After a career in business, Andrew and his wife Deb travelled a great

deal, staying for a spell in the States. He then built a new career as an
artist, exhibiting in France, the USA and England.
‘Wrath of the Righteous’ is his third novel and completes the ‘Nemesis’
trilogy. He now divides his time between the UK, where he has a home
near Bath, and France, where he is renovating a house, studio and
gallery. Andrew Christie is his pen name.

To my parents;
I only wish they were around to share in this.


Copyright © Andrew Christie

The right of Andrew Christie to be identified as author of this work has
been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
without the prior permission of the publishers.

Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this
publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British

ISBN 978 184963 942 2

First Published (2014)
Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.
25 Canada Square
Canary Wharf
E14 5LB

Printed and bound in Great Britain


Into The Valley Of Death …

Chapter 1

Mitch Stiddard lay slumped on the sofa, cigarette hanging from his mouth, a can
of beer in one fist, the TV remote in the other, switching channels constantly. It
was another hot, humid evening and the sweat that formed on his forehead ran
down his nose, dripped on to his chest and trickled remorselessly downwards
until it met the neckline of his grimy vest. There it was absorbed into an ever-
expanding stain that spread to meet similar saturated areas under his arms and on
his corpulent stomach.
Mitch was in his early forties but looked past fifty. Since his wife had walked
out on him some two years ago, he had virtually doubled in weight; a diet of
convenience and fast food coupled with an almost constant supply of cheap beer
meant he struggled to squeeze his stomach behind the wheel of his rusting Dodge
pick-up. The only real exercise he got was climbing into the cab of the caterpillar
he operated at work, which was getting harder with each passing day, and
walking the thirty paces from his truck to Steve’s Bar & Diner and back.
Finally, he laid the remote aside, having found an adult channel that looked
more promising than the last few he’d checked out. A platinum blonde, whose
large breasts had clearly been enhanced to the point they had the appearance of
well-used leather footballs, was straddling a man with a half-hearted erection
whose acting was as wooden, he thought, as Ronnie Reagan’s.
After a few minutes watching this, without experiencing any stirring in his
own loins, he pulled himself into a sitting position, stubbed out the cigarette,
swigged back the remains of the beer and tossed the can in the general direction
of the over-stuffed trash bin.
Struggling to stand, he shuffled the few feet into the kitchen and opened the
door to the icebox. The light from inside illuminated the area around him and
caused a couple of scavenging cockroaches to scuttle for cover. Mitch kicked at
their receding carapaces but they were far too quick for him.
‘Fuckin’ ‘roaches,’ he said out loud before reaching into the icebox and
taking out a jar of peanut butter and some stale Monterey Jack cheese. He shut the
door and pushed the remains of a pizza and its box along the cluttered worktop to
give him some space. Taking a couple of waffles out of a packet, he sliced up the
cheese and placed the thick strips haphazardly on the waffles before coating them
thickly with peanut butter and placing them in the microwave.
While they were swelling and browning, he lurched to the window and pulled
a couple of the plastic slats down on the sagging blind hoping to catch a look at
his neighbours’ teenage daughter undressing for bed but her room was in darkness
and he snorted in disappointment and turned away.
A couple of minutes later he was back in front of the TV, his mouth crammed
full of waffle, cheese and peanut butter, searching the channels once again for
Moments later he heard a knocking from the direction of the front door. He
glanced up at the clock; 11.17pm. Who the hell came calling at this time of night?

