson says. ‘See you in the morning.’

‘Goodnight, Archer,’ Penny nods.

Jamieson makes his way to the sub tunnel and steps inside. The tunnel is dimly lit, with candles lined along the edges of the walls, but lit nonetheless. He carefully treads through the tunnel until he reaches a cross section. Jamieson can smell something wonderful coming from the path to the right. He takes that path and eventually finds a large arched room. It is being used as a makeshift dining room. There are gas stoves heating giant pots of something deliciously aromatic bubbling away. And several fold out tables, each with four folding stools. Jamieson is surprised to find a young male, in his early teens, stirring a pot of stew like substance. Three other people sit at tables, eating. Two at one table, chatting, and one at another, reading and eating alone. Jamieson walks over to a table with crockery and cutlery on it. He lifts a fork and a bowl and approaches the person stirring the pot.

‘What’s on the menu tonight?’ he asks.

The young man looks up. He is handsome in a gawky teenage fashion. One piercing dark brown eye peers at Jamieson, the other is hidden behind a curtain of tawny coloured hair. His apron with a print of a woman’s body dressed in erotic underwear shows a humorous side to his character. But, he seems nervous, sensitive.

‘You’ve got chickpea and sweet potato curry,’ he says, nodding to the other pot, ‘or three bean and mushroom chilli in here.’

‘Chickpea and potato huh? What, no lamb?’ Jamieson asks, looking around for another pot.

The teen looks at him in disgust and with contempt. Jamieson realises his parapraxis.

‘Bad joke,’ he says, smiling goofily, trying to recover.

The young man takes a moment to suss Jamieson out.

‘Ah, a joke,’ he says, stone-faced. He wheezes out a laugh, but seems to be laughing at the suggestion of a joke, rather than finding the actual joke funny.

‘And they say us vegans don’t have a sense of humour? I think I’ll have the chilli,’ Jamieson sighs.

The teen scoops two ladles of chilli into Jamieson’s bowl and hands him a couple of warm pitta breads. Jamieson thanks him and takes a seat at an empty table. He doesn’t have much hope for the chilli, but he is now hungry and would be grateful for something in his belly. He spoons some food and takes a mouth full.

‘Wow,’ he says, uncontrollably.

The flavours. That cumin, coriander and smoked paprika base. Tomato, carrot and celery nicely cooked and creamy melt in your mouth beans. Kidney, black eye and another I can’t recognise. Nice chunky chestnut mushrooms. Full of juicy flavour. Oh and now the heat from the chillies creeps up. And a slight bitter-sweetness, from…dark chocolate?

This was no ordinary slop. No gruel for the minions. Jamieson breaks some bread and scoops more chilli up and into his mouth.

‘Mmm,’ he says, aloud. He turns to the pot stirrer. ‘Did you make this?’

The teen just smiles, slightly embarrassed.

‘It’s beautiful,’ Jamieson says.

The teen nods, now looking proud.

Jamieson turns back around and devours his meal.

The teen arrives at Jamieson’s table and sets down another bowl, it is the curry.

‘Try this one,’ he says.

‘I reckon I could manage another one or two forkfuls,’ Jamieson smiles, enjoying the new aromas, rising up from the bowl and stimulating his olfactory bulb.

He forks some curry into his mouth. The flavours are intense. The chickpeas and sweet potato are cooked perfectly and seasoned with cumin and garam masala. Ginger and turmeric. Coconut cream and fresh coriander. This time the heat kicks the door in. It is a fiery one.

‘Wow, it’s lovely,’ Jamieson says. He sucks in some air over his tongue. ‘A few chillies in there, huh?’

‘It’s cayenne pepper, actually. Maybe a bit too much?’

‘No, no, the heat is welcome.’

The boy beams a smile that makes Jamieson think of his wife.

‘Y’know, my wife would love this curry,’ he smiles, forking more curry into his mouth.

The boy’s smile widens, his eyes glistening.

‘Who taught you how to cook?’ Jamieson asks.

‘My…mother,’ the boy says, and although still smiling, a tear streaks down his cheek.

Jamieson can see a deep melancholy in the boy’s eyes. He decides not to press the boy about it.

‘Well, you enjoy your meal,’ the boy nods, and returns to his pots.

Jamieson ponders over the boy’s obvious turmoil, as he finishes the remains of his curry.

After thanking the young cook again, he leaves down the same tunnel and comes to the cross section again. He walks straight on, taking the left path, which leads him to another large arched room. A sleeping area.

There are several camping beds in rows with sleeping bags rolled out on top of each bed. Some are occupied with people who have already turned in.

Jamieson finds an empty bed and sits down. A wave of fatigue washes over him. It’s been a long day. The journey and the tension has worn him out.

He removes his shoes and coat and climbs into the sleeping bag. He lies back and sighs. The food in his belly and the warmth of the sleeping bag soon has his eyelids fluttering.

He tries to think of his predicament and the mission that he faces tomorrow.

What use is setting animals loose in a lab? Is it some kind of test? Initiation? Who are these people? Do they know who I really am? Am I in danger? Is the main man the killer? Why does he act so strangely? And how can I get my hands on that chilli recipe?

He needs answers for his torrent of questions, but as another wave of fatigue closes his eyes, he realises they will have to wait for the morning.

His mind fades to black and he soon drifts off to sleep.

8a

Chapter 9 – Men called them the nightmare

9

An unknown tropical rainforest.

The jungle is deep, dense, humid and warm, and teaming, with life and energy. Vibrant colours, so many shades of green. Jungle birds, monkeys, frogs, insects and other indecipherable lurking creatures, create a thick soup of ambient sound in the air. A sound design like no other.

Jamieson creeps through the undergrowth. He is unsure where he is going.

Movement.

He freezes. Nothing. He carries on.

Movement.

Jamieson catches sight of a frightening face through the foliage. It is gone.

Not human, not animal.

Movement again.

Jamieson sees the same face, only clearer. It’s a mask. A war mask.

Movement, all around.

More masks.

War, all around me.

He is afraid. Vulnerable.

Turn back.

He turns and tries to run.

A giant, hideous, white goblin-like monster blocks his path.

It starts up the chainsaw in its hand.

It flaps its massive wings and gives off a blood-curdling screech.

Jamieson can’t move.

Can’t breathe.

I’m suffocating!

‘Breakfast!’ it screeches.

Jamieson is confused.

Breakfast?

Chapter 10 – Next day 8am

10

ACE Headquarters, sleeping area.

‘Breakfast!’

Jamieson opens his eyes.

‘Where the hell am I?’ he mumbles.

‘I know that feeling,’ someone says, on his left hand side.

Jamieson looks around to see a strange man sitting up in his camp bed rubbing his eyes. He begins to remember his situation and his surroundings. Underground. In the subway.

With the…terrorists.

‘Breakfast!’ someone calls out, again.

He sits up and unzips his sleeping bag and climbs out. It is fairly cold so he quickly slips his coat and shoes on. He follows the tunnel until he can catch a wondrous smell.

Pancakes?

He takes the tunnel to the dining area at the cross section and finds the young cook making pancakes on a small frying pan. Jamieson takes a moment to watch the boy as he flips one and then scoops it onto a plate of several other cooked pancakes. There is a selection of preserves, fruit and vegetables, condiments, juice and coffee available, set out on another table. Jamieson helps himself to a plate and a fork and two pancakes from the pile. He forks some red onion, sliced green chilli, and capers on to one pancake, with a splash of balsamic vinegar. He then spoons some raspberry jam and blueberries on to his other pancake.

‘Nice choice,’ the cook notices, nodding his approval.

‘So, what,’ Jamieson says, playfully looking around, ‘no bacon and eggs?’

This time the cook does laugh, remembering their previous encounter. The boy’s smile is endearing and Jamieson takes an instant shine to him. A fleeting thought of the potential danger this young person is in flashes through Jamieson’s mind.

He’s just a kid. Caught in the middle. Or is he here of his own volition?

‘Hey, enjoy the jam, I made it myself,’ the boy smiles.

Jamieson manages a melancholic smile.

‘Thanks, I’m sure I will.’

He lingers for a moment, wanting to engage with the boy a little longer, but the room is busy and the boy turns to dish up some more pancakes for the next hungry person in line. Jamieson takes his plate of pancakes and heads back down the tunnel. When he reaches the cross section he turns left and follows the tunnel to the platform, which is also busy. People prodding keyboards and flitting from one work station to the next, buzzing and vibrating, passing messages to each other like dancing bees in a hive. Some are sipping coffee, still wakening up. Jamieson finds an empty work station and sits down to eat his pancakes. He watches the group as they work.

As far as terrorists go, they all seem really nice so far. Even the weird ‘main man’. He doesn’t come across as an evil cold-blooded killer. But there is definitely something odd about him.

‘How’s your pancake?’ someone asks.

Jamieson looks around with a mouthful. Penny stands looking down at him.

‘Mmm, delicious,’ he says, covering his mouth with one hand, trying not to spit food in Penny’s direction. ‘I don’t know who that cook is but he should open his own restaurant.’

‘Well, you should know him,’ Penny says, with a flash of emotion across her face, that raises Jamieson’s eyebrows. She finds her smile again. ‘I just mean, you should get to know him, he’s a really good kid. Bright. He’s my little brother.’

Jamieson looks at her, surprised.

‘He’s too young to go on missions,’ she says, ‘so he helps in the ways he can. And yes, he’s a wizard in the kitchen. All cruelty-free organic vegan food.’

‘Of course,’ Jamieson smiles.

‘Of course. How did you sleep?’

‘I was out like a light.’

‘Big day today.’

‘Yes.’

‘How are you feeling about tonight’s mission?’

‘Yeah, ready for it. Ready to release those poor imprisoned critters and unleash some chaos.’

Penny smiles, tilting her head. She looks almost sympathetic.

‘That’s the spirit,’ she says. ‘Well, I will let you finish your breakfast. Fine tune the mission later?’

‘Yes, I’ll find you.’

Penny walks off down a different sub tunnel.

Where does it lead?

Jamieson scans the room. No sign of the main man yet. He finishes his breakfast and takes a stroll down the tunnel that Penny had taken. It snakes for a while before opening out on to another platform. An access tunnel between platforms.

‘How many tunnels and platforms are down here?’ Jamieson asks himself.

‘A lot,’ comes a coarse voice. Jamieson follows the direction of the voice and spots the main man in a hammock, swinging gently, supported between two pillars. There is a bright beam of sunlight shining down, from somewhere high in the ceiling, on to him. ‘Enough to get lost, and possibly starve to death, in.’

‘Morning, ‘ Jamieson laughs, ‘that’s a cheerful thought to start the day with. I…hope I’m not intruding?’

‘Not at all. I should do morning radio, shouldn’t I?’ The man sucks in a deep breath through pursed lips. ‘Good morning listeners and this one is for all those commuters stuck in traffic or crammed into a train, the ones who truly hate their job and position in the world, the ones wasting their potential and the best part of their day working for a company that doesn’t respect them and is ultimately detrimental to the planet! It’s Katrina and the waves with Walking on Sunshine. Slavery for survival, and don’t it feel good? Hey!

Jamieson chuckles and slowly walks over.

‘And here’s a special massage from your host with the most, while you’re eating your toast – the single most compassionate act you can do today, this moment, is to go into a forest alone and kill yourself, but hey, why not just enjoy that dumbfucks coffee instead, listeners.’

‘Yeah, something like that,’ Jamieson says, raising an eyebrow.

‘What’s on your breakfast plate this morning? Sliced pig flesh and chicken ovulation anyone? Why not blitz it in the blender and drink it with a straw?’

‘You think that people would appreciate the blunt honesty but I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before your show got pulled.’

‘Why is it that when we get into the nitty-gritty, people just want to switch off?’

‘It’s too big for them. And like you say, most just want to do their job for their survival credits.’

‘If they really thought about the god awful system they passively support and perpetuate, really stopped and thought about it, they, too, would go insane.’

‘They too?’ Jamieson asks.

The man just smiles.

‘Ah, I’m not insane, I suppose. Eccentric, zany, passionate, yes. But insane? Actually…okay, maybe I am a little bit insane. No, scratch that, I’m clearly insane.’

‘Perhaps we all are?’

‘Well, you only have to take a look around you. Needless death, disease, destruction. Humans fucking over humans fucking over animals. How many animals do you think had to die to become breakfast this morning?’

Jamieson thinks for a moment. He knows it is a lot.

‘Over three thousand animals die every second in slaughter-houses worldwide,’ the man says, with a desperate expression. ‘Over seventy billion…billion,’ he repeats, ‘a year. And that is just the official numbers. You know, people say there is a human population problem, that we can’t feed everyone, that there aren’t enough resources. What’s the latest count, seven billion humans now, eight billion? When we consider that we are feeding our own food, grains, soy, water, to ten times our own population, the problem isn’t a lack of resources, it’s how we allocate them.’

‘Seventy billion?’ Jamieson says, shocked.

‘Like I said, those are just the official numbers. In reality, counting all the fish and the animals that perish at the hands of medical pseudo-science and the billions of male chicks that are fed into a grinder while they are still conscious and so on, and so on, and on and on, all those lives that the official weight counts leave out, the number reaches into the trillions. Trillions of animals a year. It’s impossible to even comprehend that number. In fact, it is unquantifiable. Now, that, is insane. So, what does that say about us as a species? We still enslave each other, let alone the animals. Still slaughter each other. Such violence and rampant insanity.’

Jamieson considers the new knowledge. The numbers. The scale of it all exceeds his ability to imagine the slaughter, the suffering.

Is it natural? Is it required? Can we exist without it? Can humans sustain feeding ten times their own population?

He understands that these people care about animals. That there is a certain amount of honour in defending creatures that can’t defend themselves. He can see the passion in the eyes of this man as he speaks.

This isn’t a fad, a fraud or a fleeting glimpse into the ethics of animal rights. This man lives it. Perhaps hyper-empathic. Bi polar. But psychopathic? A murderer? There is nothing in his behaviour, aside from some quirkiness, to suggest he is the killer. Not yet.

‘Do you not feel it leech from you, Archer?’ the man asks, staring intensely into Jamieson’s eyes. ‘It feeds on your life force, your passions, your creativity. It hollows you out and puts itself back in. Do you not feel all that madness saturating into your soul? Quelling some emotions and fuelling others. It can make you seek righteousness, peace,’ he says, looking up to the light. He pauses, and then returns his gaze to Jamieson, ‘or it can make you twisted, dangerous.’

Jamieson is disturbed by the man’s glare.

‘Yes, sometimes,’ he nods.

The man seems to take comfort in Jamieson’s answer. But then gazes back at him with sympathetic eyes.

‘Don’t worry, when we win this war, there will be a new order in this world. Not born from tyranny or slavery. But of compassion. Peace. Community. A saner, gracious civilisation. For animals…and humans.’

Jamieson can’t help but nod in approval at the vision of the future. Although, he realises that he does not agree with the methods that ACE are using to achieve that vision. And, he can’t help but feel that that future is a long way away.

‘And I thought we were just releasing some monkeys,’ Jamieson tries to joke.

The man seems to harden his gaze. And now he smiles.

‘One battle at a time,’ he says, holding his stare, until Jamieson blinks and looks away. ‘Besides, it’s not just monkeys we are releasing tonight. Dogs, rabbits, mice. They all count.’

‘Of course, I was just trying to be funny. You said you liked a sense of…humour?’

The man slowly eases himself out of the hammock and stands up. He squints his eyes at Jamieson.

‘What are you? Some kind of smart ass?’ he says, coldly.

Jamieson senses the change in atmosphere and panics slightly.

‘What?’ he asks, shaking his head. ‘Sorry…no, I was…kidding around…I didn’t mean to come across as trying to be smart…or anything…’

‘Are you ready for this mission tonight or not?’ the man demands, raising his voice.

‘Yes…of course, I…’

‘Oh, because only last night you didn’t sound so sure.’

‘I…slept on it…and…feel more confident today, so…’

There is a tense pause.

Someone giggles from behind Jamieson. He turns to see Penny approaching, clutching a laptop in one hand. Her other hand is in a falconry gauntlet. A large black crow is perched on the glove. She smiles at Jamieson. The crow caws and flies past him, making him jump. It lands on a perch next to the man, who watches Jamieson.

Corvus brachyrhynchos,’ the man says.

Jamieson shakes his head.

‘Corfu broken nachos?’

The man glances at Penny. She just nods.

‘The crow,’ the man says.

Jamieson catches on.

‘Ah yes, the bird. The scientific name… Latin, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ Penny says, as she stands next to Jamieson. ‘The American crow, to be precise.’

‘Of course,’ Jamieson smiles and nods.

‘Yes, crows,’ the man says, ‘one of the most intelligent creatures on the earth, opportunistic, adaptable, with a photographic memory for faces. You piss off a crow, it’ll remember you. Might even sneak up and bite you in the ass. Found in every continent of the world, bar Antarctica. Even the crows adhere to the Antarctica treaty. You see, they communicate to each other using two dialogues; the usual crow caw you hear for interaction with the rest of the general crow world, and…another dialogue.’

He approaches the bird. He reaches up and strokes its head.

‘A more intimate voice,’ the man says, softly, as the bird closes its eyes, enjoying the sensation.

The crow’s chest bellows and it opens its beak, but a strange, almost electronic, fluttering chirp comes out its mouth. Jamieson stares at it astonished, as it does it again.

‘It’s a voice just for family. And they’re extremely loyal to their family,’ the man says, glancing intensely at Penny again. He turns to Jamieson.

‘You know, they call a group of crows a murder of crows,’ he says, with a very slight sly grin and a gleam in his eye like electricity.

Jamieson doesn’t know what to say. He is too pre-occupied with the way the man had put a certain emphasis on the word murder.

‘But of course,’ the man continues, ‘being an animal lover, like us, you know all this stuff already, don’t you?’

‘Well, I knew they were intelligent, but never knew…all the…rest…fascinating stuff,’ Jamieson stammers, unnerved by the man’s lingering glare. Jamieson approaches the bird.

‘They are lovely birds…’ he says, and reaches out to tickle it under its chin.

The crow scolds at Jamieson and pecks his finger.

‘Jesus! Devil bird!’ Jamieson cries, pulling his hand away and stumbling backwards.

The man gives Penny another glance. She gently and discreetly shakes her head. The man turns to Jamieson and sniggers.

‘Guess he doesn’t consider you part of the family yet?’ he says, laughing. But there is a seriousness in his eyes.

‘Oh, don’t mind Edgar, Archer,’ Penny says, smiling, ‘he’s just teasing you. If he wanted to hurt you he would have gone straight for your eyes.’

‘I’ll consider myself lucky,’ Jamieson says, holding his stinging finger and taking one more step back.

Jamieson notices the man glaring at him again.

‘Anyway,’ Penny says, breaking the awkwardness.

The man’s expression softens as he gazes at Penny.

‘How about instead of playing games,’ she says, looking directly at the man, who just shrugs in feigned innocence, ‘we go over tonight’s mission?’ she says.

‘Good call,’ he says, smiling.

Jamieson just shakes his head, trying to shake his uneasiness off.

‘Sure, yeah,’ he says, shooting an awkward glance at the man.

Penny walks over to a nearby table and opens her laptop. Jamieson and the man join her. On the screen is a map of Africa. She closes that window and opens another. Another map, of Downtown Cincinnati.

‘Okay,’ she says, ‘let’s start with route.’

Chapter 11 – En route

11a

Sycamore Street, Downtown Cincinnati.

The journey so far had been quiet.

From the moment Jamieson had climbed into the passenger seat of the Honda, and the main man had carefully reversed out of the subway in silence, he knew the man wasn’t in any mood for talking. He seemed to be too preoccupied, in his mind. Distant, and deep in thought.

Focused, perhaps? Focused and…quiet.

Even the album, Dark Side of the Moon, playing on the car stereo, was quiet.

Jamieson decided it was probably best to stay quiet. Focus on the mission. He needs to get this right tonight, if he wants to gain the man’s trust.

He looks down at the digital time display in the centre of the dashboard. Under half an hour to go.

He goes over the mission in his mind.

Reach the drop off point. Navigate to the rear of the building. Locate the door.

He is distracted by the words from the particular song that is playing, Brain Damage.

And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon…

Jamieson forces his mind back to the mission.

Phone the tech head to deactivate the alarm and unlock the door. Enter building. Follow predetermined route to the electrical service room in sub level. Locate relevant cable for animal cages. Cut the cable. Exit the building and proceed to pick up point.

But he can’t concentrate.

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon…

The man’s presence is making him nervous.

Why has he come? He could have had Penny drive tonight. Or any of the others. Has he come to watch? To judge? A test?

Jamieson can’t help but feel there is another reason that will soon raise its ugly head. He gazes out of the window at the city streets as they roll by. The streets are still bustling with life and energy. Humans commuting and shopping, humans toiling and labouring, humans boozing and engaging in drug-fuelled debauchery, and erroneously calling it culture.

What does the night hold for Cincinnati tonight?

‘Nervous?’ the man asks, breaking Jamieson’s gaze and thoughts.

‘No. Well, not so much nervous. I’m just wondering how tonight is going to play out.’

‘It should play out as we planned.’

Jamieson gazes out of the window again.

‘It’s a nice city.’

‘Cincinnati? Nicknamed Porkopolis. Used to produce more pork than anywhere else in the country. Chiefly racist, kind of in denial about it. Their idea of cleaning up the city was to push all the blacks and the poor to the outskirts. Out of sight, out of mind. The first purely American city established after the revolution. Maybe we start our own little revolution tonight? In the spirit of that revolution and its subsequent inevitable war. Back then they fought for what they believed in. Gave their lives and took life in a battle for true honour and integrity.’

The man turns to Jamieson.

‘Could you do it, Archer?’ he asks, his eyes sparkling. ‘Kill for something you believe in? Die for something you believe in?’

In his duty as an agent, Jamieson hadn’t killed anyone. He recalls drawing his weapon from time to time, even fired warning shots, but he hadn’t shot anyone. But he knew that given the right circumstances, there would come a time when he would have to shoot someone. Perhaps even kill them. He swore an oath to serve and protect the innocent. To uphold law. Even if it did cost him his own life. He believed in those principles when he joined the FBI. And he still does. He realises that he would kill, and die, for his beliefs. It shocks him.

‘I would like to get through my life without killing anyone, I guess,’ Jamieson answers, carefully.

‘I understand the sentiment, but in times of war, killing is unavoidable. Some might even say necessary.’

‘I mean, I love animals and want to help protect them, that’s why I am here. But would I kill to protect them? Let’s just say I don’t intend to kill anyone or die anytime soon. Let’s see how my role in this war pans out. Like you said, one battle at a time.’

The man nods.

‘And let the battle commence.’

He signals and pulls over to the side of the road.

‘There,’ he says, pointing to a high rise building with two plaza towers, overlooking an expanse of immaculately maintained gardens.

The building is L-shaped and the two towers, with bright blue glass pyramids at the top of each tower, meet at the join. Its white limestone walls looks dull and grey against the deep dark blue of the evening sky, even lit up in bottle-green floodlighting.

Jamieson collects his rucksack from the car floor and gets out of the car. He turns to the man.

‘So, you’ll be waiting at the pickup point?’ he asks.

‘That’s right,’ the man smiles. ‘I’ll just be sitting in the car, waiting, while you have all the fun tonight.’

There is a twinkle in the man’s eyes that gives Jamieson an unsettled feeling.

‘Okay, see you there,’ he says.

‘Good luck,’ the man says.

Jamieson pauses, takes a deep breath and swings the door closed. He slinks off in the direction of the building.

The man raises his eyebrows and shakes his head. He sniggers out of the side of his mouth.

‘Loser,’ he smiles, as he pulls away and drives around to the pickup point. He stops the car. And waits.

After a quick power nap, he is awakened by the vibrating phone in his pocket. He takes it out and looks at the text message on the screen. He grins like a smug cat.

He climbs out and walks around to the rear of the car. He opens the boot and takes out his own rucksack.

‘Okay, Mr Beagly,’ he says. ‘Your time as a fanatical animal abuser ends tonight.’

He pulls his bag over his shoulder, closes the boot and casually takes off towards the building.

11b

Chapter 12 – P&G = OMG

12c

Proctor and Gamble Co. Headquarters.

Late evening.

Head of Research and Development, Frank Beagly, is sitting, in his laboratory, hunched, at his desk, finishing an experiment.  A rotund middle-aged man, he breathes heavy, his position putting too much pressure on his lungs.

The lab is open plan and lengthy with many work stations and desks, and various kinds of equipment and technology. In one area there are row upon row of cages containing many different species of animal, from dogs and cats, to monkeys and mice, to rabbits and rats. The overhead lighting above Beagly’s workstation is on but the rest of the laboratory is shrouded in darkness.

‘Goodnight, Mr Beagly,’ a colleague says, as she hurriedly leaves and enters the elevator. Beagly is too engrossed in his experiment. The doors are already closing before he notices and acknowledges her.

‘Huh,’ he says, looking up from a squealing rabbit which is secured tightly in a restraining apparatus with clamps. He is gingerly attempting to inject a peculiar looking substance from a syringe into the creature’s eye. The elevator doors close.

‘Yes, goodnight…’ he says, nonchalantly, raising his thin grey eyebrows which match his thinning grey side-parting.

A sudden squeal from the rabbit pulls Beagly’s attention back. He has inadvertently stabbed the needle deep into the twitching creature’s eye socket and into its brain.

‘Goddamn it!’ he yells, as the animal goes limp and lifeless. ‘Two hours of my life wasted. Thanks, you stupid bitch,’ he calls out, in the direction of the elevator. He angrily thrusts himself up and out of his seat. ‘I’ll have her job. Who was that?’

He realises that he hadn’t looked up in time to identify her, and this frustrates him further.

‘Maybe I’ll have Joe look over the CCTV footage?’ he suggests to himself.

He struts down the length of the laboratory, his unfastened lab coat flapping behind him, through double doors and out into a corridor. He makes his way to a small office at the far end of the corridor. There is a small note pinned on the door which reads:

CCTV system down, gone to the main control terminal to reset the computer.

Beagly tuts and looks through the office window. The CCTV monitors display only static.

‘The main control terminal? That’s in the sub level.’

He briefly thinks about heading down there. After some consideration, he decides to just huff, and make his way back to his desk instead.

He re-enters the lab. It is deserted, save for frightened, restless animals, cowering in cramped stainless steel cages and audibly suffering.

‘Oh, I’ll start again in the morning,’ he concedes, reaching his desk.

He slumps back down in his seat, unfastens the top button on his pink pastel shirt and picks up a mug. He takes a sip of cold coffee as he stares at the dead animal in front of him. Its petrified dead eyes staring right back at him. An electrical pulse ripples down his spine, unnerving him.

‘Must be the coffee,’ he tells himself.

Beagly yawns. He looks up at a clock on the wall. It’s twenty one thirty hours.

‘Time to head home. To the wife,’ he scowls. He looks back at the dead rabbit. ‘Consider yourself lucky,’ he says, pointing at it. He begins to chuckle.

His amusement is interrupted by a loud smashing noise, somewhere behind him in the lab.

Beagly jumps out of his chair again.

‘Damn macaques have gotten loose again?’ he blurts.

He carefully walks towards the direction of the sound and eventually discovers an apparatus of beakers and test tubes lying smashed on the ground.

‘Little bastards,’ he grumbles.

He bends down to pick up a beaker that has remained intact, and as he straightens up again he feels a powerful blow to the back of his head. Pain overwhelms his senses, brilliant bright colours flash in front of his eyes, and as his legs give way under him and it all fades to grey, he starts to fall. The grey fades to black, as he hits the floor, unconscious.

A short time later, Beagly slowly wakes up with a long groan. He has the mother of all headaches. He opens his eyes. At first he thinks he is blind, he gasps, but he realises it is simply dark, wherever he is. He seems to be sitting down.

He tries to move but his head and his body ache. His head, due to the blow, and his body, due to sitting in one position, for however long he has been unconscious.

He tries to move again and can’t and panics again, thinking he is paralysed. But then he realises that he is tied. Cable tied and duct taped to his chair. His head is tightly held back in position with one of his own restraining clamps.

He tries to call for help, but can’t. His mouth is taped closed. Now he truly panics. He struggles and groans and breathes heavily through his nostrils until he is exhausted. He is trapped. His wide bloodshot eyes dart, scanning the darkness.

He tries to call out again but the pain from his head washes over him again and he struggles to stay conscious, blinking rapidly.

An overhead light flickers on directly above him, creating a spotlight effect.

‘Ah Frankie, welcome back,’ comes a man’s gruff voice.

Beagly freezes, holding his breath. A shadowy figure slowly begins to approach Beagly from out of the darkness, into the light, and proceeds to straddle him in his seat.

‘Why, you look terrified Frankie.’

Beagly’s breath is shallow and erratic as he stares up at his antagonist.

‘Frank Beagly, Head of Research and Development. I find it too ironic, too cynical to bear, that a man has a surname that sounds like the very species of dog he tortures to death on a daily basis.’

The man leans in closer to Beagly’s face.

‘Do you know why vivisectionists and animal torturers like you use that particular species of dog, Frankie? The Beagle?’

Beagly knows why. His eyes answer the question.

‘Of course you do. It’s because they are docile and obedient. And trusting.’

The man lowers his head and his body shudders as if he is in pain.

‘You use their gentle, trusting nature against them in the most hideous and merciless ways, don’t you, Frankie?’

Beagly tries to protest. To plead. He frantically mumbles something incoherent.

His captor just raises a finger to the tape, where Beagly’s lips would be.

‘Ssssshh,’ he says. ‘This isn’t a court case where you try to justify or mitigate your actions. This, Frankie, is an execution.’

Beagly fears for his life and begins to squirm in his seat, trying to shout for someone, anyone, to rescue him from this nightmare. But of course, no one does. Or will. He begins to sob.

‘Did you think your crimes would go unpunished? Did you think your swarm of lawyers, the police, your hired thugs, could protect you from your judgement?’

Beagly sobs and tries to plead for his life with his eyes.

‘There is no judgement for people like you. No forgiveness. No rehabilitation. Psychopaths like you don’t have the ability, the mechanism for compassion, to see the error of your destructive ways. And some can see their errors, some know their transgressions, and just don’t care. And me..?’ the man says, raising a test tube with a clear faint yellow viscous liquid inside. ‘Well, I’m just a different kind of psychopath altogether,’ he smiles.

The man pauses and seems to be in deep thought for a moment.

‘You see, after all these years of dealing with people like you and your god awful industries, I find the best solution is – fight fire with fire.’

The man holds the test tube just above Beagly’s right eye.

‘Or another way of putting it; an eye for an eye.’

Beagly begins to moan and sob and his frightened desperate eyes try to beg for mercy. It causes the man to pause.

‘You know, you look exactly like the millions of animals that are tortured and destroyed every day. Scared and defenceless, fearing death, or worse. When they find your body, the world will understand this message, Frankie. I can be the one to set you free from it all. This life you have built for yourself, a life of torture and cruelty and pseudo-science. I can give you the retribution you will never know. I can bring some meaning to the needless death that you and your corporation inflict on nature in this world. Do you not see, Frankie? I am your Redeemer.’

There is a silent lull. Beagly holds his breath.

‘Now,’ the man says, ‘from reading your public relations literature regarding your toxicity tests on animals, this should only be mildly irritating.’

He pours some of the liquid into Beagly’s open eye.

Beagly immediately screams from behind the tape and writhes in his seat as his eye begins to sizzle and bubble and burn. Combined with the pain from his head wound, he briefly fades in and out of consciousness.

‘Well, I would hardly call that mild irritation…’ the man laughs, reading the side of the test tube. ‘Ah, says here – concentrated…and…dilute before use. Woopsy.’

Beagly’s eye slowly dissolves away as his attacker moves the test tube over his other eye and tips some liquid out. Beagly closes his eye lid in an attempt to protect himself. But the liquid burns his eye lid away, just in time to see more liquid falling down onto his exposed eye.

He screams again and contorts in his seat as both his eyes burn and sizzle and a dirty black smoke rises up from the gloopy pulp.

His assailant leans in and takes a deep breath through his flaring nostrils, inhaling the foul fumes.

‘Mmm,’ he says, ‘gravy.’

As the liquid works its way into Beagly’s skull and starts dissolving his gray matter, he is barely aware of his killer getting off him, placing a small white card on his chest, taking a photograph and then swiftly leaving.

As Beagly’s mind slips into the final stages of death and his brain is flooded with sedating, dream inducing chemicals, he can’t help but realise that when he is found in the morning, he will look exactly like the dead rabbit he was laughing at earlier. Bound and tortured. And dead.

But now all that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Nothing does. Not even the fact that there is no tunnel, no light, no angels or deceased relatives to greet him.  Just a fading sense of regret and then blackness, as he finally dies.

12a

12

Chapter 13 – Pick up point

13

Outside Proctor & Gamble Co. Headquarters.

Jamieson paces the length of the car and back again. He huffs as adrenaline courses through his veins.

‘What the hell is going on? Where is he?’ he asks the night.

He begins another pace, carefully scanning the area for security personnel, and listening out for the sounds of alarms or sirens. He sees a shape moving. A figure approaching, fast. His heart races.

Security? No…wait…it’s him.

‘Where the hell have you been?’ Jamieson cries, as he watches the man stride towards him and the car. ‘I’ve been waiting here for half an hour!’

‘Get in the car,’ the man says, as he unlocks the vehicle. He swings the door open and climbs in.

‘What?’ Jamieson blurts, but he gets in at the passenger side. They throw their bags on the back seat and close their doors.

The man starts the car and they take off, with haste.

After an intense silence and some hasty driving, the man settles the car into cruise mode. Jamieson becomes aware of a lingering acrid aroma.

‘Do you mind telling me what happened back there?’ Jamieson asks, trying to contain his anger. He screws up his face. ‘And what the hell is that vile smell?’

The man sniffs his sleeve. He shrugs.

‘Did you complete your mission?’ he asks.

‘Well…yes, I cut the cable.’

‘Then the mission was a success. That’s what happened back there. Congratulations. How do you feel?’

Jamieson blinks and considers his actions. He did it. He can’t help but feel exhilarated. The rush and excitement still coursing through him. The plan was flawless, except for one detail.

‘Thanks, yeah, I’m still buzzing, but where were you? How could you leave me hanging like that?’

‘Yeah, sorry about that. I had something to do. It took longer than anticipated. But, hey, here we both are, escaping. On our way home. I think a celebration is in order. Break out the elderflower cordial and hummus and oatcakes. Woo! Party!’

‘You had something to do? I thought you said your sole duty was to drive tonight? That you would wait in the car for my return?’

‘Look, you had your mission. I had mine. And they were both a success. So enough of the questions. We move on.’

Jamieson isn’t satisfied with the explanation.

That was no explanation at all!

His curiosity is burning inside him. So many unanswered questions.

Where did the man go, and what was his mission? Why have I been kept in the dark?

Two police cars with sirens screaming and lights flashing tear towards them on the opposite side of the road.

‘Here they come,’ Jamieson says, nervously.

‘Relax,’ the man says, his eyes, fixed dead ahead.

The police whizz passed them at high speed, with a notable Doppler effect, presumably on their way to Proctor & Gamble’s Headquarters.

Jamieson takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

His elation at the success of his mission quickly turns to doubt.

What have I done? What have I taken part in? They ask me to cut a cable and I just do it? Without really knowing anything else about the mission, or people’s intentions? Or who might get hurt?

They both sit in silence, deep inside their thoughts, as they steadily make their way back to the subway.

There is a downpour of rain. Ace switches the windscreen wipers on as Jamieson worriedly gazes out of the window, thinking.

Oh Cincinnati, what have I done?

Chapter 14 – A family affair

14

ACE Headquarters, late evening.

Jamieson and his reticent colleague return to the subway station. The crew greet them both, as they arrive at the platform, with a round of applause. Jamieson is surprised to feel elated again. He can’t help but smile.

Penny steps forward.

‘Well done,’ she smiles. She hugs the man, who seems equally happy to see her. He hugs her back, hard.

Obviously something between these two.

‘So you two are an item?’ Jamieson asks.

They pull apart, laughing at Jamieson’s question.

‘Not quite,’ Penny says, offering a hand to Jamieson. ‘Mission accomplished. Well done.’

‘No cuddle?’ Jamieson asks, unable to contain a smile.

Penny smiles too. He shakes her hand.

‘You know about the mission? You all know, already?’ Jamieson asks, somewhat confused.

‘Well, yes, it’s already on the news.’

Penny releases her grip and points to an open laptop on a nearby work station. There is a news broadcast on the screen. The news anchor wears a professionally tailored expression of serious concern as she speaks.

‘Wow, that was fast,’ Jamieson says, wide eyed.

Jamieson edges towards the laptop with an impish grin.

‘Who’d have thought that the plight of some lab animals would be so news worthy.’

He expects to see manic monkeys and rabbits rampaging through a ravaged laboratory, with perturbed people in white coats, yielding nets, desperately running after them, Benny Hill style.

Please be advised, she says, with perfect timing, some viewers may find the following scenes disturbing.

Jamieson’s smile drops as the screen changes to that of a murder scene. It is a laboratory alright. But there are no scampering animals. No comedic clowns chasing them with outstretched arms. There is only a chair with a strange apparatus crudely attached to it that looks like a Victorian torture device, cordoned off with police tape. There are obvious blood stains on the floor.

We are live at the scene in Cincinnati where the mutilated body of Head of Research and Development at Proctor & Gamble, Frank Beagly, was discovered by the building’s caretaker at around 11.00 o’clock this evening. Local police have already confirmed that they are opening a murder investigation and are connecting this death with a string of similar execution style murders of high profile targets in recent weeks.

