Gunpowder Treason and Plot Part 2Part 1 here
Several things suddenly made sense to Douglas. "You were there all along, weren't you?"
"And you didn't stop them."
"I certainly did stop them," Hercules pointed out. "I doubt that I could have done so any earlier, even had I leapt into the fray on your behalf. Which I didn't do. If I'm going to get physically assaulted it will have to be in a much better cause than saving you a few well earned bruises."
He glanced at the bandage. "I'd have spared you the wrist if I could have, though."
"How kind of you." Douglas pushed back anger; that would come later. He needed to get Herc's silence. He could not afford- could not bear- for the whole Air England fiasco to get dug up again and talked about by everyone.
"Appropriate compensation, you said, for your discretion. So it does have a price tag."
"Probably far beyond what you're willing to pay." Herc pushed back the covers, padded in black boxer shorts to the bathroom.
Douglas took the moment's breathing space to gather his thoughts. For all Hercules' righteousness the man clearly wanted his payment more than the story. He gained very little personally from Douglas's embarrassment, after all. It wouldn't win him any favours from Carolyn, who much preferred to stay deliberately ignorant of inconvenient truths. So this was a matter of negotiating, but carefully. If pushed too abruptly, Herc would undoubtedly do his worst.
Douglas's arm was hurting badly again, his stomach sore. It was 4am in someone else's hotel room, his clothes were ruined, his wrist likely fractured, he'd probably get assaulted again if he turned up for the breakfast he'd paid for, he couldn't even drive himself home and he was about to get blackmailed for Christ only knows how much and how long. He considered himself an expert on turning any given situation to his advantage, but right now he didn't know where to start.
Hercules returned, donned the second towelling gown from out of the wardrobe and sat on the edge of the desk, watching him. There was silence for a few seconds, broken by Douglas, deliberately calm.
"If you're hoping for an amusing reaction, you might as well give up now. This isn't the first time I've been blackmailed. How much?"
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me. Has it ever occurred to you that most other people don't do things they could be blackmailed about?"
Douglas didn't dignify that with a response.
"How much can you afford?" Herc asked.
Douglas shook his head, unbelieving. "I'm halfway through a divorce and still paying for two homes, with no savings and debts mounting daily. I've got a broken wrist and an employment contract that entitles me to seven days' full sick pay and then peanuts. If you want to do it on that basis, you're going to end up owing me money."
"What about the car?"
"On HP. I couldn't give it to you even if I wanted to." He owned the Lexus outright but the bastard was having it over his dead body. "If you want to write to my solicitor she'll confirm all this. She might wonder why you're asking, of course..."
Herc smiled. "Not necessary. I don't want your money and I certainly don't want that ridiculously ostentatious car. I was just curious."
Douglas kept a rein on his temper, since Herc was clearly trying to make him lose it. "So what do you want, Hercules?"
"Herc, please. And I want you to learn a little humility."
For heavens sake! What was the man's game? "Humility really isn't my thing. What do you think, that I'm going to play act for you? Declaim a little speech about how sorry I am for everything and from now on I'm going to be honest and trustworthy and a credit to my uniform? Really, Hercules!"
The other man leaned back a little, crossed his ankles. Annoyingly relaxed. "Ah, but, you see, I don't want you to confess to a little humility. I want you to experience it. Whether you admit it or not is entirely up to you."
This was beginning to sound worryingly like an intervention. Douglas could do without Hercules Shipwright trying to make him into a better person. On further consideration, however, it was undoubtedly better than stinging him for a large amount of cash he didn't have, or talking to anyone about last night. Run with it for a bit, see where it's going.
"I won't do anything that stirs the whole mess up again," he warned. "If you think you can force me to make some sort of grovelling public statement, you're wrong. I'd rather let you gossip."
"Humility, Douglas, not humiliation. If I wanted the latter I'd just circulate the photos."
"So who is this exercise in humility going to involve?"
"No-one else. Just you and me."
Douglas paused, careful. He wanted to get this absolutely nailed down.
"This isn't going to cost me any money, in any form, now or in the future?"
"And no-one else will know anything about it? It won't impact my reputation in any way?"
Herc snorted. "Your reputation isn't worth protecting. But no, not at all."
"And when is it supposed to happen?"