Reluctantly, he put the waffle down on the arm of the sofa alongside another
can of beer and waddled out to the front door. Before opening it he flicked on the
outside light. Through the pane of glass a woman he didn’t recognise stood
looking at him, a warm smile on her face. He pulled the bolt back and opened the
door just enough to push the screen door open and get a better view of her. She
was young, blonde and reasonably attractive and dressed, oddly and despite the
heat, in clear plastic coveralls.
‘Mister Stiddard? Mitchell Stiddard?’
He nodded. ‘Yep, that’s me. What can I do for y’all?’
‘It’s what we can do for you, Mister Stiddard,’ she answered with a smile.
‘We?’ he said, frowning.
It was then that a man stepped into view from the left-hand side of the front
door; he too was dressed in coveralls but he wasn’t smiling.
Mitch suddenly grew wary. He went to pull the screen door shut but the man
had already jammed his foot behind it. Mitch let it go and stepped back to slam
the door but he was far too slow and despite his bulk, not strong enough. The man
who’d blocked him from shutting the screen door was through it and pushing him
‘What the fuck do ya want?’ Mitch almost screamed, panicking now.
The man hit him hard in the stomach causing the breath to hurtle out of him
as he sagged to his knees in pain, fighting not to vomit up the beer and cheese and
waffle and peanut butter.
‘That’s for us to know and you to find out,’ the man said standing over him.

Chapter 2

Michael leaned back and stifled a yawn, his mind drifting from the scene in front
of him. He caught Therese Ottagalli’s look from the other side of the boardroom
table and smiled almost apologetically. She smiled back and raised her eyes
heavenwards and he realized she was thinking the same as him.
Kevin Makepeace’s voice abruptly brought him back to the business in hand.
‘Michael, you’re very quiet. Do I take it that you’re in favour?’
‘Not exactly.’
He glanced around the table and saw the expectant looks on the other board
member’s faces.
‘It’s not that I think they’re having a laugh, Kevin, more a quiet snigger,’ he
‘You believe their offer could be better? Despite the fact that it’s the first firm
offer in almost eighteen months and that we’re still not fully recovered from a
global recession?’
‘Yes. We valued it at six point seven billion dollars and the accountants
agreed with that. That was eighteen months ago, now the order book is fuller than
it was then and we’ve introduced economy measures that have saved us eight per
cent of the total labour costs and cut our year on year running costs by almost
thirteen per cent. The offer from Consolidated is five point seven billion. That’s
almost fifteen per cent less than its valuation then and by my calculations around
twenty per cent below what it’s worth currently.’
Makepeace sat forward in his seat. ‘So you think we should reject their offer
despite the fact we may never get another?’
‘No, I think we should revalue, get it endorsed by the independent
accountants and then go back to Consolidated and tell them the minimum we
would consider once the board has decided on a fair price.’
‘But that could take you and your people weeks, Michael,’ Douglas Pearson
Michael smiled. ‘It’s already done, Douglas. We have a computer program
now that continually monitors the financial value of all the remaining companies
in the Murtagne group. Anything we do to improve productivity, save costs,
etcetera is fed into the program which in turn automatically adjusts the financial
values of each holding.’
‘Since when?’ Makepeace asked.
‘Almost since you first arrived and explained to us what would be happening
to the Corporation following Murtagne’s death; it seemed a prudent measure.’
Makepeace looked almost stunned. ‘You continue to surprise me, Michael, so
you’re saying you have an up to date valuation of the shipbuilding business?’
Michael nodded. ‘As of this morning its value is seven point one four billion
‘Which means that Consolidated’s offer is…?’
‘Twenty point two seven per cent below what it’s worth.’