Jamieson tears his eyes away from the screen and whips his head around to find Penny and the man hushedly chatting to each other and watching him from across the room. He gazes intensely at them, hurt and angry, duped and betrayed. He turns back to the screen. A stretcher, with an occupied body bag laid out on it, is wheeled out of P&G’s headquarters main entrance by two paramedics. There is heavy police presence. Then the screen changes to an on-scene interview with a bald shell-shocked man in his forties, in royal blue overalls, the caretaker.

Well, there was a problem with the CCTV system, y’see? So I went to the sub level to try and fix the problem. That’s when I noticed that the wiring for the CCTV system had been sabotaged. I knew Mr Beagly was working late so I went to go find him, to report what I had discovered. But I never expected to find him like…that. Holy suffering saviour…I’ve…never seen anything like it in all my life. I think I will never be able to get that grotesque image out of mind.

The scene changes to the very electrical service room where Jamieson had carried out his mission. There is a close up shot of the wiring that Jamieson had cut.

Jamieson quickly snaps his head back around to Penny and the man, furious. Then he hears a familiar voice from the news report. He turns back to the screen to find Deputy Director Guerra giving a statement.

We believe the murderer gained access to the building from the rear, disabled the cameras so he could then go undetected to carry out this heinous crime. The killer could be working alone but we are currently following a line of enquiry which suggests the murderer may have had an accomplice. There is still much to do but we are now certain that this murder is connected to the recent string of similar high profile murders across the globe. We are also fairly certain that the animal rights group ACE, who we are now treating as an active terrorist group, are responsible, and we are doing everything we can to hunt them down and detain them before they strike again. We are appealing for more witnesses to come forward at this time and…

Guerra turns and looks directly down the camera lens.

…we are urging anyone with any information that may help us in this investigation to get in touch as soon as possible.

Jamieson understands that Guerra is addressing him. He turns and storms towards Penny and the man. The man steps forward in a defensive posture, shielding Penny.

‘What the hell happened tonight?’ Jamieson yells into the man’s face, outraged. ‘You murdered a man?’

‘Not a man, a monster.’

‘A monster? You murdered a man in cold blood, and he’s the monster?’

Jamieson looks to Penny.

‘And you knew? Knew what was coming?’

‘Of course,’ she says, seriously.

‘And you condone this?’

‘This is war. We all knew what we were signing up for.’

‘War? War is two armies battling each other over land or a dispute. This was an assassination. Premeditated murder!’

‘Like she said,’ the man says. Jamieson turns to him. ‘We all knew what we were signing up for. Even you.’

Jamieson realises his outburst, and the fact that this group are willing to murder for their cause. He tries to regain some control and slip back into character, despite his emotions. But he is so overwhelmed, he doesn’t know how to respond. Unwittingly, Penny throws him a life line.

‘You were asked if you would be willing to do what it takes to succeed in our mission to rid the world of animal abuse,’ she says, ‘and if you recall, you answered yes.’

‘I know what I said,’ Jamieson says, regaining some composure, ‘but I never actually thought it would…come to this. So the cable you had me cut, was the security system, not the locking mechanisms on…Jesus…how could I be so gullible?’

‘Their security system was too advanced, too encrypted, to crack. So we had to do things the old fashioned way,’ the man smiles.

‘And now I’m an accomplice?’ Jamieson blurts. ‘An accomplice to murder? A terrorist? I could get 25 years for this…’

‘You’re an expert on sentencing too?’ the man says.

Jamieson decides to ignore the question and dwells on the implications of his actions.

I have to contact Black. I need to leave the subway. Slip away somehow. But how? When? Christ, what have I gotten myself into?

‘You’re not alone,’ Penny says, tentatively, ‘we all know what you are going through. We have all been there.’

Penny shoots the man a knowing glance. He acknowledges her statement by dipping his head towards her, without making eye contact.

‘But regardless of your definition and justification of war,’ she continues, ‘this is a battle. A battle to protect the innocent.’

‘From slavery!’ someone shouts.

‘From exploitation!’ shouts another from the gathering.

Jamieson turns to the crowd.

‘From cruelty!’ comes another voice.

‘From suffering!’

‘From genocide,’ the man says.

Jamieson turns back to him.

‘What do you think this organisation stands for?’ the man says, glaring maniacally at Jamieson with a very slight grin. ‘A.C.E? Animal-cruelty-extermination. This is what we do. What we must do.’

‘We do what we must, to earn back their trust,’ the group say together.

‘Jesus,’ Jamieson sputters out a dry laugh, ‘What is this, a cult?’

‘Nothing wrong with a mantra,’ the man says.

‘Got any more?’ Jamieson teases.

‘Suffer the pain, of the fallen, the slain,’ they all say in unison.

‘Okay, I was kidding,’ Jamieson says, holding up his hands as if surrendering, ‘this is just getting too weird.’

‘Then, how about this one?’ the man says.

Jamieson turns to him. The man takes a step closer and peers into Jamieson.

‘Pasop die opkoms van die Equinsu Ocha.’

‘Equinsu Ocha, Equinsu Ocha!’ the group chant.

Jamieson recognises the words. The words on the killer’s calling card.

Equinsu Ocha. White Devil.

He stares into the man’s intense eyes.

No doubt now. It must be him. The killer. The White Devil.

‘What is that? African?’ Jamieson asks, trying to keep his cool, and taking a chance.

The man smiles.

‘What are you, a translation expert too? You’ve got some skills for a kid your age.’

Now Jamieson smiles, as he thinks hard.

‘I’m twenty six. Hardly a kid. And I’m no translation expert. I just watch African soccer. I kind of recognised the accent.’

The man stares at him with an eerie grin.

‘Well when you get to my age, you’ll understand that I was right, you’re still a kid. And African soccer, huh?’

Jamieson holds his stare.

Penny steps forward.

‘Consider this your initiation,’ she says. ‘Your reaction, your anger, is natural. We did not disclose all the facts to you regarding your mission. And now you are in deep by default. You have every right to feel indignant. But it was a test. You passed. We are more than satisfied with your ability. The mission could not have gone smoother. But you seem to be holding back. Not passionate and committed enough to our cause.’

Jamieson just stares at her. She stares back. And so does everyone else on the platform. And he can feel it. As if their eyes are firing burning lasers at him. He knows he is on the spot. He has to agree to go further. Deeper into the organisation.

Or can I refuse and just walk out of here? I could have a swat team here soon after. Just take the whole lot of them down. And stop this madman’s crusade. Which…I am now part of. Is he even the killer? Has he really admitted to the murders? Maybe I’m not an accomplice to murder after all? Who am I trying to kid here? Jesus, they are all gawking at me. I have to give them an answer.

‘So what say you?’ Penny asks. ‘Are you in, or are you out?’

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

‘I cannot personally kill anyone,’ Jamieson announces. ‘That is my only condition. I will not. Otherwise, I’m in. For the animals, right!?’

He fist pumps the air. There is a tense, quiet pause. Wind gushes through the subway tunnel creating a chilling high-pitch whining sound. The cool gust catches Jamieson, still standing with his lonely fist in the air, buffering against his back, making him shudder.

‘Okay,’ the man says, smiling, ‘I can accept that.’

The crowd starts to clap.

‘Archer, isn’t it?’ the man asks, over the crowd. ‘Jamie…James Archer, isn’t it?

Jamieson’s heart skips a beat. The man’s guess had sounded awfully close to Jamieson’s real surname.

‘It’s David, actually.’

‘Of course, David Archer,’ the man says, and extends a hand.

The crowd begin to cheer and clap.

Jamieson feels light-headed. The room spins. This surreal situation clearly taking its toll. Dazed, he lowers his fist and reaches out his hand. Their hands connect and they shake.

‘Nice to meet you,’ the man smiles, ‘I’m Ace Ventura…Pet Detec…’

Ace seems to confusedly look off into a distant memory. He stares back into Jamieson’s eyes with resolve.

‘I’m Ace Ventura…’ he says, with rejuvenated conviction, ‘White Devil.’

Jamieson blinks hard.

‘Ace? You…named the organisation after yourself?’ Jamieson says, above his fellow terrorist cheering chums.

Penny steps forward again with an outstretched hand.

‘I know, right?’ she smiles. ‘He is a vain man. But he is a great man.’

Jamieson releases Ace’s hand and shakes Penny’s.

‘And you know my name already,’ she says, with a look of repressed pain that he can’t understand.

‘Yes, Penny.’

‘Yeah, Penny Ventura.’

Jamieson is shocked.

He looks to Ace and then back to Penny.

‘Then you two are…?’

‘Like I said. He catches on fast,’ Ace smiles, putting his arm around his daughter.

Jamieson and Penny release their grip.

‘And your brother..?’

Penny smiles and nods.

‘That must mean…’ Jamieson says, turning to Ace.

‘You would make a lousy detective,’ Ace says, smiling. ‘They are all my children, all twenty…one…’

‘Two,’ Penny corrects him.

‘All twenty two of them.’

Jamieson screws up his face in disbelief and scours over the crowd.

‘All twenty two? Your entire organisation is made up of…your children?’

‘I only recruit my children.’

Jamieson’s mind races. He becomes dizzy. He shakes his head to try to clear the fuzziness in his mind away. He tries to recall his training. To calm himself. He fails.

‘Hang on a minute,’ he says, his vision blurring. He tries to blink it away. ‘You just recruited me…’

‘That’s right,’ Ace says.

Something clicks in Jamieson’s mind. Something that rocks his entire world. He begins to shake his head.

‘No, no, no, no, no,’ Jamieson blurts.

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,’ Ace smiles, his eyes alight with manic charisma. He outstretches his other arm, gesturing for Jamieson to join him for a cuddle. ‘Welcome to the family, son.’

Jamieson feels like someone has just punched him in the stomach. Hollow and winded, his legs begin to tremble as he breaches the limits of his perceived reality.

‘That’s right, my boy,’ Ace adds, ‘you came from my balls.’

Everyone laughs and cheers as Jamieson, almost willingly, disappears into a distant and grey realm of blissful nothingness.

He faints and crashes down onto the cold concrete of the platform floor.

Chapter 15 – Storm a comin’

15

An unknown ocean.

A young boy runs across the deck of a large ship as it powers and tears its way through unknown waters. There is no land on the horizon. Nothing but water as far as the eye can see. Sea-spray has settled on the boy’s hair and clothing, his jacket almost sodden. He is cold, alone. He seeks comfort. He climbs some metal stairs, runs down some corridors, climbs another set of stairs and finds the door leading to the bridge. He opens the door and quietly creeps inside.

The adults are talking. The boy can sense a tension in the air. Their voices are serious and raised.

…bad feeling about this one Captain…

…nonsense, my ship can handle anything the old girl, mother nature, can throw at her…

A familiar voice.

Now a woman speaks. Also a familiar voice.

…maybe you should listen to…

…of course I’m listening, a good Captain knows when to listen, and when to make a decision. I’ve never given up a chase in all my days on these seas, and no amount of weather is going to change that. We push on, that is my order…

The woman spins around, upset. She spots the boy and hurries towards him. She picks him up and sits him down in a seat.

…a special seat, for a special boy…

The boy watches her beautiful kind face, her Brazil nut coloured eyes warm and comforting, she could reassure him with one glance, her matching hair, long and soft and full bodied smells of flowers, lavender and rose. As she secures him into the seat with safety straps, the boy waits for that reassuring look, but it does not come. Not this time.

She rejoins the Captain, who stands tall and proud at the wheel.

The boy peers out of the window, and up at the ominous swirling black clouds ahead in the distance, and begins to feel seasick.

And afraid.

Chapter 16 – Back to reality

16a

ACE Headquarters, sleeping area.

Jamieson wakes up, and opens his eyes, startled and bewildered.

‘What..? Where..?’

He is stretched out on his camp bed in the sleeping quarters. He tries to sit up and is greeted by a throbbing pain in his head.

‘Jesus,’ he says, grimacing. He holds his head in his hands.

‘Go easy,’ says a soft feminine voice, ‘you bumped your head on the way down.’

Jamieson looks up to see Penny, standing by his bed side, anxiously staring down at him.

‘I fainted?’ Jamieson asks.

‘Went down like a sack of rancid GM potatoes,’ comes another voice.

Jamieson locates the source at the foot of his bed. It is Ace.

My…father..?

All the recent memories and revelations flood back into Jamieson’s mind.

‘Well, he’s alive. I’m going to bed,’ Ace says, to Penny.

Ace turns to leave.

‘Hey, wait a minute,’ Jamieson says, and tries to sit up again. This time, with a certain degree of groaning, he succeeds. ‘Can someone tell me what the hell is going on around here?’

Ace sighs.

‘We succeeded in our mission. We got back. We had your initiation ceremony, and then you fainted like a little sissy bitch-fart.’

Jamieson looks affronted.

‘Excuse me, I just found out that I had been an accomplice to murder, that the police now consider me a terrorist and are in the process of hunting me down. Oh, and what was that other small detail that was revealed to me? Oh yes, you are my long lost father and I have twenty one…’

‘Two…’ Penny corrects him.

‘Twenty two brothers and sisters I never even knew I had!’

‘Well that’s the thing…’ Penny says, looking very demure.

Jamieson just stares at her in anticipation.

‘You don’t,’ she says.

‘I don’t?’

‘It was just a goof!’ Ace blurts, throwing his hands up in the air.

‘What?’ Jamieson says, looking exasperated.

‘You know…a joke…a gag…a trick…a prank?’

‘Are you shitting me?’ Jamieson says, becoming irked, looking from Ace to Penny.

‘Ace is not your father,’ Penny says, softly shaking her head. ‘I’m not your sister and…’

‘Well, are you sure?’ Jamieson asks. ‘I never knew my real father. My…’ Jamieson looks Ace up and down, ‘biological father, that is.’

‘Archer, he’s not your dad. But the part about me and my brother, that is true.’

‘And the rest of them?’

Ace wheezes out a laugh.

‘Of course they aren’t all my children. I may be a paragon of,’ Ace alters his voice to that of Sean Connery, ‘sheer shexinessh,’ he returns his voice to normal, ‘but twenty two children?’

Jamieson huffs for a moment.

‘There is also one other,’ Penny says. ‘My elder brother, Tafari.’

‘Hey, how you doing?’ comes a voice from beside Jamieson.

Jamieson whips his head around to find the young man who had met him at the airport lying on the camp bed next to him. Until now, Jamieson hadn’t noticed him.

‘Hey. Don’t take this the wrong way,’ Jamieson says, raising a hand, ‘I’m assuming you’re a brother from another mother, sort of thing?’

‘Well, fuck my uncle,’ Ace says, rejoicing, ‘the powers of deduction, kid, is there no end to your talents?’

Penny can’t help but giggle.

‘Oh this is all hilarious to you, is it?’ Jamieson says, turning to her.

‘You’ll have to forgive her, Archer,’ Tafari says. ‘She inherited our father’s sense of humour.’

‘I see,’ Jamieson says, turning to Tafari. ‘And you?’

‘Oh, I have my mother’s sense of humour. It’s subtle,’ Tafari turns to Ace, addressing him now, ‘but it’s kinder. No, I inherited something else from my father.’

‘Something else?’

‘Yes, his madness.’

Ace just sighs and looks into his son’s eyes, wounded. He drops his gaze and looks down at the ground.

The younger brother enters the sleeping quarters and hurries towards them. Ace outstretches his arm and they warmly embrace.

‘You’ve met my younger brother already,’ Penny says.

‘Ah yes,’ Jamieson smiles, ‘I know he’s a whizz in the kitchen but I never did catch his name.’

The boy looks to Penny, worried.

‘This is Paul,’ Penny says, gazing at her brother, and smiling and nodding reassuringly.

Paul smiles at Jamieson.

‘Your mother, she is here too?’ Jamieson asks.

Paul’s smile drops and he looks up at his father, who again looks wounded. Ace looks down at his son tenderly and smiles at him to comfort him.

‘No, she is not here,’ Tafari says.

‘Oh,’ Jamieson says softly, realising the change in atmosphere. He turns to Tafari.

‘And your mother?’

Tafari looks blankly at Jamieson and says nothing.

‘Tafari’s mother,’ Ace says, breaking the silence, ‘is a princess.’

Jamieson lets out a dry rasping laugh.

‘Here we go again. A princess? Of course she is. And my mother is a fairy.’ Jamieson turns to Ace. ‘And I suppose you’re a warlock, I’m an elf, obviously,’ he turns to Penny, ‘and what do you want to be in our Prank Archer Fantasy World Of Fun? A mermaid?’ Jamieson begins to yell and seems to be addressing the ceiling now, ‘I can’t tell what’s real, what’s the truth, who you are, who I am, what’s going on or where all this craziness is leading to anymore!’

Everyone is silent and motionless, apart from Jamieson breathing heavily. Ace and Penny cannot help but burst into laughter. Paul looks slightly lost. Tafari and Jamieson are not amused. But Jamieson soon folds to the absurdity of it all and laughs too, hard.

‘Well, what do you know,’ Ace says, to Jamieson, with a sparkle in his eye, ‘a sense of humour after all.’

Jamieson looks up at Ace.

‘For a very freaky while there I thought we were…’

Ace shakes his head.

‘We’re not related, kid.’ Ace looks around at his children.’ But we are.’ He looks back at Jamieson. ‘I wasn’t kidding when I said welcome to the family. This is my family. And I fight to protect them, as much as I fight for the animals.’

‘We all fight for what is most sacred to us,’ Penny adds.

‘Well,’ Tafari says, getting up onto his feet, ‘we all fight,’ he approaches Ace, ‘but for different reasons, is that not right, Dad?’

Ace looks taken aback.

‘We fight for the same thing,’ he says, huskily.

They gaze into each others eyes for a moment.

‘I haven’t forgotten my promise, Tafari, my son,’ Ace says, softly. He reaches out his hand.

Tafari looks at it for a moment. He reaches out and they hold each others hand tightly.

Jamieson, rendered curious, watches them, touched by the intricate bond between these people.

‘Tafari?’ he asks. ‘It’s a peculiar name.’

‘It’s African,’ Ace says, proudly.

‘What does it mean?’

‘It means he who inspires awe,’ Tafari mocks.

Penny smiles.

‘And it does,’ Ace says, sincerely. ‘Every day we are together.’

Again, Jamieson is humbled to witness such a tender moment.

Then Tafari spits in his father’s face. A giant glob of saliva splashes across Ace’s cheek and into his eye. Jamieson is surprised by this sudden, hostile change in behaviour, but he is even more surprised by everyone’s reaction. Or lack of reaction. In fact, everyone begins to smile warmly, including Ace, who wipes a globule of spittle from his eye socket.

‘Well, you haven’t done that in a long time,’ he says, ‘I’m going to make an assumption here and just say I love you too, son.’

‘Goodnight everyone,’ Tafari says, and turns to a gobsmacked Jamieson. ‘Big day tomorrow, huh? I’m so jealous.’

Jamieson shakes his head.

‘Big day?’

‘See you in the morning,’ Tafari says, heading for the exit.

Jamieson shrugs.

‘Anyone care to elaborate on what just happened there?’

‘Believe it or not,’ Penny says, ‘in the village where he was raised, spitting in someone’s face is a sign of affection.’

‘I guess old habits die hard,’ Ace says, wiping his hand on his shirt. ‘I owe him one.’

‘Are we having supper before bed?’ Paul asks.

‘Oh, what’s on the menu tonight?’ Ace asks.

‘Left over broth.’

Ace smiles.

‘Yummy.’

Ace gives Jamieson a quick glance.

‘Join us?’

‘Thanks,’ Jamieson says, ‘but I think I’m just going to turn in. I’ve had enough excitement for one day.’

Paul looks disappointed. He glances at Penny.

‘I’ll be right there,’ she says.

Jamieson watches Ace and Paul make for the exit together.

‘So you see?’ Penny asks.

‘See?’

‘That we are not the evil terrorists that the media and the authorities, and that awful policeman, Guerra, would have the world believe. Our fight is a righteous one. Despite the…colourful…examples my father is making.’

Jamieson does not answer. He understands their plight. That they believe in their cause. That they are human beings with deep connections and feelings. He is not convinced of their justification for murder. He sighs.

‘I just think using acts of terror, like murder, to make a statement, be it religious or political, defines you as a terrorist. I feel…like a terrorist. Don’t you realise that you are implicated too. An accomplice, to murder, too?’

‘I’m prepared to answer for my role. I’m no stranger to consequence. But at no time will I resign myself to the label; terrorist. This is a war. A spiritual war as much as a literal one. Against the oppressors, those who choose exploitation and violence and can only be met with violence in return. Beagly orchestrated his company’s acts of terror, like torture and experimentation leading to painful diseases and death of countless sentient beings. Not to mention the knock on ill effects to humans from such an unsound practice. By your own definition, he is a terrorist too. Or do you draw a line between humans who fight to defend humans and humans who fight to defend animals?’

‘No it’s all wrong, I get that. But you don’t. Let me say it again, it’s all wrong. Two wrongs, surely, cannot make a right.’

Penny glares at him. She seems to be fighting her emotions. Fighting back words.

‘Sometimes justice comes from a jury,’ she says. ‘And sometimes justice comes out of the barrel of a gun. Justice can mean killing. Like being a soldier…or…in a law enforcement agency.’

Jamieson gives her a wary glance.

‘Oh, they may dress themselves in their silly wigs and costumes,’ she continues, ‘and grant themselves whatever rights that suit them with their ridiculous rituals and badges, but they’re still killers when all is said and done! But sometimes justice does not come at all. You wait and wait for it. Yet it does not come. Where is justice for defenceless animals? For the innocent? For my mother? Killed by the police, no less, and she was no terrorist, no criminal. She was kind and passionate and beautiful and she was taken away from me forever. Where was the justice there? And now she’s just ash in the wind. Another statistic. We apologise and are sorry for your loss. Now move the fuck on, like we have.

Penny gasps in a breath, as tears stream down her cheeks. Jamieson sits quiet.

‘Killing is wrong,’ she says, wiping her face with both hands, ‘yes?’

Jamieson shrugs.

‘Of course, but…’

‘Would you kill someone to save another, through duty or love? Yes?’

Jamieson sits quiet again.

‘Point taken,’ he says, finally.

‘Sometimes,’ Penny says, with conviction, ‘two wrongs do make a right.’

There is a silent pause as the two reflect on their conversation.

‘I’m sorry,’ Jamieson says.

‘Hey, it’s just a difference of opinion, nothing to be sorry…’

‘No, I mean about your mother. I’m sorry to hear that you lost her.’

Penny’s eyes well up again, but she fights back her tears.

‘Do not mention any of this to my father,’ she says, firmly.

Jamieson shrugs again.

‘Sure.’

There is another silent pause.

‘Are you sure your head is okay, I could get you some White Willow Bark or Devil’s Claw?’ Penny asks.

Jamieson rubs his head, unsure of what Penny is offering.

‘Maybe a little weed?’ she adds. ‘It is an amazing natural painkiller, works particularly well for migraines?’

Jamieson just smiles, surprised.

‘You know how your father feels about drugs. Something about us being ready to goa clear mind..?’

Penny smiles, mischievously.

‘I won’t tell, if you don’t?’

Jamieson chuckles. But then reflects on Penny’s offer.

‘And just what kind of pain are you trying to kill?’

Penny’s smile drops and she looks at her feet. A quiet moment passes.

‘I think some sleep will help,’ Jamieson says, softly, ‘but thanks.’

‘Very well, goodnight, Archer,’ Penny says, without looking up.

Penny begins to walk away towards the exit.

‘Hey, Penny?’

She pauses and turns.

‘What did Tafari mean when he said “I’m so jealous?Jamieson asks.

Penny looks into his eyes.

‘He’s jealous because he hasn’t been to his home country in a long time.’

‘His home country?’

‘Yes, Africa.’

She turns and continues walking.

‘I suggest you do get some sleep, Archer. Like my brother said, big day tomorrow.’

Penny exits the sleeping quarters, leaving a jarred and baffled Jamieson sitting alone, staring into space.

Chapter 17 – Between Scylla and Charybdis

17

An unknown ocean.

Jamieson can feel the cold salty air on his face as it stings his young pampered city skin. He feels the lunging of the boat rocking on large ocean waves, making him nauseous. He also feels the tip of a sword’s blade in his back, urging him to scuffle forwards on a long plank of wood. The sword pierces his skin, causing pain and a warm slick sensation down his back as blood oozes from the wound. It prompts him to edge further forward, towards the edge of the plank. Towards what he knows is his imminent demise. He reaches the end of the plank and looks down. Below him is the swirling mass of a whirlpool. Large menacing-looking sharks patrol the turbulent waters below.

‘Down, down, down to the deep depths, into the belly of the great Charybdis you must go,’ the crew behind him chant.

Jamieson carefully turns to them. But this is no human crew. A many-headed scaly monster stands on the deck of a large pirate ship, looming above him. The ship’s sails are all deployed, at full sail, black and only visible against the dark stormy clouds above when lightning flashes down from the sky. Lightning strikes the mainmast and lights up a flag at the top, rippling and flapping in the winds. It is black with a white face in the centre. But it is not the Jolly Roger. The face is a grotesque looking creature, an animal of some sort. The monster screeches, drawing Jamieson’s attention back to the deck. He studies the many-headed abomination for a moment. He recognises faces. Ace. Penny. His wife. Black. Even Beagly. The monster holds the sword in one of its many tentacles and jabs it into Jamieson’s belly. Jamieson winces in pain and edges backwards, almost losing his footing and falling off the end of the plank. He can hear the hungry roar from the other monster’s watery mouth below him.

He knows he must choose between the two dangers. And that he is most likely done for, regardless of his choice.

‘Suffer the pain, of the fallen, the slain,’ the many-headed monster, Scylla cries.

‘Leave the bureau, it’s too dangerous, I can’t lose you,’ his wife says, her face pained with woe.

‘Flush him out! Flush him out!’ Black barks.

Charybdis roars again below him. Icy water from a crashing wave splashes against his body, making him cry out and lose his balance.

‘Welcome to the family, sonny boy,’ Ace says, with a devilish grin.

‘Police the police. You killed my mother!’ Penny squeals.

‘Murderer! Murderer!’ yells Beagly, his eyes like two charred black craters.

‘Please!’ Jamieson cries, addressing them all. ‘I’m sorry. Please, forgive me.’

‘Equinsu Ocha! Equinsu Ocha!’ Ace yells, smiling maniacally.

Between The Devil and the deep blue sea.

Maybe it would be easier to just turn and jump and let the gaping mouth of Charybdis below swallow him up.

Deep into the dark and still.

Jamieson looks over his shoulder, down at the swirling beast. He turns back to Scylla, with determination. Ready to face The Devil.

To face them all.

Charybdis has other ideas as it crashes another wave against the hull below Jamieson, soaking him in icy water again. He loses his balance and tumbles head first off the plank into the dangerous freezing waters below.

Submerged, the cold seeps into his skull, numbing his brain to his plight. His senses return when something bumps against him in the water. Something big.

A shark?

Panic. Jamieson almost gasps for air. He realises he is drowning. He kicks his legs and swims to the surface. He breaks out of the water, coughing and spluttering, and takes a deep breath. He is caught in the vortex. It pulls him along, fast, with its furious currents, closer to the centre where he will be sucked down, forever.

Pain. Jamieson screams. Something with powerful jaws and sharp serrated teeth has torn a lump of flesh from his thigh. A shark. The water around Jamieson turns red. Then another bite. Another shark. His arm this time. Jamieson tries to flail his arm, but cannot. It is gone. The shark has bitten it clean off. Charybdis swallows hard and Jamieson is pulled down into the centre. He is submerged again. In the murky water, he sees dark shapes gliding and flitting around him. Then another bite. His torso this time. The pain is excruciating. Jamieson tries to scream underwater. Tens of bubbles of valuable air gush out of his mouth. Another bite. The sharks are really moving in now. Down, further, he is swallowed. Further into darkness. Jamieson has no air. His lungs burn. What is left of his body aches. He drowns. More pain and writhing. The sharks aren’t finished yet. He is fading into unconsciousness. But not soon enough, as he realises that his limbless eaten body is spinning and thrashing in the dark depths with each violent bite. His head is inside jaws now. The sharks teeth pierce his skull and crush his brain.

Jamieson wakes from his nightmare, sweating, startled and disturbed. He sits up and catches his breath. He focuses on slowing his breathing and soon calms down. But he is left disturbed by his dream. Its meaning obvious.

His head still throbs.

Maybe I should have taken Penny up on her offer after all?

Jamieson looks around the room. Most of the other beds look occupied now. He can hear heavy breathing. A couple of people are snoring. He thinks about getting up. Perhaps he can sneak out of the subway. Contact Black. A wave of fatigue washes over him.

Tomorrow, contact Black tomorrow, I have to find a way.

He lies back. As he contemplates his dream and his dilemma, the last thought on his conscious mind is a promise to himself to have it out with Ace in the morning, a promise that gives rise to much anticipation as it does trepidation.

Jamieson drifts back off to sleep with a troubled expression on his face. Not even his dreams are a safe haven.

17a

Chapter 18 – Rise, White Devil!

18

ACE Headquarters.

Jamieson paces down the sub tunnel towards Ace’s personal chamber. He manages to stride passed the enticing smell of Paul’s morning pancakes. As he approaches the chamber he slows his pace and begins a casual creep. He enters the chamber quietly and carefully. He spots Ace asleep in his hammock up ahead. Something compels him to keep approaching, unannounced. He watches Ace.

Who is this man, this Devil? Family man? Animal rights activist? Vigilante Killer? What has led him to this life? What has led his children to follow him? Are they all brainwashed? Is it necessary to understand him? Or should I just gather the intel and take him down? And why am I questioning my duty, my oath?

‘CAAAW!’ Edgar scolds.

Jamieson removes himself from his skin with fright. He whips his head around to see Edgar sitting poised on his perch, staring him down.

‘You know,’ Ace says.

Jamieson turns back to Ace, who now has one eye trained on him.

‘Birds can sleep with one half of their brain alert. It’s called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep. Gives them the ability to sleep with one eye open, to be aware of approaching dangers.’

‘I wasn’t sneaking up on you or anything. I just didn’t quite know how to wake you,’ Jamieson lies.

‘I was awake anyway.’

‘You knew I was here?’

‘I spent some time with an ancient tribe who have learned the birds trick. And they were gracious enough to teach me. I’ve slept with one eye open ever since.’

‘Ancient tribe?’

‘Was a long time ago. Listen, kid, unless you’ve brought me my morning chamomile tea with ginger and lemon…I can’t think of another reason for you being here. Something on your mind?’

Jamieson scowls.

‘Well, for a start you can stop calling me kid.’

Ace shrugs.

‘It’s a term of endearment.’

‘I seriously doubt that.’

‘You’re too sensitive.’

‘Yes, well maybe aiding in a murder does that to a person?’

Ace sighs.

‘You’re still pissed.’

Jamieson raises his hands in the air, startling Edgar, who extends his chest and flaps his wings in protest. Jamieson quickly lowers his hands.

‘Sorry, Edgar,’ Jamieson says. He turns to Ace. ‘Yes, actually, you could say that. In fact, I can’t foresee a time when I don’t feel a little bit angry for being coerced into murder. Not forgetting the other fact that it just happened last night. You talk as if you have put it all behind you already. So, yes, I’m angry. I am pissed.’

Ace sighs again and slowly gets out of his hammock.

‘Too damn early for this,’ he grumbles.

He approaches Jamieson, who watches him cautiously. Ace halts in front of Jamieson and extends his face.

‘Go on,’ he says.

Jamieson shrugs.

Go on what?’

‘Punch me in the face.’

Jamieson screws up his face.

‘What?’

‘That’s what you need to do. You’re angry, you need to vent, well, let’s get it over with in one swing of your fist.’

‘I’m not punching you in the face?’

‘Not the balls?’ Ace groans, extracting his face and extending his groin instead.

‘I’m not punching your balls or anywhere else on your body either.’

‘But you’re angry aren’t you?’ Ace says, raising his voice.

‘Yes,’ Jamieson says, clearly rattled.

‘You’re pissed aren’t you!?’ Ace shouts into Jamieson’s face.

‘Yes!’ Jamieson yells back.

‘Well, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do with that anger, kid?’

‘Stop calling me kid, Goddamn it!’

‘Why should I, when you act like one?’

‘I’m warning you,’ Jamieson says, losing his professional edge, again.

‘Ooh, a warning, what’s next, a strongly-worded written letter of disapproval?’

‘Enough of this!’ Jamieson yells, clenching his fists.

‘Come on, hit me,’ Ace shouts, ‘I’m the one who kept you in the dark, made you an accomplice. I’m the one who chose you. Direct your anger at me.’

‘I won’t hit you. I won’t drop to your level.’

‘You know, I hope you don’t get too lonely when you’re up there on that pedestal that you’ve erected for yourself, looking down at the rest of us.’

‘I just won’t resort to violence. I’m not a killer, like you.’

‘So, what now? What will you do with all that anger? Just swallow it down until it rots and putrefies and poisons you? Because it will. Trust me, I should know. You have to cleanse yourself of it. Like I did.’

Jamieson shakes his head.

‘You’re still poisoned. You just don’t see it.’

Now Ace shakes his head.

‘No, you don’t see. The White Devil channels my anger. The White Devil channels my poison into those who deserve it most.’

‘Who? Beagly? Some lab technician?’

‘He was Head of Research at…’

‘It’s hardly the HQ of an evil empire. They make toilet cleaner for Christ sake!’

‘Depends on how you look at it. Flushing gallons of toxic chemicals into our water ways, destroying aquatic life and ecosystems in the process, because a company put fear of bacteria into the consciousness of millions of desperate housewives fearing for their child’s health, through carefully conceived advertisements. How ironic that it’s actually the bleach making the children sick. Now, that sounds pretty evil to me. And that’s without mentioning the cruelty of needless product testing on millions and millions of tortured animals. So, yeah, Beagly. That monster’s death will send an unsettling ripple through that evil industry and draw the world’s attention to the plight of those animals and the subsequent extermination of their abusers.’

‘But where does it end? You can’t kill them all. What, do you plan to murder everyone who eats meat too? Every child that’s eaten a happy meal?’

‘Now you’re just being cynical. And besides, meaters are doing a pretty good job of killing themselves, it’s just a pity they are taking the planet down with them.’

‘How many monsters have been exterminated already?’

‘That’s none of your business or concern.’

‘Did you recruit me last night, or not? Of course it’s my concern, I’m part of this organisation too. Part of your madness too.’

‘Well suck it up kid!’ Ace yells, now becoming angry too. ‘Take some God-damned responsibility. You knew what you were getting yourself into. And murder was always a possibility. Maybe even a necessity?’

‘Murder is never a necessity. The only exception is in self defence.’

‘And what about defending those who cannot defend themselves? From torture? From being murdered themselves? How does that fit into your neat little moral code?’

Jamieson stares into Ace’s wild eyes. He unclenches his fists and huffs, spinning around and away from Ace.

Ace returns to his hammock and lounges back into it, his stringy grimy hair hanging over his face, obscuring his eyes.

‘In this world, if you want to really make change, and you’ve exhausted all other means, murder is inevitable.’

‘Murder is inevitable?’ Jamieson scoffs, turning back to Ace. ‘Is that what you tell yourself? And those other means you mentioned are the rules we agree on as a society to keep our lives as civilised as possible.’

Ace chuckles.

‘Y’know, I used to be like you. Young and naive enough to think that…what, diplomacy…democracy…justice…civilisation…that these things truly exist or serve humanity, let alone the animal kingdom? They’re just slogans to keep the masses under the illusion that they have a choice, a voice, a hope in hell.’

‘I just think that there are other means to achieve our objectives, if we would only explore the possibilities of non-violent protests, and have you seen the impact online petitioning has..?’

Ace rises quickly out of his hammock.

‘You think I haven’t been through all that already? Tried every other avenue? You may as well bash your head against the nearest wall for all the good it does. I’ve been fighting big business turning animals into a viable commodity like Christmas turkey farms and traditional medicine and many other generally destructive attitudes and rituals, with conventional means for decades. My heart has taken a perpetual beating. Broken, almost beyond repair. My mind is in a constant flux as it races and rages over memories of protests, petitions, meetings with various Heads of State and agricultural bio-tech corporate middlemen, and all those wasted years pissing into the wind adhering and submitting to draconian rules, regulations, paperwork and bureaucracy. All in vain. Production increased, experimentation increased, extinction increased, destruction of sacred habitats increased and, subsequently, human disease increased and, of course, all the while, profit increased. Lining the pockets of powerful people, who now have the capital and power to further their apparent psychopathic ideals of the annihilation of life on Earth. I’m talking about drastic population control. And all they have to do is buy off a few politicians, frame a few judges, threaten, blackmail, bribe and murder their way towards our obliteration.’

Jamieson opens his mouth to speak. He can’t find any words. He looks down at the floor.

‘Isn’t that a little paranoid?’ he asks, without looking up.

Ace sighs and shakes his head.

‘How can you live in this world, knowing who they are, what they have done and what they do, and not be paranoid?’

Jamieson has no answer. Only a question.

‘They?’

‘Oh, come on, you can’t be that naive? They! The elites. The money masters. The corporate oligarchies. The cartels. The bloodlines.’

Jamieson shakes his head and stares at Ace as if he is speaking an alien language.

‘Look,’ Ace says, frustrated, ‘some businesses, some traditions, some attitudes, some…people, need to die out. And if they don’t, a little helping hand is required. It’s for a greater good.’

‘How can murdering people be for a greater good? There’s nothing good about murder!’

‘That depends on who is murdered.’

‘So you see yourself as some sort of vigilante?’

Ace just sighs.

‘If you need a label to understand, then yes. In fact, I like, as Fox News described me; crazy serial killer vigilante, myself.’

‘So you justify murder as a greater good?’