Herc glanced at his watch. "You can have more painkillers at five. If we pack up and leave then, we shouldn't bump into anyone else. Fitton Hospital by, say, eight? A&E should be quiet by then. After you get the x-ray results we can work out what to tell Carolyn. Sound all right to you?"
"Possibly," Douglas allowed. He wasn't going to fall for the Good Samaritan act twice.
"That gives us just over an hour to wait till five. That should do."
"And then you delete the photos and give me your word that you'll say nothing?"
"If I get an hour of full co-operation, yes."
Douglas turned this over in his head a few times. He had no idea what Herc had in mind, but he didn't really care as long as it cost him nothing at the end of it. He could jump through any sort of hoop imaginable with the best of them and he didn't for a minute think that Shipwright could come up with anything that would truly bother him, let alone create a state of humility.
"Fine," He smiled warmly at the other man, his mood hugely improved by the prospect of not paying anything after all. "Consider yourself a successful blackmailer. You have my co-operation until 5am precisely, strictly on those terms. I wish you luck with it."
Herc nodded. "You can of course back out at any time. I'm not making you do anything."
Absolute nonsense. "Do you actually understand the principle of blackmail? This is pure coercion, nothing else, and it's frankly despicable as well as thoroughly illegal and just plain ugly. You lost your precious moral high ground about ten minutes ago. If you go through with this you're never going to recover it, and I will take full advantage of that afterwards. I can make your life far more miserable over this than you can mine."
"That's a risk I'll take." Hercules seemed unconcerned. "Right, let's make a start. Take that dressing gown off."
Douglas raised an eyebrow at that, played for some time to think about it. "Interesting. Are you actually intending to run some sort of sexual coercion thing here? I hadn't marked you out as a potential rapist, somehow, but then how little we really know about each other, after all."
"Take it off or call it off, Douglas." Herc wasn't rising to that. It was a hoop. Douglas jumped through it, awkwardly, slowly, hissing at the pain from his wrist, waited. Apparently he was to be allowed to retain his underwear, for now at least.
"If you kneel on the floor there, you can rest your arm on the bed." Herc gestured without rising from his perch on the table.
Sod that. "I can't kneel on the floor. My knees are all messed up and they hurt. And I'm cold."
Herc shook his head. "Did we agree anything about pain and discomfort, Douglas? I don't remember it being mentioned. Money and reputation- that's all you cared about. If I keep having to tell you to do things twice, that's not co-operating."
The man was going to suffer for this so very very much. Douglas dropped heavily to his battered knees facing Herc, laid his right arm out along the bed, glanced at his watch. Five past four.
"That's just going to distract you." Herc came over to unclasp it, tossed it face down on the desk. He pulled the only chair in the room around to face Douglas and sat down. From his position on the floor Douglas could see rather more black haired thigh and boxer short past the loosely wrapped bathrobe than he really wanted to.
"Now. Let's have a chat about what got you fired from AE. How much did you steal?"
Damn. This again. Douglas managed a half shrug. "It wasn't stealing. A little light smuggling, that was all. A few tariffs unpaid. The company overreacted."
Herc shook his head. "I know that's the story you like to tell. Carolyn gave it to me, and it's nonsense. I'm not going to tell you how much I know already, because you'll bend your lies to fit, but if I don't get the absolute truth from you then your payment is null and void."
He was bluffing. He knew nothing. Probably. Douglas was in the ridiculous position of having to rely on his blackmailer's honesty already. In for a penny...
"This goes no further."
"Not a word to anyone."
"So what's the point of knowing?"
"I want to hear you say it."
Douglas sighed, shifted on his sore knees. "All right." He didn't have much choice.
"You might remember when they introduced the new onboard catalogue. Mostly the usual overpriced crap but there were a couple of decent watches, some jewellery. Someone, and I'm not telling you who because that really is none of your business, approached me with a business proposition. If I could walk off the plane with three or four of these every week, they could fix the stocktake records from the ground side of things. I found a regular buyer and the thing was sorted."
"Why did they approach you in particular?"
Douglas looked straight up at Herc, unflinching. "Ah, that was the little light smuggling I mentioned. I had a couple of contacts in admin. Word got round."