‘And you think they know that?’ Douglas asked.
‘I suspect they’ve got a damn good idea.’
‘But if we go back to them with these figures and say what we want, they’re
going to withdraw their offer immediately,’ Makepeace argued.
‘Hopefully they will. So far Consolidated have bought two of our businesses.
Each time they initially tried a low offer and each time they eventually paid close
to the valuation. I don’t think this will be any different. Consolidated was always
Murtagne’s chief competitor and we know there was no love lost between Tyler
Jarrett and Murtagne. Now Jarrett has opportunities to make Consolidated bigger
than the Murtagne Corporation and I believe he won’t be able to resist it.’
‘But if they’ve waited this long and they know there are no other bidders …’
Shapiro shrugged, ‘what’s changed that will make them up their offer?’
‘The certain knowledge that we won’t sell the shipbuilding business at a
knockdown price, which is what you told us when you first addressed the board
eighteen months ago,’ Michael said, switching his look directly at Makepeace,
‘you said then that each individual business would be financially assessed and a
fair price asked and that any business which does not attract a fair price will
continue to operate under the Murtagne corporate umbrella until such time that it
does. Was that not right?’
Makepeace leaned back in his chair, nodding. ‘So what do you think is a fair
Michael glanced at the notes in front of him. ‘I’d up the asking price to seven
billion,’ he answered calmly.
‘You’d honestly push for that?’ Makepeace asked, somewhat stunned.
‘How can you be certain they’d pay that, Michael?’ Therese asked, suddenly
realizing he knew more than he was saying.
‘Because Consolidated’s own shipbuilding order books are only sixty per cent
full and they’re in the process of laying off upwards of twenty five per cent of
their work-force. They have enough spare capacity to bring forward some of our
contracts into their yards and they know that, so it makes sense for them to buy
‘You’re sure of this, Michael?’ Douglas asked.
‘Positive. It was on page seven of the Financial Times two days ago.’
‘How come a Goddamn English newspaper knows about something like that
before we do?’ Makepeace said in exasperation.
Michael shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea but they normally don’t get it wrong.’
Douglas steepled his fingers. ‘I think we should put this to the vote,’ he
glanced around the table and, seeing no objections, continued. ‘Those in favour of
accepting Consolidated’s offer please signify.’
No-one moved.
‘Those in favour of rejecting it.’
Everyone around the table nodded, even a seemingly reluctant Kevin
‘So we formally reject their offer but keep the negotiating process open, yes?’
Again everyone nodded.
‘Strategy and timeframe?’ Douglas asked, looking at Michael.

‘Once we’ve formally rejected Consolidated’s offer we let them know we’ve
decided to revalue. Once the auditors confirm our valuation we then inform
Consolidated which puts the ball right back in their court. I believe you’ll get an
improved offer nearer the current valuation within a week.’
‘And if we don’t?’ Makepeace asked.
‘Then my reading of the situation will have been wrong and we’ll need to
think again but I’m confident we’ll get a revised offer quite soon.’
‘That’s good enough for me,’ Douglas stated, turning to Shapiro, ‘Norman,
you’ll obviously inform Consolidated of our decision as soon as possible?’
‘As soon as the meeting is over,’ he confirmed.

Just over an hour later the meeting closed and Therese walked back to his
office with him.
‘Like Makepeace, I too am constantly surprised by you;’ she said, ‘one
minute you appear bored and uninterested and the next you are so switched on it
is like someone plugs you into the electric supply.’
Michael smiled at her. ‘I’m not disinterested but at times they tend to go
around in circles. Why endlessly debate an offer that was clearly short of the
valuation? In fact I don’t know why it was even brought to the meeting in the first
place; it should have been rejected out of hand the minute we received it.’
‘In fairness I think Makepeace believed it was the only offer we were going
to get.’
‘It probably is. The Japanese and the Norwegians don’t have the capital
anymore and the Koreans caught a cold with their last couple of acquisitions but
you don’t have to accept an offer because it’s the only one. We could go on
running those shipyards under the Murtagne flag and continue to make good
‘I think maybe Makepeace is keen to see an end to all this. After all it is
eighteen months since he was appointed.’
‘During that time almost three-quarters of the Corporation’s businesses have
been sold off; at the last count that was over a hundred and ten billion dollars
He opened the door to his office and let her in. ‘It is such a staggering amount
of money that I cannot even imagine it. Can you imagine having that much
wealth?’ she said.
‘No, and I wouldn’t want to, except, maybe, for the good that you could do
with it.’
She shot him a quizzical look. ‘Good?’
‘Yes, all the people you could help; the poor, the people who would otherwise
die without expensive operations, that sort of thing.’
‘Oh, I see; yes I can imagine you would do that but what about for yourself?’
He shrugged. ‘I’ve got everything I want; what would I do with billions?’
‘Relax for a change; enjoy yourself, travel the world maybe; things like that.’
‘But you can travel without having to have a fortune;’ he replied, ‘you could
work your way around the world, pick grapes in France, work in a bar in Bali,
chop sugar cane on a Caribbean island, stack shelves in a supermarket in San