‘Let me guess, I’ve become the evil I’m trying to fight? That sort of thing?’

‘Well, haven’t you?’

”Sometimes, in this world, you have to fight fire with fire.’

‘It’s not for us to decide who gets to live and who has to die?’

‘Oh no? They do it all the time. War. Sanctions. Scarcity. Murder. All orchestrated. Completely without remorse or retribution. They can crash the market, gun you down in the street, send a drone through your bedroom window, detain you indefinitely without charge if they choose to.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘Go and ask Obomo’s Office of Legal Counsel. And, The Patriot Act? These people have taken the constitution, for all it’s worth, and wiped their arses with it.’

‘I still think…’

‘I know of someone…personally, who was…murdered…in the street by the police. This person was no criminal. No threat. And all the internal investigations into that case didn’t make the slightest bit of difference. Oh, the cop lost his badge, but gained a healthy severance package in the process and is allowed to go free and live out his life. He got to choose who lives and dies.’

‘It’s not a perfect system, sometimes accidents happen.’

‘It was no accident,’ Ace says, furious. ‘It was murder.’

Jamieson decides on a different approach.

‘This someone, you said you knew them personally?’

Ace seems to avoid the question.

‘So, what, do I have to join an army, wear a policeman’s uniform, or run for presidency before I am allowed to kill someone?’

‘These people are granted that right, they’re peacekeepers.’

Ace laughs maniacally. He spins around, bends over and proceeds to part his butt-cheeks open.

‘Peacekeepers he says?’ Ace’s ass says, abruptly. ‘Peacekeepers? Well, at least I’m not the only one who talks shit around here.’

He spins around again, straightening up.

‘Keepers of the peace?’ Ace says, suddenly looking enraged. ‘Try telling that to young Aamir who’s just had his house droned and has lost his entire family and both his legs. Or try telling that to the family of the latest unarmed black man to be gunned down in the street by our boys in blue. Tell it to the families of the victims of the latest false flag event. Or the Palestinians. Or head over to Hiroshima and tell it to the Japanese? Agents flooding the ghettos with crack cocaine. Agent provocateurs stirring up peaceful protest. Governments selling arms. And so on. They gallivant around the earth, blindly obeying orders from their psychopathic corporate superiors; shooting, bombing and pillaging their way to a hero’s welcome home party. Cops? Support our troops? Peacekeepers? Heroes? They’re just hired killers. Hired by corporations to do their dirty work with immunity.’

‘They’re hired to protect America from terro…’

‘Don’t you dare say it,’ Ace blurts, dashing forward and in Jamieson’s face, ‘Don’t say that word or I will put you down here and now.’

Jamieson is afraid but he meets Ace’s glare and stands his ground.

‘I can put up with a certain amount of ignorance,’ Ace growls, ‘but I have my limits. This isn’t the nineteen forties. We’re not being invaded or directly threatened. If a nation, a group were to try to directly oppress me, threaten or kill me and my family, I’d be happy to pick up my gun and defend my home. But war is not like that anymore. It’s the enemies pawns and the names and the fuss we give them that have changed. While the real enemies remained the same, hidden. Our foreign policy creates more terrorists than it kills. The thinkers over at the Military Industrial Complex really know what they’re doing. False flags and propaganda, division and hatred. Arming this group, bombing that group. Perpetual war. The war on ending war is in full swing. Are you really that naive to think there are good guys and bad guys in this world, and that we, the US and its allies…Britain, Israel, Australia and so on, are the good guys? Australians are descendants of British criminals. And the British were the ultimate pirates. Still are. When was the last time you visited the British Museum? Their biggest export is financial fraud. And I suggest you Google The Greater Israel Project and The Samson Option before we break out the Israeli flags. You think that the people orchestrating this world care about peoples and nations, and flags and rights? You don’t really believe that, do you?’

Ace looks deep into Jamieson’s eyes, searching for something, some spark of understanding. But he is left wanting. He shrugs and sighs and slowly returns to his hammock. Jamieson remains quiet as he battles his cognitive dissonance.

‘You really don’t know who we are dealing with here do you? Who is really running this global insane asylum?’

‘Okay, if we are all run by tyrants then it’s up to the people to naturally revolt.’

Ace just sniggers from the side of his mouth.

‘The people? They’re far too busy scrabbling for survival. To keep a roof over their families’ heads. Food in their stomachs. To make ends meet. Apathetic, distracted, and downtrodden. Poor bastards. And some just don’t give a shit. Some are waiting for it, willing it. Too pre-occupied praying for their saviour to return and beam them up into heaven, and cleanse the earth of the sinners and the infidels. But, just as we don’t need everyone to run the earth, we don’t need everyone to revolt either. Just select groups who know who to target. If we don’t take these power structures down, these systems of abuse and slavery, no one else will. Besides, tens of millions of people marched, worldwide, against the Iraq war. Didn’t alter the outcome. I can see the elites laughing, oh, let the guinea pigs have their say and their quaint revolts. Should they really gain some momentum, they can easily be squashed. And then it’s kettling and tear gas and batons on skulls and everyone gets arrested or skulks off home. When the heat is turned up, most of them scurry. The rest just loot and set fire to cars. Woooooo! Revolution!’

‘Aren’t you supposed to be Vegan? Compassionate? Y’know, for a supposed humanitarian, I don’t sense a lot of love for humanity.’

‘Who says I’m a humanitarian? I would say I’m positively misanthropic. It’s purely coincidental that taking on the traditions, elites and industries that profit from animal exploitation or cause animal suffering and death, will result in a better world for humans too. What I do, I do for the animals. I don’t do humans.’

‘I know you love your family, but what are you saying? You don’t care about other humans at all then?’

‘Why should I care for humans? The strangest and most dangerous animals on this planet by far? The only animals that kill for pleasure. The only animals that pay to live. Using scarcity to suppress each other. Suppressing medicine, technology, the very necessities of life to make profit. A cruel, ignorant and vain species, planning to have their way through divine delusions of grandeur and anthropocentrism. They all look to each other to fit in, stand out, love, hate, judge, destroy – aspiring towards consumerism and convenience and novelty and to whatever the heart desires at any cost, stuffing over-immunised, toxic and cancerously modified carcasses into their mouths and then they wonder why a strange lump has grown in their diseased anuses. Find a cure! Quick! Infect a million healthy monkeys with the AIDS virus! Humans haven’t only disgraced themselves, they have disgraced animals, they have disgraced Nature. They treat it like an obsolete whore. They look down at Nature with contempt and exploitation glimmering in their eyes. Animals are almost entirely innocent. We can debate the consciousness of the dominant male lion or silverback gorilla killing the young in their pride or band to preserve their own seed, or the way in which certain species of whale or dolphin, orcas for example, who seem to play with, or tease, its prey before going for the kill. Animals operate on a more base and instinctive level, for want of a better word, they can be described as innocent. Humans have no such excuse. We have a broad understanding of our existence and the world we live in. We are self-aware, aware of our needs but also the consequences of our actions. We know the damaging effects we are causing for this Earth. For each other. We are intelligent enough and resourceful enough and technologically-advanced enough to solve any problem we face or create. We have the ability to create a paradise for every creature of the Earth. We can choose to do this, but we don’t. We let a psychotic minority dictate the rules for the construct they have devised to sustain their own wealth, status and legacy at the expense of everything else, while the masses bicker over religion, sport, even a parking space. Humans are insane.’

‘Well,’ Jamieson says, looking pale, ‘when you put it like that…’

‘I don’t know, we are all animals, right? Animals killing animals. All this death and for what? To what end? Maybe I am no different. Maybe you are right? Maybe…I am just a killer. A…Devil. ‘

Ace gently weeps for a moment. His eyes fixed in a vision of unknown proportional terror. Jamieson stares intently at him, disturbed. And surprised. He feels compassion for Ace.

There is anger in Ace. Violent rage. It’s an under-lying driving force. But there is something more than just the plight of animals fuelling the anger.

Jamieson knows, despite Ace’s murderous crusade and his obvious disdain for humans, Ace is not beyond reason. Not beyond compassion towards people.

The plight of humans is never far from his mind. And, he obviously cares for his family, and his crew. But has he always been this way?

‘Ace…’

Ace doesn’t answer. He’s locked inside his inner turmoil.

‘Ace!’ Jamieson says, louder.

Ace snaps out of his lucid dream. He looks up with intense tearful eyes.

‘What has happened to you?’ Jamieson whispers.

Ace looks haunted as he gazes off into a distant memory.

‘What…do you mean?’ he asks.

‘This…Devil you speak of?’

Ace smiles through his sadness.

‘I…was broken. So…defeated. You see, I took it all to heart. I took it all personally. I had to be destroyed to be reborn.’

Jamieson looks confused.

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Like I said, decades of fighting. It took its toll. An unimaginable toll that sent me over the edge. Maybe… I let it happen? During a two-year breakdown, I was a heavy user of opium and mescaline. I would have extended periods of alternative realities and powerful visions and dreams in which Satanic Santa Clauses in hamburger tanks, ploughing over fields of dead and rotten turkey carcasses were closing in on me, beset on destroying me and the cities of the world. Tens of thousands of chickens hanging upside down on a conveyor belt, being electrocuted and having their heads mechanically ripped off. Desperate lions and bears, in zoos and circuses, insanely pacing in cages. Dolphins with their necks cut open, blood gushing out as they violently flail, in an agonising death, on the ground. Thousands of chirping terrified cockatiels in boxes, from flight to caught to box to truck to plane to store to home to cage in the corner of a room. The ugly face of a deranged huntress, smiling merrily next to the beautiful graceful dead giraffe she just murdered. Trawlers destroying the empty ocean floor. Foxes hunted and torn apart by dogs. Dogs skinned alive…an animal hell on Earth, created by humanity.’

As Ace gently breaks down again, Jamieson is surprised at the effort it takes to contain his own emotions.

‘I could see the world on fire,’ Ace continues, ‘I would leave my body and view the death of the planet from space and I would weep uncontrollably and wholeheartedly, but then I would realise that I was in space and there was no air and I could feel my lungs collapsing, my body starting to freeze, and just at the point where my fragile body starts to implode, I would be sucked back down to Earth to find that in “reality” I had trapped myself in the car boot again…struggling to breathe.’

‘Sounds like a hell of a ride,’ Jamieson says, softly. He smiles.

‘It was,’ Ace says, distantly. ‘It nearly killed me.’

Jamieson’s smile drops.

‘The night that changed it all was a night of single malt whisky and mescaline,’ Ace begins, his eyes glazing over as he recalls his memories. ‘After some general involuntary wailing and an imaginary sword battle with a blessing of disgruntled narwhals, I fell into a temporary coma and had a profound vision. I found myself in the centre of the Coliseum, in Rome, the way it must have looked at the height of the empire. The sky was black and bleak and tarnished. The air stank of oil and putrefied death. Sheet lightning lit up the dark sky, and the Coliseum, giving me my first glimpse of the spectating crowd. But this was no ordinary crowd. Lightning flashed again and I could witness a mass of grotesque faces, but not of humans. Animals. Mammals, monkeys, birds, reptiles, insects… even fish. Every conceivable creature on Earth, standing perfectly still and silent, staring down at me. I felt a deep cold chill like never before. I was petrified. Then, a bolt of lightning hit the ground just ahead of me, blinding me momentarily. When my vision returned, a bright white ball of light took the shape of a tall, humanoid figure. I peered at it, cowering. The entity raised its hand and pointed at me and, all at once, every animal in the arena spoke.

“You are accountable!” they bellowed, collectively.

I jumped at the force and power in their accusation.

The entity raised both its arms to the sky, and a burst of lightning streaked down, hitting me, coursing through my body. My mind went blank and there was unimaginable pain in every cell in my body. I felt like I had been both burnt and frozen to death at the same time. For a fleeting moment, I thought that my brain had burst and that I was surely dead. My vision flashed back and I was back in the arena, on my knees, trembling. Steam was rising from my pores and blood trickled from my nose, my ears. Despite the excruciating pain and fear I felt, I was actually surprised to be pleased that I was still alive. I slowly lifted my head to find the entity lifting its arms to the sky again, summoning the lightning.

“Why?” I yelled.

The entity looked down at me.

“You must know…” the animals said.

I was confused.

“Know? Know what?” I asked.

Then the lightning struck me again.

I came to and slowly glanced up to see the entity raising its arms again. The lightning felt like it was tearing every molecule in the fabric of my being apart.  I would descend into near death blackness, again, only to recover and be struck again. And again.

I awoke. I had no idea how long it had been going on. I somehow managed to summon strength from my wrecked body and mind. I raised my head out of the mud, and through my blurred vision, I could see the entity raising its arms to the sky.

“Demon!” I cried out, pointing a trembling finger at the entity.

This seemed to get its attention. It tilted its head, as if perplexed.

“I am no Demon,” the animals said.

I tried to focus on the entity.

“Then…if you are no demon, why am I in Hell?” I asked.

“This is not Hell,” the animals replied.

“Then what is this!?” I yelled. “Are you an angel sent from God to punish me?”

“God?” the animals said. “You could, somewhat, call me an angel or a God.”

“Why are you torturing me?” I pleaded. “Please, stop…or just…kill me…why me?”

“You must know,” the animals said again.

But I just shook my head.

“I don’t know,” I said, “please…know what?”

“You must know the pain,” the animals spoke. “The combined pain and suffering of every unnecessary death of an animal by human act. By every act of abuse and cruelty, every act of exploitation and experimentation and butchery and sport-killing; for every environment destroyed, and for every species wiped out… you must know the pain.”

I was shocked. Frightened.

“Why me?” I cried.

The entity lowered its arms and seemed to hover closer to me. It towered above me, looking down.

“So you can be reborn,” the animals said.

I couldn’t understand, but I was desperate to. I didn’t know if I could take any more punishment.

“Reborn?” I asked, looking up to the entity.

“If I am an angel, a God,” the animals said, ‘and you are my sworn enemy, that must make you The Devil…”

Tears streamed from my eyes.

“I am The Devil?” I asked.

“Yes,’ the animals said, “but you can have salvation. You can have redemption. You know what you must do, but you have given up on us…on yourself. But we have chosen you. It seems we must make a pact with The Devil and you must be reborn.”

I couldn’t speak. I was bewildered and exhausted and close to unconsciousness.

“Reborn..?” I said, gasping. “Reborn as what?”

“EQUINSU OCHA!” the animals roared together.

A wave of recognition washed over my mind. The animals had began to chant the two words in a low murmur.

“Equinsu Ocha?” I said to the entity, searching my memory. “I know that name…”

“You know what you have to do,” said a deep feminine voice, now coming directly from the entity. “Do not give up on us,” it demanded.

The animals chant was growing louder, to a crescendo.

“Equinsu Ocha…” I murmured, slowly starting to lift myself out of the mud, the chant ringing in my ears. The entity beckoned me.

“Rise…” it bellowed. “White Devil.”

The chant was deafening as I shakily got to my feet. The animals had began to revert back to their normal behaviour and sound. Even as I straightened up, the entity loomed tall above me. It began to raise its arms to the sky. I knew what was coming.

“You know what you have to do,” the entity said, over the animals, as I looked up to the sky, bracing myself.

“All righty then……………….” I screamed.

The lightning cascaded, and I jerked awake to find myself back in my apartment, on the living room floor. I caught my breath, staring wide-eyed up beyond the ceiling.

“Rise, White Devil,” I whispered.’

Ace looks up to Jamieson.

‘And that’s what I did.’

There is a pause as Jamieson, who was fixated on Ace through the entirety of his story, considers the vision and how it has shaped Ace’s mentality. He looks into Ace’s eyes. At Ace’s tortured expression. He considers the murder. He is torn between his moral code and Ace’s justifications.

‘As far as I am concerned, it may explain all this, but it doesn’t justify murder.’

‘Well, I beg to differ. You don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’ t know what I become. I admit, I do feel a little…out of control. I guess they don’t call it a blind rage for nothing. But self control has kept me complacent for too long.’

‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore, be a part of this organisation.’

‘Well you are free to leave, but bear in mind that, if after your departure, the authorities were to show up, we are going to come looking for you.’

Jamieson stays quiet, unnerved.

‘And Edgar, here,’ Ace says, pointing to the crow, ‘will find you. Never forgets a face.’

Jamieson stares at the cocky bird, and it stares right back at him, unnerving him further.

Ace slowly gets out of his hammock.

‘Although, he didn’t seem to recognise your face yesterday. When he gave you a peck? He only pecks strangers.’

‘My face is fairly generic,’ Jamieson says, trying to recover.

Ace squints and stares hard at Jamieson.

‘That’s true,’ he says. ‘So what is it to be, kid…sorry…Archer? Stay or go?’

Jamieson wants nothing more than to leave. He can’t bear the part he has played in Beagly’s death. He knows he can’t bear going through it again, with anyone else. But he has his orders too.

Infiltration. I have to stop Ace. The man and his organisation. Do I have enough intel to warrant an arrest? To take the whole organisation down? To take Ace’s…family…down? Is it all enough?

Jamieson realises he needs guidance. Order to the chaos in his mind. Reassurance that he is on the good guys side after all.

I must contact Black. Contact my wife. Just to hear her voice.

He sees an opportunity.

‘I don’t know. I just need some time to think. To breathe. Let me head out. Just for a couple of hours. And then I’ll return and let you know what I intend to do.’

Ace thinks for a moment.

‘Okay,’ he nods, ‘you go and do…what you need to do. But I do hope you return. I had a very special trip planned for us this evening.’

Jamieson looks curious and opens his mouth to query.

‘I’ll have Edgar tail you,’ Ace says, looking at the crow, cutting Jamieson off before he can speak, ‘just to make sure you’re okay, of course,’ Ace grins.

‘Of course,’ Jamieson smiles, playing along.

Ace gestures his hand towards the exit.

‘Be careful out there,’ he says. ‘Remember, they’re all insane…’

Jamieson shakes his head and laughs sardonically.

‘Out there, in here,’ he shrugs, as he turns to leave, ‘what is the difference?’

Chapter 19 – Seeking solace in The Queen City

19

Downtown Cincinnati, Montgomery Road.

Jamieson peers out of the taxi window at the city fleeting by. The bustle. The rat race. Life carries on, regardless. The mad world writhing and pulsing all around him, reflecting his own steadily descending spiral into existential delirium. The events of the last few weeks have clearly caused some psychological injury. He tries to recall how he got through his last undercover mission, and struggles to find answers.

Despite the cloudiness, it must have been a walk in the park compared to this case. I feel certain of that, at least.

He still doesn’t know what to report to Black.

The truth?

He spots a payphone.

‘Here, driver. Pull over here.’

The taxi slows and stops and Jamieson jumps out. He pays the driver.

As the taxi drives away, Jamieson waits for a moment, looking up into the sky around him.

Satisfied, he crosses the street and makes for the payphone. Once inside the booth, he pulls the door closed. It is enough to drown some of the city sounds out. He decides to phone the bureau first. Black’s office. He finds some coins in his jacket pocket. As he lifts the receiver to his ear and slots a few quarters into the machine, he punches a number into the keypad and notices words scrawled on the information board in black marker pen.

Ce que j’ai fais, ce soir la
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir la
Realisant mon espoir
Je me lance, vers la gloire…

‘I recognise that…’ Jamieson mumbles, trying to recall a song name.

‘Jamieson?’ comes a gruff voice.

‘Yes…Sir, it’s me.’

‘We were getting worried. It’s standard procedure to call in every day, Agent.’

‘I could not find an opportunity yesterday, Sir.’

‘You’ve infiltrated ACE?’

”Affirmative. I have been formally recruited.’

‘Well, what the hell happened last night? ACE have struck again.’

‘I…know, Sir. Frank Beagly.’

‘You know? What exactly do you know?’

‘I…saw it on the news. I know the man is dead.’

‘Dead? Oh, he’s dead alright. He had both his eyes burned out with some kind of acid used to burn the skin of laboratory mice.’

‘Jesus,’ Jamieson says, leaning back against the booth window. He feels light-headed.

‘The poor bastard might have lived if it hadn’t seeped into his brain,’ Black adds.

Jamieson remains quiet.

What did Ace do to Beagly? Tortured him to death, that’s what. Aided by me.

‘Report, Agent,’ Black says, impatient with the pause.

‘You were right, Sir. The ACE organisation is being controlled by one person. One man.’

‘Name?’

‘Goes by the name of Ace Ventura.’

‘Ace, huh? I’ll get our people on it. See what we can dig up. And what about his organisation, are there other players?’

Jamieson hesitates.

‘No, the rest are just pawns. Oh, they’re organised, equipped and effective. But Ace is the one we need to focus our efforts on. He’s the mastermind.’

‘He’s the killer? This…White Devil?’

‘Yes…I’m almost certain it’s him.’

‘Almost certain? You’ve spoken with the maniac?’

‘I have, Sir. Strangely, he’s not so much a maniac…’

‘Apart from the times he’s burning people’s eyes out, Agent?’

‘Oh, don’t get me wrong Sir, he’s a cold blooded killer. Dangerous and determined. But there is…something driving this man. If I can find out what…’

‘You’re not there to counsel him, Jamieson. You’re there to gather intelligence and evidence so we can stop him killing anyone else.’

‘Of course, Sir. I just thought a psych evaluation would…’

‘You’re right, Agent.’ Black huffs. ‘I’m just pissed off after having my ass chewed by the Deputy Director all morning. But he’ll be glad of the progress. Good work, Agent.’

‘Thank you, Sir.’

‘Now, Jamieson, ACE’s headquarters, tell me exactly where…’

Black is interrupted by someone knocking on the booth window. Jamieson is annoyed that the person just can’t be patient and wait their turn, but as he turns to thumb the ignoramus away, he is greeted by a face he knows. A dark face with a bright smile. It is Tafari. Jamieson tries not to panic.

How did he find me? He followed me? How long has he been there? Has he heard my conversation?

Jamieson feigns a smile and waves with a trembling hand. He can hear Black shouting something down the phone. He can feel a cold sweat forming on his top lip. He puts the phone to his ear, never breaking his gaze with Tafari, who just stares right back, smiling.

‘…hear me, Jamieson? Hello? Jamieson? Your location, tell me your…’

‘I have to go, my love. Goodbye,’ Jamieson says.

‘…my what? Have you lost your mind? Agent?…’ Black can be heard shouting, as Jamieson slowly hangs up the phone.

He takes a deep breath and thinks fast as he pushes the booth door open and steps outside.

‘Tafari, what are you doing here?’

‘Hello, Archer, I was just walking by on my way to this nice east African restaurant at the end of this street, and I noticed it was you in the phone booth.’

‘What, your little brother’s delicious cooking isn’t enough for you?’ Jamieson asks, raising an eyebrow.

‘Oh, I like his cooking fine. But every now and then, I need something that reminds me of home.’

‘Ah. So, you just happened to be walking by?’

Tafari smiles.

‘You followed me, didn’t you?’ Jamieson asks.

‘Let’s just say, Edgar is good, but I am better.’

Jamieson nods.

He told you to follow me?’

Tafari shakes his head.

‘No. I saw you leaving. I was just…curious.’

‘Well, you found me,’ Jamieson says, with a dry laugh. ‘Well done. Now what?’

Tafari’s smile widens.

‘Anyone special?’ he asks.

‘Anyone…special?’

‘The phone call?’

‘Ah, yes…the call, of course…no, well, yes, a special someone…a girl, it was just a girl I know.’

Tafari nods. He doesn’t look convinced.

‘We talked about this, remember?’

‘I know, no relationships. I just wanted…needed to hear her voice.’

There is sadness in Jamieson’s voice, and it is genuine, as he realises he has missed his chance to call his wife. Tafari picks up on this.

‘Hey,’ he says, resting a hand on Jamieson’s shoulder, ‘it’s only temporary. If it’s love, she’ll wait.’

Jamieson performs a hardly-convincing laugh through a niggling sense of urgency to reunite with his love.

‘Listen,’ Tafari says, ‘there really is an African restaurant down the road. Do you want to join me for some food?’

Jamieson realises that he is hungry, and it would be a good opportunity to learn about Tafari and Ace’s African life.

‘You know, I think I will join you. I didn’t have much of an appetite this morning, so I skipped breakfast. I could do with a bite to eat now though.’

‘This way,’ Tafari says, gesturing a hand.

They stroll down the street together.

‘Besides,’ Jamieson says, ‘I haven’t had a lot of experience with African food.’

‘Well,’ Tafari smiles, bemused and shaking his head, ‘where you are going, you are about to experience it a whole lot more.’

‘I know, I can’t wait to see this restaurant…’

Tafari laughs a deep laugh. Jamieson is confused.

‘Something…funny?’ he asks.

‘I am not talking about the restaurant,’ Tafari smiles, as he picks up his pace.

Jamieson looks puzzled as he tries to keep up with Tafari. They walk down the road in silence until they come to the restaurant. They go inside and find a seat, sitting opposite each other at the window. It is fairly busy. Couples eating together. A few families. A loner. A waiter soon approaches to greet them and offers them a menu and time to order. Tafari recommends the vegetable Sambussa served with Injera. Jamieson takes his word for it and they order a meal and some mango juice. They say very little to each other. Jamieson admires the room. The walls are painted with deep reds and purples. Huge decorative vases of some kind of tall grass are positioned here and there. The tables and chairs are made from cedar wood. There are African symbols and artefacts and paintings adorning the walls.

‘What a beautiful joint. Is this all,’ Jamieson begins to ask, gesturing his hand to the decor, ‘authentic African decoration?’

‘Very much so,’ Tafari answers.

‘I get a welcoming sense of familiarity sitting here. Comfortable. I feel at home.’

‘My sentiments exactly.’

The food arrives and they eat in relative silence, savouring their meal.

‘Wow, and what was the name of that spice again?’

‘Ras el hanout.’

‘Those flavours. And there was something in there I just couldn’t place. A kind of flowery…’

‘It is rose, actually.’

‘Rose? Well, good choice. And the…InInjera?’ Jamieson says, sipping on his juice.

‘It is a type of flatbread, made with a fine grain unique to Ethiopia. You know the ritual of tearing Injera and sharing food with someone is to signify a bond. A bond of loyalty and friendship.’

Jamieson smiles, touched by the sentiment.

‘Aw, well thank you, that means a lot to me. Do you feel a bond, with me?’

Tafari stares blankly at Jamieson for a moment.

‘No. Actually, I do not trust you in the slightest. To be frank.’

Jamieson’s smile drops.

‘But…the bread…the bond..?’

‘It is just bread. And besides, I do not believe in all that ritualistic stuff.’

‘Says the guy who spits in people’s faces?’

‘That was different. I was…emotional. It was out before I knew what was happening. An old impulse I suppose.’

‘So, I…indirectly…help your dad…’ Jamieson leans in close and lowers his voice, ‘murder someone,’ he leans back again, ‘and get officially recruited, and you still don’t trust me?’

Jamieson forces out a laugh that sounds like a yak choking on its own tongue. He takes a drink. Tafari smiles.

‘Look, I know you are a policeman. FBI?’ he says, calmly.

Jamieson spits his juice out over the table. He quickly grabs a napkin and mops the tabletop.

‘Are you…crazy?’ Jamieson asks, switching on his poker face. ‘You think I am a cop?’

‘I would say I think you are a rat, but I rather like rats. It is our likeness, our shared plight for survival that makes us fear them, demonise them. And I rather like pigs too. I do not want to sully their species further by making comparisons. So, yes, cop will suffice.’

‘Well, it’s absurd. What makes you think that?’

Tafari sighs.

‘Look, this charade has gone on long enough. I am not the only one who knows.’

Jamieson tries to hold Tafari’s stare.

‘Knows? Knows what? That I’m a cop? Who else thinks that?’

Tafari just shakes his head.

‘My father, and Penny, have known all along. I am sure of it. At least, I think my father has his suspicions. I do not know what kind of dangerous game they are playing, but I am not playing a part in it.’

Jamieson still opts for denial.

‘Tafari, I don’t know what you know, or what you think you know, but I can assure you…’

‘It is fine. For now. They obviously have things under control or they never would have brought you in this far, never have put you through this ordeal.’

Jamieson just shakes his head.

‘My father,’ Tafari sighs, ‘some say he is a great man. And he is. He has saved many animals. He also saved my people. From war. Probably from annihilation. But he also brought a great shame to my village. To…my mother.’

Jamieson decides to let Tafari talk. Tell his story. It will buy him time to think. To think of a way out of this. But all that looms on Jamieson’s mind is Tafari’s revelation, that Ace knows the truth about him.

‘Who,’ Tafari continues, ‘really was a princess. My father, he…got my mother pregnant, when she was promised to another man. He was banished and she was outcast. We lived for eight years on the outskirts of our village. My father would send us money for our needs. But life was tough. We were shunned and mistreated by my people. But my mother would always smile down at me with pure love, and I knew that no matter what this life threw at us, if we had each other, we could get through anything. And then the loggers moved in. They had come to take our land. Strip the jungle away to make way for cattle. For the beef industry. Naturally, like the rest of my village, my mother was outraged. She would not let them take our ancestral home. She rallied the whole village to come together to stand up to the loggers. After everything we had been through and after the way our village had treated us, my mother still stood side by side with her people and led them in a brave defiance. She led her people, for four days, until her body was found, smashed, under a fallen tree.’

Jamieson gasps.

‘The official report states it was an unfortunate logging accident. The company was made to pay compensation to my people. To me. And the local authorities were heavily compensated too, obviously. But the Shaman from my village would later go on record stating that he had examined my mother’s body, after her death, and found evidence of thumb-shaped bruising on her neck. His testimony did not amount to anything. You see, they murdered her, because she was the leader of the rebellion. Shortly after, my people were forcibly evicted from our land. Forced to move on and find a new place in the jungle to rebuild our lives.’

Jamieson is shocked. Angry. And curious at Tafari’s calm demeanour. Tafari smiles.

‘It makes me wonder where my people will go when the loggers come calling again. We are running out of rainforest.’

Jamieson shakes his head. He stares into Tafari’s soulful eyes.

The hardship this man has been through.

‘Why are you telling me all this?’

‘A short time later, my father returned to our village. He risked his life to come and find me. And I have lived with him ever since. But in the heart of the jungle, where my mother’s blood had been spilled, he made me a promise. He promised me that he would find those responsible for my mother’s murder, and bring justice to them. That we would do it together.’

Jamieson nods, now beginning to see connections and motivations clearer.

‘So, he formed ACE and you’ve been his loyal recruit ever since?’

‘Do not get me wrong, I like ACE, what they stand for. I too am outraged by the mistreatment of animals in our world. It is just their methods that concern me.’

‘Murder?’

‘Oh, murder is fine with me. I fully intend to murder the man who killed my mother.’

Jamieson raises his eyebrows by the collected sincerity in Tafari’s voice.

‘But I am more of a simple bullet in the head kind of guy. I do not have my father’s…flare.’

‘That’s one way of putting it.’

‘I would not mind so much, my father certainly has his demons, but he is a grown man, who makes his own choices, and just happens to be on a path of death and destruction, this…Devil in him is slowly consuming him, he is now a hunted criminal, terrorist they call him, and there is a very real possibility that he could lose his own life. But Penny, and Paul are still young. Vulnerable. Impressionable. Especially Penny. She hangs on every word her father says. The way I used to. She overlooks his…methods…his…madness. And she follows him down the same path. A path that will destroy her life. And that girl has already had it destroyed, believe me. All three of us, in fact. How twisted is fate that it would bind us through our shared grief. Bereft children.’

Tafari leans forward and stares into Jamieson with intense eyes.

‘You will promise me, here and now, that when you make your move, you will do everything in your power to protect them.’

Jamieson doesn’t know what to say. Agree and reveal that he is a cop. Or try and keep his cover, not promise anything. He takes a deep breath.

‘No matter who you think I am, and no matter what happens, I will try to protect them. That’s all I can say, Tafari.’

Tafari nods, a little sparkle in his eye suggests that he is satisfied with Jamieson’s answer, as he eases back into his chair.

‘Penny,’ Jamieson says, trying to move the conversation along, ‘she mentioned her mother’s death to me last night.’

‘She did? I cannot even get her to talk about it. What did she say?’

‘Just that she is another one, still seeking justice that never came.’

‘So, she didn’t tell you the circumstances?’

Jamieson shakes his head. Tafari shrugs, but there is relief in his expression.

‘My motivation is justice for my own mother’s killer,’ Tafari says, ‘ACE serves me as a means to an end. Justice for my mother. But I have been watching that particular cause take a back seat to…other motivations, for too long. My life has been leading up to this time.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I have recently learned the whereabouts of the logger who murdered my mother. He has eluded us for so long. But I have tracked him down to a warehouse in Kumasi, in Ghana. Naturally, I told my father what I had learned.’

‘I’m guessing you and your father will be taking a flight to Africa in the very near future.’

‘That is why I was excited when I heard my father was planning a trip to Africa. At last, I thought. But then I learn that he is not taking me, his son, back to his homeland, to avenge his mother’s death after all. Instead, he is taking you to carry out a different mission.’

‘Me? He’s taking me?’ Jamieson says, surprised.

‘An opportunity like this,’ Tafari says, showing emotion in his eyes for the first time, ‘and he wants to let it pass him by? Pass me by?’

Tafari glares at Jamieson as if expecting him to answer.

‘He…must have his reasons?’ Jamieson offers. ‘Did he tell you what kind of mission we are going on?’

‘No, as usual, we are all on a need to know basis. It is obviously ACE related.’

Jamieson begins to panic.

Not another murder?

‘Regardless,’ Tafari says, ‘I have been planning my own excursion to Africa. I will bring justice to the bastard, myself. You and my father will not be the only ones on a plane destined to Africa tonight.’

‘Tonight? We’re leaving tonight?’

‘Not together, obviously.’

‘Are you sure it’s wise to go alone? Maybe you should speak to your father before…’

‘No,’ Tafari says, cutting Jamieson off, ‘he does not need to know, and you will not tell him either. I gave him a chance to fulfill his promise, and he would rather honour The Devil inside him than the mother of his own son? He would rather play games with you, a cop?’

Jamieson smiles awkwardly.

‘Would you stop…I keep telling you…I’m not a…’

Tafari just stares at him unimpressed and unconvinced.

‘There’s nothing I can say, is there?’ Jamieson says.

Tafari shakes his head.

‘Listen, Archer or whatever your name is, my father is not the only one playing a very precarious game here. You are doing your duty and all that, yes? Serve and protect? You had better watch your back. I am convinced my father knows about you. But you have to ask yourself why he has not just tried to kill you? Why they are playing along? My father has a plan for you. I do not know what that is yet. But he is becoming more…unpredictable. More ruthless. Tread carefully as you go.’

Jamieson acknowledges the warning and nods.

‘Thanks.’

‘Do not think I am warning you because we are friends. If I get to Africa and find you have tipped off the logger through your superiors, I will come back, looking for you. Your brand of justice will not deny me of my own justice. Do you understand me?’

Jamieson nods.

‘I think it is time we head back to HQ, don’t you, Archer?’ Tafari smiles. ‘Unless, you have any more phone calls to make?’

Jamieson smiles.

‘Let’s go,’ he says.

They pay their bill and exit the restaurant. Stepping out into the city street, Jamieson gets an uncontrollable urge to just turn and run. And keep running. Back to his lover’s embrace. To disappear from the hell he is being pulled deeper into. But Tafari has already flagged a taxi down. A taxi that will take them back to hell.

Back to The Devil.

The name of the song flashes into Jamieson’s mind, loud and clear, Psycho Killer.

‘Qu’est-ce que c’est?’ he mumbles.

‘Sorry?’ Tafari says, opening the cab door.

‘Nothing.’

Jamieson climbs into the taxi and Tafari joins him.

The taxi pulls away and takes off down the street as more lyrics from the song cycle on repeat in Jamieson’s mind.

Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away…

Chapter 20 – African Savannah

20a

African Savannah, Zimbabwe – Khwai Concession.

A large blazing blood-orange sun sits high in the clear blue sky. It is mid-afternoon and a sweltering ninety degrees. A four-wheel drive jeep slowly makes its way across a shimmering, rough, rocky trail through grassland. It manoeuvres through the open canopies of dispersed Jackal-berry and Acacia trees.

Jamieson sits up front in the passenger seat. It is not just the blistering sun that is making him sweat. He is nervous. The whimpering coming from the back seat is beginning to really unsettle him.

‘How much longer?’ he asks the driver.

The driver, Ace, does not answer. He quickly lifts a small set of binoculars to his eyes and scans the grassland ahead. He drops the binoculars and resumes driving.

‘Almost there.’

More whimpering from the back seat. Jamieson anxiously looks back at the young girl, lying down, bound and gagged. Her terrified eyes find his. He quickly looks away and spins back around in his seat.

‘I’m really not sure about this,’ he says.

Ace smiles and shakes his head.

‘Then it’s a good job I am.’

‘See, it’s times like these when I can’t tell if I’m talking to Ace, or The Devil.’

Ace slowly turns his head to face Jamieson.

‘I know exactly what you mean,’ he smiles.

They drive on for a short while. Ace hits the brakes and the jeep skids to a halt. After the dust settles, Jamieson peers through the windscreen at the open expanse.

He spots something to the left, in the distance. Something moving. Something fairly large. It pops its impressive golden sand-coloured head up for a moment, watching the jeep, its large ears twitching as it listens. Then another head pops up out of the tall grass. And another. Another. Jamieson can now see that it is a pride of lions.

Ace’s intentions had been unclear. The finer details at least. Ace had informed Jamieson of his role in this particular mission on the way to the airport. To act as back up. Follow Ace’s lead. And that was all. They had boarded the plane using fake passports. Hired a jeep under a false name. GPS did the rest. It led them to a hunting ranch. And then Ace was bundling a body onto the back seat. It all happened so fast. Ace was quiet and focussed the entire time. Jamieson was clearly on a need-to-know basis, but, as he watches more curious lions taking an interest in the jeep, Aces’ intentions are now becoming clearer.

