© Charles Vess 2019
Janet pushed against the massive French doors that opened into the great room inside, but when they wouldn’t give way, she noticed the red blinking light in the darkness of the room inside. Briefly glancing up at yet another of her father’s security cameras, she casually offers it an obscene hand gesture.
“Bloody stupid codes…”
Furiously she punched in a set of numbers and threw the doors open, letting them bounce against whatever they met, then impatiently slammed them shut behind her. Unconcerned, she tracked mud and leaves across the elegant Persian carpet that covered the floor of the room and ran quickly toward the stair. Aware that she was crying and desperate to be in her room, she took them two and three at a time
Her father, though, was waiting at the top of the stairs, concern fighting with anger clouding his face. Very quietly he asked, “Janet, can you join me in my office for a moment?”
Hastily wiping away her tears, she turned to face her father, “No! I bloody will not. I’m going to bed.”
Her father’s face set with determination as he firmly took hold of her arm, “Come along, this won’t take but a moment.”
When both Janet and her father were inside his expensively appointed office, John Ravenscroft gracefully eased his bulk down into the leather chair behind his massive oak desk. He gestured for Janet to sit as well. Ignoring his suggestion, she continued to stand, hoping that she’d be able to leave that much sooner.
But just as her father was about to speak, his mobile buzzed emphatically. Janet was surprised by the growing look of apprehension on her father’s face as his terse conversation with the caller continued.
Trying to ignore what was being said, Janet paced across the carpeted floor in front of the desk wondering if she really did just send Tom away. Forever. That inner turmoil was compounded when her eyes locked on the door at the end of the room leading off of her father’s inner sanctum. Not once in all her life had she been allowed through that door.
Just another fucking secret!
So, when her father slapped his mobile onto the desktop and almost growled at her, she was ready to meet his anger with her own. “Exactly where did you go after you eluded my men this afternoon?”
Through clenched teeth Janet answered, “Downtown.”
“I needed some space!”
“And tell me, where exactly did you find this space of yours?”
“A bar… downtown.
“That would be the Club 320?”
Before she answered Janet shivered, remembering the blood pooling under the dying man, the swordsman and his hunting beasts, and then, Lottie’s father laboring for breath.
“Because one of my men was there tonight. I had my people all across Inverness looking for you and this boyfriend or whatever he is of yours. But one of them had the misfortune of being at that particular club and now I’m told that man is dead.”
“Father, what… what was his name?”
“Because I want to know the name of the man who died trying to save me tonight.”
Janet’s hands gripped the edge of her father’s desk. “Yes, I saw him… die at my feet… but, but I promise you… it wasn’t my… our fault.
“I find that hard to believe because my people are telling me that this man of yours was in a brawl in that place that turned violent, very violent indeed.”
“Yes. And my friend’s father was badly injured as well.”
“Charlotte Parsons. The owner of the club…”
“Dan Parsons was hurt?”
Momentarily Janet was confused, “How… how do you know his name when even I don’t?
“Never mind that. Is he okay?”
“He was still breathing when we left. Lottie was getting him to hospital. His arm was nearly ripped off by those…”
Janet bit her tongue, fighting both remorse and deep guilt.
He wouldn’t believe me if I told him the truth.
John Ravenscroft continued to speak to his daughter, only now his painfully forced voice assumed the tone he might use if he wanted a particularly unruly child to do what he thought best for it.
“Stop trying to explain your mistakes away. I’ll look into it soon enough and get the truth.”
“Well bloody fucking great! ‘Cause I want to know how he’s doing. I want to visit that hospital, okay?”
Janet shrank into the wooden chair in front of her father’s desk. She was prepared for more unpleasantness from her father, but instead she was left speechless by his fury.
“Why do you do these senseless things?
“You tell me that you want me think of you as an adult and then you do something so perfectly stupid as this! I have my men around you for your own protection. If you keep running away from them, how can they do their job? How can I be certain that you’ll be safe?” Ravenscroft turned then, balled his hands into fists and brought both down, hard, onto the top of the thick oak desk. Everything on it leapt into the air as if a small earthquake had struck the room.
Janet was terrified by the look on her father’s face.
“Why do you simply ignore my wishes? I only want what’s best for you! All your life I’ve had to be both father and mother to you. And that’s not been an easy task.”
Janet stared at her father a moment before replying, acid dripping from every word. “And whose fault is that?”
“That I have no mother.”
John Ravenscroft looked bleakly back at his daughter, ”Janet how many times must we go through this?”
