Adding Insult to Injury Author:
Douglas is provoked, with unexpected results.Warnings
BDSM, minor violence. Notes
Sequel to Gunpowder Treason and Plot
Posted in two parts for length
Seven o'clock. Douglas walks into the sitting room, towelling his hair with his left hand, looks without enthusiasm at the diminishing pile of DVDs. The time waiting for his sprained right wrist to heal is more boring than he would have imagined possible. Being single, broke, injured, unable to drive and slightly traumatised is rather preventing him enjoying the unexpected break in his schedule.
The tedium had sparked a phone call to Carolyn last night.
"And how is malingering suiting you, Douglas?"
"Oh, not bad, thank you. Are we insolvent yet?"
"That's not remotely amusing. Far too close."
"In which case I bring good news. Provided that I don't have to do too much heavy, or indeed any, lifting, I think I can safely fly again from tomorrow." Safely was pushing it, admittedly, but he was bored.
Carolyn hadn't sounded as pleased as he had imagined she would. "Well. That's lovely. But we haven't any flights booked until Monday. I've no use for you till then."
"But if you get a booking..."
"I'll let you know."
And thus another day stretches out before him, empty of conversation.
Sod this. Maybe Martin has some jobs on; Douglas isn't going to contribute anything in either the lifting or driving departments but he can offer a bit of entertaining commentary. He picks up his phone. God, he can't believe that he is reduced to calling up Martin for company.
"Good morning, Martin. Did I wake you?"
"No, I was just having some coffee before I left. Is everything all right? How's the arm?"
"Much improved, thank you. You've got a van job on today, then?"
"No. We're flying to Vienna at eight thirty."
Douglas is surprised, then exasperated. "Are we indeed? And when was Carolyn going to tell me this? Last night she said there were no bookings."
"Tell you? But you can't fly till next week!"
"You're making no sense, Martin. You just said we were going to Vienna."
"Not you. Me. Gertie."
Douglas sits down, cradling the phone to his ear. "You can't fly solo. Carolyn would have two dozen fits at the very thought of it." Martin with no-one to talk to him in a crisis, is, it is generally agreed within MJN, a recipe for disaster.
"I know that!" Martin clearly doesn't appreciate the reminder. "I've got a co-pilot."
Douglas is thoroughly bemused. "Carolyn's hired another pilot? From where?" And why hasn't she told him?
"Not hired, exactly. It's Herc."
Oh. "Right. Herc. Of course."
"I'm glad your wrist is improving. Was there anything else?"
"No, thank you, Martin. Nothing. Enjoy Vienna."
Douglas paces his small living room for a few minutes, stopping only for some very strong coffee. Hercules flying with Martin. Stepping into the breach. Harmless enough, except that Douglas will never mistake Herc for harmless again. Why has Carolyn lied? Why shouldn't he know?
One possibility is obvious. Herc could be, for reasons known only to himself and Carolyn, after Douglas's job. Whatever Herc is getting at Air Caledonia will be a great deal more that Carolyn is paying, but still Douglas can't rule it out, and he doesn't intend to stay at home and worry about it. If he can moreorless fly then he can moreorless drive.
Eight is earlier that he'd normally arrive at the airfield, but then the plane doesn't usually have the option of going without him. Douglas makes straight for the flight deck, finds Martin inside.
"Good morning again."
Martin blinks at him. "What are you doing here, Douglas? Why are you in uniform? You're not flying."
"Indeed no. We seem to have a surfeit of pilots, for a change. I thought I might turn my hand to a little light stewarding- do we have passengers on this one?"
"Yes, five of them. But Carolyn's coming. I don't think she needs any help."
"In that case I might try passengering for a change. I rather fancy Vienna today."
Martin still looks worried. "I suppose, if Carolyn says it's all right..."
Douglas has no intention of asking. He also has no intention of getting off. Carolyn is escorting the clients across the tarmac, Herc and Arthur bringing up the rear. They haven't gone as far as getting him an MJN uniform yet; he still wears the AC tartan.
Douglas waits in the cockpit, ignoring Martin's unease. He can hear Carolyn getting the passengers settled as Herc comes in.
"Good heavens, Douglas! What are you doing here?" Herc is quite obviously startled and not noticeably pleased.
"What am I doing on the flight deck of the plane that I'm employed to fly? Tricky. I can see why you're having difficulty with that one, Hercules. A rather more interesting question is what you're doing here. Don't you have a day job to keep you busy?"
"I had a few day's leave due, and Carolyn was down by a first officer. How's the wrist doing, by the way?"