Wide-eyed, Jamieson turns to Ace and opens his mouth to speak. Ace is already staring at him.

‘Get the girl,’ Ace says, before Jamieson can speak.

Ace opens his door and climbs out. Jamieson closes his dry mouth and struggles to swallow. His eyes dart as he tries to decide what to do. He cannot be part of this. Cannot allow this. Not again. Ace has walked to the rear of the jeep. He opens the boot, giving Jamieson a fright. Jamieson quickly exits the vehicle, and joins Ace, who is pulling a hunting rifle out of the boot.

‘Okay,’ Jamieson says, staring at the rifle, ‘I thought we had talked about this?’ Jamieson says.

‘This?’

‘This! Murder.’

‘That’s right we did.’

‘So you’re just going to shoot her?’

‘Been thinking about it.’

‘You can’t.’

‘Can’t I?’

‘She’s just a girl. A teenager.’

‘Do you know who this girl is?’

Jamieson pauses. He looks in the jeep at the girl and then back at Ace, blankly. Ace just shakes his head.

‘You know, for an animal lover,’ Ace says, staring into Jamieson, ‘you sure don’t know much about what’s happening in the animal world.’

Jamieson tries to hold Ace’s gaze.

‘But I do know much about the human world and I do know that you can’t just go around killing people. Especially children!’

‘So it’s okay to kill, say, a baby cow, a lion, premeditated, in cold blood, but not a person?’

‘Yes! I mean…no, it’s not alright to kill either.’

‘Well, try telling that to Ms Jones, here.’

Jamieson looks into the jeep. He frowns.

‘So who is she?’ Jamieson says, abruptly, turning back to Ace. ‘Tell me what she has done that is so wrong that she deserves to be executed.’

Ace stares Jamieson down.

‘Ask her yourself.’

Ace closes the boot and walks around to the front of the jeep. Jamieson huffs for a moment. He makes his way to the side of the jeep and swings open the door. He takes a deep breath and then quickly, but carefully, reaches into the jeep and pulls the girl out, onto her feet. She begins to sob. He leads her to join Ace.

‘Remove her gag,’ Ace instructs.

Jamieson reaches up and carefully pulls the duct tape from the girl’s mouth and face. She immediately starts crying.

‘Please…what’s happening?’ she cries, her accent is southern American. ‘Please…’

‘Shut up!’ Ace snaps, silencing her. ‘Now,’ he says, turning to Jamieson, ‘I believe you have a question you would like to ask?’

Jamieson scowls. He turns to the girl. She is in her late teens, somewhat pretty, despite the mess that tears and mascara and snot have made of her face, with long blonde hair, albeit a bit dishevelled. Her scared and pleading blue eyes look into his.

‘Do you know why you’re here?’ Jamieson asks.

The girl just looks at Ace and then at the rifle and then back to Jamieson. With tears streaming from her eyes, she shakes her head.

‘I haven’t done anything, mister…please…why are you doing this to me?…’

The girl sobs.

‘Oh, don’t give me that boohoo, I’m just an innocent little girl bullshit routine!’ Ace yells.

The girl jumps with fright and sobs harder.

‘Jesus Christ, she’s just a kid,’ Jamieson yells back, ‘look at her!’

Ace doesn’t acknowledge Jamieson. He steps in closer to the girl.

Just a kid, my pimply sagging prolapsed festering ass! She’s a real go-getter. An action woman. Likes to live dangerously this one. Flirts with danger. All those guns and wild animals. All those hunts. Those executions. All that blood. “Haven’t done anything, mister” as if you’re eight years old. Nice try Ms Jones. You’re a cold-blooded killer.’

The girl just shakes her head.

‘Oh don’t deny it, I know who you are. I’ve seen the evidence, the pictures. And you were so defiant to all those people on social media who were rightly outraged. All smiles and tough talk. Well, it’s a little different when you aren’t hiding behind a camera. Not so tough now, are you?’

‘What are you, an animal rights nut or something?’ she cries.

‘So…wait, you’re a hunter?’ Jamieson asks.

‘The correct term is huntress.’

‘Oh, well…’ Jamieson shrugs. ‘Excuse me.’

‘She’s no hunter.’ Ace huffs. ‘She pays people to take her to an animal so she can gun the defenceless creature down into extinction. She’s no tracker. No scout. She takes no risks. She’s not even doing it out of hunger. She’s just another up and coming psycho with a gun who gets a thrill from killing something. Only this one uploads photos of it to her Facebook profile.’

‘I have done no wrong,’ the girl tries to protest, ‘I am doing nothing illegal, but exercising my God given right to…’

‘All righty then!’ Ace blurts, cutting her off. ‘And still, no reckoning, no remorse. The same old rhetoric. Next you’ll be telling me you do it for conservation.’

‘Ac…actually…’ the girl stammers, ‘there is an argument that hunting does aid conservation. By carefully selecting certain animals from a population we can help strengthen the gene pool and conserve…’

‘It’s an argument,’ Ace interrupts. ‘That’s all it is. You know, nature does all that pretty well, all on its own? Who are you to intervene in a natural process that predates your own species?’

‘But…I could argue that I am part of nature. Part of that natural process.’

‘Well, I could say the same for this predicament, couldn’t I?’ Ace smiles. ‘That I am carefully selecting a particularly sick individual who is best hunted and killed and removed from the population, to conserve the gene pool. And it’s perfectly natural.

The girl is silent.

‘I…love animals too,’ she offers, ‘and hunt with an understanding of how my…kills…impact conservation and the ecosystem.’

Ace lets out a dry laugh.

‘Did you just lift that straight off your website? Can you even hear yourself? I love animals…my kills...how can you love animals, if you hunt and kill them? When you’ve got that leopard, zebra, rhino, in your sights, and you look into the glistening beauty and life in its eyes, you’re not thinking I love this animal, you’re thinking I’m going to kill this animal. To snuff out its life, its beauty. And this is your sport? Killing negates the very meaning of the word; conserve. To conserve, to protect from loss and harm. And, I’m sorry, but could you speak into my good ear?’

Ace cups an ear towards the girl.

‘I thought I heard you say – God given right?’ he says. ‘God gives you the right to mercilessly kill, does he? He told you that did he? Whispered it in your ear perhaps?’

Ace impersonates God in a whispering voice.

‘You know what would please me, my divine daughter? Go forth to the plains, the forests and the swamps of this glorious kingdom I have created, and shoot. Shoot your little guns at animals at will. Shoot those bastards. I am giving you the right! Well. I’ve heard enough of that kind of lunacy.’ He turns to Jamieson. ‘Untie her.’

Jamieson stalls.

‘What do you intend to do?’ Jamieson asks, tensely.

‘Untie her or I will,’ Ace says, reaching for a sheathed knife attached to his belt, ‘and I won’t be as careful as you.’

Jamieson begins to untie her.

‘Please…’ the girl says, beginning to cry again.

‘Please what?’ Ace asks. ‘I thought you loved nothing more than a good hunt?’

‘You’re going to hunt her?’ Jamieson asks, as he frees the girl’s hands.

Ace looks down at his rifle.

‘This is a hunting rifle, isn’t it? And a damn fine one too.’ He holds it up and turns to the girl. ‘You of all people should appreciate it.’

The girl just stares at it, terrified.

‘Served me well during a recent hunting trip to Scotland,’ Ace adds.

Jamieson glances at Ace, understanding the reference.

‘So you hunt too?’ the girl asks, confused.

‘It’s a recent…necessary evil,’ Ace shrugs, ‘but unlike you, I don’t kill innocent animals…’ Ace stares intensely at the girl. ‘It’s people I kill. Only the guilty, the wicked, the corrupt filth of the world.’

The girl stares back at Ace. There is a tense silence.

‘I take no pleasure in it,’ Ace continues, ‘and I certainly don’t take their severed heads home and mount them on my wall.’

‘No, you just hang them from a beam in a shed! What kind of mixed up hypocritical bullshit is that you are talking?’ Jamieson says, only just containing his anger. ‘How can you condemn killing an animal and yet condone killing a human being?’

‘We’re all animals. All beings. Some more intelligent and conscientious than others. But all sentient. I condemn the supposed intelligent and conscientious human animal who engage in the cruel and unnecessary killing of other sentient animals.’

Jamieson just shrugs, exasperated.

‘Now you really do sound like a maniac,’ he says, referring to his phone call with Black.

Ace turns to Jamieson.

‘Look, if it takes a psychopath to rid the world of the rest of the psychopaths so that the human race can evolve to a saner, compassionate way of life resulting in the recovery of nature and, ultimately, to the benefit of animals, then that’s what I’ll be. That’s what I have become. Who else would do it, but me? You?’

Jamieson just stares at Ace.

‘Her?’ Ace asks, flicking a thumb at the girl.

Jamieson looks dubiously at the trembling girl.

‘And she represents the new generation.’ Ace laughs. ‘A generation of dumbed-down egomaniacs, with little care for the knowledge that our masters and rulers are narcissistic warmongering paedophiles, and, with little respect or empathy for the suffering natural world that grants them their very existence.’

‘That’s not true,’ the girl says quietly, ‘I care, I have respect for…’

Ace just silences her with a raised hand.

‘Okay,’ Ace says, gesturing his hand to the open ground, ‘you can walk, or you can run, either way, go, now.’

The girl freezes.

‘I’m going to give you a head start, don’t worry.’

The girl still does not move.

‘Please…’ she cries, ‘I just want to go home.’

‘Well go!’ Ace yells. ‘You’re free. Go. Head on home, back to Texas. Run.’

‘Jesus Christ!’ Jamieson protests.

‘Maybe you’ll make it?’ Ace says. ‘Go, now, or I’ll shoot you here, where you stand.’

The girl cries and begins to slowly edge away from the jeep.

‘She can’t just walk into the wilderness,’ Jamieson says, desperately watching her go.

‘She’s got camouflage clothing on, she’ll be fine.’

‘There are lions watching us right now, she’ll be mauled to death.’

Jamieson turns to Ace.

‘Please, don’t do this. She doesn’t deserve this.’

Ace seems to curiously look into Jamieson’s beseeching eyes. As if searching for something. But not something in Jamieson. In himself. Ace turns to watch the girl, as she carefully edges further away from the jeep.

‘There is a chance she will escape,’ he shrugs. ‘A chance she will survive.’

‘I can’t let you do this. Please, she’s just a kid. Someone’s daughter, like Penny.’

‘Her parents should be ashamed of themselves. Her father is the one who got her into this blood sport in the first place. He put her in this position.’

The girl sobs.

‘I want my daddy,’ she cries, regressing.

Ace grimaces. He seems confused. Tormented. He huffs, turns his back and takes a couple of steps.

‘I think you’ve done enough.’ Jamieson pleads, turning to Ace. ‘Scared her enough. To send a message, right? Surely, this is enough? You don’t have to kill her. Please, I’m begging you, don’t do this.’

Ace shakes his head, in thought. He looks up to the blue sky above. He notices that the sky is the exact same colour as the girl’s desperate eyes. After a short while he sighs.

‘Tie her hands, and put her back in the jeep,’ he grumbles.

Jamieson smiles and takes a deep breath, relieved. He turns to the girl, but she is gone.

‘Where the hell did she go?’ he says.

Ace spins around. They scan the grassland.

‘There!’ Jamieson yells, and points at a figure, tearing through the grass at pace. They are about to run after her when they hear a low rumbling growl. They turn to see a perfectly camouflaged lioness emerging from some tall grass to their right, poised and ready to pounce.

‘Oh my…’ Ace says, peering at the lion, as he and Jamieson very slowly edge back towards the jeep. ‘Aren’t you beautiful.’

‘Please don’t just admire the large deadly carnivore. Use the gun.’ Jamieson whispers.

‘I won’t shoot her.’

‘You would rather she just ate us both? This is life and death. Fire into the air, the gunshot might scare her.’

‘Or make her charge. Just, get back to the jeep.’

Jamieson peels his eyes away from the big cat ahead of him and notices the rest of the pride are in motion, chasing down the girl.

‘What about the girl?’

‘She’s lunch.’

‘We can still save her.’

‘Forget about her.’

‘Give me the rifle. I’ll go and get her.’

‘I can’t do that. I won’t let you shoot a lion.’

‘She’ll die!’

‘Now that’s natural, baby.’

Jamieson scowls. And in one sudden movement, he bolts off into the grass in the direction of the girl. The lioness watches him go, keeping low and poised, but then returns her gaze to Ace. Ace slowly climbs into the jeep and closes the door. He looks out at the plain, searching for Jamieson or the girl. No sign of them. Ace climbs onto his seat and pulls his body up and out of the sunroof.

The lioness is now sitting comfortably and relaxed in front of the jeep. She is an elder. The scars on her face and the history in her burning yellow eyes show her depth. She peers at Ace, never breaking eye contact.

Jamieson runs like he has never ran before. Literally for his life. He has lost sight of the girl again, but has noticed a couple of the pride have altered their course and are now heading for him. He spots a tree ahead of him and powers towards it. He climbs in a frenzy, expecting to hear that blood curdling snarl, as he is attacked from behind, at any moment. And as he reaches a safe height, two male lions break out of the grass below him. They watch him, circling and snarling, trying to find a way up the tree. After a short while they seem to give up and disappear back into the grass. Jamieson catches his breath. But only temporarily.

‘Help!’ comes a shrill frightened female voice.

Jamieson turns to see the girl, sprinting through the grass towards the tree. Several lions are close behind, moving fast. Too fast.

‘Hurry!’ Jamieson yells.

He positions himself on a large over hanging branch. He clamps his legs around the branch and hangs down, dangling his hands.

The girl is close. As are the lions. He can hear them panting as they run.

‘Reach for me!’ Jamieson shouts, stretching out his hands.

The girl reaches out to him, her expression frantic and petrified. Their fingers make contact, just as a lion pounces. Jamieson grabs her hand tightly.

‘Got you!’ he cries, and tries to pull her up.

The lion slams into her, all four paws and sharp claws gripping her tightly. The force breaks Jamieson’s grip, almost pulling him out of the tree. She screams as she and the lion sail through the air, before crashing down into the mud. The lion roars, it is fierce and brutal, instantly clawing and mauling her. She screams again as her flesh is torn open by teeth and claws as more lions close in around her. Jamieson tries to shout to scare the pride away. Another lion quickly moves in and clamps its jaws around the girl’s bloodied throat. She lets out another high pitched gargled screech. Then nothing. As she is obscured, out of sight, by the pride, Jamieson can only listen to the gruesome sounds of the pride eating their kill, and bickering over the spoils. He is reminded of his dream. The sharks, eating him, piece by piece. He begins to weep.

As the girl’s screams fall silent, Ace turns back to the lioness, who has sat, graceful, casually watching him the entire time. She nonchalantly stares into his eyes as he stares into hers. Her ear flickers and she seems to smell the air. After a moment she gets up and casually strolls off towards her pride, and her food.

Ace slowly lowers himself back down into the jeep, into his seat. He shakes his head in disbelief.

‘Jamieson?’ he whispers.

He starts the engine and slowly drives in the direction of the lioness. After a short drive, he finds the pride, and what is left of the girl. He spots Jamieson in a nearby tree lying face down on a branch. He manoeuvres the jeep under the tree.

Jamieson lifts his head. He looks down at the jeep, and then at the pride, devouring their kill. A lion lifts its head, its bloodied mouth chewing. A long clump of blonde hair and scalp is snagged in its teeth. Jamieson turns away, in disgust. He carefully hangs down and drops onto the roof of the jeep and climbs inside via the sunroof. He slumps down into his seat.

Ace inquisitively watches him for a moment. But Jamieson is in shock and just stares, bug-eyed, into space. Ace sighs and switches off the engine. Jamieson notices and seems to snap out of his trance.

‘What are we waiting for?’ he asks, coldly. ‘You’ve done what you came here to do.’

‘We can’t leave until they finish their…meal,’ Ace says, reaching into his shirt pocket.

Jamieson slowly turns to him as Ace pulls out a pristine white card.

‘You’re kidding me?’

‘Technically, I didn’t kill her. But I’m still taking the credit for it. I need the publicity. The message will be clear.’

‘What message is that? That lions kill people? I think we’ve known about that one for thousands of years.’

‘Exactly. Take a look at these wondrous animals,’ Ace says, gesturing a hand towards the pride. ‘Doing what they’ve been doing for thousands of years. Being amazing hunters. If you try to take them on, as the late Ms Jones here used to do, there is always the chance that you become the hunted. You become the trophy on the lion’s wall so to speak.’

‘As if she stood a chance? You brought her here. You’re responsible for her death!’ Jamieson yells.

‘Well, shit on my grave!’ Ace yells back. ‘I was all for taking her back to the ranch and dumping her there, alive and well, like you said, scared enough, point made. It was she who thought it would be a better idea to run off into the jaws of some hungry lions.’ Ace alters his voice to that of a southern accent. ‘I mean, I knew she was from Texas n’ all, but, shiiit, she sure wasn’t too bright, was she?’

Ace chuckles to himself.

‘Don’t you have any remorse at all for what just happened?’ Jamieson asks, exasperated. ‘ A girl has just been killed…and you’re already mocking her? And now I’m an accomplice to another murder.’

‘Okay, first, this was, technically, not murder, so, I would say you’re only an accomplice to…manslaughter? And second, people die every moment of every day. Am I supposed to mourn them all? I don’t know this girl personally. I didn’t even know of her existence until recently. And what I learned about her, disgusted me. All those pictures and videos. The joy in her face, in her eyes, as she posed with the carcasses of the animal she had just murdered. It led to controversy. Public outcry even. Especially across social media. But as a result of all the publicity, she got her very own TV show. It’s…sickening. People like her never stop. You can’t ask them nicely. Even the law is on their side. She would have shot her way to her own talk-show if it meant wiping out every last one of these majestic creatures. Her death, albeit an accident, will send a message to the other animal murderers out there. The hunter will become the hunted. Be it by animal or activist.’

Jamieson stares at the pride. They are already beginning to disperse. The girl, he realises, is obviously slim pickings for animals that are used to dining on wildebeest and buffalo. The horror of it overwhelms him again and he lowers his head. He weeps for a moment.

‘It’s freaky isn’t it?’ Ace says. ‘That as each lion fans out, there are little pieces of her inside each of them.’

Jamieson looks up at Ace, confounded.

‘And then she’ll be pooped out, a little bit here, a little bit the…’

Jamieson pounces on Ace with hands wrenched into claws. Ace manages to block Jamieson’s attack and they grapple with each other for a moment, huffing and growling. Ace begins to laugh, only making Jamieson more furious. He pins Ace against his door, which opens and swings outwards. Ace looks behind him and realises he is exposed. He pushes back against Jamieson as they gasp and spray spittle at each other. Eventually the exertion and the stifling heat makes Jamieson tire and he gives in. They fall back in their seats, breathing heavily. Ace pulls the door closed.

‘Are you crazy?’ he says. ‘The door was wide open, I could have been killed!’

‘Good!’ Jamieson yells. ‘That was the…general idea!’

‘A hungry lion could have got me!’ Ace says, feigning protest. ‘Although, I reckon these particular lions won’t be hungry for another few hours at least. But a ravenous hyena or something could have sneaked up on me.’

‘Ace…’ Jamieson sighs. ‘Please…’

Ace smiles.

They sit in silence for a short time. Ace reaches behind him and scoops a camera off the jeep floor. He swings his door open again and climbs out. Jamieson watches him from inside the jeep, as he cautiously edges towards the area where the lions had killed the girl. Ace freezes, clearly spotting her remains. He quickly leans down and leaves the card on her carcass. He stands and takes a picture. He makes a hasty return to the jeep, as winged undertakers swoop down to investigate the scene. Ace climbs back into his seat and closes the door. They both look ahead at the vultures as they begin to quarrel over tiny morsels of flesh on bone.

‘Well,’ Ace says, in his deep southern accent, ‘she ain’t so pretty no more.’

Jamieson sighs.

‘I hate you.’

Ace wheezes out a laugh.

‘Can we leave now?’ Jamieson asks. ‘Or do you have anyone else to murder?’

‘As a matter of fact,’ Ace smiles, starting the engine, ‘I do.’

Jamieson quickly looks at Ace.

‘What? Here, in Africa?’

‘Yes, in Africa, but not here though,’ Ace says, as he hits the accelerator and pulls the jeep around back onto the road. ‘In Ghana.’

‘Ghana!?’ Jamieson blurts, recalling his conversation with Tafari.

‘Yes, to a city called…’

‘Kumasi?’ Jamieson says, cutting Ace off.

Ace stares at Jamieson, confused and suspicious.

‘Kumasi. Yes. Now, how did you know that?’

Jamieson stares out onto the plains and watches a tower of giraffes running freely, in that awkward yet elegant way, through the grassland. For a short-lived moment the sight lifts his spirit. He wishes he could join them. He sighs, and turns to Ace.

‘I don’t know how to tell you this…’

20b

20

Chapter 21 – Kumasi Metropolis

21

Kumasi Metropolis, Ghana.

It is early evening and light is just beginning to fade, upon landing at Kumasi International Airport. The air is warm and humid. The sky is coloured pale blue, lilac and gold. Ace and Jamieson hail a taxi. They head into town. Into the heart of the vast Kejetia market. The market is bustling and cramped. A vast array of stalls of various shapes and vibrant colours, selling anything and everything, line the streets, as busy people and traffic move in waves like a tide of flesh and fumes.

‘Kumasi,’ Ace says, staring out the window, ‘Once the capital for the great Ashanti Empire. A kingdom created through war and gold. Now a writhing metropolis as diseased and corrupt as any other. The government, the municipal authorities, high judges, they’re all on the take. Their malfeasance uncovered, now public knowledge. How long can these people accept the systematic corruption all around them? The enslavement?’

‘Enslavement?’ Jamieson asks, sceptical. ‘Slavery ended for these people over a century ago. Aren’t you forgetting the emancipation proclamation?’

Ace and the driver chuckle.

‘I don’t mean for these black people,’ Ace says, shaking his head, ‘I just mean people, in general. It doesn’t matter what colour you are. Slavery didn’t end with abolition in the nineteenth century. Have you read Bites of Insanity by Nsah Mela?’

‘No, I must have missed that one at book club.’

‘There are more slaves in this world today than in any time in human history. And besides, we are all slaves to the monetary system, until we choose not to be. The ever inflating debt that we strive to repay but will never actually catch up with. The human race is indebted to the human race? It’s a perplexing delusion, and a persistent one. In my world, I would eradicate money. It has served us, the illusion of the sanctity of agreements we believe in, exchange, but it is out-dated. Now, a hindrance.’ Ace points to the stalls. ‘The markets can stay. The price, the barter, goes. Welcome to human compassion and progression. But until that day, strive or die, slave.’

Ace cracks an imaginary whip with his hand.

‘Whhpsssh’ he mimics.

‘So you’re saying get rid of money? And then what?’

‘What do you mean and then what? Use your goddamn imagination. We still provide the fundamentals of life for each other. Food, shelter, energy, education and so on. Free of charge. No money, remember? The farmers still farm, organically, locally. The engineers still engineer, sustainably and resourcefully. The teachers still teach, open and honestly. And yes, the police still police. Don’t worry.’

Jamieson cuts Ace a nervous glance as Tafari’s conversation plays on his mind.

‘We still need some of the rules, the obvious ones, like let’s not smash each other’s heads open with rocks over a female,‘ Ace continues. ‘But free humanity of labour. Automate. And then we decide, without the pressure of striving to survive, what to become with the time now granted to us?’

Ace turns to Jamieson.

‘What would you do?’

Jamieson stares into such a world in his imagination and asks himself if he would still be a cop? He never joined the FBI for the money. He joined to protect innocent people. To uphold deeply rooted ideals of justice. And even though he realises his experience with ACE is rocking those ideals and the commitment to them, at least, in terms of channelling them through an organisation like the FBI, he knows he would still choose to try and stay true to protecting the innocent. The police would still police. He shrugs.

‘Well, money system or no money system, I wouldn’t be going around murdering people, that’s for sure.’

Ace sighs and rolls his eyes.

‘It’s purpose that people really care about,’ he sighs. ‘To be useful. To create. Belonging. Family. Peace. Love.’

‘I didn’t know you were such an old hippy at heart.’

Ace wheezes out a laugh and stares back out of the window.

‘Now, you and I both know I’m no pacifist.’

Ace takes out a mobile phone from a compartment on his rucksack and checks the screen.

‘Still no word from him?’ Jamieson asks.

‘No calls, no messages. Penny is still trying. How could he be so reckless?’

Jamieson can see the worry all over Ace’s face. Now Ace checks the GPS system.

‘We’re close,’ he says, to the driver.

‘Yes,’ the driver agrees.

‘Okay, pull over.’

The driver pulls to the side of the road. Ace and Jamieson gather their gear and exit the taxi. Ace pays the driver. As the taxi pulls away, Ace checks his phone again.

‘This way,’ he says, taking off down the street.

Jamieson quickly walks after him, weaving through market stall keepers and shoppers, even tourists on a guided tour of the city. The air is thick with smog and sweat, and sweet with fruit and spice. It adds to the nausea that Jamieson is already feeling. Ace cuts into a side street and Jamieson follows him. It is less busy and the pair get into a steady stride for a short while.

‘Phew,’ Jamieson huffs, perspiring heavily. ‘This heat.’

‘You get used to it,’ Ace smiles.

‘So where is this warehouse then?’

Ace stops in his tracks, and wipes a layer of sweat from his brow with his hand.

‘Right here,’ he says, looking ahead.

Jamieson follows Ace’s gaze and spots the building. It is a large structure with a red, corrugated tin roof that is covered in rust. It appears to be closed, unoccupied. There are very few lights on. A bright light illuminates a large sign on the wall, the name of the business, D-FIDO Abattoir.

‘An abattoir?’ Jamieson asks, confused. ‘I thought Tafari said it was a logging company?’

‘It’s all connected. The logging company provides the infrastructure and the distribution for the bush meat trade. All illegal of course. You know Africans are eating millions of tonnes of the stuff? Some even consider it a delicacy, despite the warnings that it spreads disease.’

‘Jesus. HIV?’

‘Yeah, and Ebola. Just add it to the list of human illnesses that consuming meat causes. Heart disease, auto-immune disease, cancer. Not to mention the impact cattle ranching has on the environment,’ Ace adds. ‘All that methane. Cows just farting like there is no tomorrow. Maybe they know something we don’t, huh? The destruction of the rainforests and biodiversity. It’s even worse in the Amazon. And then there’s slave labour. Veganism isn’t just about saving animals lives. It’s about saving human lives too. If only people could see the sanity in it. The compassion in it.’

Jamieson begins to understand the choices that vegans make. To stop eating meat. To not contribute to the industries that exploit animals, and destroy the natural world. To find and explore compassion. He considers the food he has been eating since his arrival at ACE HQ. All delicious and nutritious. No animal ingredients. He decides that regardless of the outcome of this case, meat is off the menu for good.

‘So,’ he says, ‘what now?’

Ace swings his rifle off his shoulder and unpacks it from its case. He assembles it together and loads the weapon.

‘Now,’ he says, ‘we break in.’

Ace moves quickly to the fence surrounding the premises and begins to climb. Jamieson watches, feckless to the events unfolding. Ace drops to the ground on the other side of the fence. He turns to Jamieson.

‘You can wait, or you can come. Make a choice.’

Jamieson knows he doesn’t want to take part in another murder. That he would rather be thousands of miles away, back home, and not be faced with another disastrous situation. His duty flashes through his mind again. Witness. Gather the evidence. Black will be expecting an update. And when the time comes he knows he might be able to talk Ace out of killing again. He moves to the fence and begins to climb. Once at the top, he drops to the ground, beside Ace.

‘Let’s go,’ Ace says, ‘oh, and no trying to talk me out of this one.’

Jamieson tries to appear neutral.

‘Not this one,’ Ace says, and takes off towards the building.

Jamieson takes a deep breath and follows Ace. Something begins to vibrate in Ace’s rucksack. He reaches in and pulls out his mobile phone. He answers it and listens for a moment.

‘How can you be sure?’ Ace asks. He listens, and nods. ‘Yes, got it.’

Ace hangs up and stows his phone into his pack.

‘That was Penny. She has confirmed that our man is in the building. This way.’

Ace and Jamieson move to the rear of the building. They find a door. It looks like it has been forced open already. The lock is damaged. They creep inside. They are in a dark corridor that leads to a stairwell. They take the stairs up to another level.

‘Are you sure the man you are looking for is here?’ Jamieson whispers.

‘He’s here,’ Ace says, quietly. ‘Our tech-head has hacked the surveillance system outside. His car hasn’t left the premises.’

They pass through large double doors into a chilled room. The room is dimly lit but their overall visibility is moderate. There is an overwhelming stench of raw meat and blood, causing Jamieson to cover his nose with his hand. There are rows of carcasses of various types of indistinguishable animal hanging from hooks chained to an apparatus attached to the ceiling. Jamieson grimaces at one that looks very much like a dog of some breed. Ace spots a metal staircase leading up to a large office overlooking the floor below. The office lighting is on and a shadowy figure can be seen moving around inside.

‘Up there,’ he whispers, and takes his rifle off his arm.

‘Now, don’t go in guns blazing,’ Jamieson whispers.

Ace just stares at Jamieson, irked. He holds the gun up in front of him as they slowly and quietly make their way up the staircase. They reach a small landing area which leads to the office door, which is slightly ajar. They creep to the door and Ace eases it open with the barrel of his rifle, just enough for him to see inside.

In the centre of the room is a man sitting in a chair. He is motionless. Ace creeps inside, never taking his eyes off the man in the chair. He notices that the man is awake. As Ace gets closer he can see the man is in distress, sweating and trembling. His face is bloodied and bruised. He is scared. He stares at Ace intensely. Jamieson enters the office and spots the man in the chair. He stands beside Ace. The man looks at Jamieson, and then at Ace, and then at the gun, and then behind Ace. Ace realises the man is looking at someone else in the room. He spins around, raising his rifle.

‘Father?’ someone asks.

Ace’s finger twitches over the trigger of the rifle as he focuses on another man. But he recognises that voice. That face.

‘Tafari,’ Ace says, quickly pointing the rifle away from his son.

Tafari is standing with his back to the wall. His hand holding a pistol. Ace and Jamieson must have overlooked him on the way in. He begins to edge forward. Ace approaches him and hugs him. Although surprised, Tafari hugs his father.

‘What are you doing here, son?’ Ace asks, pulling back from the embrace.

‘I…I thought that would be obvious. I am here to avenge my mother’s death. But what are you doing here? I thought you were elsewhere on a mission with Archer?’

‘We were,’ Ace says. But once that mission was complete, I intended to come here, and fulfil my promise.’

‘Your promise was that we would avenge my mother’s death, together. Why did you not take me with you, instead of Archer? Why would you hide this from me?’

‘I…kept it hidden because…I was afraid.’

‘Afraid?’

‘I knew this day would come. That we would track down the person responsible for your mother’s death and that you would be thirsty for justice. Blood-thirsty. I was afraid that you would become like…me. A killer. A Devil. Killing takes a part of your humanity away that does not ever return. I…don’t want that for you.’

‘That is my decision to make, father. Not yours. You were wrong to deny me of the choice.’

‘I knew what you would choose. I’ve seen that grief darken you. Darken your spirit. I see the rage bubbling away underneath. I feel it myself. I thought I could spare you of becoming a killer. But you are right. I was wrong. You are your own man and you deserve to seek justice in your own way.’

Tafari steps forward and lifts the gun towards the man in the chair.

‘Please,’ the man speaks in a croaky voice.

‘It is him, father,’ Tafari says.

‘You’re certain?’ Ace asks.

‘It is him. We have already had a bit of a chat.’

Ace turns to the man.

‘Qasim Ankrah?’

The man says nothing. He just stares at Ace, terrified.

‘Answer,’ Tafari says, aiming the gun at the man.

‘Yes,’ Ankrah says.

Ace slowly approaches Ankrah.

‘You were a logger at Timber and Lumber Limited in 2003?’

‘I…I don’t think so…it was such a long time ago…I…’

Ace whips the butt of his rifle across Ankrah’s face, splitting his cheek. His head snaps back as blood sprays across the room. He flies off the chair, crashing onto the floor, crying out in pain.

‘Jesus!’ Jamieson blurts, pacing on the spot.

Ace picks Ankrah off the floor and sits him back in the chair.

‘You see, I have a special gift. I can tell when someone is lying to me. I can see it in their eyes,’ Ace says, turning to Jamieson.

Jamieson meets Ace’s gaze, perturbed by the insinuation. Ace turns back to Ankrah.

‘Every time you lie to me, I will know and I will hit you with the gun again. Do you understand?’

Ankrah sobs as blood trickles down his face. He looks up at Ace and nods.

‘There, I can tell you are telling the truth, that you understand me. Now, were you working as a logger for TLL in 2003?’

Ankrah hesitates. He nods.

‘A long time ago, yes, but I am manager of D-FIDO Abattoir now. No more logging.’

‘And what about murdering? No more murdering either?’

‘Murder? It is only animals. Food. Not murder.’

‘It’s bad enough that you are needlessly murdering animals. But peoples’ pets?’

‘Pets?’ Jamieson asks.

‘Yes,’ Ace sighs, looking at Ankrah with a mix of disgust and pity, ‘this scumbag and his scumbag crew, go around rounding up pets. Filching felines and poaching pooches. Hell, they’ve even been known to peculate parrots. Isn’t that right, Qasim?’

Ankrah sits quiet like a child who knows he has been caught.

‘But you don’t even draw the line there, do you?’ Ace says.

‘I…don’t know what you are talking about,’ Ankrah says, shaking his head.

‘I’m talking about human murder.’

‘No. No human murder.’

‘I can see it in your eyes remember?’ Ace says, raising the butt of the gun.

‘No, please,’ Ankrah cowers.

‘You murdered someone in 2003, didn’t you?’

Ankrah says nothing. His eyes dart from side to side.

‘A woman?’ Ace continues. ‘Deep in the jungles of Nibia?’

Ankrah shifts in his seat. He looks desperate. Shivering. He shakes his head. Ace whips the butt of the gun across his face again, this time catching the side of his head. He falls out of the chair again, to the floor.

Jamieson cannot watch. He cannot stop this either. He looks up at the ceiling and rubs the back of his neck. The tension causes him to grimace, it hurts him to bear witness to torture and to be powerless to stop it. The feeling of being out of control frightens him. He watches Ace pick Ankrah up again and sit him in the chair.

‘Tell me what happened, Qasim!’ Ace yells. ‘Tell me what happened in that jungle!’

Ankrah weeps and holds his head.

‘I…I…’ he stammers.

‘Yes!?’ Ace shouts, threatening him with the butt of the gun again.

‘I was only supposed to frighten her,’ Ankrah blurts, cowering and trying to protect his face with a trembling hand.

There is a moment of silence.

‘She…she was making all the fuss, halting our work, we were losing hundreds of thousands every day. I was only supposed to scare her. Shut her up. But…when I approached her, she was fearless. Shouting at me, getting up in my face. We ended up grappling and…’

Tafari edges forward with tears streaming from his eyes.

‘Before I knew it my…hands were on her throat,’ Ankrah confesses. ‘And then she stopped moving and…I knew…she was gone. I never meant to kill her…I swear…please…it was an accident…I swear it…’

‘Father, move out of the way,’ Tafari says, coldly.

Ace turns to see Tafari aiming his pistol at Ankrah. He hesitates, but closes his eyes and steps aside.

‘You don’t have to do it, Tafari,’ Jamieson says.

‘Stay out of this,’ Ace snaps.

‘You heard him, it was an accident,’ Jamieson goes on, ignoring Ace, trying to appeal to Tafari’s conscience.

Tafari just stares at Ankrah, aiming the gun at his head.

‘He strangled her,’ Ace cries. ‘Choked her to death. That’s hardly an accident. Now stay out of this, Archer.’

Tafari seems to gain conviction and targets Ankrah’s face.

‘I have waited a long time for this,’ Tafari tells Ankrah.

‘Please…I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…please…’ Ankrah begs.

‘Once you pull that trigger…’ Jamieson says.

‘Shut your mouth, Archer!’ Ace yells.

‘There’s no going back…’ Jamieson continues, despite Ace’s objections. ‘You become a murderer. Just like him. A killer. Like your father. Is that what you want? Tafari?’

Tafari screws up his face, torn between his vengeance and his conscience. Tears stream down his cheeks. He cries out.

‘You murdered my mother, you bastard!’

The gun rattles as Tafari shakes. His finger squeezes the trigger.

‘Please don’t kill me…’ Ankrah sobs.

Tafari gasps and tosses the gun to the side. It clatters as it hits the floor.

‘I am sorry, father. I cannot do it.’

Ace quickly walks to his son and puts his arm around his neck. He kisses his son’s forehead.

‘It’s fine, son. You don’t need to. You don’t have to do it.’

Jamieson looks down and locates where the gun had landed and thinks about picking it up. He could arrest all three of them. Is it the right time? He is overwhelmed with emotion. Not thinking clear. Jamieson looks at Ace, who is still clutching his rifle. Jamieson decides against any arrests at this juncture.

Ace pulls away from Tafari and approaches Ankrah and grabs him by the scruff of the neck. He quickly pulls him onto his feet and begins to march him out of the office, passed Jamieson.

‘Okay, Ace, what are you doing?’ Jamieson asks, nervously. ‘Where are you going?’

Ace doesn’t speak. He marches Ankrah down the stairs.

Tafari slowly walks to the office window overlooking the floor below. Jamieson joins him at the window. Ace is standing over Ankrah, his rifle aimed at him. Ankrah is taking off the last of his clothes. Underwear too.