He shook his head, remembering, annoyed with the whole stupid thing. "We didn't make much, certainly not for the risks we took. Couple of hundred pounds a week each, maybe. But it was fun getting hold of the things; generally I managed to get to them before the cabin crew had a chance to see what the supplies looked like, but sometimes it ended up rather more sophisticated than that."
"How long did you do it for?"
"About six months. I was getting a bad feeling about it; I was running out of ideas and resorting to pulling the same tricks twice, which is never smart. We were already discussing calling it off when I got caught."
This bit still made him wince. "Someone must have figured it out and decided they'd run a little scam of their own. On one long haul flight a lot of money and valuables went missing from crew, some passengers. There was a bit...quite a lot... of a scene before we landed and three watches were found on the flightdeck. The other stuff taken during the flight never turned up, but I got blamed, of course; why multiply thieves unnecessarily? Someone on that flight made about three grand that day at my expense but I could never get the investigators to listen."
He grimaced. "It was a neat trick though. I've got to give them that."
Herc was watching him intently. "That was pretty systematic theft. Why weren't you prosecuted?"
"AE could only ever pin that one incident on me and not even that for certain; I didn't have the goods actually on me when they found them. They were pretty sure I'd been taking stuff for months but they never found out about the other guy and they never broke the records. So in the end they settled for just firing me with extreme prejudice."
He was trying to remember if he'd ever actually told that story to anyone before. He thought probably not. With time it had become less explosive; he doubted that Air England would take any more action now after all that time had passed even if they found out the full extent of it. He did wonder what Carolyn would make of it, though.
"So you lost your job and destroyed your career for what...five, six thousand, total? That's rather unimpressive."
"Undoubtedly. We should have found some way to leverage the takings and get out faster. But then hindsight is a wonderful thing." Hercules could go whistle for his damn humility. "Is there a good reason why I'm not permitted clothes, by the way, or do you just like staring at my crotch?"
"You do think you're tough." The deep voice was amused, still.
"That's because I am." Douglas wondered what the time was. His bruised legs were starting to ache. His wrist felt like hell. "Did you think it would be enough simply to make me recite my misdeeds? I really don't care about my misdeeds as long as they're kept quiet. I would like to know about the clothes though."
So far, he reckoned, Herc hadn't managed to lay a glove on him. He could think of half a dozen next moves for the man; which would Herc take?
"Tell me about Martin."
"About Martin?" That hadn't been any of the six. "Why on earth Martin?"
"Just do it."
Douglas frowned slightly. "What sort of thing do you want to know?"
"Just tell me about him."
"Very well. Martin's an insecure man with a lot to be insecure about. He's unsuited to his job in almost every respect; he's anxious, he panics, he thinks too slowly, he can't deal with people and he struggles with technical recall, though he's otherwise intelligent enough. He's got his life into a thorough mess because Carolyn exploits him mercilessly and he spends a great deal of time being worried and miserable."
Herc was expressionless. "Do you like him?"
"Like him? I suppose so. He's reasonable company on the flight deck, when he isn't panicking or trying to throw his meagre weight around. He's pleasingly easily impressed and he doesn't annoy me by merely existing, unlike some pilots I could mention, and of course he's never yet tried to blackmail me, which is an undoubted plus. So yes, I like him well enough. Can we get back to the clothes issue?"
"Do you think he likes you?"
"What is this- an episode of Blind Date? Yes, he likes me. Unlike you, however, he seems content to do so while I keep my clothes on. You can't keep ignoring the question, Herc. What's with the whole undressed thing? Power trip, sexual kink, or both?"
That got a flicker of something; discomfort? You're well out of your depth, Shipwright, Douglas thought with satisfaction. He could undermine Herc much faster than the man could retaliate. Herc was prodding for weaknesses that didn't exist, while Douglas was merely picking up on everything he left unguarded in the process. Douglas shifted and caught his breath, loud in the quiet room, as the pain in his wrist flared again,
"Stay there." Herc walked out of the room. Douglas heard the key turn. He pulled himself to his feet, swearing at cold stiff joints, flipped the watch on the table over. Only four fifteen. God. He replaced the watch as it had been, went back to his position by the bed, twisted to put his head and other arm down on the covers, close his eyes for a bit. His wrist was aching really badly now.
