The flight attendant strides down the aisle, slamming shut overhead lockers and gesturing at passengers to return their seats to the upright position.
As he reaches seat 12B, he raps the woman’s armrest: “Madam, all mobile devices must be stowed for take-off.”
He’s two rows further along the cabin, when he glances over his shoulder and narrows his eyes at the defiant passenger in 12B. Waving his arm, he clicks his fingers to get her attention and snaps: “Madam! Your phone!”
Abigail returns the flight attendant’s scowl. Taking one last look at the picture, she commits every detail of the man’s face to memory before sliding the phone into the front pocket of her jeans.
“Is that your boyfriend dear?” asks the lady in the seat next to Abigail, her neck bent at an awkward angle as she’s inched closer to get a better look at the screen.
“No,” said Abigail, giving her a brief smile before stretching back in her seat and closing her eyes.
Abigail feels a tap on her arm. God, What now? Opening one eye, she looks sideways at her fellow traveler.
“Oh, I wasn’t sure if you were already asleep,” said the lady, unwrapping a sweet and popping it into her mouth.
“That would be nice.”
“I checked the weather before I left for the airport,” she said, shoving the scrunched-up plastic wrapper into the seat pocket in front. “It’s 84 degrees in Barbados! It’s hard to believe that anywhere is warm when it’s so cold and grey here.”
Abigail nods and looks down at her watch.
“Have you been to Barbados before?”
“This’ll be my fifth time. I always try to get away at this time of year so I can avoid the worst of the English winters. Did you know that…”
Abigail squeezes her eyes shut as she stifles a yawn. She’d really hoped she was going to be able to catch some sleep on the flight to Christ Church, but that seems less likely now. Her neighbor hasn’t even paused to take a breath. It’s going to be a long nine hours.
“Gosh where are my manners! I’m Mary Collinson. I’m 76, although people tell me that I look a lot younger. I’m by myself now, my husband Tom died six years ago. That’s when I decided to start travelling. I said to myself ‘Mary, you need to get out there and start living that’s what Tom would have wanted’ so that’s what I did and…”
“Abigail. I’m Abigail,” she said, cutting the woman off before she has chance to recount all her exploits as a globetrotting widow.
“Abigail. Such a pretty name. My granddaughter’s best friend is called Abigail. They’re like two peas in a pod, always singing and dancing… Mary shakes her head and laughs to herself: “…Oh, listen to me jabber on! Tom always said I talked too much. So, what do you do when you’re not jetting off to Barbados dear?”
“I’m an assassin.”
“Oh really,” chuckled Mary, tilting her head to one side and nodding. “Much work this time of year?”
“January and February are my busiest months. I think people are sick of the sight of each other after the long Christmas break,” said Abigail. “It tails off in the summer though and that’s when I offer the best deals – two hits for the price of one.”
Mary throws back her head and roars with laughter: “Oh, you’re such a card! I almost believed you for a second. Although I don’t think a little thing like you could kill anything.”
Abigail winks and tucks her hair behind her ears. Don’t bet your life on it… everyone always assumes I’m joking.
Bending down, the older lady wrenches her handbag from underneath the seat in front and rummages through its contents. She pulls out an eye mask and waves it in Abigail’s direction.
“Time to get my beauty sleep!” said Mary. “I should be checked in at the hotel by three and then I have a salsa class starting at four and then a Caribbean cooking course at six… So, I need all the rest I can get. Nighty night Abigail!”
Abigail massages her temples as she watches Mary pull down her mask and wriggle in her seat, wrapping herself in the airline’s blanket.
Thank God. Please don’t let her talk in her sleep.
Holding onto the armrest, Abigail twists round and looks about the cabin. Most of her fellow passengers have crashed out too, their gentle snores competing with the rhythmic hum of the engines. It’s typical that she’s now wide awake.
She pulls her phone out of her pocket and taps the email icon, clicking on an encrypted message from her boss Linda headed ‘Tropical Island Getaway – Barbados beaches to die for’.
Skipping over Linda’s request for her sweet potato tortellini recipe, she scrolls through the text until she reaches the mission specific details.
“The target is Jonny “The Freezer” Romano. (I’ve sent his photo in a separate email.) His daughter is getting married on Valentine’s Day in Turtle Beach. The ceremony might provide the ideal moment to neutralize him, but I’ll leave that up to you. There’s no room for error. He must be dispatched. As Barbados is surrounded by water, there’s plenty of places where he can end up swimming with the fishes…”
Abigail shakes her head. She’s not sure why Linda is so squeamish about saying the word ‘kill’. It’s a wonder that her assassin’s agency is so busy and successful.