‘What the hell is he doing?’ Jamieson asks, bewildered.

Tafari does not answer. He, too, looks confused.

Ace leans over and grabs a stainless steel hook hanging from the pulley system in the roof. He quickly slams it deep into Ankrah’s back. Ankrah cries out. Ace quickly pulls on a levering system which winches Ankrah up off his feet, who flails and writhes on the hook, gagging, his hands desperately grabbing at air.

‘Jesus Christ!’ Jamieson yells. He turns to Tafari. ‘Are you just going to stand there and let him do this?’

Ace is now manoeuvring Ankrah across the room.

Tafari, although looking uncomfortable, remains silent.

Ace hits a button on a large control panel beside him. A large stainless steel meat grinder, directly below Ankrah, switches on and begins to turn with a loud mechanical whirr.

‘Oh no,’ Jamieson whispers. ‘Stop him. Tafari!?’

Again, Tafari says nothing. He now has a cold look on his face. Acceptance. Ace manoeuvres Ankrah over the grinder.

Jamieson quickly turns to leave and confront Ace.

‘I may not have it in me to kill the man myself,’ Tafari says, flatly. Jamieson halts to hear him. ‘But I can watch him die.’

‘Well, I can’t do either,’ Jamieson says. ‘You know I can’t.’

‘Too late to stop it now,’ Tafari whispers.

Jamieson hears Ankrah, frantically shouting something in Akan, and then a piercing high pitch scream that sends a deep jarring chill down Jamieson’s spine.

Ace, however, watches, stone-faced, as Ankrah screams and writhes in agony as his legs get caught up in the machine and begin to be torn and mashed. He shakes his head quickly, back and forth, his eyes bulging, with a look of surprise, as though he is in disbelief that this is really happening to him, his mouth is stretched open wide, his tongue protruding and lashing around uncontrollably, as his groin and lower abdomen are slowly lowered into the machine and begin to shred. Ankrah gargles a final chilling scream as blood sprays from his mouth like a garden sprinkler.

Then there are three loud gun shots.

Ace quickly spins around to see Jamieson on the stairs, with a disturbed expression on his face, and Tafari’s discharged gun clasped in his hands, aimed at Ankrah. Ace turns back to Ankrah, whose head drops as he dies from the gunshot wounds. Ankrah’s twitching body disappears into the machine with a horrendous crunching, squirming sound. Ace switches off the machine. He turns to Jamieson. Jamieson, clearly in shock, turns the gun on Ace. Ace stares into his vacant eyes.

‘Put the gun down,’ Tafari says, from the landing above.

Jamieson, distant, does nothing. There is a tense pause as Jamieson holds the gun pointing at Ace. Eventually, Jamieson seems to comply and slowly lowers the gun.

Ace approaches Jamieson, cautiously, as Tafari descends the stairs. Tafari carefully takes the gun out of Jamieson’s hands.

‘I can’t do this anymore,’ Jamieson mumbles. ‘I can’t do this…not this…anymore…’

‘You’re in shock,’ Tafari says.

‘I think it is time to head back to the US,’ Ace orders. ‘Back to HQ. I’ll join you there soon after.’

‘What more do you have to do? The man who killed my mother is dead. You have fulfilled your promise.’

‘The…Devil…in me isn’t quite finished here,’ Ace grins, and looks back at the meat grinder. ‘Go.’

Ace watches Tafari gently take Jamieson by the arm and try to coax him down the remaining stairs. Ace turns to approach the grinder.

‘You…’ Jamieson says, stalling.

Ace turns around to see Jamieson staring at him like a scared child trying to confront a monster hiding in the cupboard.

‘You really are…The Devil,’ he whispers.

21a

Chapter 22 – Not exactly a whale of a time

22a

An unknown ocean.

In the murk of the deep depths of a vast ocean, Jamieson floats, motionless. He is alive. His eyes are wide open but the salt does not sting. Seemingly, there is no need to breathe, either. He is not eaten. There are no sharks. He is alone. He just drifts in the powerful undercurrents. It is peaceful. Calming.

But wait.

A dark shape in the distance. Something approaching. Something large.

Oh no. A monster. It’s huge. Heading straight for me.

But wait.

It is elegant. Graceful. It is…a humpback whale.

The whale swims to him and slows its approach. It slowly glides next to him. Jamieson is a couple of feet away from its head. The whale’s wise and soulful eye watches him, curious. And Jamieson peers into it.

The whale sings its hauntingly beautiful song. As if talking to Jamieson. And he understands.

‘Do not fear me,’ the whale says.

Jamieson does not feel threatened. He trusts the whale, implicitly, as if he has known the beast for a long time. Like they met in his childhood.

He swims above the whale and finds a ridge, made of several barnacles, to grip onto.

‘Hold on tight,’ the whale sings, and drives its huge tail downwards.

The whale takes off with speed through the water. Jamieson holds on, exhilarated. The whale slowly makes its way to shallower waters, towards light. As they break the surface, Jamieson grips onto the whale with one hand and fist pumps the air with the other, and the whale exhales a spout of condensed air and mucus.

‘Woohoo!’ he yells.

The whale sings again. But it is not a happy song. It is panicked. Afraid.

‘What is wrong?’ Jamieson asks.

But then he hears the roaring sound behind him. He turns his head to see a large whaling ship, cutting through the water, chasing them. He spots a man stationed on a large harpoon cannon, aiming right for them. Jamieson quickly turns back to the whale.

‘Dive, dive, we have to dive!’ he yells.

But there is a loud bang and a whoosh from behind them.

The harpoon impales Jamieson through his shoulder, and into the whale, pinning him to the creature. They both cry out in agony and begin to flail and thrash in the water. Then more agony as the winch tugs on the harpoon and begins to pull them in. They crash against the side of the boat. Jamieson spits blood from his mouth and desperately tries to punch the hull with his fist. He looks up to see a man aiming a rifle at them. Jamieson outstretches his hand in a futile attempt to create a shield. He shakes his head. The man fires, hitting the whale. Again, it cries out and thrashes below Jamieson. Then another shot, hitting the whale. The water around them is red with blood. As the whale screams, another shot hits Jamieson. The bullet tears through his chest and out into the whale. As he, and the whale, slowly die in agony, he is still aware of being pulled onto the ship. They both lie on the deck, fading into unconsciousness and death. But not soon enough apparently. The man with the rifle aims at the whale’s head.

‘Why?’ is its final word.

The man pulls the trigger. He approaches Jamieson, who tries to talk. To shout for help. To scream at the man to stop.

‘Don’t do this. Please! No! Stop! Why? Why?’

But the man does not seem to hear. He does not understand, nor care. He just lifts the gun and aims it at Jamieson’s head. And pulls the trigger.

Jamieson awakens from his dream with a jolt and a gasp. It takes him a while to realise where he is. Stretched out on his camp bed. Back at ACE HQ.

‘Nightmare follows nightmare,’ he murmurs.

‘Welcome back,’ comes a soft feminine voice.

It is soothing. In a confused moment, or wishful thinking, Jamieson thinks it is his wife. He smiles and turns his head to find Penny sitting in a chair, by his side.

‘Penny?’ he asks.

‘You jerked awake. You were dreaming?’

Jamieson recalls his dream and shudders.

‘Another nightmare, yes.’

‘Oh?’

Jamieson slowly sits up and rests his back against the wall.

‘Something about a whale…or I was a whale…?’

Penny looks shocked.

‘A whale?’

‘Yeah, we were being hunted, it was horrible.’

Penny stares at Jamieson. He is troubled, as the recent memories of Africa force themselves back into his mind.

‘Is he back?’ Jamieson asks, glumly.

Penny is distracted, in thought.

‘Penny?’ Jamieson asks.

She shakes herself to attention.

‘Sorry, go on?’

‘Ace, did he return to HQ?’

‘Yes, he is home. Safe and sound.’

Penny stretches a bittersweet smile across her face.

‘He…’ she says, cocking her head to one side, ‘said Zimbabwe was successful.’

Jamieson huffs.

‘If you can call it that? Yeah, a roaring success.’

Penny bursts out laughing, but covers her mouth when she realises he is not exactly trying to be humorous. Jamieson cannot help but smile. In all the madness, her smile has been a welcome occurrence. For a moment they catch each others eyes until it feels awkward. Jamieson turns his gaze away.

‘And the other mission was successful too?’ Penny asks.

Memories flash through Jamieson’s mind. The abattoir. The foul meat. The office. Ankrah. Tafari. Ace. The meat grinder. Witnessing the White Devil in action, first hand. Ankrah’s scream and his smashed body twitching and flailing, disappearing into the machinery.

‘Jesus,’ he whispers.

‘You’re awake?’ comes a distant voice.

Jamieson turns to see Tafari approaching.

‘Yes. And thank you for getting me back safely. Penny tells me Ace has returned safely too.’

Tafari looks to Penny, who smiles and nods.

‘Yes, home safe. I was actually looking for him,’ Tafari says, turning back to Jamieson.

‘Oh?’

‘Yes, I wanted to thank him. For fulfilling his promise to me. For bringing justice to my mother’s killer, once and for all. I wanted to let him know how much it means to me.’

Tafari looks intensely at Jamieson, who becomes a little uncomfortable by Tafari’s peculiar stare.

‘Yes, well…should I see him, I’ll be sure to send him in your direction,’ Jamieson smiles.

Tafari’s expression turns to one of frustration. He huffs and turns to Penny. Jamieson turns to Penny and catches her shooting some kind of warning glance to Tafari. He turns back to Tafari, who huffs again and turns and leaves for the exit.

‘What was that all about?’ Jamieson asks, turning back to Penny.

‘He’s just emotional. Africa, his mother, the murder…’ Penny offers.

More memories flash through Jamieson’s mind. Picking up the gun. Shooting Ankrah.

A mercy killing?

Turning the gun on Ace.

How close I came to killing The Devil. A mercy killing?

‘Where is Ace? I have to see him,’ he groans, getting up.

‘Maybe now isn’t the best time?’ Penny suggests, concerned, rising out of her seat. ‘You’ve just been through a traumatic experience.’

‘I’m…okay.’

‘Maybe a glass of water?’

‘I’ll swing by the canteen.’

Jamieson smiles and turns and begins to walk towards the exit. Penny watches him as he walks away. She seems desperate to say something. She opens her mouth to speak.

‘Jamieson,’ she calls.

Jamieson freezes. He slowly turns around to face her. They stare at each other, knowing, but non-confrontational. He clears his throat.

‘It’s Archer.’

They stare at each other for a moment more.

‘Archer, of course,’ Penny says. ‘I just wanted to say…’

There is a pause.

‘Yes?’ asks Jamieson.

‘Thanks for not shooting my father.’

They stare at each other again, aware of a mutual fondness. Jamieson nods and gently smiles. He turns and makes for the exit.

22

SEA SHEPHERD SACA A LOS BALLENEROS JAPONESES DE LA ZONA PROTEGIDA ANTÁRTICA

Chapter 23 – It’s all about the consciousness, baby!

23

ACE Headquarters.

The main platform is alive with activity, as usual. ACE are in full swing as they scurry from station to station, discussing and organising, and pointing at maps and high profile players in the world on laptop screens. They seem irrepressible. Relentless. Busy little terrorists.

Jamieson enters the platform and soon spots Ace, studying some information on a laptop screen with one of his crew. He paces over.

‘Ace, we have to talk.’

Ace turns to see Jamieson.

‘Ah, it’s alive!’

‘Very funny.’

‘Hate to tell you this, kid, but you look like shit. Like you’ve been raped by a rhino. Like death warmed up.’

‘Well when you’re surrounded by so much death it can seep into you,’ Jamieson smiles.

Ace sighs.

‘Melodramatic much? We’re always surrounded by death. Death is as much our lives as it is living. We are shielded from it as children. Blinkered by our youth, when we get this strange notion that we are invincible. That we will last forever. But then death shows up and gate-crashes your delusion of immortality. It shatters your ignorance to the suffering and death all around you, constantly.’

‘Look, I didn’t come over for another one of your screwball sermons, we need to talk.’

Ace sighs again.

‘No, I’m guessing you need to talk. But I do love these little talks. I think they are good for us, I really do.’

Jamieson looks at the bemused girl sitting at the workstation.

‘Somewhere private?’

‘Somewhere…’ Ace grins, with a sparkle in his eye, as he does an impressive Captain Kirk impersonation, ‘private…you say? You should have given me more warning, I…could have washed my balls.’

The girl at the workstation laughs out loud. Even Jamieson fights a smile.

‘Do you ever stop?’ Jamieson says, with a wild look in his eyes, ‘I mean, you’re just …so…’

‘For God sake, Jim…’ Ace croaks, now portraying Doctor McCoy,  ‘I’m an activist, not a terrorist!’

The girl laughs louder.

‘Can we just go somewhere and…’ Jamieson says loudly, as he begins to lose his temper.

‘I just can’t do that, Captain…’ Scotty interrupts.

‘Oh, why not just do the whole cast, The Next Generation, Deep Space Eight and all the others while you’re at it?!’ Jamieson yells.

The girl and Ace freeze, shocked at his outburst.

‘It’s not like there isn’t some real serious shit to discuss,’ Jamieson continues, in full rant mode, ‘but noooo, we have to play another one of your self-gratifying games. Well, fuck Star Trek, Kirk, Bones, Scotty…and fuck Spock too!’

The platform is still and quiet for a moment as everyone stares at Jamieson. They soon return to their activities.

‘Spock?’ Ace says, feigning exasperation, trying not to smile, ‘What has he ever done to you?’

‘Well…nothing, obviously…’

‘I didn’t even do Spock…’

‘I know! But fuck him anyway!’

‘Butt fuck him, anyway?’ Ace gasps.

‘Not butt…’

‘Well, I’m sure old Leonard wouldn’t mind you digging him up and having a go at the dry hard shove, but…think of the fans…the outrage…’

The girl laughs out loud again.

‘And…nine,’ Ace says.

Jamieson shrugs, confused.

‘Is that supposed to be a sentence, or is that supposed to make sense to me, or…’

‘It’s Deep Space Nine, not eight,‘ Ace informs him with an infuriatingly smug grin as Jamieson boils inside his flushed hot skin.

Jamieson tries to regain some composure.

‘Okay…’ he says, quiet and barely contained, as he painfully represses his frustration, ‘I can see you’ve had one too many coffees this morning…morning…evening? I don’t even know what day it is, time it is, planet we’re on anymore!’

Ace rasps out a chuckle.

‘You’re cracking up, man. Losing the plot. Flipping your lid. Misplacing your marbles. Falling apart. Freaking out.’

‘I’m heading out,’ Jamieson says, fluttering his eyelids neurotically, ‘I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Maybe then you’ll be ready to talk like adults.’

Ace sighs and nods.

‘Hey, if you’re heading into town there’s this really nice African restaurant, serves a lovely Injera. Montgomery Road, just down the street from a payphone..?’

Jamieson just blankly stares at Ace.

‘You can’t miss it,’ Ace smiles.

Now Jamieson nods.

‘And you can tell Tafari, and your feathered friend, that I’ve already got a shadow,’ he says.

Jamieson turns to leave as a news broadcast flashes on the laptop screen.

…and tonight, we can confirm that there has been another gruesome update to the ACE murders case…

Jamieson freezes, then turns to the screen. The news reporter holds her expression steady, but her tumultuous eyes give her away as she reads the TelePrompTer.

Teenager and huntress, Kendra Jones, the online sensation, who caused so much controversy by posting pictures of the animals she had killed on her Facebook page, has herself been killed, in what local and overseas authorities are confirming to be another ACE style execution. Miss Jones had been on a hunting trip in Khwai concession in Zimbabwe, Africa. When she couldn’t be reached on her mobile phone, friends reported her missing and the local authorities began a search. Her remains were eventually found on the Savannah, under a large tree, several miles from her ranch. Upon further investigation the authorities were able to confirm that she had been the victim of a deadly lion attack.

The screen flicks to an interview, at the murder scene, with a young man who looks like an African Freddy Mercury in electric blue coveralls. A, clearly nervous, crime scene investigator.

When we examined the remains more closely, particularly the bones, the markings and abrasions on the bone are consistent with the bite and teeth marks of a large carnivore, in this case, the number of different markings indicate that she was killed, not by one lion, but many.

Back to the studio and the reporter.

The Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police force, Augustine Chahuria, has made the following statement.

The screen flicks to a large, round, bespectacled police chief, kitted out in his royal blue and gold uniform and cap, standing at a press podium with a black, green and gold striped African flag and a Zimbabwe flag, with its seven even horizontal stripes of green, gold, red and black with a white triangle containing a red 5 point star with a soapstone bird, displayed behind him.

We are confident in ruling out accidental death. A signature calling card was found amongst the remains of Ms Jones. Calling cards have been found at every ACE murder scene. This detail has so far gone unannounced by the Western authorities and media. These calling cards all have the same words ‘Equinsu Ocha’ printed on them. We have been able to trace these words to a Nibian tribe, here in Africa. Translated; it means ‘White Devil’.

The screen flicks to a picture of Ace’s calling card. One corner is stained with blood. The anchor continues her report.

The ZRP have officially released this picture of the calling card, which we can now, exclusively, show you, that is being left at each murder scene. When asked why this vital detail had been kept from the public, here at home, and the world’s media, deputy director of the FBI, Mark Guerra had this to say.

The screen changes to an irate looking Guerra being interviewed outside the FBI Headquarters in Washington.

We initially thought that due to the horrific nature of these murders that certain details would be withheld to prevent unnecessary panic and to wean out the possibility of copycat killers or jokers sending us their own mocked up cards. We can only confirm what the ZRP have unabashedly stated and we are now working closely with them to investigate this tragic event, as well as the rest of the international community that have been targeted by the ACE cell. In light of the recent disclosed information by the ZRP we can also confirm that there is a mastermind behind ACE, who goes by the name ‘The White Devil’. Finding this so called ‘White Devil’ and his terrorist network is now top priority and we will work tirelessly and ceaselessly until they are brought to justice. We do have a number of strong leads and lines of enquiry that we are investigating and are confident in saying that we are closing in on ACE.

Like before, Guerra turns to face the camera.

However, we are still urging anyone with any information that can help us catch this Devil, and take down his terrorist organisation, to come forward as soon as possible. We are waiting to hear from you.

Like before, Jamieson knows Guerra must be talking to him, personally. The screen changes again to the picture of the white calling card. The camera very slowly zooms into the words Equinsu Ocha.

The screen changes to that of businessmen in similar style and colour suits, parading themselves for the associated press, awkwardly smiling and shaking hands. They are outside a grand and prestigious building. The anchor reports.

As world leaders meet today in Japan to have their annual G8 Summit, terrorism and the ACE organisation are very much on the agenda. President Obomo had this to say.

The screen changes to a dark, tall, handsome and charismatic man, in a sharp air force blue suit, without a tie, and with the top button of his pastel yellow shirt casually unfastened. He has a confident, not too far away from arrogant, swagger in his mannerisms.

Obviously today’s summit has a strong agenda and counter-terrorism will be highly regarded on that agenda. My heart goes out to The Jones family at this sensitive time, and I’d like to re-assure them, the people of the United States, and the rest of world, that we are using our combined forces to bring organisations like ACE to justice.

The reporter talks over the footage.

And the UK’s Prime Minister, David Hameron, also gave a similar statement.

The screen changes to a flushed and pompous looking man in a formal navy blue suit and pig pink tie.

The UK, as well as, I’m sure, all of the countries attending the summit today opposed to terrorism and extremism, have an iron determination to destroy organisations like ACE and vow to hunt down those responsible for the terrorist act in Scotland, and indeed, the rest of the world, and bring them to justice, no matter how long it takes.

‘And what about your own state sponsored terrorism, Davey boy!?’ Ace yells at the screen. ‘But, no, that’s good old British peace and freedom loving terrorism. They spend billions on weapons of mass destruction, engage in perpetual war, shooting and bombing their way around the globe until the bloody cows come home, all to further their own ideals of capitalism and financial imperialism, and they’ve got the nerve to call us extremists?’

Jamieson finds himself nodding at Ace’s logic.

The screen changes to an outside view of the hunting ranch where Kendra Jones had been staying.

With hunting ranches all across the world on high alert, and bookings and hunt attendance at an all time low, ACEs methods may be extreme, but they are proving, in this case, to be effective.

Ace laughs manically.

The screen changes again, this time to a tactful shot of a pride of lions hunting zebra on a beautiful Savannah in Africa.

Kendra Jones is now the seventh victim of the terrorist group known as ACE, who we now know to be taking responsibility for these crimes by leaving a chilling calling card, with the words White Devil printed on it, at each murder scene. Who is this mastermind, the White Devil? With each event being linked to animal rights activism, and some people already using the term ‘extreme eco-terrorism’, one has to question what kind of political or social statement ACE are trying to make when they engage in acts of terrorism and murder? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, ACE are still operating, presumably planning their next attack, and with no destination out of reach, and with the police still appealing for help, the question on the world’s lips, as we all look over our shoulder, is – who is next?

Ace stretches a Grinch-like grin across his face.

‘My my, they are getting fired up, aren’t they? Oh, they’ll tow the current line of moral programming when the time comes, but you’ve got to love the media, just for the free promotion alone.’

‘They’re promoting you as a terrorist. It’s not exactly cause for celebration. Aren’t you in the least bit concerned that the FBI are coming for you?’

Ace sniggers.

‘Oh no, it’s the Feds! Look out, the Feds are coming!’  he cries, feigning panic, but there is flash of anger in his eyes. He looks Jamieson up and down.

‘The Feds?’ he says, disdainfully.

Jamieson holds Ace’s glare.

‘They should be called the FBC. Federal Bureau of Corruption! Or the FBR. Federal Bureau of Racketeering! Founded by a paranoid homophobe? Hypocrites. Anything with the word federal before it stinks of filthy corruption to me. Federal Government, Federal Reserve, Federal Bureau…’

‘Okay, so they are not perfect…’

‘They’re inconsequential!’ Ace blurts. ‘They’ll catch me. Or, they won’t. It doesn’t matter. Jesus, you’re such a downbeat guy. Don’t you see that what really matters is the ideals that we fight for are already pouring out into the consciousness of the human race? It’s all about the consciousness, baby! I’ve been looking at the opinion polls. Despite the FBI and the media’s definitions of terrorism, which, by the way, is a relative term…’

Jamieson opens his mouth to protest.

‘People,’ Ace continues, ‘are actively discussing ACE and debating its methods and its intentions and its philosophy. We currently have more cells around the world than I am actually aware of. Penny was contacted over our secure server from a brand spanking new Russian cell just last night. She’s already given them assignments.’

Jamieson looks surprised.

‘Why do you think everything went so smoothly in Africa?’ Ace asks, seeing the doubt in Jamieson’s eyes. ‘And in Canada, Scotland, before that? We have people everywhere. Recruitment levels are up. We are actually gaining public support.’

Jamieson cannot quite believe his ears. And his dubious expression reveals his scepticism.

‘Take a look at the polls yourself,’ Ace says, gesturing a hand to the laptop. ‘The numbers are all there. Polls from various news channels, trending social blogs, as well as a couple of official government polls too. Activism is on the increase. Veganism is on the increase. Marine parks and circuses are losing business. Now we would rather set the lions and the orcas free from their slavery, than have them do tricks for a morsel. People are working out what we, ACE, are doing here. I had my doubts about our species but every now and then they surprise me. It may be a painfully slow process, but people are waking up.’

Jamieson studies the information on the screen for a short while. It seems to, somewhat, corroborate what Ace is saying.

‘Jesus,’ Jamieson whispers. ‘People aren’t waking up. All this shows is that people are just as mad as you are.’

Jamieson gets a strong urge to leave. He needs out of there. Away from that place. Away from Ace’s manipulating madness. And all the death. He needs the anonymity and isolation of the city. To blend in and disappear. Find a quiet place. Phone his wife. It has been so long since he has heard her voice. He tries to picture her but he is disturbed to see Penny’s face, smiling back at him. He shakes his head and the image away.

And as much as he would rather not, he knows he will also have to call Black. To share the new intel but more so to find out what Black has uncovered about Ace. His background. History. Anything that might help draw this case to a swifter conclusion. He cannot decide what to report regarding his time in Africa. If push comes to shove, he could argue that Kendra Jones’ death was an accident, albeit a horribly tragic one.

But there has been no mention of the abattoir manager, Ankrah, on the news. Not yet. Jamieson doesn’t know if he will mention Ankrah at all. Let alone his direct involvement in Ankrah’s murder.

‘To hell with this…hell!’ he states, abruptly. ‘I’m leaving.’

He turns and makes for the steps to take him off the platform.

‘Be careful out there, kid,’ Ace says.

Jamieson does not respond. He just keeps walking.

‘You’re a wanted terrorist now too, remember!?’ Ace calls out.

Chapter 24 – Invocation of Hekate

24

Montgomery Road, Downtown Cincinnati.

‘Black?’

‘Jamieson?’

‘Yeah, it’s him…me…it’s Jamieson.’

‘Sounds to me like you are forgetting your true identity, Agent, and I know that you have definitely forgotten mine. It’s Assistant Director Black, Sir, to you, son, now what in the hell is going on with you?’

‘Sorry…Sir, of course. I’m calling to update you on…’

‘You break protocol, again. We haven’t heard from you in days. Now another murder. Do you mind telling me, what the hell is happening to you? Is this how you behaved in your last undercover mission, because if it is, the assholes that recommended you for this case are going to find themselves out of a goddamn job! Now, listen…’

Jamieson pounds his fist against the booth window.

‘No, you listen!’ he yells down the phone, ‘I’m under extreme amounts of pressure at the moment so I’m sorry if I haven’t got time to come running at your command. I’m deep inside this organisation. Not just literally, emotionally too. It’s like quicksand, the more I struggle to break free, the deeper I’m pulled under. I’m working with The Devil here, for Christ’s sake! I’m constantly on edge, I’ve fainted twice, I haven’t heard my wife’s voice for….weeks, and I think that if we don’t wrap this case up soon I’m going to end up getting arrested myself, or I’m going to lose my mind altogether.’

There is a pause.

‘Are you finished?’ Black asks, flatly.

‘I don’t know. Am I?’

‘Jamieson, where are you? I’m pulling you out.’

‘What?’

‘I’m terminating this mission. What is your location?’

‘I’m…Cincinnati…what, you’re pulling me out? You can’t do that.’

‘Of course I can. You sound compromised to me.’

‘No, Sir…look, about my outburst…’

‘If you have the intel that you say you do, it should be enough to take them down.’

‘No, listen, Sir, I need a little bit more time. It’s all a bit more complicated than you think. I’m inside his mind you see. I think I’m getting through to the man.’

‘Who, Ace Ventura? I’ve told you before, you’re not there to be his goddamned shrink.’

‘Any information on him will greatly help this case, Sir.’

Black huffs.

‘Do you know he used to be a detective?’ he asks.

Jamieson is surprised.

‘He was a cop?’

‘No, he was a pet detective.’

‘Is that some kind of sadistic joke, Sir, because…’

‘It’s no joke, Agent. He did, sometimes, work hand in hand with the Miami police for a couple of years. But even back then, his focus was the animals. Pity he can’t extend his profound affection for animals to human beings as well. Maybe he’s got a little too much affection for animals if you know what I mean? Maybe he’s got a thing for animals?’

‘He’s not like that, Sir,’ Jamieson says, assertively. ‘He’s a true animal lover. Passionate, to be honest, I’ve never known anyone to be so passionate about the plight of animals. He seems to have a kinship with them, like…he understands them…I mean, he’s got this crow, an actual crow that stays with him, guards him while he sleeps, and it trusts him implicitly, it’s…actually quite extraordinary…’

‘Seems to me like he is the one getting inside your mind, Agent? ‘

Jamieson bites his bottom lip.

‘So, what else have you learned about him, Sir?’ he asks, steering the conversation back to the case details.

‘After his stint at rescuing sacred bats, football playing porpoises and god knows what else, he became a staunch animal rights supporter. Was so for over a decade. During this time he earned himself quite a reputation for how far he would take his activism, and he also earned himself a long list of criminal offences ranging from vandalism to arson causing millions in damages. Then he disappeared. Just after his wife was killed in 2010.’

Jamieson is disturbed as Black broaches the subject of Ace’s wife’s death. He can’t understand his reluctance to learn more but he knows he must. He takes a deep breath.

‘What happened?’

‘It was an accident at some anti-vivisection march in New York, involving a police officer mounted on a horse. Ventura never recovered. Went off the rails. ACE got more violent. More destructive. It soon disbanded. Ace, the man, disappeared. He was presumed dead. His daughter…’

‘Penny.’

‘…was sixteen, so she took over the house, took care of her younger brother.’

‘Paul. They’re good kids, Sir, really.’

‘It would be a heart-breaking story if it weren’t for the fact that, in the end, Ace became a murderer and a terrorist…’

‘You see, it’s not quite as cut and dry as that, Sir. I knew there was something driving him. Revenge. Rage. His obvious confidence crisis and disillusionment with the system. But he is transcending this stimuli. What he is trying to do has become bigger than his grief for his dead wife. It may well be a classic case of messiah complex, but he sees himself, as do his loyal recruits, as some kind of vigilante, as someone doing good in the world, regardless of what the law states, I mean, he’s actually starting to gain some support from the public, have you seen the latest polls?’

There is a pause.

‘Tell me where you are, and we will have someone come and pick you up. Cincinnati, you said?’

Jamieson realises he has said too much. Done too much. He is not ready to just pull the plug on this case. On ACE. Penny, Paul. Or Tafari. He doesn’t want to hurt any of them. Even Ace. He is disturbed by this admission.

‘Agent, Jamieson?’ Black asks, becoming more impatient.

‘Yes…Sir?’

‘Tell me where you are and we can pick you up. When you have been safely recovered, you can tell me the location of ACEs headquarters, and we can swoop in and take these terrorists down, once and for all. You’ll get a medal, I’ll get a promotion and then it’s back to business as usual.’

Black’s last three words, business as usual, keep repeating through Jamieson’s mind. And each time it repeats, Jamieson is sure that, although nothing will ever be the same again for him, personally, it will indeed be business as usual. The business of animal exploitation, the destruction of nature, the systematic corruption and fraud, rife, in every government, institution and corporation in the world, the business of war and religious doctrine and the enslavement of the masses will all keep steamrolling on. A wave of panic washes over him as he pictures the world in a whole new way. Like he is seeing it for the first time, or, at least, a little clearer than before. He realises that Ace is indeed getting inside his mind.

Business as usual. We apologise and are sorry for your loss. Now move the fuck on, like we have.

‘What do you say, Agent?’

‘I’m…sorry, Sir. You’re not pulling me out. Not yet.’

‘That is not for you to decide, Agent, now tell me your location, that is an order.’

‘I…can’t do that.’

‘You’re risking your career, your goddamn life here, son. Jamieson, where the hell are you?’

There is no answer.

‘Jamieson?’ Black asks.

Nothing.

‘Jamieson!?’ Black yells.

‘Thought I’d left, didn’t you?’ Jamieson says.

‘You goddamn crazy son of a bitch, I don’t know what game you are…’

‘Okay,’ Jamieson interrupts, ‘I’m really going to go, this time.’

Jamieson hangs up. He takes a deep breath and leans back against the booth door. He knows that he is in all kinds of trouble. That, if he doesn’t lose his job, it will certainly be his last ever undercover mission. He is shocked to realise that he is okay with that. Relieved. That he feels at ease with the idea of leaving the FBI, despite having no backup plan whatsoever. He hasn’t felt so indifferent and weary in regards to his job since before he joined the academy. He tries to recall that time, searching for a previous interest or aspiration to replace his current vocation, but his head swims with possibilities of alternative future, not alternative past. He was so clear about the path he was taking in life before he agreed to join ACE, and although he still feels dedicated to the pursuit of justice, there is a grey area that has appeared in his mind, like fog, clouding his judgement. He used to feel secure in his understanding of the world and his place in it, and in his interpretation of what is right and what is wrong.

‘Yes! I have been naive!’ Jamieson blurts out aloud, alone in the phone booth. ‘And arrogant! To think that I was the law. Chipping away at the tip of the greatest iceberg. A good guy fighting for the good guys? Yeah, they’re corrupt, the FBI, CIA, IMF, FDA, EPA and all the rest of those abbreviated organisations! Rotten to their core! But not me! I am a good guy. I just don’t know who to fight anymore. How to fight and how far to go. Who to fight for.’

Tafari, Paul and Penny, their faces flash through his racing mind. He tries to shake them away.

‘My wife,’ he whispers, desperately reaching into his pocket for more change, ‘call…’

He freezes and stares into space, troubled and confused. He cannot recall his wife’s name.

‘It’s only been a few weeks,’ he cries, frantically shaking his head as if the motion will jog his memory.

Jamieson’s eyes well up with tears.

‘Oh Christ, I’m losing my mind,’ he whispers.

Ace’s manic laughing face flashes through his mind.

‘I’m going to end up just like him.’

He snatches the phone from the receiver, pushes some coins into the slot and quickly dials his wife’s number.

‘At least I haven’t forgotten her number.’

He hears the calling tone. And then he hears a ringtone from behind him. He quickly spins around to see a dark-haired young woman, standing outside the booth door, holding her mobile phone, with a concerned look on her face. Jamieson’s hand automatically reaches for her.

‘Melissa?’ he whispers, as his hand presses against the glass.

‘Not Melissa,’ she says, ‘It’s me, Penny.’

Jamieson shakes his head as if to reset his vision. He panics.

‘Penny?’

Penny steps back as Jamieson exits the phone booth.

‘Ace sent you, to follow me?’ he blurts.

‘No. I followed you here of my own free will.’

‘How did you find me?’

‘Well, you used the same phone booth.’

Jamieson huffs.

‘What are you doing here, Penny?’

‘I…was worried about you. You’ve gone through so much. So many changes.’

She smiles at Jamieson. A smile that he lets melt his heart.

‘You’re such a caring person,’ he says, softly, ‘sometimes, I am overwhelmed.’

Penny looks down at the ground, blushing.

‘Do you…’ she says, looking up at Jamieson, ‘want to go get something to eat? I know this great little…’

‘Let me guess,’ Jamieson smiles, ‘African place? End of the road?’

Penny smiles.

‘Let’s go,’ Jamieson smiles, and gestures an arm for Penny to take.

She obliges and clasps her arm around his as they take off down the street.

Chapter 25 – Ground control to Major Jamieson

25

African Restaurant, Montgomery Road.

Penny scoops some Misir Wat up with the last piece of Injera and pops it into her mouth. She sits back, happily chomping, satisfied with her meal. Jamieson forks the last of his meal into his mouth and falls back in his own chair, smiling.

‘Wow, so good, so filling,’ he says. ‘An Ethiopian dish?’

‘Yeah,’ Penny smiles.

‘I never would have guessed that I would end up loving traditional African food.’

‘You mean you’ve never tried African food before?’

‘Well, I ate some local cuisine when in Africa recently, and one other time with Tafari, in here.’

Penny looks momentarily concerned but tries to hide it with a smile.

‘So, your trip to Zimbabwe, Ghana, was your first time in Africa?’

‘Yes,’ Jamieson says.

Penny’s smile fails. Her eyes don’t match. They show her concern. Jamieson becomes uncomfortable as he reflects on the memories of those African missions. He looks down, woefully, at his plate.

‘Sorry,’ Penny says, softly, ‘I know that was a traumatic time for you.’

‘I’m okay. Still coming to terms with it all.’

‘Social media is going bloody bananas over Kendra Jones. I think, generally, people are sympathetic, but there are a lot of people who are saying she got what was coming to her. That the lions won.’

‘Don’t remind me, I’ve seen the polls.’

‘You seem outraged by the support we have generated?’

‘Are people now condoning murder?’

‘Haven’t they always? Your visit to the abattoir should have taught you that. Murdered animals hanging on hooks all around you. And then there are wars. Invasions. Collateral damage. Scarcity. Public executions. Capital punishment. So it’s okay for the public to condone killing people, and animals, for whatever reasons the state drum up, but it’s not okay for you to kill the man who murdered Tafari’s mother?’

‘What? I didn’t kill him, Ace…’

‘No, not Ace, the White Devil was going to kill him. There is a difference, believe me.’

‘Ace is the White Devil.’

‘Obviously. But, my father, he…changes. Switches. Like he becomes someone else…something else.’

‘Yes, he becomes someone capable of torturing a man to death in the most awful inhumane way imaginable.’

‘My father didn’t’ kill him, remember. Yes, he was in the process. But you shot and killed him.’

‘I…it…Ace…sorry, the White Devil, was torturing the man, lowering him into a meat grinder for Christ sake, I had to put the man out of his misery, his agony.’

‘Why? Don’t you see this is why we are gaining public support? Some people deserve to die. Vigilantism is accepted in many parts of the world. The law is lenient and the public condone it. Tyrants, bankers, elites, murderers, rapists, drug dealers who get away with their crimes, the ones who can buy their freedom or seem to slip through the net, like Ankrah. When the law, the state, fail to provide justice, people take it into their own hands to seek recompense. No law, no reasoning will change that.’

‘Yes, but there’s taking the law into your own hands, and then there’s torturing people to death in a meat grinder.’

‘It’s no more gruesome then our heroes in the armed forces using napalm, cluster bombs or tomahawk missiles, or torturing prisoners of war, or the creeping insanity of GITMO, or the CIA water boarding detainees until they drown, or strapping a man to a chair and firing 2000 volts through his body, or stoning a woman to death in the street and so on. We tolerate torture and murder all the time, just as long as we can justify it through our selective moral code.’

Jamieson smiles and just shakes his head.

‘You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you?’

Penny smiles.

‘Do you want me to answer that?’

Jamieson chuckles.