Francisco; that way you get to meet real people and see the world as it is not by
lazing around on some cruise ship taking in the tourist sights a day at a time;
that’s not the real world.’
‘But wouldn’t you like to be pampered for a while?’
He shook his head. ‘It doesn’t interest me; in fact I can’t think of anything
more boring. Why, is that what you’d like?’
‘It would be nice not to be at Danielle’s beck and call all the time I’m at
home. Just to have a few odd days to myself and to be treated like a woman for a
while would be lovely,’ she purred.
‘How is Danielle?’ he asked.
‘She’s fine only she’s at that age when she wants to know everything.
“Maman, what does this mean; maman, who is this, maman; can we go to this
place?” it is like being under constant attack,’ she said, wearily.
‘But you have Florence; she must field a lot of those questions.’
‘She does when I’m not there, but the minute I get in Danielle switches all her
questions to me. Although I miss her during the day I’m almost glad when it’s her
bedtime and then I feel guilty.’
She looked pointedly at him. ‘You should try it some time. Yes, that’s a good
idea; she likes you and she often talks about you, so maybe you could have her
for a day?’
Michael felt himself being cornered. ‘I’m flattered but Anna’s not that keen
on kids so…’ he left his words hanging between them.
‘Okay, but wouldn’t you like kids?’
He pondered her question knowing she was unaware of his family and what
had happened to them. ‘I suppose I would,’ he conceded, ‘but it’s unlikely to
happen so ….’
‘I think I would love another,’ she said, looking directly at him, ‘if only for
company for Danielle. Perhaps if things were different, you and I ….’
He smiled at her. ‘That’s very flattering, Therese, but I’m very happy with
‘And she is very happy with you, I suspect, and very lucky too.’ It was said
with a distinct look of regret on her face then she smiled and abruptly changed the
subject. ‘You are off to that cabin of yours next week, yes?’
‘Just for the weekend; we have to be back in New York on Sunday night to
catch a flight to Salt Lake City on Monday,’ he saw her frown and continued,
‘we’re picking up a car there and going north through the Rockies; get some
walking in and lots of fresh air.’
‘I didn’t know but that is good; you deserve a break. You have not taken any
time off since you had that fall at the cabin; that must be a good year ago.’
He smiled as he remembered. The ‘accident’ had been his excuse to explain
the wounds he’d suffered to his leg and shoulder when Gornak and his thugs had
come after him.
‘That’s why we’re taking a vacation now; I think we both need it.’
‘I could do with a break from this heat,’ she said, ‘I didn’t realize it got so hot
here in the summer, you must be glad you had air conditioning installed.’
He smiled wryly. Since they’d had the air conditioning Anna had taken to
wearing knickers again, something she’d left off when it was hot in the apartment.

‘Yes, it took us a while to persuade the owners but when we said we were all
happy to pay the extra on our leases it was installed within a month. The
Bernsteins, our neighbours, wish they’d got on to the owner years ago.’
‘Well, I will be in Paris when you get back.’
‘Off to see your parents?’
‘Mais oui, or else they will scold me for not bringing their grand-daughter to
see them.’
‘Do they spoil her?’
‘But of course, is that not what grandparents do?’
‘I guess it is.’
She stood up. ‘I must be going, I have several things I must do before I can go
home,’ she put her hand on the door, ‘have a good break, Michael and remember
what I said, if you and Anna ever ….’
And with a coquettish smile she was gone.