"Sufficiently improved to make your presence superfluous. However since you've already got your shiny hat on you might as well do the work. Which of you is taking her out, by the way?"
"That would be me." Herc settles himself into the co-pilot's seat.
Edgy and awkward, Martin fusses, "You can't stay here during take-off, Douglas."
Douglas bites back annoyance. Being chased off his own flight deck..."Of course not. I wouldn't want to distract either of you. I shall enjoy the doubtless consummate professional performance from the comfort of the galley. Keep an eye on him, Martin. He's a little overcasual on take off checks sometimes."
He ducks his head and leaves.
"Douglas! What are you doing on my plane?" Carolyn doesn't sound pleased either. What a delightful welcome back all round.
"Going, as I understand it, to Vienna. And coming back again as well, I imagine. Would you like me to make some coffee?"
"No, I would like you to get off. You're on sick leave. I'm not insured to have you on the flight."
Douglas has already been kicked off his flight deck. He isn't going to be kicked off his plane. "I told you last night that I was fit for work. Work is this flight which, I can't help noticing, somehow slipped your mind when we spoke. Why shouldn't I come?"
"We've got a full crew. You're not needed." Carolyn is positively bellicose.
"Hey, Douglas! Did you know Herc's doing your job? Are you going to help us instead? That would be brilliant!" A timely arrival from Arthur. Douglas smiles.
"Yes, Arthur. I thought that would be rather fun. You're paying me either way, Carolyn. The marginal cost of the extra fuel to carry an additional 80 kilos over 2,500 kilometres is not going to come to much more than the price of the couple of cups of coffee I'll drink. And I want to come to Vienna. I'm bored."
That isn't entirely true. He isn't bored any more. He is throughly annoyed that after years of possibly not always hardworking but definitely "turning up and getting the job done" service, he is off for a week and everyone except Arthur seems distinctly reluctant to have him back again. Douglas Richardson, pariah. The sensation is starting to feel uncomfortably familiar and he knows exactly who is to blame.
"Of course you can come. He can come, can't he, Mum? It's been weird without you...obviously Herc is absolutely brilliant, but he isn't you. I mean you know that, because you're you. If you were both you that would be really odd, because there would be two Douglas's, but actually there haven't been any, which has been not so good."
This isn't the first flight Herc had piloted in the last week then? Douglas puts on his relaxed smile, waits. Martin's voice comes over the intercom, warning for take off. Carolyn sighs. "You're not getting any of the cheese board. And you can make all the coffee."
"Petty and meanspirited as ever. And don't think that I didn't notice that no-one sent me any flowers." He takes hold for take-off, left hand, his right in his pocket with the painkillers. This could be a trying day.
"Coffee, gentlemen." Not a hint of the discomfort that carrying mugs in both hands is causing bleeds through to his voice.
"Bogota. Thanks, Douglas. There will do." Herc gestures at the usual spot on the console without turning round.
"Good one. How about Delhi, though?" Martin does at least glance round at Douglas. "Mine there too, thanks."
"Delhi is spot on. That puts you two ahead again, Captain. I may have to concede defeat on this one."
Douglas places the mugs down exactly as directed and retreats without another word.
Vienna is an urgent business meeting. The customers take a taxi into the city and Gertie's staff have nothing to do but wait at the tiny airport for their return in a few hours' time.
There is very little at Danubepier airport to keep any of them amused for long. Not even Arthur can raise much enthusiasm for a canteen, a newspaper kiosk and a taxi rank. Most of the low cost airlines fly into Vienna International these days and this is a place badly in decline. Douglas hasn't been here before and he concludes very rapidly that he will be perfectly happy never to visit it again.
He sits at the scratched and fading orange formica table nursing a mediocre mug of coffee and listening to Herc tell them about the landing two days earlier at Dubai. From what he can tell Martin got into a completely unnecessary squabble with ground control but that isn't how Herc is presenting it.
"The Captain wasn't having that, were you, Martin? He told ATC that we'd been holding for nearly an hour already..."
The way he drops "Captain" in occasionally without the faintest trace of sarcasm is both impressive and nauseating. Martin positively glows. Douglas could cut him down to size with a couple of well chosen remarks but for once he holds his tongue. Martin isn't his target.
"You're unnaturally quiet, Douglas. Is that wrist bothering you?" Carolyn has been watching him, sharp-eyed.
"Not at all." He smiles at her. "I'm just enraptured by Herc's voice. We first officers are natural storytellers you know."