‘I was taught well,’ Penny says, staring deep into Jamieson’s eyes, ‘by my father.’

Jamieson nods.

‘Okay, so you’re not in the least bit concerned that your father minced a person? Or burned a person’s eyes out? Or spiked a man’s medicine with an acid that melted him from the inside out, penis first?’

‘Yes, it is brutal. He is stronger than I. I couldn’t take the examples that he is making to that level. To be that creative. But like he says, sometimes it takes a psychopath to kill a psychopath.’

Jamieson shakes his head.

‘Besides,’ Penny goes on, ‘the people my father target do deserve to die. They are self-serving scum that do nothing but harm the animal kingdom, our environment and the rest of the human race. A Royal, a bank manager and a laird? Over-privileged money swindling criminals ready to plunder, and pander to their peers, for profit. All three of them were avid supporters of lifting hunting bans and weakening animal rights legislation. The P&G torturer, say no more. And the master criminal, Wang Qian, also an endangered species killing paedophile? These people are inhumane, beyond reason and rehabilitation. Need I go on?’

‘And the McDonalds CEO? Hardly a master criminal. He seemed…nice? A family man.’

‘Oh, come on. How many families has he helped destroy through peddling McDonalds disease? How many animals lives were snuffed out while he was on their payroll?’

‘And should we leave out Minister Sheit? It doesn’t seem right not to mention her.’

Penny huffs.

‘Why? She willingly took responsibility and gave the go ahead for the barbaric and needless massacre of hundreds of thousands of seals, year in and year out, despite public outcry and the warnings and recommendations of conservationists. Wasting money and resources on an unnecessary and inhumane dying industry.’

Jamieson shakes his head again at the turmoil in his conscience.

‘So, what has all this murder achieved?’

‘Are you walking around with your head up your ass? We’ve helped put the nail in the coffin for the sealing industry. Public condemnation is at an all time high. No one has stepped forward to fill Sheit’s position and it looks unlikely that anyone will. We hacked the Canadian Government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans mainframe. Read their personal emails. They know their ship is sinking and no one wants to affiliate themselves with the hunt. The same goes for McDonalds. Their profits are plummeting, despite their superficial renovations and their oh, no don’t worry, we’re different now, much better, honest PR campaigns. The fear that the White Devil is creating is working. It’s bringing light to the injustices served on animals by human activity and greed. The White Devil’s methods may be extreme, yes it does worry me what my father is capable of, yet it is what we are all capable of given the right conditioning or circumstances or trauma. But he is no terrorist. He does not target innocent civilians. We are very selective with our targets. By ridding the world of these psychopaths, he is sending the message of zero tolerance.’

‘Okay, I get what you are saying. He’s a vigilante. A good murderer. The thing that bothers me is once the good psycho has killed the bad psycho, in the end you are still left with a psycho. And who deals with the remaining psycho? Another psycho, in a never ending chain of psychos and death!’

‘Well, you dealt with Ankrah? Do you feel like a psycho?’

Jamieson sighs and lower his head.

‘Maybe?’ he mumbles. ‘You know, I’m not sure what disturbs me most, the fact that I shot and killed the man, or finally admitting to myself that a part of me wanted to kill him. Watching him, sitting there, cowering below the towering mountain of shit that he had created from his god-awful rancid bowels, I couldn’t help but consider his life. Logging. Stripping the rainforest, destroying ecosystems, destroying bio diversity and countless species of wildlife. Forcing Tafari’s people off their land. And of course, murdering Tafari’s mother. Then he became the manager of an illegal abattoir, not only killing more animals, but people’s pets. My moral programming had me on auto-pilot, because underneath, a part of me was thinking that this man has spent his life causing death and destruction and misery. I was ashamed to admit it. I remember looking at his bloodied, whimpering face as he begged for his worthless life. I shouldn’t have tried to stop Tafari.’

‘No,’ Penny says, and she leans over the table and strokes one side of Jamieson’s face.

Jamieson is surprised to find himself resting his own hand upon hers, and how natural it feels.

‘I’m glad you tried to stop him,’ Penny smiles. ‘I see the toll that the Devil is taking on my father. I see the inner turmoil and pain. I am glad Tafari does not have to go through the same thing. And so is he.’

‘He is?’

‘He told me so. Don’t get him wrong, Tafari is glad that Ankrah is dead. But he realises that he is no killer.’

Jamieson smiles through his sadness. Penny gently pulls her hand away and sits back in her seat. There is a pause as they reflect on their conversation.

‘You called me Melissa, when you first saw me?’ Penny says, delicately.

‘Yes, I suppose I did.’

Penny sits quiet, patiently.

‘When I turned around in the phone booth,’ Jamieson begins, ‘when I first glimpsed your face, you just looked uncannily like someone I…know?’

‘Ah yes, Tafari told me about this…special girl.’

Jamieson looks troubled.

‘Not so special?’ Penny asks.

‘Oh, she is special. It’s just, I had…temporarily forgotten her name. Scared me for a moment. But when I saw your face…it came back to me, like that,’ Jamieson says, clicking his fingers. ‘I just can’t figure it out.’

Penny’s expression reverts to her previous concern. Pained.

‘So this special girl, her name is Melissa?’

Jamieson stares off into space trying to recall his wife’s face. He searches his memory, which takes him back to his apartment. She is in bed, stirring from sleep. He searches for her face. But his mind settles on Penny’s face. He shakes his head in confusion.

‘I…don’t know. Am I losing my mind, I can’t remember my own wife’s name? Now I can’t seem to picture her either.’

Jamieson begins to get restless in his seat.

‘This is ridiculous. I have to phone her. Straighten my memory out once and for all.’

He rises out of his chair to leave, but freezes, and then slumps back down in his seat, looking more baffled than ever.

‘Something wrong?’ Penny asks.

‘I’ve…only just realised…before…when I was in the phone booth…’

‘Yes?’ Penny says, looking worried.

‘I called my wife’s number, a phone rings behind me, I turn around, and you’re standing there?’

‘Yes?’ Penny says, as if feigning her ignorance.

‘That’s just a weird coincidence, is it?’

‘A perfectly…plausible…happenstance.’

Jamieson stares into Penny’s eyes, but she holds his gaze.

‘Can I borrow your phone, I would like to make a call?’

‘Sorry, I’ve no credit.’

They stare at each other for a moment more.

‘Well, can I, at least, look at your phone?’

Penny begins to look uncomfortable.

‘Why? That’s such a weird thing to ask.’

‘Is it? Can I see your phone? No, you fucking weirdo! Seriously? I could say it’s just as weird to refuse to show it to me.’

Penny stalls for a moment. She reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out her mobile. She holds it up for Jamieson to see. Jamieson rolls his eyes and extends a hand to take the phone from her. Penny pulls her hand back.

‘Penny, let me see your phone,’ Jamieson says, losing his patience.

Penny holds it up next to her.

‘There, you can see it, now, can we just…pay the bill and…’

She starts looking for the waiter. Jamieson surges forward and snatches the phone out of her hand.

‘Hey!’ Penny protests. She tries to reach for it.

Jamieson is already swiping the screen to unlock the phone.

‘Give me the phone,’ Penny demands.

Jamieson looks down at the screen.

‘Don’t look at it, ‘ Penny says, her voice softer, almost pleading.

But it is too late. Jamieson has already seen the screen saver. A picture. A close up shot of his wife. The name and her face finally connect in his mind. She is posing and cuddling someone else. A younger looking Penny. They look strikingly similar. Jamieson looks up at Penny, confused.

‘What the hell is this?’ he whispers.

‘Now, Jamieson, just listen to me…’ Penny says, her voice trembling.

‘It’s Archer, remember? That’s twice you’ve called me Jamieson today.’

Penny’s eyes glisten with anxiety.

‘That’s my wife…Melissa,’ Jamieson says, looking to the screen and then back to Penny. ‘What are you doing in a picture with my wife?’

Jamieson frantically thumbs his way to the mobiles menu and finds a folder named my images/videos and opens it. He quickly flicks through more images of his wife, close ups, almost selfie-style.

‘What!?’ he gasps. ‘Are you stalking my wife or something?’

‘No, please, listen…’

He finds a video and plays it. His wife addresses the camera.

“Hey, you sweet, sweet husband. Thank you for my Christmas present, my new phone, I love it! Just wanted to tell you that. And I love you.”

The video ends and Jamieson looks up at Penny.

‘Did you hack her phone and steal her pictures and videos?’

‘No…’

‘Then explain this!’ Jamieson yells.

‘Keep your voice down,’ Penny whispers.

‘Hang on, this is my wife’s phone. I recognise it. I remember now. She sent that video to me. To thank me for buying it for her.’

Penny hesitates, nervously.

‘Yes,’ she says, softly.

‘Yes? What do you mean, yes? What do you know? You stole my wife’s phone? Where is she? What have you done with my Melissa?’

‘Please calm down…’

‘Calm down? I’m about to make the biggest scene this place has ever seen if you don’t give me some answers. Where is my wife?’

Penny takes a deep breath and lets it out.

‘I didn’t want you to find out this way,’ she says, flatly.

Jamieson pauses trying to work out that statement. He shrugs.

‘I know who your wife is, but do you?’ Penny asks.

Jamieson looks more confused than ever.

‘Of course I do,’ Jamieson says, screwing up his face. ‘It’s Melissa. Melissa,’ he repeats, as the name begins to sound more true. ‘Yes, my wife, Melissa.’

‘When was the last time you saw her?’ Penny asks, apprehensively.

Jamieson recalls the memory of the last time he saw his wife.

In their apartment building. She was in bed. He kissed her goodbye. But in his memory, as he pulls away from her embrace, he sees only Penny’s face. Or is it Melissa’s face? Is Penny Melissa?

‘No,’ Jamieson blurts, looking dazed. He finds a moment of clarity and studies the picture of his wife’s face. ‘Melissa is my wife,’ he mumbles. ‘It’s always been Melissa…I…don’t know why I thought you were…’

Jamieson looks at the phone and then at Penny.

‘But it still doesn’t explain why you have her phone.’

Penny grimaces.

‘Don’t you remember, at all?’

‘Remember..?’ Jamieson asks.

‘You gave it to me.’

‘I…don’t recall, actually. Why would I give you my wife’s phone?’

‘Because it is special to me.’

A tear rolls down Penny’s cheek.

‘Why is my wife’s phone special to you?’ Jamieson asks.

‘Because…’

Jamieson waits on tenterhooks.

‘Your wife…’

‘Yes?’

‘Is my mother…’

Jamieson just stares blankly at her, continuously shaking his head.

‘What?’ he blurts, in a deranged chuckle.

Penny nods her head. She seems genuine, sincere.

‘My wife…is your mother?’ Jamieson says, looking confused again, ‘but, forgive me, your mother died did she not, years ago?’

More tears stream down Penny’s face.

‘Yes. As did your wife, Melissa. Remember?’

Jamieson shakes his head, in disbelief.

‘My…wife…is alive!’ Jamieson blurts.

‘Please keep your voice down,’ Penny whispers, again.

‘I saw her a few weeks ago. Kissed her goodbye as she lay, alive and well, on our bed, in our apartment…’

‘Your apartment, where?’

‘New Yor…that’s…none of your business.’

Jamieson’s memory quickly recalls his conversation with Black.

New York.

Black had explained that Ace’s wife had been killed in New York.

‘Another coincidence?’ he utters, under his breath and to himself.

‘And how do you explain the picture of Melissa and me? You said it yourself, we look the same.’

‘I…maybe…’ Jamieson stammers, searching for an answer, ‘Photoshop?’

‘It is the last picture we ever took together. Before she was killed in the protest.’

Jamieson laughs manically.

‘My wife is alive…she’s…’

He is back in his New York Apartment again. It is earlier in the memory. The television is broadcasting the news, but the report is not about Minister Sheit’s murder anymore. It is about a protest in the streets of New York, below. The protest is heating up and riot police are moving in. Jamieson’s mobile chirps. He checks it.

‘I’m so tired. Can’t you just wait another few hours? Come back to bed and snuggle and snooze?’ his wife asks.

‘Melissa, ACE are assembling, I’ve got to go. I wish you would come, it’s really heating up down there,’ Jamieson says, in this new and clearer version of his memory.

‘I’ll join you later? I’ll call?’

‘Of course.’

He leans in to kiss her goodbye. He pulls away. It is Penny’s face. But not Penny’s face. A more defined and mature looking Penny. Penny’s mother.

‘Be careful, Joshua,’ she says.

But in this version of his memory, even his own name feels aberrant.

Melissa smiles, Penny’s smile.

Jamieson breaks out of his memory for a moment. He gazes at Penny.

‘You have your mother’s smile,’ he whispers, as his own eyes begin to well up with tears.

‘Yes,’ gasps Penny, gently sobbing.

‘But, if…she is your mother,’ Jamieson says, tentatively pulling the carpet from under himself, ‘and she is my wife, then that must make me your…’

Jamieson is back in his apartment, inside his memory again. As he turns to leave his apartment, he catches sight of his reflection in the mirror. Only his clothes are wrong. Instead of a suit, he is dressed in black cargo pants and a black polo-neck sweater. He looks up. It is not even his face anymore. And his heart sinks with an over-whelming fear when he recognises that face.

‘Then that must make you…’ Penny says, distracting Jamieson, and reaching over and gripping his hand tightly, ‘my father.’

Jamieson lets out a vacant laugh as he disappears back into his memory.

The man looking back at him in the mirror, is Ace Ventura.

His mind jumps to the memory of kissing Melissa goodbye. He pulls away.

‘Be careful, Ace,’ she says.

‘Excuse me,’ Jamieson says, vacantly, getting up. ‘I have to go see a man…about a face…and a wife…and a life…’

He stumbles back, tipping his chair, which clatters to the floor. A waiter notices and begins to approach.

‘Father, wait…’ Penny says, getting up.

But Jamieson turns and makes a quick bee-line to the exit. Penny tries to gather her jacket to follow him, but the waiter confronts her demanding she pay their bill. After fumbling around in her purse, she throws a few notes down onto the table and hurries towards the exit. She rushes out into the street, to see Jamieson getting into a taxi.

‘Father!’ she calls out, and runs after him.

But the taxi is already pulling away and does not stop.

‘Damn it!’ Penny cries, as she watches the vehicle drive away at speed.

She turns and spins, searching up and down the street for another taxi. But there are none.

‘Damn it!’ she cries again, as she runs back into the restaurant to call a cab.

Chapter 26 – Man eat man

26

ACE Headquarters.

‘Where is he?!’ Jamieson yells, clambering up the stairs onto the main platform, bringing ACE to a sudden halt in their operations. His voice echoes around the platform and deep into the tunnels and sub-tunnels.

Jamieson scans everybody on the platform. Their confused, anxious and somewhat bemused expressions, obvious, from face to face.

‘Where is that crazy son of a bitch?!’

Then, as suddenly as they had froze, everybody begins to laugh and cheer, some clapping their hands.

‘What the hell are you cheering for?’ Jamieson says, screwing up his face. He shakes his head and stumbles forward as some of the crowd direct his attention to a work station. A laptop is broadcasting breaking news. The slightly dishevelled anchor on the screen looks like she cannot really believe what she is reading.

…and we will be bringing you updates on their conditions all through the night. Again we are reporting the shocking news that the G8 summit in Japan has been brought to an abrupt end as world leaders, including President Obomo, and UK’s Prime Minister David Hameron, are rushed to hospital after consuming human meat, served to them for dinner by confused staff, who are currently being questioned by Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police. It was only after several members of the summit complained of stomach cramps and illness that local authorities were called upon and after immediate suspicion of poisoning, the summit member’s food was tested and was confirmed as consisting of one hundred percent human flesh, and the gruesome truth was uncovered. There is speculation that the human remains served to the summit leaders is connected to an ongoing murder investigation in Africa’s Kumasi Metropolis involving an illegal bush meat processing warehouse manager, who, according to the official statement by the KMP, was fed through one of his own facility’s meat grinders…and I am just receiving an update on that investigation…the KMP have confirmed that the calling card of the notorious vigilante killer the White Devil was found at the scene…and the eco-terrorist organisation, now known globally as ACE have leaked a statement officially claiming responsibility for both crimes. The chilling statement goes on to say that ‘no one is untouchable, you are all accountable for the slaughter, an enemy of the animal is my enemy, even if that enemy is the animal named human‘. The news has been greeted with mixed results across the world, with some people taking to the streets in New York to London, to Moscow to Paris, celebrating and rejoicing, in a fashion and on a scale never seen before. Governments across the world are considering curfews and martial law as local authorities are stretched to breaking point amidst what some experts are calling ‘mass revolutionary hysteria’.

Jamieson’s head begins to spin as his mind tries to fight what he had just learned from the news report. His legs become weak and shake, and with one sudden surge and belch, he folds over and vomits the remains of his half-digested dinner. Everyone gasps and the room falls silent. As Jamieson fights to regain his breath, the news report goes on.

…who is head of Japan’s NPA, has made a statement to the press stating they have now also joined the hunt for the White Devil and his ACE organisation in an international cooperative to bring this terrorist group to justice. But with public opinion split and the rapid growth of mini cells appearing across the globe, one has to question how the authorities are going to cope with this challenge to their order…

Jamieson slowly raises his head and scans the room again with strained bloodshot eyes. Everyone watches on in silence. He spots Ace at the back of the crowd, standing at an entrance to a sub-tunnel. He just smirks and shakes his head at Jamieson and turns and takes off down the tunnel.

‘Don’t you walk away from me!’ Jamieson yells, pointing and taking off towards the tunnel. He pushes his way through the crowd and follows Ace. As he gives chase through the sub-tunnels he catches only a glimpse of Ace as he turns corners, always just out of sight.

Jamieson enters Ace’s private chamber. He edges forward. He glances at Ace’s sleeping area. But there is no one lying back in the hammock. There is no sign of Ace. Jamieson spots Edgar, perched and observing. Without giving it much thought, Jamieson walks over and scratches the back of Edgar’s head. Jamieson is distracted in thought and it is only when Edgar begins to chirp intimately to him, that he realises he is petting the bird. The bird tilts his head and seems to look into his soul. Jamieson just smiles fondly at the charming creature.

‘I see you two are getting on a little better,’ comes a voice from the darkness.

Music begins to play.

Jamieson turns in the direction of the music. He scans the back of the chamber, searching for a shape in the darkness. He eases forward.

When a man sees things and hears sounds that’s not there
He’s headed for the rubber room…

‘Are you kidding me? Country?’ Jamieson scoffs.

‘Listen, kid, country has got its place!’ the voice argues from the darkness.

‘Why are you hiding in the shadows? Are you afraid to face me?’

A demented chuckle echoes through the chamber.

‘Ah, but it is you that is hiding. It is you that is afraid to face me.’

‘I’m not afraid. I’m here, aren’t I?’

‘Oh you still don’t get it, do you? You were never here. You aren’t even here, right now. In fact, you never existed.’

Jamieson screws up his face in confusion.

‘What kind of mumbo jumbo bullshit is that you’re talking?’

‘Poor little Agent Jamieson, playing his juvenile game of cops and robbers.’

Jamieson tries not to gasp. He tries to remain straight faced, but inside, he knows he is afraid. It is the first time Ace has called him out for who he really is. He is truly compromised. A part of his rational mind quickly regrets not disclosing his location to Black.

‘I don’t know what you are talking about?’ Jamieson lies.

‘Oh please, did you have another nice conversation with Black in the city? Same booth was it?’

Jamieson wonders if Penny has called Ace and informed him of their meeting.

‘I had dinner with Penny actually.’

‘You stay away from my daughter, Jamieson, do you hear me?’ Ace growls, menacingly.

‘She followed me, actually. She cares about me. She seems to me to be a good person, if a little mixed up.’

‘What do you know about her?’ Ace snaps.

‘I know she is intelligent, kind, passionate. But I also know that she is in over her head with all this…murder and hysteria. And for reasons I cannot fathom, I know she loves you. Would do anything for you. Even if it means following the Devil into the depths of hell.’

‘You think you see her, when you can’t even see what is right in front of you.’

‘Well come out of the dark! Face me then!’

‘I’m talking about the genesis of the new human being. The new order that is naturally emerging.’

‘The so called revolution? There is nothing natural about it. You’ve brought out the worst in people, they are celebrating murder and treason in the streets.’

‘It’s consciousness, baby! There is no stopping it. It is the overwhelming, uncontainable, most powerful force in the universe.’

‘It’s anarchy and violence. Orchestrated by you.’

‘What do you know about anarchy? Anarchy does not mean chaos, you know? Comes from ancient Greece, meaning without ruler, leader, authority. But not without reason. Anarchy is law and freedom, without force. Not like the despotism we live with today. Anarchy is entwined into the very fabric that makes us human. A symbiotic relationship. It’s been happening, growing, long before you and I were even born. I’ve just been…fine tuning it. Giving it some coherence and direction. And it will continue to grow long after we are gone. The old ways, the priests, the popes, the elites, the master criminals, the soulless corporate entities, their time is over. They have had their chance and they have brought us to the precipice of our own destruction. But we want life. We choose life.’

‘We choose life, by causing death? And you say I can’t see what’s in front of me?’

‘Violence begets violence. And sometimes it takes violence to end violence. Every revolution that this world has known, with a couple of exceptions, has been a violent bloody struggle.’

‘So that’s what all this is? Your attempt at a revolution?’

‘It is the inevitable revolution. I mean we are altering this planet, changing the environment, changing the climate, not just as a consequence of the industrial revolution but literally, orchestrating weather, earthquakes, did we really think that meddling to this degree wouldn’t have its consequences, and dire ones at that? Smashing atoms and opening trans-dimensional portals, our curiosity and attraction to power is unquenchable, knows no bounds, pulls all the strings, pulls out all the stops. It’s glorious, yes. But it’s also extremely dangerous. Do you know before they tested the first atom bomb there was a growing concern amidst the scientific community and in the administration, including the military, that the explosion would knock the earth off its axis, literally causing a mass extinction event? Still set it off, didn’t they? The people truly orchestrating this world have their foot on the floor but no hands on the wheel. All the grass roots movements of the world, the greens, the vegans, the anti-war, anti-establishment groups, the truth seekers and the enlightened, those who fight for peace, compassion and true justice, not the petty revenue building laws of the sea and commerce, the true laws, human law, common law, we are all transcending the old destructive ways. Progress demands it of us. Logic. The vegans are showing us the way. A simple choice. The desire to sustain our meat consumption will bring about the destruction of our world, and the annihilation of our own species. Humans have to evolve. Evolve our consciousness and our conscience towards compassion and nonviolence. Animals live in an ancient balance with wider nature. But humans are completely out of sync. We threaten all the other animals of the world, even ourselves, soon to become our own extinction event.’

‘Are you really that…bat shit crazy?

‘Hey!’ Ace screams. His voice echoes around the chamber, making Edgar jolt and flap his wings in alarm. ‘Never…’ he continues, in a quieter contained voice, ‘mention…the B word.’

Jamieson just shrugs at the darkness before him.

‘Would you listen to yourself?’ he says. ‘Nonviolence? Compassion? Where are these ideals when you hunted and killed three men in the highlands of Scotland? Or caving that poor woman’s head in on a Canadian ice shelf? Or mincing a person and feeding it to some of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world? Where is compassion there?’

‘That is not compassion, silly. That’s…art.’

Jamieson lets out a dry raspy laugh.

‘Art?!’ he yells. ‘So, you’re an artist now?’

‘Besides, the removal of key people will have a wider compassionate effect on the world.’

‘And just how many more need removal before you have your glorious utopia?’

There is no answer.

‘How many?!’ Jamieson yells.

‘Okay…a few more.’

‘A few?!’

‘There’s just so many…bad apples; Palm oil CEOs, the major meat racketeers, Tyson etc, there’s a couple of cartels to take out, a few more Royals, politicians, a shit load of bankers too, I’m thinking a particularly explosive gift wrapped present under their trees this Christmas…it’s going to take me a while to get through them all.’

Jamieson sighs and shakes his head.

‘Okay, listen, I admit, I have learned a lot from you. There, I said it. You have…changed me, opened my eyes to the bigger picture. But haven’t you learned anything from me? That this vigilante murder marathon you’re on is not the answer for the world. Not for the world, for you and…your pain…or your family.’

There is silence.

‘What about their pain, Ace?!’ Jamieson cries.

Silence.

‘Please,’ Jamieson says, ‘all the killing, it has to stop. You can’t do this.’

There is a brief pause.

‘I can, and I will,’ Ace says, coldly.

‘Oh…no you won’t.’

‘What is this, a pantomime? Oh yes I will, you can’t stop me.’

‘Oh…yes I…can!’ Jamieson yells, roused with frustration and anger.

He stumbles into the darkness with arms outstretched.

‘No,’ comes Ace’s voice, closer to Jamieson’s left ear, ‘you won’t.’

Jamieson feels a sharp blow to his head. As he registers the considerable pain, his legs give out from under him. He crashes to the platform floor.

‘Not you, not Black, not anyone can stop me winning this war,’ Ace says. ‘Don’t you see, we must win, or we lose…everything?’

Jamieson’s eyes roll back in his head. As he loses consciousness, Porter Wagoner’s singing voice is the last thing on his mind.

Now they’ve come to get me but they find
I’m a screamin’ pretty words, tryin’ to make ’em rhyme
I’m in the rubber room, hmm, a psycho, I’m in the rubber room, hmm…

Chapter 27 – The great white bat

27

The void.

Jamieson awakens to pitch blackness. He bats his eyelids and opens his eyes wide, trying to see something, anything. He begins to panic.

Am I blind?

He tries to call out, for help. But as he tries to yell, he hears no sound. He yells again. Nothing. He realises he can’t even hear his own breathing.

And deaf too? I must have taken a harder knock to the head than I thought.

He quickly gets up onto his feet. At least he thinks he is on his feet, as there appears to be no ground. He can’t feel the platform, or anything, below his feet. He appears to be floating in a void.

He pumps his arms and legs.

Am I moving? Am I even here…real…alive?

Jamieson panics again.

Am I dead?

Jamieson sees a faint glimmer of light in the distance. He is relieved to realise that he is not blind after all. It appears to be moving closer to him.

Or am I approaching it?

But there is no whale, this time. He is not in the void of the ocean. Jamieson can now recognise a large flaming fireball. As it draws closer, Jamieson identifies that the ball is actually the Earth.

The Earth is burning.

Suddenly tribal drums can be heard, their beat pulsing and hypnotic. Jamieson is, again, relieved that he is not all together deaf either.

Where are the drums…the drummers?

Jamieson tries to call out again. But, still, no sound. No sounds of his own breathing.

Images begin to quickly approach him, from out of the darkness, beyond the flames, and flash through him. Images of gruesome faces, masks, symbols. Jamieson knows these images. Knows them to be African.

How could I know this?

The dark faces are painted. The masks are war masks, carved from wood, coated in resin and painted. He recognises the markings. Tribal.

Wachootoo.

There is a prominent symbol. It, too, is African.

Sesa Wo Suban.

He is convinced he knows its meaning, but can’t seem to recall as he becomes more and more distracted by new images flashing by him. The dark silhouette of a man dancing around a fire pit in the most ridiculous and comedic fashion he has ever seen. Now drinking from a cup. Jamieson can taste the foul liquid. Now a psychedelic kaleidoscope of colours and shapes, so much so he instantly feels nauseous. He belches and vomits. His vomit floats off into space. And still the images come. Forest hunting. Learning stealth and how to stalk. And now, images of animal torture. Butchery. Flesh and blood. Jamieson vomits again. More colours, a wash of gold, violet, deep reds and greens. Business men, laughing and shaking hands. A woman’s face.

Penny? No. Melissa.

And now a thundering gallop. A powerful dark chocolate coloured beast bearing down on him. A Tennessee walker. It snorts. Its eyes fixed on him, wild and fearful. Jamieson can see a skeleton hand on the reigns, the other bony hand holding a large gleaming scythe. Death, straddling the horse, is dressed in a police uniform. He swings his scythe down towards Jamieson. More colours, pink and silver. The symbol again. The still, dead eyes of the woman. The still, dead eyes of another woman. Tafari’s mother. Blood. Jamieson looks at his own hands. They are coated in blood. Animals suffering and screaming. Now humans, writhing and screaming. Ace’s victims. He tries to scream.

I’m sorry!

Jamieson sees beyond the flames. There is someone on the other side of the fire. He moves around the fire and approaches. The figure of a man, naked, painted white, with his back turned, is twitching and moving in a peculiar manner. There is something sinister about this man. As Jamieson gets closer he can hear an awful ripping and tearing sound. The man extends his arm, his hand clutching a handful of hair, attached to a severed human head. A headless body collapses at the man’s feet. Jamieson is terrified. As the man slowly turns to face him, light from the flames flickers onto the severed head and illuminates a face. To Jamieson’s horror, it is his own face. Jamieson now peers at the man’s face. It is Ace. Ace reaches up and digs clawed fingers into the skin under his chin. He begins to tear the skin from his own face. Jamieson is so paralysed with fear that he cannot look away. Ace tears his face off to reveal another face underneath. A hideous face, not human. Animal. Its lifeless beady eyes and wrinkled face. It opens its mouth wide to reveal sharp fangs and as it lets out an almighty screech, two large, ridged wings unfold and spread out from its back.

It is a great white bat. Man-sized.

Jamieson has never been so afraid. It screeches at him again and beats its huge grotesque wings, flying towards him.

Finally, Jamieson awakens from the nightmare with a jolt. And finds himself in darkness. For a moment he thinks he is re-starting his dream all over again. But as he gasps for a breath, other senses return. He can hear his breath, he can feel the cold concrete of the platform under him where he lies, and he can certainly feel the throbbing pain in his head. He looks around and can see the chamber beyond the darkness. He slowly gets up and walks back to the hammock. He lies back in it and rests for a moment. He hears someone approaching. Quickly. It is Penny.

‘Thank goodness you are okay. You left in such a…state,’ she says, running to Jamieson’s side. She holds his hand in hers. She notices a large bruised bump on Jamieson’s forehead.

‘What happened to you?’ she asks, concerned.

‘I’m okay. But I think I’ve been unconscious for a while.’

‘Unconscious?’

‘Yeah, your father, your real father, attacked me.’

‘What?’ Penny says, shaking her head, confused.

Jamieson begins to rise out of the hammock. He gets to his feet but is unsteady. Penny puts an arm around him for support.

‘Where is he?’ Jamieson asks, holding his aching head. For a moment, the image of his severed head, from his dream, flashes through his mind. He tries to shake the image away.

‘Are you okay?’ Penny asks.

‘Just another nightmare.’

‘Do you want to tell me about it?’

Jamieson thinks for a moment.

‘I…flames…the world in flames…so much…pain…horror…a man…your father…he looked like a…bat…’

Penny looks disturbed. Her eyes glistening as she fights back tears.

‘A bat?’ she says, softly.

Jamieson can see her distress. He cups a hand around Penny’s face.

‘Yes, the great white bat.’

Penny smiles.

‘Or to be precise…’ she begins.

‘Crepuscular Chiroptera,’ she and Jamieson say in unison.

They smile at each other. But Jamieson is confused as to how he would know such information.

‘ Yes, but to my people…’ comes another voice. Jamieson and Penny turn to see Tafari approaching. ‘Shikaka.’

Jamieson quickly bends down on to one knee and lowers his head, but then looks deeply bewildered by his response.

‘Sorry about that…’ he says, slowly and sheepishly rising back up. ‘Not sure what happened there, some kind of reflex action..?’

Tafari smiles warmly.

‘I used to love this game.’

‘Game? What game?’

Tafari smiles a wicked grin at his sister. Penny just rolls her eyes.

‘Shikaka,’ Tafari says, turning to Jamieson.

Jamieson again, bends onto one knee.

‘Hey!’ he protests, quickly getting back up, shooting Tafari a miffed expression. Jamieson raises an eyebrow as he watches Tafari open his mouth to repeat the word.

‘Shiitake.’

Jamieson bows again. He looks up, bemused that he has been duped.

Penny and Tafari just giggle.

‘I said Shiitake. You are bowing to a mushroom?’ Tafari laughs.

Jamieson slowly rises up with a wry smile.

‘Very funny,’ he says. ‘I’m not sure why I’m bowing in the first place,’ Jamieson adds, clearly confused.

Tafari’s smile quickly fades away. He looks to his sister. Penny’s smile fades too. She looks at her brother with a lost, helpless expression.

‘I used to play that game with my father,’ Tafari says, gazing at Penny.

She gently shakes her head at Tafari. But he is resolute. He turns to Jamieson.

‘But I don’t do much with my father anymore. Not since you showed up.’

Jamieson is affronted.

‘What is that supposed to mean?’ Jamieson asks.

Tafari turns away.

‘Nothing,’ Penny says, softly, ‘never mind.’

‘Listen,’ Jamieson says, to Tafari, ‘if this is about the mission in Africa, I thought we had…’

‘Forget I said anything,’ Tafari grumbles.

There is a quiet lull. The reference to Africa recalls the symbol from Jamieson’s dream to the forefront of his mind.

‘Perhaps you can answer something for me?’

Tafari says nothing.

‘Sesa wo suban,’ Jamieson says.

Tafari turns to him, surprised.

‘Sesa wo suban?’

‘Yes, a symbol came to me in a dream. Maybe it is something I saw during our recent trip to Africa, but somehow I know the symbols name. It’s just the meaning I don’t get.’

‘To my people, the Wachati, sesa wo suban is the symbol of life transformation. It is comprised of two separate Adinkra symbols, the first is the morning star, which can mean a new start to the day, a new beginning. This is placed inside the second symbol of the wheel, representing rotation or independent movement.’

Jamieson can feel that he is on the edge of a major discovery. The symbol and his dream bringing him closer to a truth that gives more context to Ace’s transformation. The character change. The man to the Devil. The image of Ace tearing his face off to reveal the bat, or the monster underneath. Ace’s last words claw their way across Jamieson’s mind.

You can’t stop me winning this war…no one can…

Jamieson can only guess what Ace has planned next.

‘I need to find Ace,’ he blurts, ‘he is planning something. Something big.’

Tafari just drops his head, disappointed.

‘Something big?’ Penny asks, shocked. ‘How do you top poisoning the world’s most powerful and influential leaders in the world?’

‘Is this all a game to you both?!’ Tafari yells.

Penny and Jamieson are both stunned into silence by his outburst.

‘On to the next mission, shall we?’ he goes on. ‘Bloody James bond secret agent terrorist vigilantes to the rescue? What mischief can we get up to next, playing these games?’

Tafari turns to Jamieson.

‘I love…loved you for it. Always the games and fun with you. You would not have it any other way, and after the deep sadness of my mother’s death, only you could make me smile again.’

‘Tafari…’ Penny tries to interject.

‘No, Penny!’ Tafari yells. ‘You are sharing the game. You are happy to play along.’

‘Ah,’ Jamieson smiles, somewhat relieved. He turns to Penny. ‘I am assuming that our episode in the restaurant was part of the game too.’

Penny opens her mouth to explain, but she is cut off by Tafari.

‘I miss my father,’ he says. ‘I need him still. Especially in these uncertain times.’

Tafari looks intensely into Jamieson’s eyes.

‘Where is my father?’

‘Tafari, aren’t you listening to me?’ Jamieson asks. ‘I’m looking for him too. No one wants to find him more than me, believe me.’

Tafari laughs for a split second, but it soon sounds like contempt. He nods at Jamieson.

‘Still playing the game,’ he says.

‘What game? That I’m an undercover FBI agent? That I’m not really David Archer? I think we are all beyond the pretence by now. But listen, I’m on…your side. I don’t want to harm any of you, but I am certain Ace is planning something so diabolical that, by his own words; will win this war.

Jamieson and Tafari turn to see Penny beaming a huge smile.

‘I can’t help it,’ she says, ‘it’s exciting.’

‘This is serious,’ Jamieson says.

‘That is why I came in here,’ Tafari says, turning to Jamieson. ‘To find you. To tell you. The game? It has just gotten a whole lot more serious. And dangerous, for us all.’

Penny steps forward.

‘Tafari, what are you talking about?’

‘The Prime Minister of England, David Hameron…is dead.’

Penny gasps. Jamieson is mortified.

‘Yes. Let that sink in,’ Tafari says, addressing them both. ‘And many more from the summit are in critical condition, Obomo might not even make it through the night. Now, ask yourself, the world has now become more anarchical, we are seeing the spread of vigilante style cleansing from cells across the world. The public are rebelling and protesting like never before, taking to the streets, people are fighting for compassion and justice, and some for their very lives, as the existing powers that be gather their armies, are you so sure that this is the revolution that you are wilfully striving for?’

Jamieson pulls his head out of his hands.

‘I have to find Ace,’ he blurts, and quickly takes off for the exit. Jamieson can faintly hear an argument beginning between Penny and Tafari, from behind him, as he struts. But his own thoughts begin to talk over them.

‘Oh well done Tafari, delicately handled once again.’

‘I thought you said you were making progress with him?’

‘I…was. But you rushing him into truth is like pushing him in front of a moving bus.’

‘And you think that indulging him is not doing him any harm?’

Well, they’re obviously having a domestic, sibling rivalry thing. Obviously concerned about their father. But there’s no time for petty squabbling. I must find Ace. I have to stop him, before he strikes again. This ends tonight. There will be no more bloodshed. Tonight I end this. There will be no more blood on my hands. No more killing. This isn’t about my job, the FBI, anymore. It is bigger and beyond me and Ace now. This is about right and wrong. Truth, true justice. The pieces are slotting together and the picture is becoming clearer. I know I can reason with Ace, once I’ve explained it all, the troubled and turbulent events that have led to this juncture in his life. Once I’ve pointed out the over-riding contradiction of the Devil. He’ll understand. He has to. I must find him.