The drive up to the cabin on Saturday was only punctuated by a stop at Gerry
and Ann’s real estate agency where they took pastries and had coffee and a chat.
After arranging for them to come for a barbeque that night they collected some
supplies and drove on to the cabin, arriving there just before noon.
In the year since the assault on the cabin Michael and Anna had worked
steadily on the old place until it now looked as they’d always imagined it would.
Furnished in a mixture of old and new, which thanks to their eclectic taste,
worked well together, it was now a welcoming and comfortable place where
visitors instantly felt at home. Initially, Anna had not wanted to come back,
certain the memories of that awful night would forever haunt her, but once all the
physical evidence of the assault had been removed Michael had argued that
abandoning it wouldn’t simply wash away those memories, they had to learn to
confront them and then put it all behind them. Thankfully, he had been right, even
though it had taken a while for those experiences to fade into the furthest recesses
of her mind.
After packing the supplies away they took lunch out onto the veranda where
they now had a set of cushioned chairs and a table, a far cry from when they’d sat
on the old, rough boards, mindful of splinters and protruding nails, and ate off
their laps.
Once he’d cleared the table, he brewed coffee on the old stove while Anna
relaxed in the sun reading a guide book on the West that she’d borrowed from
‘I know we’re going to Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks but will we get as
far as Mount Rushmore because it sounds pretty impressive?’
‘I thought the idea was to do a lot of walking and not all the tourist spots.’
‘Yes it was but when you read books like this you find there are so many
interesting places to see, I thought that looking at four old presidents carved out
of solid rock sounded pretty awesome; well to me it does.’
‘It does to me as well,’ he agreed.
‘So couldn’t we do a loop that takes in Mount Rushmore and the Devil’s
Tower; you know the one they used in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’,

because I’d love to see that as well? We could still get to Cheyenne in time for the
flight back.’
He shrugged. ‘We were planning to drive to Cheyenne via Lander and
Laramie. Going to Mount Rushmore, which I’m pretty sure is in South Dakota, is
probably going to add another two hundred and fifty miles to the journey.’
‘I could do some of the driving now I’ve got my licence,’ she suggested,
looking at him hopefully.
He shrugged and gave in gracefully. ‘Okay, Mount Rushmore and the Devil’s
Tower are in, but no more; we’re only going for a couple of weeks.’
‘Okay,’ she beamed happily, ‘but it says here Mount Rushmore’s only a few
miles northeast of the Crazy Horse monument, and it says that’s something we
shouldn’t miss.’
He leaned over and grabbed the book from her. ‘I’m confiscating that until
Cassie gets here tomorrow and then she can take it back with her after I’ve given
her a rollicking for letting you borrow it.’
Anna poked her tongue out at him. ‘Spoilsport.’

Gerry and Ann arrived around seven as Michael was getting the barbecue
going. Gerry set half a dozen bottles of beer down on the table, along with a bottle
of red wine, while Ann put a peach cobbler in their icebox.
‘We’re thinking of moving house,’ she suddenly announced as they walked
out on to the verandah with their beers, ‘we think what you’ve done with this
place is marvellous so we’re going to look for something old like this and do it
‘But your house is done just how you like it,’ Anna said.
‘Maybe, but it’s relatively new, it doesn’t have the character and it doesn’t
have the land or the real peace and quiet like this place does; we both feel so at
home when we’re here that we often don’t want to go back to our own house.
Isn’t that right, Gerry?’
He nodded. ‘I used to feel a bit guilty when I sold you this place but now I’m
really envious. I see lots of property but it’s hard to find one that feels so
welcoming; I always feel so at ease here.’
‘Well, no-one’s in a better position to find something similar than you are,’
Michael observed, ‘haven’t you anything like it in your portfolio?’
‘There’s one this side of De Lancey but that’s a place that often gets cut off in
a bad winter and one near Sharon, just over the state line in Connecticut, but
there’s no easy way from there into Kingston except via Poughkeepsie and I got
no desire to get up half an hour earlier than I do now,’ he replied.
‘Something suitable will come up,’ Ann said, ‘in the meantime we’ll just
have to keep coming up here to get our fix.’
‘Well, you can always use it the next two weekends,’ Michael said, ‘the guest
room’s made up and we’ll be in Wyoming so if you want to, be our guests.’
‘That’s really good of you, Michael, but …’ she glanced at Gerry.
‘If it’s the ghosts you’re worried about,’ Anna said, ‘they don’t exist, do they