"Don't I know it!" She seems reconciled to his presence now; he's made the effort to charm her on the flight. And he hasn't challenged Herc once. Not here, not in public. Not yet.
The kiosk provides a deck of cards and several packs of the Austrian equivalent of Smarties and they spend a couple of hours playing poker until Douglas possesses a large pile of sugar coated chocolates and everyone else has nothing. Herc, he is interested to discover, is not a natural card player. The only real competition has been Carolyn. It has taken a little sleigh of hand in the end to part her from her last few colourful spheres.
"These aren't bad." He pops a couple into his mouth. "Rather nice. I probably shouldn't eat them all, though. How about a wager? What will you put up against the green ones, Herc?"
"I could just buy some more, if I wanted them," Herc points out.
"You could, yes. You could reach over the table and grab some, too. Neither would be remotely within the spirit of the occasion. Whatever acceptable behaviour with respect to the exchange of foreign Smartie equivalents might be in the high and far-off hills of Caledonia, here at MJN Air we do have standards. You win them or you lose them. You do not buy another packet."
"Or in your case, presumably, steal them. This is all rather ridiculous," Herc declares.
"So is stripping naked and covering yourself with blue woad, but were I substituting for you no doubt I would be called upon to do so by your cheerfully barbaric colleagues. Man up, Hercules. If you want them, you have to win them."
Herc sighs."The red ones, then, if I have to play this inane game. There are more of them."
"Very good. The red ones against..." He pretends to cast around for an idea. "I know. The flight tomorrow."
"What do you mean, Douglas?" Carolyn is suspicious, of course.
"Well, Herc had been planning to fly tomorrow, before I came back to work. Why
shouldn't he do so? I find that rather like being flown around the place."
"A day's work is hardly equivalent to a handful of sweets," she complains. "This is lazy even for you."
"Had you any other plans for tomorrow, Herc?" Douglas asks.
"No, I hadn't." Herc is easily lured in; he is all too clearly enjoying flying for MJN. "The stakes are acceptable. What's the contest?"
"There's little enough action around here, but we do have a ringside seat for the runway. If there's a take-off first I win, if a landing you do."
Herc wins the red sweets, much to his chortled delight and Douglas's claimed chagrin. Douglas can live with the loss; he's ensured his place back on his flight deck for tomorrow.
"Enough of this noxious merrymaking. The greens are still on the table, Herc. Are you up for a rerun?"
"No, you've escaped flying. But you could make the coffee tomorrow, if you lose."
Douglas wins that one, as he intended. Hercules won't be leaving Fitton tonight. He claims boredom, distributes the other sweets around and buys another round of coffees.
Half an hour later he trails Hercules out to the men's toilets, catches up with him at the wash basins.
"How about a drink, after we land?"
Herc shakes his head, dismissive. "Sorry, Douglas, can't do. I'm having a meal with Carolyn."
"Let me try running that past you again. There are a number of things we're going to discuss. Carolyn and Martin and Arthur can be there or they can not be there. Which do you think is best?"
That gets Herc's attention. He stands quite still for a moment, water dripping off his hands, then shakes them rapidly, reaching for a paper towel.
Douglas wipes his own hands dry, nods to Herc and walks back out to the canteen, smiling.
The business people finally arrive back at the airport and Gertie flies them home without incident. Both men are quiet for a while as Douglas drives through the foggy night. Then,
"Where are we going?"
"What about that drink?"
"You can have an orange juice when we get there." Douglas is concentrating on keeping the wheel steady every time he changes gear.
Herc watches him. "That wrist is still bad."
"Not your business."
Back at the flat Douglas shrugs off his jacket and reaches for the paracetamol and the wrist brace.
"You really shouldn't be flying." Herc has draped himself over the sofa, is watching with interest. "Better let me take her up tomorrow."
"That's my problem. And the only time you're going to set foot on that flight deck again is when you're bringing me my coffee. Is that clear?"
Herc laughs, apparently genuinely amused.
"Ah. That's rather adorable. You're jealous of your tiny little plane, and your tinier little job. I'm a captain with a real airline, Douglas. Why would I want to be first officer on a wreck like Gertie?"
"I've no idea. But the motives of anyone who voluntarily spends time with Carolyn have to be suspect. I don't care what you're playing at. This is the only warning you get."
"Really?" Herc sits up a little, eyes brighter. "That's a threat, is it? Found some nerve in the last week from somewhere? Fascinating." His smile is crocodilian. "I've decided that it would be professionally negligent of me not to pass on my concerns about your fitness to fly to Carolyn. Any chance you could make me a coffee while I'm here?"