Jamieson tears out of the chamber and takes the tunnel that will lead him to the main platform.

‘What I need,’ he tells himself, with a grin, ‘is an ACE to find an Ace.’

Chapter 28 – Denial is a powerful thing

28

 ACE HQ.

Jamieson bursts out of the tunnel onto the main platform, which is a hive of activity as ACE busy themselves with various tasks and research, and skids to a halt. ACE do not seem to pay him any mind.

‘Where is Ace Ventura?!’ Jamieson yells.

ACE carry on, with one or two shooting him a fleeting glance.

Jamieson begins to hurry from one station to the next. There are laptops with news reports silently playing on the screen. He scans some of the headlines.

President Obomo on life support machine.

UK in shock as Prime Minister David Hameron dies of food poisoning.

Brussels calls a state of emergency as students storm parliament buildings.

The people of Iceland sack their fifth government in three years.

Police clash with animal rights protesters in Brazilian, French and Chinese streets.

Widespread public rebellion and refusal to pay taxes.

Authorities and military in many parts of the world prepare for further civil unrest.

The Pope’s plea for peace falls on deaf ears.

ACE mania spreading across the globe.

Is this the end of human civilisation as we know it?

‘Jesus…’ Jamieson whispers.

The next laptop has a list of business HQ addresses. The next, a list of home addresses of bankers, judges, politicians. The next station is littered with building schematics. The next, Maps. Schedules. Rotas.

‘This is getting…out of hand,’ Jamieson says. He spins around, his eyes darting as he observes ACE.

‘Alright, can you all listen to me for a moment?’ he says, raising his voice.

ACE keep operating.

‘Does anyone know where I can find Ace Ventura?’ Jamieson asks.

Still, ACE keep on operating, regardless.

‘Alright, everybody just stop!’ Jamieson yells, at the top of his voice.

Now, ACE take notice, and cease their operations. They all turn to him.

‘That’s better,’ he smiles. ‘Now, just who the hell is in charge around here?’

‘You are, of course,’ comes a voice from the group.

A voice Jamieson recognises. He watches as a man makes his way through the crowd, out into the open. It is Assistant Director Black.

‘Black?’ Jamieson gasps.

Black smiles and nods his head.

Penny and Tafari exit the tunnel and join the congregation.

‘What the hell are you doing here?’ Jamieson asks, confused. Then he panics.

‘Everybody, run! Get out of here! He’s FBI!’ Jamieson says, dancing on the spot and scanning the platform for a lurking swat team. He spots Penny and Tafari, who worriedly watch on.

‘Penny, Tafari, go! Before they take us all down,’ Jamieson cries, but to add to his bafflement, they do not move.

‘Nobody is here to take us down,’ Penny says, softly.

‘And I’m no more FBI than you are,’ Black says, his face pained.

Jamieson desperately stares at him, he can see deep concern, and care, in Black’s eyes.

‘What are you talking about, Black? Of course you are FBI.’

Black shakes his head.

‘No, I’m not. I want you to listen to me, and try to remain calm. I am your…’ Black begins, as he glances over at Penny. Jamieson notices her giving him a reassuring nod. ‘Therapist.’

There is a tense silent pause as Jamieson tries to convince himself that he had heard correctly.

‘You’re my therapist?’ he mumbles, flatly.

Black nods.

Jamieson cannot help himself as he begins to chuckle.

‘That’s…ridiculous,’ he laughs. ‘And you just so happened to turn up here?’

‘I,’ Penny blurts, and steps forward, ‘called him here, actually.’

Jamieson’s smile disappears and his expression returns to confusion.

You called him…here?’

‘Yes. You see, after our conversation in the restaurant I was worried about you…so I…’

‘Just invited him over to join the party?’ Jamieson blurts.

‘You have to believe us,’ Black says.

‘Believe you? That I’m not an agent for the FBI, that you aren’t, in fact, an Assistant Director and my commanding officer, but my therapist,’ Jamieson turns to Penny, ‘that I’m your father,’ he turns to Tafari, ‘which would make me your father too, I presume?’

Tafari just nods sympathetically.

Jamieson laughs hysterically.

‘What a wonderful fictional world we live in. First Ace is my father, now I’m the father?’

Black approaches Jamieson, who panics and scoops up a pen from a work station. He holds it out in front of him as though it was a samurai sword.

‘Don’t let my laughter fool you. I am in no way finding any of this amusing. So don’t come any further, I’m warning you.’

Black stands still a few feet away from Jamieson.

‘Please, listen. We have been trying a new type of therapy on you. Indulging your fantasies. And it has been working. It has had a curative effect on you.’

‘Shut up!’ Jamieson snaps.

‘It’s true, father,’ Penny says, stepping forward again.

‘Don’t call me that,’ Jamieson says, pointing his pen at her.

‘That awesome brain of yours has created all of this. Ace, Archer, even you, Jamieson.  Some people might call it split personality, but, I see you as simply having a powerful imagination. So powerful, in fact, that the lines between the characters you have created have blurred. The therapy has been working. But it has also created an unforeseen side effect.’

Tafari steps forward now.

‘Look in my eyes, father. How I have longed to call you that. Father. Not everyone shares Penny’s innate ability to just run with your creativity. To accept your interchangeable alter egos. I put my faith in this so called therapy, but now I see that I was wrong to do so. We all were.’

‘That is not fair,’ Penny argues. ‘What else were we supposed to do, have him committed?’

‘We could have looked after him, protected him from his creations.’

‘That is exactly what we are trying to do,’ Black insists.

‘Can we stop talking as if I am not standing here in front of you all?!’ Jamieson yells.

There is a silence again as everyone takes a moment to recompose.

‘Can someone please explain to me, plain and simple, what the hell is going on around here?’ Jamieson asks, his voice trembling with emotion.

‘Penny approached me after the accident,’ Black begins.

Jamieson sighs, and turns to Penny.

‘Melissa. My…wife?’

Penny nods.

Jamieson turns back to Black.

‘When Melissa died, you were…broken. For years, off the rails. We thought we were going to lose you too. Through your grief you developed an alter ego. Something born out of your pain, but also your anguish, your rage.’

‘The Devil,’ Tafari says.

‘Whoa, hang on,’ Jamieson says, frantically shaking his head,’ I know where you’re going with this.’

‘We knew we couldn’t control it…you,’ Penny adds, ‘but when you reformed ACE, we mistakenly thought you were back to your old self. We couldn’t have foreseen what would come next.’

‘The killings,’ Tafari says, grimly.

‘No, no, no, wait a minute…now I’m responsible for those murders? Bullshit! ‘ Jamieson cries.

‘But, then…you…Jamieson, showed up.’

‘What?’

‘You were the voice of reason, of morality. A counter balance,’ Black explains.

‘The goodness in you to fight the badness,’ Tafari adds.

‘The angel to the Devil,’ Penny says, softly.

Jamieson lets out a dry and deranged chuckle.

‘You expect me to believe this preposterous story? Maybe you’ve got it all the wrong way around? That it’s you, all of you, who have the over-active imagination. That you are crazy. Not me. My name is…David…no, sorry, Joshua Jamieson…I’m an undercover FBI agent, have been for…several years.’

Jamieson seems uncertain, scanning the platform floor as if searching for his memories. He tries to recall his training with the FBI, his previous undercover mission, his life prior to the memory of the last time he was with his wife. He looks up at Black.

‘Are you going to stand there and deny that we have been in contact over the phone during my time on this case?’

‘We have been in contact, yes,’ Black agrees, ‘but you have been contacting me at my practice. Like we said, we have been indulging you, I have been trying to encourage the Jamieson character because he represented the better side of you. Law and order and conscience. Penny and I helped shape Jamieson, gave him an identity, a back story. We knew the mystery, the role, would appeal to the detective in you. We thought if we could play a part in Jamieson’s story, we could help you infiltrate your own life, Ace’s life. So you could reach Ace and help him find his humanity again. I…took the role of your superior, to try to maintain some control and communication.’

‘We have all been carefully watching you, father,’ Penny says, ‘even Ace has been watching you. The…real…Ace. But, he had his suspicions all along. You were too smart for your own good. But I think Ace knew what we were trying to do, that we were trying to nurture Jamieson, to help him become dominant over…’

‘Over the Devil in you,’ Tafari says.

‘And what of these side effects you mentioned?’ Jamieson shrugs, still unconvinced.

‘Like we said,’ Black says, ‘the blurred lines. The deep battle within your mind that is being waged over your soul. But as Jamieson and the Devil fight it out, the real Ace inside is disappearing more and more.’

‘So, let me get this straight,’ Jamieson smiles. ‘Ultimately, what you are saying, without actually saying it, is that, Jamieson and The Devil are the same person. Vis-a-vis, I…am Ace Ventura. That I am the White Devil.’

Everyone remains silent. Black just gently nods his head.

Jamieson begins to clap his hands. He smiles, nodding to everyone.

‘Well done. Of all the insidious, diabolical schemes…I see what you are trying to do here. And let me tell you that…yeah, it’s clever…you nearly had me convinced, in fact, I’m still toying…with the idea. Am I the Devil? Ace Ventura? So, you make me believe I am him with your elaborate ploy and MK Ultra Voodoo,’ Jamieson says, nodding to Tafari, who huffs at the allegation, ‘you’ve probably been drugging me, I mean, what’s in all that Vegan food anyway? Psychotropic mushrooms may have been manipulated into my mouth! Nobody here could bear the dreams I have been having. The nightmares. And now you want to pin the blame on me?! What have I ever done to you people? Okay, I’m FBI. I am a fraud. A threat even. But not any longer. I am no threat to any of you. And I am certainly no killer. No murderer. I am no hideous great white bat, great White Devil! That’s not me. And I’ll prove it. I’ll find Ace. He has put you up to this. Hasn’t he!? Are you here, Ace!?’

Jamieson scans the stunned crowd. No sign of Ace.

‘Father, please…’ Penny tries.

‘Where is he, Penny? You would know. You’re his right-hand man…woman…daughter..?’

‘Right-hand man is fine,’ Penny shrugs, shaking her head.

‘Ace is standing right in front of me, you have to let him through, let Ace through,’ Black says, firmly.

‘Enough!’ Jamieson shouts.

‘Father, you are sick, you have to let us in, let us help,’ Tafari pleads.

‘The only way you can help me is by telling me where the Devil is!’ Jamieson cries.

‘It’s you, you’re standing here, in front of us all,’ Black states.

‘He’s going to blow,’ someone from the crowd whispers, over a tense pause, as early nineties synths can be heard emanating from an anonymous laptop.

‘Where is Ace!?’ Jamieson bellows, and he lunges at Black. He spins Black around and grabs him around the neck. Jamieson quickly holds the pen up to Black’s startled face.

Everyone gasps, as a charismatic crooner declares I’m going slightly mad, in the background.

‘Someone had better tell me where Ace is or…I’ll do it…’ Jamieson says, in a threatening tone, holding the pen closer to Black’s face. ‘I’ll draw on his face, so help me I’ll do it…’

There is another tense pause. Then someone else from the crowd bursts out laughing, and then quickly stops.

‘I’ll draw something awful…abhorrent!’ Jamieson yells.

‘He’s not here,’ Penny announces, loudly.

Jamieson turns himself and Black towards her.

‘Ace,’ she goes on, ‘he…left already.’

Tafari shoots a disgruntled expression at Penny. She just raises a hand at Tafari, acknowledging his objection.

‘Penny…’ Jamieson smiles in relief, a tear rolls down his cheek, ‘thank you.’

‘He is on a mission, but he didn’t disclose too much information to me about it.’

‘Any information would be helpful right now.’

‘I did catch a glimpse of him pouring over a map of Cleveland, Downtown.’

‘Cleveland, what could he be planning there, what is there in that district?’

‘I overheard him talking to himself, something about a car rental place on…Superior Avenue?’

‘Got it,’ someone yells, as they peer at a map of the area on a laptop screen, ‘Axis Car Rental on Superior Avenue.’

‘What’s so special about that place?’ Jamieson asks, ‘What’s the animal connection with car rental?’

‘Road-kill?’ someone from the crowd suggests.

‘What else is in that area?’ Jamieson says.

‘Not much,’ comes another anonymous voice, ‘a cathedral, coffee shops, a few banks, the Federal Reserve bank is there.’

‘That’s it, The Federal Reserve bank,’ Jamieson realises.

‘Well, what’s the animal connection there? And do you think you can let go of me now?’ Black asks.

Jamieson releases Black, who slowly turns to face Jamieson.

‘Listen, I’m…sorry about that,’ Jamieson says.

‘Only my pride was hurt,’ Black says, but there is a level of emotion in Black’s eyes that Jamieson can’t understand.

‘I wasn’t really going to draw on you,’ Jamieson smirks, ‘well, maybe just a cock and balls.’

Black just stares at Jamieson, unimpressed.

I’m knitting with only one needle
Unravelling fast it’s true…

‘A wee cock and balls,’ Jamieson smiles, getting a thrill from winding Black up. He points to Black’s head. ‘ There, on your fore…’

‘The animal connection?’ Penny interrupts, approaching Jamieson.

‘I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I just know that it’s right.’

Jamieson begins to make his way towards the main tunnel to the outside world.

‘Where are you going?’ Black asks.

‘Superior Avenue,’

Jamieson stops in his tracks and turns to address ACE.

‘And I think we have all heard enough of Freddie, now, don’t you? Great song, but, in poor taste, given the circumstances.’

ACE looks to one another, bemused. The music resumes.

‘No? Just going to let it play right through to the end, huh?’

Jamieson huffs and turns and makes for the main tunnel.

‘I’m coming,’ Black announces, taking off after Jamieson.

‘Like hell you are.’

‘I’m coming too!’ Penny yells, joining Black.

‘Both of you are staying here.’

‘You might need our help. Even to corroborate that you and Ace are…not…the same person?’

Jamieson pauses and takes a moment to consider.

‘It…could be dangerous,’ he warns.

‘We can look after ourselves,’ Penny says, standing beside Black.

Jamieson resumes his stride.

‘Do not slow me down,’ he says.

Penny and Black take off after Jamieson.

‘So, that’s it? Back to the game?’ yells Tafari.

‘He’s not ready, not yet,’ Black says.

‘Tafari, take care of Paul,’ Penny calls.

‘Of course,’ Tafari calls back. ‘Be careful.’

Penny and Black catch up with Jamieson.

The closing lines of the song can be heard echoing down the tunnel.

It finally happened – oh yes
It finally happened – I’m slightly mad
Just very slightly mad!
And there you have it…

‘So, what do you intend to do when we find Ace?’ Black asks Jamieson, nervously glancing at Penny.

Jamieson looks dead ahead with determined eyes, and picks up his pace.

‘I’m going to find him,’ he says. ‘Stop whatever it is he is planning. And banish the Devil, once and for all.’

Chapter 29 – Soup dayzoor?

Soup of the day

Interstate 71 freeway, Ohio.

Jamieson drives, at a steady speed, along the I-71. In silence. Black sits up front, with Penny, sitting in the middle, in the backseat. Jamieson is in deep thought. He peers at his own face in the rear view mirror.

See, Jamieson. Not Ace. I don’t know what game these people are playing, but I don’t like it. Trying to get into my mind. Twisting the truth, manipulating reality. Trying to make me take responsibility for those horrendous murders with their schizo fantasy that I am Ace. Like I don’t know who I am. An invention. I invented myself..?

Jamieson quickly checks in the mirror again.

Definitely Jamieson. I’m not Ace, how could I be?

He adjusts his head so he can now see Penny sitting in the back.

And her father? Come on!

Jamieson studies his own face for a moment.

That would make me the youngest father on the planet, if it were true.

He studies Penny’s face.

Nothing like me. And I think I would remember her birth, let alone the conception.

A disturbing memory flashes through Jamieson’s mind. He is somewhere, in a bright, white room. He looks down at his hands. There is blood on them. He looks up to see Melissa. She is lying still on a bed.

The blood on my hands…it’s Melissa’s.

‘Oh God, what did I do?’ Jamieson whispers.

‘Huh, what?’ Black asks, turning to face Jamieson.

Jamieson is still in his daydream. He looks upon Melissa’s face.

She is…smiling?

‘Em…you’re veering,’ Black says, with some alarm in his voice.

Jamieson snaps out of his memory and realises he is dangerously close to the verge. He quickly corrects his steering.

‘Sorry, about that,’ he says. ‘I was miles away…probably not what you want to hear from the driver of…any moving vehicle.’

‘A lot on your mind?’

‘Of course. Such as, while my identity is still up for debate, I have come to realise that we haven’t properly established yours. Who are you really, Black? FBI? A therapist? How am I expected to trust you, or anything you say? And yet, here you are. Along for the ride. Let’s start with; is your name even Black?’

Black sighs and glances over his shoulder at Penny.

‘Why are you looking at her?’ Jamieson asks, catching Black’s glance.

‘Father…’ Penny begins.

‘I told you not to call me that.’

‘Why do you ask us questions, when you are clearly not prepared to accept our answers?’ Black asks.

‘You’ve been lying to me, since the first day we met.’

‘Oh, have I? And when exactly was the first day we met?’

‘I…can’t recall the exact date, but it was the day on the bureau’s jet, when you brought me in on the Ace case.’

‘That ‘s not the bureau’s jet, that is my own private jet.’

‘Oh, it was your jet, was it? Psychiatry must pay a substantially better wage than law enforcement. Just who do you do therapy for, Hollywood stars?’

‘Yes, actually,’ Black says. ‘But doctor/patient confidentiality prevents me from…’

‘Oh come on, not even a couple of names?’

‘Angelina Jolly, Mel Gibbon, Jim Ca…’

‘Are these details…’ Penny interrupts, ‘really so necessary?’

‘And,’ Black adds, ‘that most certainly was not the first time we met?’

‘Oh no? When was it then?’ Jamieson asks, raising his eyebrows dubiously.

‘Well…’Black hesitates, becoming emotional, ‘how old are you now?’

‘How old am I? What has that got to do with anything?’

‘Look,’ Penny blurts, ‘we’ve been driving for two hours, why don’t we stop at the next service station and recharge with some food, some coffee?’

Black huffs and looks out of his window.

‘Sure,’ Jamieson says, and signals to pull off the freeway.

Jamieson finds a service station and parks the car in one of the few provided spaces. They exit the car and enter the service station which doubles as a diner, called ‘Finkle’s Food’. Jamieson notices a sign above the door which reads – no Mexicans or Marinos. The diner is small and dingy and the black and white chequered floor looks like it could do with a good clean. There are a couple of empty booths. The table tops are painted orange and the upholstery on the booth looks like aqua coloured faux leather which is cracked and fraying. They pick a booth and take a seat. Jamieson and Black take the window seats, facing each other. Penny sits next to Black. They are all quiet and gaze out of the window.

Patsy Cline drawls out ‘Crazy from some horribly tinny hidden speakers.

Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely…

A young waitress shuffles over, with her long autumn-brown hair tied back with a red rubber band. She looks like she could do with a good night’s sleep. She holds a small notepad in one hand and a pencil in the other.

‘What can I get you?’ she asks.

Penny reads the Waitress’ name badge.

‘Hello Lois,’ she smiles.

The waitress just stares at Penny, emotionless, pad and pencil poised.

‘That’s a lovely name,’ Penny adds.

‘Thanks, I was named after my mom…or, was it my dad? I always get mixed up about that.’

‘So, both your parents are named Lois?’

‘No,’ Lois says, bluntly.

Penny averts her eyes for an awkward moment and spots a strange painting on the wall. It is a dark and sinister painting of a diseased looking dolphin breaching high out of a black and oily ocean, with a demonic jockey straddling its back who bears an extraordinary likeness to a famous NFL celebrity.

‘Wow, what a disquieting picture.’

Lois turns and looks at it.

‘Yeah, I think it is titled Die Dolphin Dan, or is it Dan Die Dolphin Demon? No wait, it’s definitely Die Die Demon Dolphin Dan, my mother, who was in a mental institute at the time, painted it. Or, was it my father? I always get mixed up about that too. It’s called art therapy.’

Penny, Jamieson and Black all gawk at the disturbing image, with dubious expressions. They all slowly look away in unison.

‘How…sweet,’ Penny says, turning to the waitress. ‘Lois, tell me, do you cater for vegans?’ she enquires, smiling.

The waitress just stares at Penny as though she is trying to decide if she is to be the butt of a joke.

‘Vegan? Is that some place in Europe?’

‘No no, we’re Americans. American Vegans.’

‘What’s a Vegan?’

‘You know, Vegans?’ Penny says, trying to hold her smile, ‘Vegetarians…no meat?’

Lois stares blankly at Penny.

‘I could do you a cheese sandwich?’

‘No, see, that’s…Vegans are kind of like…stricter…vegetarians, we can’t eat cheese either.’

‘Cheese isn’t meat.’

‘Well, it comes from…meat…or a cow, doesn’t it? And Vegans don’t eat cow. So…no cheese.’

‘Scrambled eggs?’

‘No eggs either. See, I should explain that Vegans…’

‘Why do you keep saying Vegans?’

‘Do I…keep saying Vegans? Of course, I just said it again there,’ Penny blushes.

‘It makes you sound like you’re from another planet, or something, like this creepy film, about people grown from alien pods, I watched once with my boyfriend, Joe, well, ex-boyfriend, since I caught him with that slut Susan…Susan, that kind of rhymes with Vegan, Su-SAN, Ve-GAN, actually, I’m pretty sure she is a Vegan, since her best friend, Chloe, found her with that cucumber and told me and a few other people, Sophia, Abigail, Logan, Michael and his boyfriend, of course, about it, I mean, her being a vegan and all, maybe she was eating it, but we all just assumed she was…’

‘Sorry,’ Penny interrupts, ‘can we get back to ordering some food?’

The waitress just stares disdainfully at Penny and flutters her eyelids.

Worry, why do I let myself worry..?

Penny spots a crudely written sign. She points to it.

‘Two dollars for ‘Soup…Dayzoor’?’

The waitress just rolls her eyes as if affronted by Penny’s stupidity.

‘Soup Dayzoor?’ she says, crudely. ‘It’s French. Means ‘soup of the day’.’

‘Ah, soup du jour?’ Penny says, eloquently with a little French flair.

Lois just stares blankly at Penny.

I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying…

‘Do you want the soup of the day or not?’

‘What is the soup of the day?’

‘Chicken.’

‘Chicken?’ Penny smiles. ‘See, I think we need to go back to the start and go over what Vegans can and can’t…’

‘Fries? Now, that’s potato, and everyone knows that a potato is a vegetable, not meat.’

Lois stares at Penny smugly, like she has thwarted her in some way.

‘That’s right, Lois, most people do know that. Fries would be swell, only, do you know what your fries are cooked in?’

Lois looks momentarily rocked as she internally searches her mind for the answer. Her smug expression returns indicating her success.

‘They’re cooked in oil.’

‘Yes, but what kind of oil?’

Lois glares at Penny, who holds her smile. The waitress huffs and skulks off towards the serving counter. She rummages noisily behind the counter, searching.

Penny turns to Jamieson and Black.

‘She’s just…checking the…oil…everyone okay with fries?’

Black just smiles distantly and nods. Jamieson looks on edge and says nothing. He just rubs his temples with his fingers.

‘Not in the mood for fries?’ Penny asks, Jamieson.

Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you…

Lois returns to the table and Penny smiles at her in anticipation.

‘The fries are cooked in lard,’ Lois informs her.

‘Ah, righty then,’ Penny says, turning to Jamieson and Black, ‘scratch the fries.’

‘Can we just have a pot of fucking coffee and three mugs!?’ Jamieson blurts, loudly.

They all stare at Jamieson, shocked.

And I’m crazy for loving you…

‘Sorry,’ he says, recomposing himself.

Penny with raised eyebrows, turns to Lois and inanely smiles.

‘Three coffees please.’

Lois feigns a smile at Penny and then glares at Jamieson.

‘Sure thing, three coffees,’ she says. She looks from one to the other. ‘And three mugs.’ She quickly walks away.

Jamieson sighs and continues to rub his temples.

‘I almost killed her,’ Jamieson mumbles. He reaches up and grabs a salt shaker. ‘Almost smashed her skull in with the salt here. Is it wrong to feel that way?’ he shrugs. ‘Yes…okay, it is wrong, but…how hard is it to eat out as a Vegan? It’s enough to drive any compassionate and non-violent Vegan to murder.’

He slams the shaker back down onto the table.

‘Is it just me or does anyone else feel like they’re in some kind of sadistic Monty Python sketch, on acid? Does anyone else feel like that?’ Jamieson says, in a jarred whisper.

‘Perhaps you should keep your murder fantasies to yourself,’ Black says, quietly, but firmly.

‘Especially as she’s coming back,’ Penny whispers.

Lois returns with a pot of black coffee and three mugs. She places the mugs down on the table and pours three coffees.

‘Sugar is in the bowl,’ she says, flatly, turning to Penny, ‘but let me guess, you’re sweet enough already?’

‘Do you have any soya milk?’ Penny asks.

Lois just stares vacantly at her and shrugs. Penny notices Jamieson slowly reaching for the salt shaker.

‘Just sugar is fine,’ she smiles at Lois.

The waitress rolls her eyes and returns to the serving counter. With a redundant bucket and mop next to her, she immediately busies herself with her mobile phone.

‘Should have gotten the coffees to go,’ Jamieson grumbles.

They drink in relative peace, each consumed with their own thoughts and worries. Penny pays for the coffees, and says goodbye to Lois, who smiles for the first time.

‘Bye Vegans,’ she says, cynically, waving.

They exit the diner and spill into the parking area.

‘I think we won her over in the end,’ Penny smiles.

Jamieson cannot help but laugh.

‘She smiled at us,’ Penny points out.

‘She was smiling because we were leaving,’ Black says.

They all chuckle for a moment.

They all stop to appreciate a large and bright full moon, boldly dominating the clear night sky.

‘Maybe we will turn into werewolves?’ Black asks, walking on towards the car.

Penny and Jamieson join him.

‘Or maybe something worse?’ Jamieson says, distant again.

They climb into the car, and sit in silence. Jamieson starts the engine, and pulls back onto the freeway.

Onward to Superior Avenue.

29

Chapter 30 – Floor thirty

30

Downtown Cleveland.

The journey has taken close to four hours, including the stop at the diner. Jamieson, quiet and contemplative, sets the car to cruise as they ease down Superior Avenue.

‘This district is a capitalist’s wet dream,’ Penny scowls. ‘Banks, business and bullshit. The architecture is modern and predictable. Grandiose and towering office blocks, harbouring the next generations of aspiring psychotic rapists.’

Jamieson finds himself nodding to the sentiment. Black slowly looks back at Penny, disconcerted.

‘Sorry,’ she says, ‘did I say that out loud?’

Black turns to Jamieson. Jamieson turns to Black.

‘Floor thirty,’ Jamieson whispers.

Black slowly faces ahead, looking more anxious than before.

The roads are empty, except for a few vacant parked cars here and there. The streets appear deserted.

‘Wow, this place is dead,’ Penny says.

She peers out of her window at a looming grey building.

‘The Federal Reserve bank,’ she announces. ‘What an utterly joyless, un-inspiring building.’

They carry on down the avenue and pull up alongside a grand cathedral. They all exit the car.

‘Now that is a building,’ Black says, looking up at the cathedral’s bell tower and spire. The stonework is comprised of orange Tennessee Crabtree Limestone. ‘Must be close to two hundred years old.’

Black turns to see Jamieson and Penny looking up, but at a completely different building on the other side of the street.

It is the car rental building. It is a tall modern building comprised of tinted glass and black marble.

‘That’s a lot of storeys,’ Penny says.

Jamieson sees a dark figure on the roof, standing close to the edge. Some kind of fabric flaps in the breeze.

‘Surely not a cape?’ Jamieson says.

‘What are you looking at?’ Black asks, looking up, straining his eyes and eventually his neck. He groans and rubs the back of his neck with one hand.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ Jamieson says, noticing Black’s discomfort.

‘An old injury from…well, from another life.’

‘How tough can being a therapist be? So, let me guess, you injured your neck from sitting on your ass all day, nodding at nutcases?’

Jamieson slowly nods his head at Black in a condescending way.

‘And how does that make you feel?’ he says, ‘Oops , time up, my receptionist will process your payment. Same time next week?’

Black is affronted.

‘There’s a little more to therapy than that, and the injury was from a previous occupation.’

‘Oh yeah? Military?’

‘No,’ Black says, firmly.

‘Construction?’

‘No, I…’

‘Wrestler?’

‘What? No. Look, maybe we should just…’

‘Professional water-skier?’

‘This is all…just…hilarious…fun and games to you, always was and always will be, still pushing my buttons, goddamn it, you haven’t changed a bit!’ Black yells.

Jamieson and Penny are shocked by Black’s outburst.

‘Just trying to guess your previous occupation,’ Jamieson says, raising his eyebrows, ‘seeing as how you don’t seem to want to tell me…is all…no need to shout.’

Black, still a little worked up, glares at Jamieson for a moment.

‘You were wrong about my last job, I wasn’t a water-skier, but it did involve water.’

Jamieson finds himself glaring back at Black. There is care in Black’s eyes, but also a deep resentment, and Jamieson is surprised to realise that the feeling is mutual.

‘Water, huh?’ Jamieson says, distantly, as he slips away into a hidden memory. He is on the bridge of a ship, on a turbulent ocean. A storm is raging. A young boy is strapped to a chair. Jamieson is the young boy, and he is terrified. The waves are enormous and roar as they crash over the bow, onto the deck and against the windows.

‘Maybe,’ Penny blurts, snapping Jamieson out of his vision, ‘we should concentrate on why we are here?’ She looks around the area. ‘And maybe find out why this place is so dead? It’s actually quite creepy.’

Black huffs and returns his attention to the cathedral.

‘Maybe it’s the rapture,’ he mumbles.

Jamieson watches the figure on the roof for a moment.

‘We have to get up onto the roof of that Axis building,’ he says, scanning the entrance to the building. He points it out. ‘Let’s go.’

Jamieson starts moving, with pace, and Penny and Black quickly follow.

‘Why onto the roof?’ Black asks, shooting a nervous glance at Penny.

‘I know he is up there. Floor thirty.’

‘Who is up there?’ Penny asks.

‘The Devil.’

Jamieson pushes the door open. They enter the building lobby area. The lights are on. A monitor is displaying a welcome message from the car rental company. There is no one at reception. No one in the lobby.

‘Like I said,’ Penny frowns, ‘creepy.’

Jamieson spots the elevators.

‘There,’ he says, moving towards them. Penny and Black follow.

He hits the elevator call button and waits.

‘By Devil, you mean Ace is up there?’ Black asks.

‘Of course, floor thirty,’ Jamieson shrugs.

‘Back on the platform, you said you were going to banish the Devil, once and for all.’

‘Yes,’ Jamieson shrugs again.

‘Banish Ace? What do you intend to do?’

‘Stop him, any way I can. The murder has to stop.’

Any way I can? Does that also mean murder?’

Jamieson snaps his head around to face Black, ready to shoot the idea down. But he finds himself uncertain of his own intentions. He can’t give Black an answer. He just turns and faces the elevator doors as the elevator arrives at the lobby floor. An electronic ping sounds as the doors open. They pour inside. Jamieson hits the button for the top floor. Floor thirty.

‘Thirty floors?’ Penny gasps. ‘How big a building does one car rental company need?’

‘It’s their corporate headquarters,’ Jamieson explains.

The ping sounds again, the doors close and the lift starts moving.

‘What has all this got to do with animal liberation?’ Black asks.

They all ponder the question as the elevator plays ‘Jump They Say’ by David Bowie on carefully concealed speakers.

Jump
Got to believe somebody
Jump
Got to believe
They say jump…

The elevator comes to a stop, pings and the doors open. They all ease out onto floor thirty. And freeze.

‘Now what?’ Penny whispers.

Jamieson spots a staircase, leading up, with a sign on the wall next to it. An arrow pointing up with the words to the roof.

‘There,’ he says, nodding at the sign.

‘Floor thirty one. Of course,’ Penny sighs.

They take the stairs to the roof, where the Devil awaits.

30a

Chapter 31 – Like a glove

31a

Axis Car Rental, Headquarters.

A fire exit door bursts open in perfect synchronization with the opening bar to Climbing up the Walls. Jamieson, Penny and Black rush out onto the roof of the Axis building. Jamieson immediately skids to a halt. Penny and Black fall in behind Jamieson. The dark silhouette of a man, against the backdrop of the full moon, with his back turned, dressed in a long black trench coat that dances and flaps in the cool breeze, stands alone upon a small safety wall which surrounds the outskirts of the roof. He is holding some kind of device in his hand.

‘There he is!’ Jamieson says. He slowly edges towards the wall.

‘Who?’ Black cries.

‘The Devil.’

The silhouette chuckles.

‘Whatever happened to Ace?’

‘Good question,’ Jamieson says, approaching the edge but maintaining distance between himself and Ace.

I am the key to the lock in your house,

that keeps your toys in the basement…

Jamieson climbs up onto the wall.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ Black yells.

‘It’s okay, I just want to talk,’ Jamieson announces.

‘Be careful,’ Penny says, distraught, ‘please.’

‘You’d better listen to them, kid,’ Ace says, his face now lit up in the moonlight. Jamieson realises that Ace is dressed in exactly the same black cargo pants and sweater from the memory of his New York apartment, with Melissa. Ace removes his coat and lets it drop to the street below. ‘It’s a long way down.’

Jamieson automatically looks down and lightly swoons, almost losing his balance. Penny gasps, Ace sniggers, but Jamieson regains his composure.

‘I’m okay,’ he calls to Penny.

Jamieson and Ace turn and face each other.

And either way you turn
I’ll be there…

They glare at each other knowing it was always coming to this.

Open up your skull
I’ll be there
Climbing up the walls…

‘So why are you here?’ Ace asks, grinning.

‘I’m here to stop you.’

‘Stop me? From doing what, exactly, standing on a rooftop, enjoying the night?’ Ace draws in a deep breath and exhales.

‘I know you are up to something. Something more sinister.’

‘My, you are a sucker for melodrama, aren’t you, kid?’

‘I thought I made it clear not to call me that.’

‘Well what do you want me to call you? Archer? Jamieson? Father? Ace? Do you even know who you are anymore?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘Sure you do.’ Ace glances at the bump on Jamieson’s head. ‘Pretty nasty bump.’

‘Yeah, no thanks to you.’

‘Nothing to do with me,’ Ace shrugs.

‘More lies. Then who gave me the bump?’

‘As I recall you were wandering around in the dark.’

‘And?’

‘And, you walked into the wall.’

Penny bursts out laughing.

‘Rubbish!’ Jamieson declares, turning to Penny.

‘Good one, father,’ she smiles at him, still chuckling.

‘Please, don’t call me that.’

Penny’s chuckling fades. She tries to hide a frown. Ace notices.

‘Your own children can’t even convince you of the truth. She’s come all this way,’ Ace says, gesturing his hand towards Penny, ‘forever faithful, forever loyal, and now she is standing here, standing by you, again, worried sick about you, and, still, you deny her?’

Jamieson gazes down at Penny. She looks up at him with fearful eyes.

‘Father, please come down from there,’ she says, her voice trembling.

Jamieson feels overwhelmed with emotion. With uncertainty. His mind returns to a previous vision. Melissa. Lying on a bed, smiling lovingly up at him, there are tears of joy in her eyes, and blood on his hands. It’s Melissa’s blood. A nurse lays a newborn baby on to Melissa’s chest. Melissa looks down at her baby, crying with happiness. The blood is from the delivery. Penny’s birth.

‘Wait a minute,’ Jamieson gasps, pulling himself from the memory. He points at Ace. ‘Penny is your daughter.’

‘That’s right,’ Ace smiles. ‘I helped bring her into this world.’

‘What?’ Jamieson asks, confused. ‘Then why do I have your memories of her birth?’

Ace shakes his head, his expression between pity and sorrow.

‘Why do you think?’

Jamieson shakes his head uncontrollably as the foundations of his reality begin to crumble.

Climbing up the walls’ wails a man’s hideously beautiful voice from somewhere, before he proceeds to scream down the microphone.

‘Listen, son, please listen to your daughter…’ Black begins.

‘Don’t ever call me that!’ Ace yells, glaring at Black. ‘You lost the right to call me son a long time ago.’

Jamieson looks to Black, who is devastated, and then back to Ace, shocked.

‘Black is…your father?’ he asks.

Again, Ace just shakes his head.

‘He’s our father?’

‘What are you talking about?’ Jamieson says, screwing up his face at the idea. ‘That’s ridiculous. That would mean you and I are related.’

Ace laughs out loud.

‘You just won’t accept it, will you? The truth? Staring you right in the face.’

Ace turns back to Black.

‘Why don’t you tell him your real name, Assistant Director Black, Sir, Daddy-o?’

Jamieson turns to Black, who is gazing up at him, emotional and desperately shaking his head.

‘The goodness in you doesn’t recognise me at all?’ Black asks.

Jamieson can see that look in Black’s eyes again. Care. A father’s deep concern for his son.

‘My father?’ Jamieson says, distantly.

Jamieson’s memory takes him back on to the deck of that ship on stormy seas. Waves crash into the windows of the bridge with such force that they might implode any second, as a man, the Captain at the helm, fights with the wheel and struggles to keep control. The Captain is Black.

‘It’s true, I am your father,’ Black says, as tears stream down his face.

‘It…can’t be. I never knew my…father. ‘

‘Oh no?’ Ace says, bluntly, ‘And what do you remember of your mother?’