Douglas guessed it was less than five minutes before Herc came in. He didn't bother to disguise his weariness as he lifted his head. Let the man feel guilty as hell. He had earned it.
"Ice." Herc held up the bucket. "We ought to take another look at that wrist."
"Or," Douglas said tensely, "we could wait until I've had some more painkillers. Or is inflicting a bit of extra agony part of your charming little plan?"
"If you like we can call it that," Hercules said cheerfully. He found some more bandage, scissors and a bag for the crushed ice, sat down on the bed. Douglas's heart was racing. "You're not seriously proposing to do this now?"
"It needs doing."
"Sadistic bastard. Where are the bloody painkillers?"
Hercules lifted his head from the supplies, looked straight at him. "Of course if you won't co-operate, I'll have to leave it until later."
"You...what are you getting out of this? What's this got to do with anything, Herc? It's just sadism."
Hercules shrugged. "That wrist's been troubling you more and more since you woke up. The joint's no longer held straight, there's swelling around the edges of the bandage and it will be much less painful once it's rebandaged and on ice. I think it should be sorted out now, rather than waiting until you can take painkillers and they have a chance to kick in.
He smiled at Douglas, smugly. "Given our current circumstances, I'm in a position to make that decision. All you need to do is decide whether to co-operate or to refuse and put up with the significant amount of discomfort you're in until analgesia is available. And of course the knowledge that I'm going to be showing those photos around."
He picked up the scissors. "Also I'm interested to know how far your rather marked fear of physical pain extends, but that's just a bonus. It needs redoing now, Douglas."
Everyone had a marked fear of physical pain, didn't they? It hurt. Douglas looked at the scissors, imagined the bandage coming off, the blood pulsing through the swollen flesh, the pain. And then another bandage wrapping around, tight, agonisingly tight.
He didn't have a choice. "Go on," he said, hearing the shake in his own voice.
"Hold still." Herc took hold of the top edge of the bandage, slid the edge of the scissors underneath. It was going to hurt. Douglas panicked.
"No!" He jerked his arm away, screamed at the fire burning through it, curled up on the floor, cradling it. "Don't!"
"Douglas. Let me just look at it."
"No!" There were tears in his eyes, not all from the pain. "Leave me alone!"
"I won't touch it. I do need to look. If it's hurting that much..."
"No! Don't hurt me!"
There was a silence. Herc got up, moved out of sight. Douglas held onto his arm and whimpered. Then Herc knelt down in front of him with a glass.
"Here," He tipped two white tablets into Douglas's mouth, brought the water up for him to swallow them. "They'll take a few minutes. We'll risk the whole duck thing this once."
The duvet was tugged off the bed, wrapped around Douglas's shoulders. "We'll get the rest of you warm, but I'd like to put some ice round that arm, see if we can get the swelling down before we touch the bandage again. All right?"
Douglas nodded, shivering. He just wanted it not to hurt any more. Remotely he knew he'd lost; he'd deal with that later. He flinched as the ice was lain gently around the bandage, but within a few minutes he could feel the pain lessening as that and the painkillers took effect.
"You need to get back on the bed," Herc said, firmly. "You're going to keel over any minute now." Obediently he let himself be helped up, covered in the duvet. He was so tired...
"Douglas! Stay with me for a moment. I need to take that bandage off now."
This time he let Herc snip away the white bandage. The pain felt rather distant, as if it were happening to some one else. It did lessen considerably once the puffy but unmarked wrist was rebound.
He must have fallen asleep because Herc was shaking him gently. "Everything's in the car. I've brought some of your clothes over. Then we're ready to go."
Asleep again during the long drive, he was woken at the hospital. Herc stayed with him, without conversation, during the long wait for the x-ray and the longer one for the results. It was nearly noon when he was discharged with a compression bandage, a sling, a prescription for painkillers considerably less powerful than the ones Herc had given him and an idiot's guide to treating sprains. He still couldn't quite believe that it wasn't fractured.
Herc drove him to the flat, brought his stuff in from the car. Paused in the doorway, waiting.
Douglas sighed. "We had better have some coffee and talk." The codeine had long since worn off; he could think straight again. In the circumstances he wasn't sure that he liked that much.
By the time Herc brought two mugs in from the kitchen Douglas had steeled himself. He put his drink to one side.
"Is there anything I can do to get you to erase those photos and keep quiet?"