Only the more recent ones, he thought as he shook his head. ‘No, it’s pure
myth but it does help to keep intruders out.’
Later, Michael barbecued chicken and steaks which they ate with a mixed
salad while the sun was dipping into the west, leaving the cabin bathed in a warm
pink glow, the log walls reflecting back the heat of the day. After they’d eaten
they sat drinking and chatting until it grew dark and the bats and all the other
night creatures came out; then they retreated inside before they got bitten.
Gerry and Ann left just before midnight and after washing up they had a
nightcap and then went to bed, making love before they lay back exhausted and
fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.

Chapter 3

Sunlight filtering through the curtains on to the bedroom wall brought Michael
awake. He glanced at his watch, stretched and then pulled the covers back enough
to slide his legs out of bed and sit up. Anna lay curled up under the sheets fast
asleep. Taking soap and a towel from the bathroom he let himself out of the house
and walked down to the creek, which bubbled brightly as the rays of the sun
found gaps in the foliage and sparkled off the water. He lowered himself into the
natural pool beyond the small waterfall and began washing himself, his teeth
already chattering. It was cold but exhilarating and it made him feel so alive.
Suddenly, he tensed and listened, his mouth clamped shut. Something was
moving towards him through the undergrowth; something big. He leant over and
picked up a fist-sized rock from beside the pool, his eyes on the undergrowth.
Then he relaxed and put the stone down.
‘I knew you’d be here,’ she said as she pushed the last of the foliage aside.
He looked at her stood there, blinking in the dappled sunshine, hair
dishevelled, silk camisole top hanging off one shoulder, her nipples pushing hard
against the thin material; her tattoo and three inches of taut stomach showing
above the scanty knickers that did little to hide her dark pubic hair.
‘I thought I might join you; is it as good as you keep saying?’
When he nodded she slid the other strap off her shoulder and the camisole
dropped noiselessly to the ground swiftly followed by her knickers. Despite the
cold water Michael felt himself hardening.
She put a foot into the water. ‘Christ! That’s not cold that’s fucking freezing!’
‘Only at first; you’ll find it warmer once you get in.’
She looked at him disbelievingly but, despite the shivering that engulfed her
body, pushed her legs further down until they touched the bottom of the pool.
‘God, I must be completely mad,’ she said.
He got to his knees and reached across and pulled her to him, immersing her
up to the small of her back.
‘You have to be a f-f-fuckin’ m-masochist,’ she ranted at him through teeth
that were chattering so badly he thought they might break.
He pulled her down into the water and his mouth sought hers. They kissed
long and hard, his arms wrapped around her as the shivering in her body
gradually subsided.
‘There, isn’t that better?’ he asked.
‘Marginally, but I will still have hypothermia if you don’t kiss me again.’
He did as he was told.
After a few seconds she pulled away and regarded him with a faint trace of a
smile, her eyes twinkling mischievously.
‘I’m amazed you can get an erection in water this cold. Doesn’t it normally
‘Normally,’ he admitted, ‘but this isn’t normal, is it?’