“As many times as it takes for me to understand why it is my loving father will not let me meet my own mother!”
He glanced back at Janet bleakly, “I’ve told you before, your mother isn’t well. There is simply no point in your seeing her.”
Her face twisted with suppressed emotion. “You’ve been saying that ever since I was old enough to ask. So, father, where is she?”
“If she’s still alive, why won’t you let me at least visit her?”
“Great. Fucking great! Except your idea of soon is more like bloody forever.”
“Enough! I have nothing else to say to you about your mother.”
When he finally turned back to face her, she was surprised by the deep tenderness that was etched on his features. His voice was thick with suppressed emotion when he finally spoke again. “Janet, I would never, ever let anything harm you. I couldn’t stand to see anything like that happen to you as well…”
Exhausted by the confrontation, John Ravenscroft’s eyes closed as if in prayer, perhaps willing himself to not hear Janet’s expected but softly whispered question. “Happen to me… as well?”
“Never mind, just never mind…”
“Okay, father dearest, why don’t we ever talk about this other thing? Look at me!” Janet held out both long, thin brown arms offering them as her evidence, “We don’t look the same do we?” Her father wearily turned his face away from Janet. “It must be a gift from my mother because it sure isn’t from you, is it?
“Right, you’ve nothing to bloody say, do you? Sometimes I even wonder if you’re really my father at all? Did you adopt me? Are you so ashamed that you can’t even tell me what happened to my mother?”
Her father, in a desperate effort to deflect their awkward conversation away from a subject that he was unwilling to even talk about, asked, “So, tell me about this young boy of yours.”
But Janet’s jaw set stubbornly.
When John Ravenscroft realized
thatshe was simply not going to answer him, he continued, “Well then, there must be something special about the boy since you’ve seen him twice now.”
She spat, “Why daddy, whatever do you mean?”
“You know precisely what I mean. You’ve never been out more than once with any of your young men before.”
Janet stared into his deep brown eyes, her mouth setting hard as she successfully kept her face clear of any emotion. Her father didn’t seem to notice that fierce struggle as he continued.
“Whether it was a date that I’d arranged or some unlikely person that you’d met at a random social event, there has always only ever been the one date, and then you’ve abandoned the hapless fool.”
Maybe they were just bloody stiffs?”
“All of them? Is there never any pleasing my daughter?”
Janet surprised herself with her answer. “Yes. Tom did.”
Determined, her father leapt on that small scrap of information and asked, “Tom? Just Tom? Nothing more?”
“Thomas… Lynn. And you and your army of goons are not going to chase him away! Do you hear me, father? Do you?”
“And just when have I ever done such a thing?”
For a moment her cool facade dropped away,“This is my life. Mine! Why can’t you just let me live it?”
Her father scowled, “Because you’ve always made such a hash of it when you do.”
“Of course, I have. I’ve made mistakes. Lots of them… But how can I ever learn anything if you’re always following me around, sweeping them into neat little piles so that I don’t ever have to deal with them again?”
“I’m only protecting you… our family… our name.”
“Yes, of course, a Ravenscroft must never let anyone see that we’ve ever made a mistake. I so don’t care about that…”
“You should. This estate will be yours one day…”
“I. Don’t. Bloody. Want. It!”
John was taken aback by his daughter’s emphatic reply, but when she continued he became even more anxious, “How many times do I have to tell you, I won’t hide in this fucking prison one more minute than I have to!”
Bluntly turning aside her anger, John Ravenscroft asked instead, “So when will I meet this new boy of yours then?”
Janet bristled, “Boy? Really, father…”
“Alright then, this young man…”
She was suffused then by a sudden flood of memories of her brief time spent with Tom, both warm as well as horrifying and had to quickly blink away the tears that sprang to her eyes. So much so that when she looked at her father again, Janet found it difficult to assume her customary mask of barely controlled anger. “Didn’t I tell you? He’s gone. I won’t ever see him again. So, no need to get territorial about him, okay?
“Now, I’m exhausted and I’m going to bed. If that’s all bloody right with you.”
“By all means, I’ve got to talk to some friends and try to keep your name out of this nasty piece of work. And then I’m going to have to deal with something a bit more serious than the usual messes that you leave behind, because this time one of my men is on a slab in a morgue downtown.
“In the meanwhile, do you think you could promise not to leave this house unescorted again?”
The monstrous hunting beasts and the implacable swordsman clawed their way through her mind and she nodded, “Agreed. But I insist that you keep me informed about Lottie’s father. I have a right to know.”