Herc pulled his phone out of his pocket, came to sit next to Douglas. "I'd let you do it, but it's going to be awkward with your left hand."
He pulled up a photo. Douglas looking muddy, dishevelled, bloodied and badly shaken. Pressed delete, pressed confirm, repeated half a dozen times.
"I suppose that you did get your moment of humility," Douglas was too tired to be sharp about it. He'd lost, after all.
"Yes, I suppose I did. But I'm not particularly proud of it."
"That makes two of us." Douglas had always assumed that he would be naturally courageous in the face of pain and danger. The memories of his abject terror in the rose garden, and his reaction in front of Herc were frankly horrible.
Herc wrapped his hands around the coffee. "That wasn't what I intended."
"No. You just wanted to shake me up a bit, get me off balance, vulnerable, so that you could stir up those deep seated feelings of guilt and remorse that had to be in there somewhere." Douglas could hear the bitterness in his own voice. "It didn't occur to you that I might be both truly amoral all the way down and a complete coward."
"To be honest, no." Herc's normally smooth voice was distinctly ragged. "Exploiting your pain was completely unforgivable, regardless. I became rather frustrated and it seemed the only way I could to get to you. I didn't think I was capable of doing anything like that."
"Is that a moment of humility, by any chance, Hercules?"
"More than a moment."
"Well," Douglas said, slightly cheered, "at least one of us is filled with guilt and remorse. Not a night completely wasted then. Did you egg those men on to attack me?"
"Lord, no! I met them looking for you, thought they'd give you a well deserved earful and that I'd rather like to watch that. I hadn't anticipated violence."
"Neither had I." Douglas picked up his coffee in his left hand. "Infuriating. I now have to plot three men's downfall, and I'm sufficiently lazy that that's annoying."
"Only three?" Herc was cautious.
"Oh, you're already thoroughly done for. I did tell you that you were losing the moral high ground for good but you wouldn't listen."
"I wouldn't say that I'd ceded it to you, however." Herc commented. "You haven't done anything remotely moral, after all."
"Really? This is then, I suppose, a perfect moment for some grand gesture of forgiveness." Douglas smiled at Herc. "And the moment passes. I don't have any use for the high ground, particularly; I just like seeing you struggling in the mire."
He finished off the drink. "Talking of which, how about buying me lunch while I tell you exactly what you're going to tell Carolyn happened last night? You're going to like the story. Everything turns out to be entirely your fault. Sushi, I think. Easy one-handed."
Herc shook his head, despairing. "That is definitely the last time I scrape you up from the mud, Richardson. Next time you can stay down there. Come on then. You can tell me your story and I'll tell you what I'm not going to say and we can come to some sort of agreement based on the sound and reliable principles of mutual blackmail."
Douglas laughed. "There, you see. Isn't that an improvement on all that stuffy do-goodery? You and I might even find we get on rather better in future."
"What a delightful thought. I wouldn't count on it for a moment." Hercules opened the door, held it for him. "After you, Douglas."
"Thank you, Hercules."
Carolyn turned to Herc. "And dancing. With a goat."
"Not an actual goat, of course. That would have been ridiculous. A rather nice young lady dressed as a goat. But definitely dancing," Herc assured her. "It was quite impressive. Until the bush incident, of course."
"Which you caused with your...pointed staff?"
"We were in fancy dress costume at the time," Herc reminded her. "And it wasn't entirely my fault. He wasn't looking where he was going at the time. I think he was watching the goat."
"Right. And the net result of all these convivial antics is that my pilot is broken."
"Temporarily incapacitated," Douglas corrected.
"Quite. Well, Herc. Thank you for your trouble. I imagine he made a great deal of fuss."
"Yes, he did!" That was heartfelt. Douglas stifled a laugh.
"I am going to leave him on your doorstep, now. I have a long drive back and a flight early tomorrow."
Carolyn nodded. "I need to talk to him about flight cancellations anyway. No doubt you'll be back. That seems to happen, I've noticed."
"Indeed it does." Herc sketched a bow, smiled at Douglas and left.
Carolyn led the way into the house, sat down in her office. There wasn't another chair; Douglas stayed standing.
"Are you going to tell me what actually happened, Douglas?"
"But I have."