Jamieson opens his mouth to speak but no words are spoken. His mind takes him back to the childhood memory, to the bridge of the ship, strapped into that chair. He watches the Captain jam the wheel hard to port to try and take an exceptionally large wave head on. He calls to someone for aid and a woman joins him at the helm and grips the wheel. Jamieson recognises the woman from his dream, and now knows her to be his mother. The ship is too slow to make the manoeuvre and the wave crashes into the ship, side on, smashing through the windows and the bridge door. The whole ship tips onto its side. The cold ocean pours into the bridge until it is fully submerged. Jamieson is fully submerged. Holding his breath, he helplessly kicks his arms and legs. He panics, trying to unfasten the straps. He thinks he might drown, but then the ship rolls back onto its belly. The water pours out of the cabin, through open doors and windows. Jamieson finally exhales and draws in a breath of air. Black, his father, clings to the wheel tightly, drenched, coughing and spluttering, catching his breath. Jamieson quickly scans the bridge for his mother, but she is gone.

Jamieson pulls himself away from the memory and slowly looks up at Ace.

‘That’s right,’ Ace says, coldly, ‘she’s dead.’

‘No,’ Jamieson mumbles. He looks at Black, who is gently weeping. ‘Tell me it is not true.’

‘I’m so…so sorry…’ Black says.

‘Lost at sea,’ Penny says, softly, clearly weeping too.

Jamieson cries out into the night and breaks down for a moment.

The sound of a piano being played can be heard, perhaps coming from the cathedral. A melancholic accompaniment for Jamieson’s heartbreak. A soulful crooner begins to sing softly, shrouded in reverb.

Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep…

‘She should never have been on that ship,’ Ace scowls, glaring at Black again, ‘none of us should have been on that ship. Not that ship.’

‘It was…an accident…how was I to know…’ Black stammers.

‘Oh cut the bullshit, Dad. If you were counseling yourself your diagnosis would read: a heavy case of denial.’ Ace turns to Jamieson. ‘Like father like son.’

Jamieson grimaces through glassy eyes.

‘That’s not fair,’ Black argues.

‘You knew that storm was forecast,’ Ace yells, ‘but you just kept chasing them down, didn’t you!? Couldn’t let them get away, could you? Couldn’t let them give you the slip, could you? No, no whale gives Captain Ventura the slip. Even if it means putting his family in mortal danger, isn’t that right, Dad!?’

Jamieson turns to Black.

‘I…don’t know what to believe…anymore. Tell me straight. No denials. No lies. Who are you really, Black?’

Black stares deep into Jamieson’s eyes, he straightens up his posture and clears his throat.

‘My name is John. But my surname is not Black. My name is John Ventura. I am your father.’

Jamieson stares into the man before him, and knows he is sincere.

‘He’s telling the truth,’ Penny confirms.

‘Half truth,’ Ace blurts. ‘Estranged father would be more accurate.’

‘That was your choice, never mine!’ John yells.

‘A choice you forced me to make! It was less of a choice, more of an inevitability. You think I wanted anything to do with a murderer like you?’

John exhales a breath as if he has been punched in the stomach.

‘For Christ’s sake,’ Jamieson says, to Ace, through tearful eyes, ‘that’s a bit strong. It was an accident, albeit it a devastating one, but, surely you can see that?’

‘I’m not talking about poor old Mumsie, or…fish food…as I like to affectionately refer to her as.’

‘You’re a sick son of a bitch,’ Jamieson growls.

Ace just grins.

‘You do realise you just called your own mother a bitch?’ he says. He shrugs. ‘Of course Mumsie’s death was an accident, I was there, I watched it happen. I’m talking about the other murdering. Daddy’s dark desire to destroy whales for dirty dollars.’

Jamieson recalls the dream he had. The ocean. The humpback. The ship that chased them down. The ship was his father’s ship. A whaling ship.

‘Ah, it’s coming back to you now?’ Ace smiles.

‘I remember…’ Jamieson whispers. ‘I remember being on that deck. Watching those…magnificent creatures…the blood…dragging them aboard…the gunfire.’ Jamieson looks to his father. ‘Captain Ventura. You were a whaling boat Captain?’

John looks genuinely regretful.

‘Why do you think I got the hell out of there as soon as I was old enough?’ Ace says, to Jamieson. ‘Why do you think I feel so strongly about animal welfare, not just whales, but all animals? Seeing my father orchestrating mass murder all through my childhood. There’s your White Devil,’ he cries, pointing at John, ‘there’s the original. My inspiration, my role model?’

‘I never forced you to take part,’ John explains, ‘not like my father did with me when I was a boy. To me it was just normality. A living. Tradition, even. But I knew the effects the hunts were having on you. Knew you were different. That it pained you, deeply. That you would never accept it, and ultimately, that you would never accept…me. For what I was. I knew I was losing you. Losing your respect. And, of course, everything with losing your…mother. I was too slow to change. To fix it. And then she was gone and you followed soon after. I lost you both.’

John breaks down. Penny wraps a consoling arm around him. Jamieson looks down at them, emotional and forgiving.

‘Hey John, sounds to me like you need to find a good therapist,’ Ace smiles.

‘Can’t you see his heart is breaking?’ Jamieson cries.

‘Don’t get all sentimental, kid,’ Ace says to Jamieson, ‘you lost your mother because this man was on a murderous quest to waste some whales.’

‘I gave it up! Sold my ship, my father’s ship!’ John yells, angry at Ace’s unrelenting bitterness. ‘Went and studied natural medicine and psychology. Became a therapist. I wanted to help people, do something good in the world, all that murder, you’re right, I see it for what it was, but I…I’ve been on the path of redemption ever since. I only wish I had done it all sooner. Maybe then…’ John wells up again, ‘I wouldn’t have lost my family.’

‘You haven’t lost us,’ Penny says, softly. ‘We are here, together, now, aren’t we? The…’ Penny looks up at her father and shrugs, ‘four…five…of us?’

Jamieson shakes his head.

‘So you are a therapist?’ he asks.

‘Yes,’ John answers. ‘Penny found me online, contacted me through my practice, a little while after…Melissa’s accident.’

‘Melissa,’ Jamieson, and Ace, whisper simultaneously, as the solo piano plays on.

Jamieson looks down at the streets below them. But they are not empty anymore. They are full of people, hundreds, maybe thousands, with banners and fliers and drums, some singing and some slogan chanting. It’s a protest. He is not in Cleveland anymore. These are the streets of New York. The protest is rowdy. Riot police have cordoned off streets, kettling a small group of protesters. Tempers are flaring and tension is high. Protesters begin testing the line of police, pushy and shouting. The riot police hide behind their riot shields and gas masks, as tear gas is fired into the crowd. Now the police move, pushing back the protesters, looking for arrests. In the confusion, some of the protesters become isolated. Jamieson spots a man, frantically searching through the murk of the gas. Jamieson spots a woman, a hundred metres or so away from the man. She is disorientated, her hands out in front of her, her sight obviously impaired by the gas. Jamieson catches movement. Something moving fast. Towards the woman. It is a horse, with a police officer mounted on its back. Jamieson can see the trajectory of the horse as it tears towards the woman. Closer and closer. Neither the woman or the mounted police officer can see through the noxious mist.

‘For Christ sake, look out!’ Jamieson screams down to her.

It is too late. The animal proceeds to plow through the woman, knocking her down. Powerful legs and hard hooves trample the woman as the officer struggles to gain control of the beast.

‘Oh no,’ Jamieson cries.

The man in the street is running towards the scene. He drops to his knees beside the woman, who is lying face down in a pool of blood. The man turns her over.

Jamieson’s vision seems to zoom closer.

He knows her face. Those glacial blue eyes. Those cold dead eyes. Melissa.

Jamieson bursts into tears.

The man looks up and screams. Jamieson recognises the man’s face. It is his own face. Ace Ventura’s face. They seem to peer at each other for a moment, across time and space, lost in the insanity of over-whelming grief. Three riot police close in on Ace and are soon wrestling him onto his stomach. As they try to handcuff him, he just gazes at Melissa’s dead eyes. Jamieson gazes at her eyes. The sparkle that made him fall in love with her from the beginning, gone, forever.

‘No!’ Jamieson screams into the night. He breaks down again, and the piano begins to quieten.

‘You see,’ Ace says, standing next to him, looking down, ‘those pigs just murdered your wife in the street, look at them, brainwashed automatons in arrest mode, not one of them concerned with the corpse lying there next to them, not one of them calling an ambulance.’

Jamieson rubs his wrist.

‘Oh you remember that too? One of them knelt on it so hard it broke, before they dragged you off into the back of a van to be processed. Took two hours of asking and pleading before they finally confirmed she was dead. Some of them even joked about it, the irony they said, poor bitch protesting for the rights of animals, and then an animal ends up killing her, do you remember?’

Jamieson closes his eyes and nods.

‘Those bastards,’ he scowls.

‘And you want to put the fate of the world in their hands? The police, the FBIs and CIAs of this world? And I tried to get justice for her. Demanded it. Did it their way, through their laws, their system. And what happened?’

‘The officer responsible walked free.’

‘You’re damn right he did. They let a murderer go free, because he was one of their own. It’s one rule for them and another for us.’

Jamieson pulls himself away from his memory induced vision and looks up at Ace.

‘You know, ‘Ace says, ‘I was born from that event. I maybe had no sense of my emerging identity at the time, but the Devil rose out of the ashes of that event, and the broken man I became.’

‘And look where it has lead you,’ Jamieson says, as he braces himself for the battering ram of truth that is breaching its way into his mind, ‘on a rooftop, having a conversation with yourself.’

‘Look who’s talking.’

‘Who is talking? Ace? The White Devil? Jamieson?’

‘We’re all one and the same, baby!’

‘And that is what I can’t accept, because that would make me a psychotic murderer, like you. I am not the White Devil. I am not that kind of man!’

Jamieson’s mind recalls the memory of Ankrah, watching him being lowered down into the meat grinder. Only, the perspective is different this time. It is his own hand on the grinder controls. Jamieson panics and pulls himself out of his memory.

Ace sighs.

‘It’s one step forward, two steps back, with you, do you know that?’

‘Okay, if we are one and the same, like you say, I want us to know that if we are to carry on together, as Ace, I will not take another life. Surely all this White Devil madness has run its course?’

‘The White Devil…could still be useful.’

‘This is a deal-breaker. I’m not being Ace if it means being the Devil. I will do everything in my power to stop you, hinder you and generally be a jobby in your soup.’

Ace laughs out loud.

‘Waiter, there’s a jobby in my soup!? And you say I’m the crazy one? What the hell is a jobby?’

Jamieson looks confused for a moment.

‘I don’t know,’ he says, shaking his head, ‘maybe I picked it up in…Scotland.’

‘Look,’ Ace cries, ‘I need my life back. I need Ace back, all of him.’

‘What a peculiar thing to say.’

‘Peculiar is definitely the right word. My life is complicated enough without Archers and Jamiesons. There are too many hands on the wheel. Too many cooks in the kitchen.’

‘Hang on, you created me!’

‘I realise…that, I just don’t know how to…get rid of you. Don’t take that the wrong way. You have kind of taken over, you and the Devil, I guess. Even though I am strangely grateful to you both. But I feel the Devil’s appetite is insatiable, and you, well, you are deeply in denial about who we are.’

Ace and Jamieson stare at each other for a moment sharing a silent agreement that this conversation is particularly odd.

‘No, I get it,’ Jamieson shrugs, ‘at least…more so than I ever have. Ankrah. I imagined the White Devil murdering that man. It couldn’t be me, I’m not that kind of man. I’m a good man. A lawman. So I imagined someone else committing those murders…all of them.’

Jamieson’s memory takes him back to the slaughterhouse. Holding the gun, pointing it at Ace. Only now, he is holding the gun to his own head and Tafari is telling him to put it down. Penny flashes into his mind.

…Jamieson…thanks for not shooting my father…

Jamieson is on the brink of truth. He can feel all the pieces of a carefully constructed puzzle coming together to form a complete picture, a complete story, a story he knows he can hardly believe, but one he knows he must believe.

‘Ah,’ Ace smiles, ‘welcome back. You have been gone for a long time. Do you know you actually believed you were a twenty something FBI agent?’

Jamieson shrugs and chuckles.

‘I…don’t know what happened?’ he smiles, nervously. ‘I was convinced I was…Jamieson, Joshua Jamieson, I don’t know…now it just feels weird to even say it. Jamieson? No…I’m…Ace…Ace Ventura…I get it. Pffft, FBI?’

‘Father, are you okay?’ Penny asks.

Jamieson nods, and holds his hand up to her.

‘I’m fine…em…sweetheart?’ he shrugs. He turns back to Ace, who wears a devilish grin. ‘So, I’m Ace, you’re Ace, we’re both Ace…and, the White Devil, who is also…Ace.’

Ace says nothing. He just stares at Jamieson, grinning.

‘We are all the same…man, who is talking to himself, I am talking to one’s own self, on a rooftop,’ Jamieson says, looking slightly bewildered by his own statement. ‘So, are you imagining me or am I imagining you? Or do we…take turns?’

Ace nods.

‘Sometimes I’m in control, aware. Sometimes…not. Like a black out. Sometimes I know what you’re thinking, sometimes you are a mystery. Sometimes we interact. It’s complicated, but, I imagine it works both ways?’

‘I don’t know if I can get used to this, it’s like I’m never quite sure who is real, and in the moment,’ Jamieson smiles.

Ace continues to stare.

‘So, what are we…what am I really doing up here?’ Jamieson asks.

Ace raises his hand holding the device. He turns to the skyline and points the device at the surrounding area.

‘You see, all this time that you have been lying to yourself, thinking you were some young and fresh faced goody two shoes lawman, I have also been lying to myself. I have been telling myself for so long, so long that I believed it, that my fight is for the animals of this world. And that much is true. But the Devil has blinded me to something that has always been a big part of my core. To help the innocent. To save them. So, I lied to myself, and you, Jamieson, when I said my fight is solely for the animals. It was a lie to say that I care not for my own species of animal, my fellow humans. Because I do. I really do. Okay, it’s a kind of a love/hate relationship. I love to hate them. No, it’s just…humans are cruel and insane, yes, but then they go and do something amazing and I feel my icy heart shatter, and there is a part of me that knows that they, too, are worth saving. Worth fighting for.’

‘Well,’ Jamieson smiles, ‘that’s…great news.’

‘I care that when I look out at this district, for example, I see the temples of enslavement, used to control us, weaken us, and hold back the revolution in consciousness that is happening on this planet.’

‘Okay,’ Jamieson says, screwing up his face, uncertain where Ace is going. ‘That’s…not so great news?’

‘Take a look,’ Ace says, pointing the device at a particular building. ‘The Federal Reserve Bank, Cleveland branch. Just one of 24 in the United States. The Federal Reserve System has been oppressing innocent humans through debt and holding back progress through the corrupt monetary system for far too long. And here…’ Ace says, pointing to the cathedral. ‘Religion. The most segregating, pernicious dogmas of delusion to ever be conceived, enslaving innocent humans with the ideas that we are all sinners from birth, while priests dishing out the divine commandments with one hand have the other up the cassock of the nearest altar boy. They’re probably in there now, dressed in their fancy dress costumes, tea-bagging a choir boy to death as part of some twisted sacrificial ceremony to appease some supernatural behemoth! Evil hypocrites!’ Ace screams down to the cathedral. His voice resonates around the bell tower and rings off the bell.

‘Quiet! Or the evil hypocrites might hear us and call the police or something,’ Jamieson says, looking down at the cathedral for signs of life.

‘No, they won’t. There’s nobody in there. I’ve had this area cleared.’

‘What? Wait…what do you mean, cleared?’

‘ACE. Cleveland cell. We swept through the area. The banks, parking lots, the cathedral. It’s all been cleared. And, no, before you freak out, nobody was killed. A few…injured, yes, but they just wouldn’t come quietly. See, Jamieson, you’re not all that bad. I meant it when I said I am grateful to you. Sincerely. I understand it now, that you have been trying to protect me, all along. That it was never I, Ace, that was your enemy, it was the Devil, you were trying to protect me from the Devil, all along. You’ve been like a mechanism for slowly recalling the traumas in my life, traumas I had suppressed. And with each memory you uncovered, I, in turn, was able to deal with each rediscovery. You helped me to transcend the pain. To find restraint. Penny and, okay, father of the year and therapist extraordinaire over there, were right to let you flourish. To let you be a guide, out of the darkness.’

‘Well, I’m glad I have been of some use. And you helped me to…vent?’ Jamieson shrugs. ‘Let off some steam, if I can call it that?’

‘See, your naivety and optimism, your blind faith in humanity, that we can overcome and be a force for good in this world, well, a little of it rubbed off on to me. What can I say? You showed me there can be another way, other than the White Devil’s murderous vendetta, where people don’t have to die in a hideous, yet ironically pleasing, kind of way. So ACE are under strict orders tonight: no killing.’

‘Well, that’s…reassuring to hear you say that, Ace, or…me, I should say, but I’m still not grasping why the area has been cleared at all.’

‘So no one dies in the explosions, of course.’

‘Explosions?’ Jamieson gasps. He glances at the device in Ace’s hand. A detonator.

‘Still not catching on?’ Ace smiles, turning to Jamieson. ‘I’m going to blow up some buildings.’

‘What?’ Jamieson says, gravely.

What?’ Penny says, excitedly. ‘Can I press the button?’

‘That…’ Ace says, with a beaming smile, pointing his finger at Penny, ‘is my daughter.’

Penny blushes and waves at him.

‘For Christ’s sake, Penny,’ John says, surprised at her eagerness. He turns to his son. ‘Murder, bombs and buildings? Ace, when will this madness stop? How many more people have to die at the hands of the Devil?’

Ace turns to his father. As he does, he drops his hand, holding the detonator, by his side. Jamieson nervously glances at it again.

‘Didn’t you hear me, Pop?’ Ace says. ‘No killing. Okay, you’re right about me, it is all fun and games, and I’ve created this, all of this, the biggest game of all, but I’m being serious this time. No killing. I’m trying to change. I’m trying things Jamieson’s way.’

Ace turns to Jamieson and catches Jamieson’s eyes fixed on the detonator in his hand. Jamieson quickly looks up.

‘Blowing up buildings, huh?’ he says, his smile failing to hide his anxiety.

‘Yeah, controlled demolition,’ Ace shrugs, carefully studying Jamieson’s eyes. ‘Going to 9/11 them. If you’re me, you should know which ones. Right?’

Jamieson dryly laughs.

‘Of course. But…there’s obviously some kind of delayed reaction, like our consciousness hasn’t aligned properly yet, or something?’

Ace just nods at Jamieson.

‘The Federal Reserve Bank, the cathedral and three other surrounding banks. The names of them will come to you, no doubt.’

There is a moment of stillness and silence.

‘This is going to send such a huge message to the world,’ Penny says. ‘Do it, father.’

‘Penny, enough!’ John snaps. ‘Ace, I’m your father, and I know that doesn’t mean much to you right now, but know this, I love you, I always have, and I would very much like to get to know you again, all of you, my family. But not like this. Vigilantism and terrorism.’

‘You can use whatever ism you want to try to understand what we are doing here,’ Ace says, ‘but what you don’t grasp, sitting pretty in your privileged and blinkered world of riches and quackery, trying to convince Hollywood stars that they are not the deluded megalomaniacs that they most certainly are, that this is not terrorism, this is war. And when we win this war, and we will, and we write history, the people who stood up in the face of such adversity, in the face of such a monstrosity, in the face of their own annihilation, will be hailed as heroes, freedom fighters and liberators.’

‘So you’re just going to blow up buildings? What do you think that will achieve?’

‘Like Penny said, it’s a message. Lead by example.’

‘Can’t any of you see this is madness?’ John cries. ‘How do you intend to fight a war without killing?’

‘I’m going to give it a try,’ Ace shrugs, ‘but first,’ he smiles, ‘blow stuff up!’

‘Don’t do it, son, you’re going to get someone killed. Can’t you see you’re making the same mistake I did? By dragging your family into a dangerous situation? Your daughter could be killed in the blast. Don’t you care?’

‘Of course I care!’ Ace yells.

‘Can’t you see that you’re sick, son?’

Ace huffs.

‘Hey, wait a minute…’ Penny protests.

‘No, you wait!’ John blurts. ‘He’s up there still talking to himself, Penny. Dissociative Identity Disorder. That’s the clinical term for it.’

‘Maybe you should listen to him?’ Jamieson says, to Ace.

Ace shakes his head, disappointed.

‘You’re supposed to be me…on my side…on…our side? You know, it’s funny, you’d think that since the big revelation, the dawning that we are, indeed, one man, Ace Ventura, that one of us would…disappear…or we would eventually merge…or come back together…spiritually, or something?’

Jamieson laughs nervously, his eyes taking another involuntary fleeting glimpse of the detonator.

‘Maybe it just takes some time, I mean…who knows how the human brain works, huh?’

Ace just smiles.

‘Unless,’ he says, ‘you’re still not convinced fully. That there’s still a tiny bit of doubt that you are, indeed, Ace Ventura?’

‘No, listen, I accept it, all of it. My childhood. The whaling ship. My…mother’s death. Blaming and…hating…my father,’ Jamieson looks at John, who solemnly lowers his eyes, ‘but I don’t hate you father. Not anymore.’

John looks up again.

‘I don’t blame you,’ Jamieson says, ‘for her death.’

John’s eyes well up.

‘Do you mean that?’ he asks.

‘Yes. But Ace…sorry, I was right about one thing.’

‘Oh yeah?’

‘All those whales? What an asshole.’

‘I second that,’ Penny says, smiling.

John nods.

‘I deserve that.’

‘Growing up around all that cruelty,’ Jamieson sighs, ‘all that death. I knew I could never be a part of it. I knew I had to be the opposite of my father. To be a protector of the innocent, a liberator of animals. I soon became a Pet Detective. I remember there was this one case, where I had to rescue this lady’s dog, the disgruntled ex had taken it out of spite, kind of thing, anyway, she was ever so…grateful…to see that little dog again, and she had the biggest pair of…’

‘Whoa, there,’ Ace blurts, cutting Jamieson off, ‘okay, we get it, it’s all flooding back. Our daughter is standing right there.’

‘We had some crazy times, didn’t we?’ Jamieson smiles, at Ace.

‘Yeah,’ Ace says, genuinely, ‘we did.’

‘And then there was the Snowflake case,’ Jamieson says, recalling the memory of the Miami Dolphins’ mascot.

‘What a bunch of exploitative meat-headed dicks, I mean, who the hell has a real dolphin as a mascot?’

‘Exactly,’ Jamieson smiles, as more memories flood his mind. ‘That’s where I met Melissa.’

Ace sighs.

‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘beautiful.’

Memories come thick and fast to Jamieson now. He suddenly feels deeply hurt.

‘Oh, that poor Raccoon,’ Jamieson grimaces.

Ace wipes a solitary tear from his otherwise carefully composed face.

‘Rest in peace, buddy,’ he says, emotionally.

‘The monastery, Africa, the…b…b…’ Jamieson stammers.

‘You can say it,’ Ace encourages.

‘The bat.’

‘Gah!’ Ace cries, as his body uncontrollably trembles. ‘Okay, I take it back, never say the B word.’

‘Tafari’s mother,’ Jamieson blurts.

‘Of course,’ Ace smiles again, ‘the Princess. Beautiful. Irresistible, obviously.’

‘I remember returning to Miami. Melissa and I rekindled our relationship. We set up ACE, together.’

‘That’s right. Becoming Vegans. The activism. The…protests.’

‘Penny,’ Jamieson blurts, turning his attention to her, ‘then you arrived.’

‘Yes,’ Penny beams. ‘And Paul.’

‘Of course. We were happy.’

‘Until Tafari’s mother was killed,’ Ace reminds Jamieson.

‘Yes, a bittersweet time. Tafari officially joined our family.’

‘And then there was the protest, in New York,’ Ace says, grimly.

‘It was an accident, you do know that?’ Jamieson asks Ace.

‘What?’ Ace says, becoming enraged, ‘You just witnessed, again, what happened, in vivid detail and you’re going to stand there and try to tell me it was an accident?’

‘If I am you, you should know that I believe it was an accident. I never used to. I remember the court case. The resentment. I remember escaping from the pain through…alcohol…and drugs, losing track of time, of myself, it all gets a little blurry,’ Jamieson turns to Penny,’ I must have been a terrible father, I am so sorry.’

‘I don’t blame you, father,’ Penny says, with tearful eyes. ‘None of us do. As a child you witnessed the death of your own mother. And as an adult, you witnessed the death of your wife, the mother of your children, you lost both mothers of your children. The hardest part was watching you self destruct and not knowing how to help you. That’s when I contacted your father. I knew he was a therapist. I…just didn’t know what else to do.’

‘It’s fine,’ Ace says, smiling, at his daughter.

‘You did the right thing,’ Jamieson reassures her.

‘And, listen’ Jamieson says, turning to Ace, ‘I don’t blame you. For what I became. The Devil that I became. The killings. I…forgive you.’

Ace looks spooked.

‘Okay, stop. You’re freaking me out with all this talk. I’m not looking for your forgiveness, or your understanding. I did what I had to do. I believed in what I was doing, the scum I was eradicating? They did deserve to die, and not be processed through a system that is flawed, bought and corrupt. There is no other way to bring justice to these people. The Royals and the Rothschilds, the mafias and corporate criminals of the world. Their time is coming.’

Jamieson opens his mouth to speak.

‘It won’t be by my hand,’ Ace continues, ‘I’m trying it your way, remember? But this revolution is well under way. The war is in full swing. I can’t control everyone and I certainly can’t be held accountable for their actions.’

Now who is in denial?’ John says. ‘If you press the button on that detonator, you said it will send the world a message. But what kind of message?’

Ace thinks for a moment.

‘That the old systems of abuse and slavery must be destroyed.’

‘Exactly,’ John says, ‘you’re inciting your…followers, or any other person just nutty enough to go through with it, to rebel.’

‘Yes,’ Ace shrugs.

‘By blowing up buildings?’

‘I think you’re missing the bigger picture here.’

‘No, I think you are.’

‘Look,’ Jamieson says, Ace pulls his glare away from his father and faces Jamieson. ‘Why don’t you just give me the detonator?’

‘What?’ Ace says, pulling it towards his body slightly. ‘No…I’m…in two minds here, actually…or is it three minds?’

‘No, it’s one mind,’ Jamieson says, firmly. ‘Look, it’s all becoming clearer and clearer to me. I get it. I’m Ace Ventura, and it’s you that is the imposter here.’

‘What?’ Ace says, taken aback. ‘You are seriously creeping me out with that kind of talk.’

‘I’m Ace Ventura and I agree with my father. We are not blowing up those buildings. Now, give me the detonator.’

Ace looks to Jamieson, then to John, and then back to Jamieson.

‘Nice try, Jamieson,’ Ace smiles.

‘There is no Jamieson, remember. Only Ace. Now I demand you give me that detonator.’

Ace just laughs hysterically.

‘If you’ve got it all worked out, why are you demanding that I give you the detonator, when really you are asking yourself for it.’

Ace laughs again, as Jamieson struggles to come to terms with his ever-updating reality.

‘Of course,’ Jamieson whispers, ‘I have the detonator already. I have all along.’

Jamieson looks down at his own hand and is shocked to find it clutching the device. Ace panics as he notices.

‘Shit, that kind of back-fired,’ he says, and lunges at Jamieson.

They grapple each other precariously on the ledge.

‘Careful!’ Penny cries.

Ace grabs the device as he struggles with Jamieson. They stare into each other’s strained eyes, wilful, determined and at odds with each other.

‘Let go!’ Jamieson yells.

‘You let go!’ Ace yells, back.

‘For Christ’s sake!’ John shouts. ‘You’ll fall to your death!’

Jamieson manages to tear his hand, holding the device, away from Ace’s clutches.

‘Ha!’ Jamieson laughs, at his small victory.

He has not noticed that he has pressed the detonator switch in the process. A red LED bulb lights up on the device. Ace notices.

‘Woopsy,’ Ace says, staring at the detonator.

Jamieson looks at the device.

‘Oh no,’ he whispers.

There is a moment of tense anticipation. Jamieson shrugs.

‘Shouldn’t there be a boom, or…?’

He is interrupted by the sounds of extremely loud explosions, as buildings all around them blow up in vast bright fireballs. The shock waves hit the Axis building, causing it to shake. Penny and John are knocked off their feet. Ace and Jamieson struggle to keep their balance. Ace loses his footing and begins to fall over the side of the building. Jamieson tries to grab him, and as he does he is pulled over the edge with Ace. Ace manages to grasp onto the ledge by his fingertips, and Jamieson manages to grab hold of Ace’s boots. They both gasp and strain in their imaginary struggle to hold on.

‘I…can’t hold on for long,’ Ace cries, desperately readjusting his grip. ‘You’ll have to climb…climb up me.’

Jamieson swings precariously from Ace’s feet. He manages to pull himself up a little and grab onto Ace’s Cargo pants, which begin to slowly slide down Ace’s legs.

‘Whoa, hang on!’ Ace cries.

But it is too late. As Jamieson’s weight and gravity do their work, Ace’s pants are pulled down around his ankles, exposing his bare bottom to the world. Jamieson notices and can’t help but laugh.

‘Commando?’ he calls up to Ace.

‘Of course!’ Ace yells. ‘And now the whole world knows it too!’

‘Nothing to be ashamed of, we’ve got an ace ass, Ace.’

‘Very funny!’ Ace says, trying to readjust his grip again. His arms are weakening. ‘What isn’t so funny is the fact that I am slipping. I can’t take both our weight.’

Jamieson knows it. He knows they are both facing death. That if he holds on any longer he will weaken Ace until they both fall.

The piano returns, and the haunting, yet strangely nonchalant, solitary voice begins to sing again.

Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I’m tired and I
I want to go to bed…

Jamieson knows he may have to sacrifice himself to save Ace.

‘You were being honest when you said you’re going to try things my way. No killing, right?’

‘Yes, I meant it.’

‘Promise me you will stick to it. Promise me you will banish the Devil from your life. From…our family’s lives.’

‘It won’t be easy.’

‘Promise me!’ Jamieson yells.

‘I promise.’

‘Father!?’ comes a voice. It is Penny.

‘Perhaps I am the White Devil after all, because there is one more life I have to take,’ Jamieson says.

‘What are you saying?’ Ace asks.

‘You look after her, all of them.’

Ace realises Jamieson’s intentions.

‘Just hold on,’ Ace gasps, as he uses the last of his strength, his arms beginning to shake uncontrollably. ‘We can both make it. We can continue ACE, together. Protect our family, together…’

‘If I hold on, I’m just going to get you killed. If not here and now…eventually. If you are true to your word and stick to your promise, I’ve done all I can do.’

Ace loses his grip in one arm and it falls by his side. Ace cries out in pain and anguish as he clings onto the ledge for his life with one hand.

‘Just take my hand,’ he calls down to Jamieson, ‘climb up…’

Jamieson manages to reach up and grab Ace’s hand. Ace looks down at Jamieson’s calm face. They stare into each other.

‘No killing,’ Jamieson says.

Ace nods.

‘No kill…’

Ace feels two strong hands clutching his other arm. He looks up to see John, holding onto his forearm, struggling to pull him up. Ace smiles down to Jamieson.

‘It’s Dad, he’s got us…’

But Jamieson is pulling his hand free.

Ace shakes his head.

‘No, don’t do it!’

‘Pull him up, pull him up!’ Penny squeals.

‘I…can’t, he’s just…too heavy,’ John cries.

Penny tries to help.

Don’t feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I really want to go…

Ace squeezes every last drop of strength into his hand.

‘Even facing your own death, you still won’t let go,’ Jamieson smiles.

‘We’re almost there, just hang on, kid…I’ve got you…I’ve got you…’

Jamieson’s hand pulls away and he falls, quick and silent.

Ace reaches up and looks at his own empty trembling hand.

‘Like a…glove?’ he says, distantly.

John and Penny slowly pull up Ace to safety, and they all collapse onto the rooftop, out of breath.

Penny cuddles her father, weeping.

‘Ace?’ John asks.

Ace nods.

‘Yeah, it’s me.’

‘Jamieson?’

Ace breaks down and hugs his daughter.

‘He’s gone.’

There is another world
There is a better world
Well, there must be…

John nods. He gets to his feet. Penny helps Ace onto his feet and they look out at the destruction. The cathedral spire, crumbles and falls to the ground creating a giant pile of rubble and cloud of dust, and the bell clangs loudly as it hits the road. A neighbouring building that used to be a bank, topples onto the Federal Reserve Bank and crushes what is left of it. Fires bellow out large plumes of black smoke into the night, and the distant wail of police sirens, and car and business alarms, sound like a symphony of electronic wildlife.

‘Awesome,’ Penny smiles.

John shakes his head. He turns to Ace.

‘And what of the White Devil?’ he asks.

‘I don’t think we will be seeing much more of him either.’

Ace looks up. Something is flying towards him through the bellowing smoke. For a moment he panics.

‘A bat?’

Penny looks up and notices. She squints.

‘Edgar?’

A small white bird majestically breaks through the smog with beams of light flashing around it, and lands on the ledge in front of them all.

Now John notices.

‘Oh my god, is that a sign? A dove?’

The side of Ace’s mouth turns upwards stretching into a knowing grin.

‘Not quite. That’s a true albino pigeon. I haven’t seen one in a…long time. I’m going to take that as a good omen.’

John clicks his fingers.

‘I’ve got it. What about…the White Angel?’

Ace considers the suggestion for a moment. He looks at Penny. They both turn to John.

‘Too cheesy,’ they say in sync.

‘So…what now?’ John asks.

‘Well, we head back to HQ. Back home,’ Ace says, ‘take it from there.’

‘Son,’ John says.

‘Yes, father?’ Ace replies.

‘Maybe you should pull your pants up first?’

They all look down to see Ace’s pants still around his ankles, and begin laughing hysterically, until tears roll down their cheeks.

‘Good call,’ Ace smiles. ‘But before I do, there’s…just one more thing I…have to do.’

He shuffles forward and carefully climbs the wall again. He stands up straight, silhouetted by the moon, facing the city and the smouldering ruins of the district. Ace slowly turns around, bends over, reaches back, parts his arse cheeks, and draws in a long breath.

The howling holler of Tarzan can be heard echoing through the chaotic streets of the concrete jungle below.

THE END

Cue ‘All the Madmen’ by David Bowie.

cropped-wd21.jpg

For Jim.

Thanks and love to my family for their support.

CONTACT: aceventurawhitedevil@protonmail.com

 

 

 

8 comments

  1. katmphotography · June 20, 2016

    Reblogged this on Inner Focus and commented:
    Want something good to read? want something 1000% vegan, yet really meaty, to get your teeth into? here it is… fan fiction at its best!

    Message from the author:
    Calling all Jim Carrey fans, Vegans, lovers of all animals and lovers of a damn good read!

    I think I just wrote Ace Ventura 3. A novel called Ace Ventura – White Devil.

    It’s a dark and twisted tale about Ace. Ace, as you have never seen him before. He is older, wiser and just a tiny bit more insane. He has taken to vigilante style justice, utilising his animal rights organisation,
    ACE (Animal Cruelty Extermination), to protect the innocent animals of the world.

    And he goes by the name – White Devil.

    A young FBI agent, Joshua Jamieson, is tasked with infiltrating ACE in an attempt to find and stop the White Devil, before he kills again.

    But what Jamieson learns along the way, rocks the foundations of the reality he thought he knew.

    Who is next on the White Devil’s list?

    Can Jamieson stop the White Devil before he strikes again, and before he loses his own mind in the process?

    Enjoy and share. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. RobDavidson · June 20, 2016

    Reblogged this on Pure Phantasy and commented:
    This.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. katmphotography · June 20, 2016

    brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. katmphotography · June 20, 2016

    i am so very proud of you. it takes a hefty amount of stamina to write a novel. kudos to you on your dedication, your imagination and your stamina. it’s a great read. shocking, and yet compassionate and educational. well done, Robert. so good to see it finally out there…. i wish you every success with it. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  5. analogmunky · July 18, 2016

    Reblogged this on brainboxsound and commented:
    Not my words, but I cant put it any better:
    ————————————————

    katmphotography · 27 Days Ago

    Reblogged this on Inner Focus and commented:
    Want something good to read? want something 1000% vegan, yet really meaty, to get your teeth into? here it is… fan fiction at its best!

    Message from the author:
    Calling all Jim Carrey fans, Vegans, lovers of all animals and lovers of a damn good read!

    I think I just wrote Ace Ventura 3. A novel called Ace Ventura – White Devil.

    It’s a dark and twisted tale about Ace. Ace, as you have never seen him before. He is older, wiser and just a tiny bit more insane. He has taken to vigilante style justice, utilising his animal rights organisation,
    ACE (Animal Cruelty Extermination), to protect the innocent animals of the world.

    And he goes by the name – White Devil.

    A young FBI agent, Joshua Jamieson, is tasked with infiltrating ACE in an attempt to find and stop the White Devil, before he kills again.

    But what Jamieson learns along the way, rocks the foundations of the reality he thought he knew.

    Who is next on the White Devil’s list?

    Can Jamieson stop the White Devil before he strikes again, and before he loses his own mind in the process?

    Enjoy and share.:)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ElyasHowe · November 12, 2019

    Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any recommendations for newbie blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.|

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ace Ventura - White Devil · November 13, 2019

      Hello, thanks for your comment, it is great to hear some feedback on my novel. I’m not sure why your previous comment disappeared, and WP did not inform me of your comment either! If I was really paranoid I might be inclined to think that I am being censored due to the particular content of my novel. Frustrating. It’s something I shall look into.

      Advice? Oh dear, some say the worst vice is advice. However, I would advise you to write. Just write. Write what is in your heart and imagination. Be prolific and persevere. I would use social media to promote your work too. I know social media can often be an unpleasant experience but it may very well be a necessary evil for us writers and artists.

      Good luck and keep in touch.

      Like

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