‘I guess not although you’ll have trouble using it, I think the cold has frozen
me up.’
‘Let’s see’, he said sliding his hand down between her legs. After a few
seconds he smiled at her. ‘No, I think it’s defrosting pretty fast now.’
They kissed again; harder this time as his other hand went to her breast. She
took him in her hand and pulled him to her then rose high enough in the water to
slide him inside of her.
‘Now I feel a lot warmer,’ she purred, moving her body against his.
‘I told you, didn’t I?’
‘You did, you clever sod; now stop talking and concentrate on bringing the
rest of my body back to life.’
He leant her back against the bank and they moved together, slowly at first
but gradually more frenetically until she was digging her nails into his back.
‘Come quickly, Michael, I can’t hold back much longer,’ she almost shrieked.
‘Then don’t,’ he said.
She let go and her body bucked and shuddered as she bit into his shoulder and
came. ‘Oh, God,’ she yelled.
As she was calming down, he came and as he did they kissed again, their
tongues moving like mad things and suddenly he felt her stiffen and then shove
herself against him with renewed effort.
‘God, I’m coming again,’ she gasped in disbelief, ‘keep going my love, this is
fuckin’ wonderful.’
He needed little encouragement and then, as their passion subsided, they lay
there entwined, neither of them feeling, at that moment, the cold which eddied
around them.
Eventually, the warmth was subsumed by the chill of the water and they
climbed out on to the bank where he towelled her dry, rubbing her body hard until
it was pink and glowing before doing the same to himself.
By now the sun was much warmer and after they walked back to the house
and donned T-shirts and shorts they had a lazy breakfast on the verandah.
Just before noon they heard the sound of a car horn and went outside to find
Cassie and Rob parking their car. They met them at the avenue of trees.
Michael held out a hand to Rob. ‘You found it alright?’
Rob took his hand and shook it. ‘Yeah, your directions were fine.’
Cassie gave him a kiss. ‘Guess what; we even saw a couple of deer just
before we turned into your lane?’
‘They’re a bloody nuisance,’ Anna said, ‘they get in here and eat all our
vegetables, virtually everything above ground level. Only the carrots, onions and
potatoes have escaped so far but I’m sure once they’ve finished everything else
they’ll dig them up.’
‘What about an electric fence?’ Rob suggested.
‘It still won’t stop all the other things like slugs and snails though,’ Anna
‘You need to put a line of fine sand around the whole plot, a couple of inches
wide. They won’t cross that because the grit gets in their under-parts.’
‘How come you’re so knowledgeable about gardening?’ Anna asked him.

‘My grandfather was a very keen gardener and I used to spend lots of time
with him when I was a kid. He had no time for all these pesticides and pellets and
such, just lots of common sense deterrents, like planting onions and carrots in
alternate rows.’
‘I’ve done that,’ Anna said triumphantly, ‘the smell of the onions masks the
carrots and vice versa and confuses the insects which prey on them.’
‘That’s right; a lot of it is just simple stuff.’
Cassie was stood to one side, staring at the cabin. ‘This is just lovely,’ she
said, ‘like something straight out of a Mark Twain book. It’s even better than you
described it.’
‘It always looks better on days like this,’ she admitted, ‘but not so nice on
wet, miserable days. Come on, I’ll show you around inside.’
After a tour of the place they sat outside with a pitcher of freshly squeezed
orange juice, enjoying the sunshine which was growing steadily hotter. For a
while they chatted about a variety of things then, as often happened when they
were together, the conversation turned to politics.
‘Did you see the New York Times yesterday?’ Cassie asked. When they
shook their heads she went on. ‘The Republicans are opposing the changes to the
gun laws,’ she said in an exasperated tone, ‘don’t they see what guns are doing to
this country; what carnage they cause every year? Even if you forget massacres at
places like Columbine, Virginia Tech and Newtown there are thousands of
killings every year where guns are used and thousands more people wounded.
They’re destroying lives and families yet the gun lobby puts pressure on and these
idiots jump to do their bidding.’
‘That’s because there’s so much money involved,’ her husband said, ‘the
arms companies aren’t going to see their profits go down the pan without a
helluva fight, you know that.’
‘Of course I do but just because they’ve got no conscience, the politicians
should be above that, they should do what’s best for the people. Don’t you agree,
Coming from England, Michael had always thought the right to bear arms
belonged to a bygone age and should have been repealed a century or so ago. The
opportunity to buy guns and ammunition just about everywhere was completely
crazy, if not suicidal, but guns had saved his and Anna’s lives not that long ago
and he had to be mindful to express any views as an American.
‘The problem is that historically we’ve had the right to carry arms since it
was embodied in the Second Amendment and to a lot of people that’s almost
sacrosanct, so it will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to change when we
know that about nine out of every ten Americans owns a gun.’
‘But that was written in the aftermath of the War of Independence when we
also had a frontier; it shouldn’t apply now. We keep saying we’re a civilized
country but this makes a complete mockery of that,’ Cassie said passionately.
‘I agree with you,’ he replied, ‘but you’re not going to stop people buying
guns overnight. What it needs is for the Government to outlaw things like
automatic assault rifles because nobody needs weapons like that. The mother of
Adam Lanza owned three automatics and an assault rifle and you have to ask
yourself why any sane person would need an arsenal like that, especially a