Switching off her phone, she decides to put her plans for Mr. Freezer on ice until she arrives in Barbados and has chance to scope out the area. She settles back in her seat and turns on the screen in front of her. Ignoring the latest blockbuster movies and TV shows, she flips through until she finds the National Geographic channel.
Abigail beams as she watches two penguins lie on their bellies and push themselves across the ice, toboggan style. Her eyes widen as the presenter says: “… they might not be the most graceful creatures on land, but in the water, some species of penguin can swim at speeds of more than 20 mph...”
Oof, that’s fast, she whistles in amazement. Her eyes flick away from the screen as she sees her neighbor shift in her seat. Mary yawns and flops sideways, her head coming to rest on Abigail’s shoulder. Groaning, she attempts to wriggle free, but the woman is like a deadweight. I’m never flying economy again, she mutters.
Returning to her program, she can’t believe her luck that the action has switched from Antarctica to a sloth rescue center in Costa Rica. Sloths are literally her favorite animal ever. She’s already sponsoring a three-toed male called ZZzzzz Top (Zed for short) and looks forward to receiving photographs and quarterly updates on his progress.
But it’s not just Zed. She’s also adopted MC Hammerhead the shark, a sealion called Swim Shady and finally Llama Del Rey, a South American camelid. In fact, most of her money seems to be spent on wildlife charities and supporting individual animals.
Abigail switches off the television and slumps down in her seat. If only she’d studied harder at school and applied herself a little more then maybe she could have become a veterinary surgeon like she’d always wanted. Working with animals would have been a dream come true.
But it was an impossible dream. Good things didn’t happen to people like her. Growing up, it had been enough just to make it through each day.
Abigail feels her eyes sting and she snaps them closed to stop the tears rolling down her cheeks. How did she even end up as an assassin? A job with no real prospects. Quite literally a dead-end job.
“Yoo-hoo! Earth to Abigail! You were miles away!” said Mary, waving her hand in front of Abigail’s face.
Looking down at her feet, she rubs her face with her sleeve before the older lady has chance to see she’s been crying. For God’s sake get a grip.
“Not long until we land. Sunshine here we come!” said Mary dragging a comb through her hair. “Oh here, hold this for a second, will you?” Abigail clutches the battered newspaper being thrust in her direction.
“I must read my horoscope before we land,” said Mary shaking the paper and flicking through the pages. “I love that stuff, don’t you?”
“Ooh, it says that it’s time for me to relax and enjoy being pampered. How accurate is that? It’s like the stars know I’m going on holiday! What’s your sign?”
“I’m really not interest…” Abigail stops when she sees the disappointment on Mary’s face. Sighing, she shakes her head: “Fine. I’m a Virgo.”
“I knew you were a Virgo,” said Mary clapping her hands together. “Well, this sounds most intriguing! It says that a man whose name begins with the letter ‘V’ is going to make you change all your plans! Oh, my goodness, that sounds so exciting!”
“What a load of rubbi…”
“Ladies and Gentlemen. We’ve started our final descent into Grantley Adams International Airport. Please fasten your seatbelts and make sure your seats are in the upright and locked positions…”
As the captain continues his announcement, Mary squeals and clasps Abigail’s hand. “Oh, you never did tell me why you were going to Barbados. Let me guess, you’re going to a wedding, aren’t you?”
“Something like that,” said Abigail, looking out of the window as the airplane bumps along the runway to the terminal building.
Abigail throws her bag onto the ground and yanks her hoodie off, tying it round her waist. As she feels the sweat trickle down her back, she regrets her decision to wear dark blue jeans and a long-sleeved tee-shirt. She retreats into the shade and feels a welcoming blast of cold air as the terminal building’s automatic doors slide open behind her.
Fixing her sunglasses in place, she slings her bag over her shoulder and walks across the concourse to the taxi rank. She’s only just arrived at the curb when a car glides up next to her. Trying to peer through the tinted windows, she realizes she can’t see anything except her own reflection.
She watches as the driver’s door opens and a tall man wearing a bright blue polo shirt and khaki shorts covered in dog hair steps out. Smiling and reaching for her bag, he asks where she’s headed.
“Turtle Beach please,” said Abigail, “I’m staying at the Ocean Breeze Hotel and Resort.”