John Ravenscroft’s eyes narrowed with calculation even as he nodded his assent. “I won’t forget.”
Without another word Janet left the room.
After what happened out there tonight, I’m not sure I even want to leave here again.
Not far away Thomas got slowly to his feet, preparing to confront the tight circle of determined men. One large, heavyset man, the guard that had interrupted them earlier out on the patio, gestured at the mechanism on the bike’s rear wheel, “That’s a lock down.”
The man beside him flexed his arms, corded with hard muscle, and continued, “Yeah, you’re not going anywhere without having a conversation with us first.”
Tom sighed and slowly turned, looking at each man in turn. “Must I try to answer everyone’s questions this night?”
The first man spoke again, “Me, I’ve got no questions. It isn’t just about keeping you away from the brat anymore.”
One of his companions, slowly swinging a short section of pipe in his hand continued, “Tad Lockerby was one of us.”
His companion added, “Yeah, he was new…”
“But now he’s ended up dead on a downtown dance floor.”
“And you were there.”
“In fact, we expect you did it!”
“Let’s get started.”
“Nothing serious, though.”
The first man confirmed what they were all thinking. “Yeah, the boss is going to want to ask this guy some questions before the night is over.” Then quickly and efficiently they closed ranks around Thomas.
These men were all veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan. And some had even fought in the Falklands. They had been trained thoroughly in the art of war, so what happened next should not have happened. Tom launched himself directly at the tight circle of men and seemed to easily glide past every deliberately thrown punch and evade each fist as if this were just a friendly game, between good friends, which it most certainly was not. Moments later he was free of the circle of men without a single blow landing on him. And then, just as quickly, he was off, running toward the back yard again.
Suddenly, the dark lawn and gardens around him were illuminated as bright as day by dozens of high intensity security floodlights. Every tree and shrub and statue stood in stark contrast to the immaculately cut lawn, now shining silver gray in the artificial light. With absolutely no hesitation, though, Tom ran toward the fence that lined the perimeter of the Ravenscroft estate. It was twelve feet high and topped with razor sharp spikes. Yet in one fluid motion, Tom gracefully leapt over the barrier and continued to run, full out, disappearing moments later into the night and the city beyond.
The yard Tom left behind however remained a beehive of frustrated activity for many hours that night.
After Janet had finally stumbled into the sanctuary of her bedroom, she fell, exhausted onto the bed, too tired to even struggle out of her ruined clothes. But any hope of sleep was shattered when her windows blazed suddenly with light followed by the frenzied shouts of voices echoing from the yard below.
Janet lunged to the windows just in time to see a figure running swiftly across the rolling grass below her. Then, in one graceful movement, like a great stag, it vaulted over the entwined hedge and fence perimeter, disappearing into the night and the city.
She watched, fascinated, as her father’s men scurried below her like a nest of disturbed ants directed by the elder Ravenscroft’s bellowing voice.
With a sigh Janet turned back to her bed, but as tired as she was. she tossed and turned for hours until, through bleary eyes, she watched the dawn begin to push back the dark edge of the night.
Thomas… where did you go?
Then, pulling a pillow over her head, she tried to block out the brightening world until, finally, sleep came to her rescue.
Until the early hours of the morning, John Ravenscroft ruthlessly devoted himself to wiping any suspicion that his daughter may have been a part of the bloody violence at the downtown music venue off the official record.
When he’s left on hold at the hospital that Daniel Parsons has been taken to, he makes a note to himself to call again and then hangs up ready for the next task.
One by one, the men who confronted this Thomas Lynn came into his office and told him the same story: that the man they had all been tasked with finding had been right here on his property but had slipped through their collective fingers. Which made him even more certain that his daughter’s new friend, whether she said she wanted to see him again or not, was a person of particular interest. Afterward he sat there, considering all the facts that he knew, for many hours.
It was almost dawn by the time John Ravenscroft placed a call to the chief of his security force. He rubbed his tired eyes as the cell rang many times before a muffled voice answered.
“Sir, do you know what time it is?
“I don’t care Mac. I really don’t. You are in my employ, and I expect you to be available whenever I need you. Am I correct in that assessment, Mr. Mackintosh?”
“Yes, sir. Absolutely!”
“Now then. Thomas or Tom Lynn. That’s the boy my daughter has been with for the past two nights, the one that so easily slipped through your men’s fingers tonight. You’ll find pictures of him on our security cameras. I expect there to be a complete file on my desk early this afternoon. Am I clear on that?”
“Yes sir. Of course, sir.”
“And Mac, have a pleasant morning.”