Afterwards Douglas can never quite work out why his reaction is so uncharacteristic. His plan has been to get Herc alone and persuade the man of the folly of taking him on head on, hold the threat of a heart-to-heart with Carolyn over him. Words have always been his weapon.
Maybe it is the nagging pain in his wrist, for which he blames Herc in no little amount, or the long day of humiliation on the plane, entirely Herc's fault. Maybe it is the way Herc is laughing at him from the comfort of his own sofa, as if it were all a game instead of Douglas's job and far too much of what passes for his life these days at stake. Maybe it is the deliberate provocation, that glint in the man's eyes.
Whatever it is, there is no hesitation. He steps forward, smashes his good hand back across the smug mouth, steps back again, both shocked at himself and grimly satisfied. The back of his hand smarts for a few seconds as if he had been the one injured.
Herc's hand comes up to his mouth and he pulls it back to look at the red stain across the back of his hand. His lip is cut badly. "That hurt," he says, quietly.
"It was intended to. I suggest that if you don't want a repeat performance you get off my sofa and make the damn coffee yourself." Douglas is truly angry.
Herc looks at him for a few seconds without noticeable expression, then stands up and walks to the kitchen. Even through Douglas's fury he feels astonishment. He can hear the start of the kettle murmuring, the chink of the mugs being brought down from the cupboard. Herc can't possibly be actually intimidated, can he? By that?
Douglas settles himself into the vacated sofa, waits, trying to get his composure back. Eventually Herc reappears, carrying two mugs, stands a couple of feet away, waiting.
What should he say to a man he's just hit in the face? Douglas is still shocked at the physicality of his reaction but not remotely sorry. Herc has been asking for it. That thought catches at him and he raises an eyebrow.
"Was that what you were after?"
"The coffee?" Herc's voice is deep and calm.
"Not the coffee. Your attempt to make me lose my temper."
"A bit more than an attempt." Herc looks round for coasters, puts the mugs down. "I would say that I'd definitely succeeded."
"You pushed too far, you mean."
"Do I?" Herc makes himself comfortable in the armchair opposite Douglas, picks up one of the mugs.
"You're the one bleeding. Go on, tell me that was your plan all along."
"If you like, I shall. It was my plan all along." Herc is sipping at the coffee, wincing.
Herc just smiles at him. Douglas's temper isn't much improved at this point. He is being maneuvured and he doesn't know where.
"Are you after my job, Hercules?"
"Not for a moment. Carolyn couldn't possibly afford to pay me what I'm worth, she'd be hell to work for, and while Martin is a decent chap he'd still drive me crazy in under a fortnight."
"So why didn't Carolyn tell me you were flying in my absence?"
"Because I asked her not to. I knew that you'd find out about it, and how your mind would work. Watching you trying to scrabble around desperate to keep your rather pathetic junior position today was absolutely hilarious."
So it has all been a massive practical joke at his expense. "Last week's guilt trip didn't last long, then." He can't help the bitterness in his voice.
"That's not quite the point."
"What on earth is the point, Hercules? What are you trying to do?"
Herc puts the coffee down, sighs. "I thought I might have to spell it out to you."
"Spell what out?" Douglas feels they are going round in circles, and he isn't getting any better tempered about it.
"Last week you asked me a question. Several times."
Douglas frowns. "I remember the question."
Herc leans back, crossing his legs. Not quite as relaxed as he is pretending. "What did you think the answer was?"
"That you'd been reading too many bad thrillers. Come on, Herc. No-one could mistake you for a sexual predator for a moment. Look at you and Carolyn. You're far too fond of being pushed around..." He trails off, looking at the bloodstained lip.
"And then there's you, Douglas. Push you and you push back hard. And you rather enjoy it."
Douglas starts to comprehend. "You're playing with fire."
"Precisely." A middle-aged pilot, settled comfortably in Douglas's armchair, talking far too calmly about something that isn't practical jest, or healthy competition, or even honest blackmail. Something more twisted than any of those.
"So much for your moral high ground." Douglas keeps his own voice calm. "All that humility crap was just cover."
"Not at that point. My original intentions were entirely honourable; you are an unpleasantly cocky liar and thief who deserved cutting down to size. But every time I scored a point I found myself getting a little bit...more than a little bit... of a kick out of imagining how you'd choose to retaliate. And I have quite a vivid imagination. Which is why I'm here."
This is honestly bewildering. He desperately needs to think; Douglas stands up, picks up his coat. "I'll be back in ten minutes."On to Part 2