She sighed. "I'll take that as a no. I will find out, you know."
She wouldn't, not this time. "By all means investigate to your heart's content. But you have been told the truth, and what's more, by both of us."
"That's what makes it particularly suspicious. I hate to think that you've corrupted poor Hercules."
"Really, there is no need to feel sorry for him, I assure you. Not for an instant. Flight cancellations."
"Yes." She contemplated Douglas's sling. "When is the absolute earliest that you can fly?"
"Interesting question. I'm perfectly capable of flying a plane with one hand, at a pinch. So if Martin did the take-offs and landings..."
"We'd only have the CAA fines to worry about. And the suspension of your licence. Not to mention the potential for the exciting discovery somewhere above the Atlantic that you can't fly with just your left hand after all. Let's keep this slightly legal, shall we? When can you fly using both hands?"
"Both hands as in take over from Martin if necessary even if it hurts a bit, or both hands as in smooth and painless?"
"The first one. Your pain doesn't much interest me."
"Odd that. It interests everyone else," Douglas muttered to himself. Then aloud. "Given that I'll have to fake a rather faster recovery than that for Martin to be happy, it will need to be out of this sling. Say ten days minimum. And if I actually have to do anything with that arm in the next couple of weeks it will get rapidly worse again."
"Not even I can convince either Martin or random CAA inspectors that's it's healed with the damn thing still unusable, Carolyn. Physiology, I'm afraid."
"Ten days. This party of yours is going to cost me a great deal."
He shrugged, one sided. "Accidents happen."
"Indeed they do." She was studying his face. "There's something going on between you and Hercules, Douglas."
"I assure you that neither of us are that way inclined." He tried the light touch.
"Not that. You didn't say thank you'"
"To Herc? The whole thing was his fault."
"It was, as you just said, an accident. He drives you halfway across the country in the wrong direction for him, waits around half the day at the hospital for you, drives you here so that he can corroborate your highly dubious story and you don't have a word of thanks for him when he leaves. A failure of common courtesy is not normally one of your many character defects, Douglas."
Damn the woman. "Oh, Herc knows how grateful I really am. We're two middle aged men, after all. Neither of us like to get too emotional about things. It's not dignified."
The bang of an early firework shattered the foggy afternoon quiet outside the window and he flinched, startled for an instant back into the rose garden. He looked out into the garden, unwilling for a moment to meet the curiosity he'd seen flicker in his employer's eyes. "They start them earlier every afternoon."
"Yes." She sighed. "Do take care, Douglas. I don't want my pilots any more broken than they are already."
Yesterday he would have had half a dozen witty rejoinders. Today he just nodded acknowledgement.
"Well, if I'm going to be paying you for ten days of uselessness you can at least catch up on paperwork. You can dictate it to Arthur. And Martin can pick you up while you can't drive."
"Wonderful. Martin's van and ten days of Arthur's idiosyncratic approach to transcription. You spoil me, you know."
"I do," she said, confidently and accurately. "Arthur will drop you back home. I need to cancel half a dozen bookings. I'll get Martin to pick you up tomorrow, ten am. Try and get some sleep, Douglas. You look distinctly ragged."
He felt ragged, undoubtedly, but as Arthur chattered nonsense on the drive home Douglas started to regain his confidence, feel more like himself again. Here, at Fitton nobody wanted to hurt him, nobody knew his weaknesses, nobody tried to exploit them. There was nothing to be afraid of.
"What did you just say?"
"Gunpowder raisins and pot. You know the rhyme; Remember remember the 5th of November, gunpowder raisins and pot."
"I think you mean Gunpowder, treason and plot, Arthur."
"Yeah, but we don't have any of that stuff any more, do we? That's history stuff. Raisins and pot thought, we have those."
"I suppose so." Treason and plot. He murmured the rest of the rhyme under his breath, watching the brilliant circles of coloured sparks expand high up outside the car windows.
"For I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot."
There were people who wished him harm, waiting out there in the darkness, and he'd bring them down somehow, even if he wasn't brave enough to face them again in the night. He didn't even have a third name yet but he'd get it from Hercules, treacherous, repentant Herc. From now on until he'd done it and probably for a long time afterwards he'd remember the fifth, whether he wanted to or not.
Sequel Adding Insult to Injury