“No problem at all. Should only take about 15 minutes at this time of day,” he said, cranking up the car’s air conditioning when he notices Abigail’s red face.
“Thanks! I can’t believe it’s so hot. I feel like even my eyeballs are sweating!”
He laughs: “Yes, I bet it’s quite a shock leaving an English winter behind and stepping into these temperatures. What brings you to Barbados?”
“A wedding. I’m going to be providing the entertainment,” she said, clicking in her seatbelt and brushing sweaty strands of hair from her forehead.
“Sounds like fun! I hope you get chance to explore our island too. It’s beautiful. Oh, look over there! It’s a grey heron,” he said pointing out a bird wading through the shallow water next to the road. “And can you see the red fence up ahead? That’s a snail kite sitting on the post.”
“That’s so cool. I love wildlife,” said Abigail twisting round in her seat and pressing her face up against the window to get a better look.
She jumps when feels her phone vibrate in her pocket. It’s a text message from Linda: “URGENT – CHECK YOUR EMAIL.”
Frowning, she opens Linda’s encrypted email. “Bad news. The Freezer’s been tipped off. He knows that our office has been hired by a rival drug lord to take him out. So, he’s hired a competitor to ensure that you never set foot in Turtle Beach. We’ve found out who they’ve contracted… so watch out for a man called James Parris. See photo below. I’ll leave it up to you, but abort mission if necessary.”
As she stares at the picture and takes in the jagged red scar that runs from the man’s left temple to his cheekbone, there’s no mistaking that her taxi driver is the rival assassin.
Abigail sighs and closes her eyes. Of course, he is. She should’ve trusted her instinct and never got in the car with the tinted windows. Damn.
“Everything okay miss?” said James taking his eyes off the road and glancing across at his passenger.
“Everything’s just brilliant thank you.”
As James drives along narrow streets dotted with vibrant colored houses and palm trees swaying in the breeze, his head doesn’t stop moving as he searches for birds and animals to point out to her.
It’s only been a few minutes since she got in the taxi, and she’s already seen a lesser black-backed gull, a pair of American coots and a family of green monkeys swinging through the trees.
"You’ve come at the best time of year,” said James turning to smile at her. “You should be able to spot pods of migrating dolphins and whales right off the beach where you’re staying. And if you go scuba diving then hopefully, you’ll be swimming with sea turtles.”
“That sounds amazing,” said Abigail, grinning back at him. She feels so happy that for a couple of minutes she’s almost forgotten this is the man who’s been sent to kill her.
Suddenly she shoots forward in her seat, her face almost hitting the dashboard. As the car skids to a stop, James slams the car into reverse and screeches back up the road. He wrenches the wheel hard to the left and Abigail bounces around in her seat as the taxi bumps along a narrow dirt track that slopes downhill towards the ocean. In the distance she can see the turquoise water sparkling in the sunshine.
So, this is where he thinks he’s going to get rid of me? Hope he’s ready for a fight, thinks Abigail clenching her fists
The car has only just stopped when James leaps out and runs further along the track before disappearing into the sugar cane field.
What?! Abigail drums her fingers on her leg. What’s going on? She wonders if it’s an elaborate hoax to get her to follow him. Fine! Let’s get this over and done with.
She slams out of the taxi and jogs a little up the track before retracing her steps and opening the driver’s side door to snatch the keys out of the ignition. That should slow him down a bit.
Abigail reaches the spot where she thinks James disappeared and as she pushes the grassy plants to one side, she sees him kneeling beside a dog.
The rustling of the sugar cane plants makes James spin round: “I saw him being hit by a lorry and limp up the track. His leg looks bad. We need to get him to a vet. Can you go and grab a blanket from the car?”
Together they wrap the injured animal in the blanket and carry him to the taxi.
“I’ll sit in the back with him,” said Abigail as she hands James the car keys. He looks puzzled for a second but jumps in the driver’s seat and guns the engine.
Abigail strokes the dog’s head with her thumb and whispers “it’s going to be okay sweetheart” in his ear. She feels dull ache in her chest when the pup opens one eye and licks her hand. She hates it when animals are hurt or sick.
The taxi’s violent braking sends shards of gravel flying across the veterinary practice car park. Does Barbados even have speed limits, wonders Abigail still gripping the door handle and holding onto the dog with her other arm.
As they carry the animal inside, a woman in a white coat sets her clipboard down and looks up from behind the reception desk. Pulling her glasses down from the top of her head, she peers over the rims and raises an eyebrow. Smiling, she asks: “Oh Jamie. What have you got for me this time?”
Pulling the blood-soaked blanket to one side, she takes one look at the leg and calls for help from her two assistants. As the group head towards the operating room, the vet turns and calls over her shoulder: “It doesn’t look good. He’s lost a lot of blood. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to save him or that leg. I’ll let you know.”
“I probably should have introduced myself earlier. I’m Jamie,” he said as he paces back and forth across the waiting room. “What’s your name?”
“I think you know full well who I am, Mr. Parris.”
Jamie stops and stands quite still before collapsing into the plastic chair opposite her. He can’t quite meet her eyes. “Yes, Abigail. I know who you are,” he whispers. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for. We both have a job to do,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
The pair fall silent. The only sound comes from the ticking of the clock above the reception desk and the squeaking of Jamie’s trainers on the tiled floor as his legs twitch up and down.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” said Abigail, closing her eyes and leaning against the wall. “I couldn’t bear it if he doesn’t make it.”
“Laina is the best vet around here. She’ll do everything she can for him.”
Abigail shivers and rubs her hands up and down her arms. The air-conditioned waiting room feels quite cold compared to the balmy temperatures outside.
She looks across at Jamie who’s cradling his head in his hands: “When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a vet,” she said. “Now I wish I was. At least then I could be doing something useful instead of just sitting here.”
“Veterinary surgeon to assassin… That’s quite some career change!” said Jamie raising his eyebrows.
Abigail opens her mouth to reply and then pauses. She doesn’t know where to start. How do you explain what it’s like growing up in foster care? That she’d been bounced around between so many foster families and schools that by the time she’d turned 18, she’d lost count. That all her hopes, all her dreams of the future were just that. Dreams.
“… Rough childhood. Things changed. It’s no big deal,” she said, staring down at her hands. “How about you? I don’t tend to meet many other assassins.”
“Yes, it would be much more convenient if there was a LinkedIn group,” said Jamie, smiling and moving across the room to sit next to her.
Abigail rolls her eyes as he bumps her shoulder.
“Money,” said Jamie. “I do it for the money. My grandmother and I run a wildlife rescue center. People are always bringing us injured animals, or I seem to find them! Do you have any idea how expensive vet’s bills are?!”
“Wait. What! You’re telling me you…. You? Just to save animals?”
He nods: “Yes, I guess you could say I trade shots for shots.”
Abigail eyes widen and she half laughs and shakes her head: “Is that how you got the scar on your face? Did one of your targets fight back?”
“Almost,” he said, tracing the line on his face. “It was a monkey with a broken left arm and a mean right hook!”
“So, apart from combative monkeys what other animals have you got at your place?”
“All kinds. Cats, dogs, there are a lot of stray dogs here unfortunately. Bats. Tortoises. A mongoose or two and even some monkeys that don’t choose violence.”
Abigail laughs: “It sounds like paradise to me.”
“You’re welcome to come and see it. I can take you there before I drop you at the hotel?”
Before she has chance to reply, Laina steps back into the waiting room. She rubs her eyes and stretches her arms over her head.
“Well, he’s a fighter for sure,” she said. “We’ve had to amputate his back leg, but he’s going to be fine. You can come back and pick him up in a couple of days Jamie. See you then, if not before!”
She acknowledges their thanks with a wave of her hand as she heads back into the operating room.
As the doors swing closed behind her, Abigail covers her face with her hands and sobs: “Oh thank god, I’m so glad he’s going to be okay.”
Jamie pulls her up out of the chair and into a hug: “Do you think we should call him Tripod?”
Pushing him away, she shakes her head. His names for animals are worse than hers.
“Are you ready to go?” asks Jamie and then sensing her reluctance, says: “I was never going to go through with it. Not once I met you and saw that you love animals as much as me. I just couldn’t”
She looks into his eyes. Does she trust him? Yes. As improbable as it sounds, the answer is yes. She does.
As Jamie digs around in his short’s pocket for his keys, his credit card drops to the floor. Bending down to pick it up, she frowns as she hands it back to him.
“I thought you said your name was Jamie?”
Jamie’s cheeks go red, and he coughs: “It is. Kind of. It’s my middle name. Can you blame me? Who wants to be known as Victor? I don’t know what my parents were thinking.”
“Victor! It begins with a V,” laughs Abigail.
“Err… yes. So?”
She grabs hold of his hand and as the pair step out into the late evening sunshine, she says: “Never mind. I’ll tell you on the way.”
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