housewife and mother but the problem is not that she bought them but that the
law allows her to do so.’
‘That’s because there’s more gun outlets in this country than there are food
stores; by about three to one, I believe,’ Rob said.
‘So you think we should tackle the situation bit by bit, but in the meantime
innocent people are being killed and maimed every day,’ Cassie argued.
‘Unfortunately, I don’t see any other way. A ban on guns wouldn’t work
because most people believe it’s their right to carry them and the gun lobby would
fight tooth and nail any legislation that limited people buying them and we all
know the Supreme Court always sides with the gun lobby. The only logical
answer is to outlaw the guns that aren’t necessary to protect ourselves, like
automatic and semi-automatic weapons.’
‘Not according to the NRA,’ Cassie said, ‘their answer is to put armed guards
in every school. What was it that dumb son of a bitch said a few months back?
“The answer to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.” Christ, more
guns in our schools! That sort of knee-jerk mentality belongs back in the Old
‘But that’s just self-interest speaking,’ Rob argued, ‘Michael’s right, if Lanza
only had an ordinary revolver it’s likely half of those kids wouldn’t have been
‘So if only a dozen had died that would have been okay?’ Cassie said
‘No, of course not, but it would have been better than twenty six being
‘The other problem, of course, is the ammunition,’ Michael said, ‘they could
only identify those kids by their clothes because most were unidentifiable. Lanza
used hollow points and dum-dums and most of the victims were shot four or five
times so you have to ask why is ammunition like that available in a so-called
civilized country; you can buy bullets off a supermarket shelf nowadays and
that’s just asking for trouble, in fact it’s criminally insane.’
‘The trouble with this country is that everything’s about money and profits,’
Cassie said, ‘that’s where we’ve gone wrong; we’ve lost our grip on the real
values of life. Money is a God to most people nowadays, especially to Corporate
America. Profits mean more to the arms companies than any human life so the
people have to do something about it because you can’t trust self-serving
politicians any more.’
‘You’re very quiet,’ Rob said looking at Anna, ‘I know you don’t have this
problem in the UK so all this must seem strange to you; what do you think about
it all?’
For a few moments Anna said nothing. Having killed someone with a gun a
year ago gave her an insight into the problem that some could barely imagine.
‘I can’t understand why people want to carry guns,’ she said quietly, ‘not
when you see the horror it brings to the victim’s families and even to those who
kill legitimately, like policemen or those who shoot someone in self-defence; it’s
got to be traumatic - even guilt-ridden, because they must ask themselves whether
they could have done anything to have avoided killing?’ She paused. ‘This is a
great country in many ways, but Cassie’s right, money and profits appear more

important than moral values. Somewhere along the line this country’s taken a
wrong turning and I can’t see it changing anytime soon; in fact when it comes to
guns, it’s not living in the eighteenth century, it’s back in the Dark Ages.’
For a few moments nothing was said then Rob spoke.
‘Is that how the rest of the world sees us?’
Anna shrugged. ‘I don’t know, but it’s what I see.’
Again there was silence for a few moments as her words gave them all pause
for thought, then Michael broke the sombre mood.
‘I think the British, and the rest of Europe for that matter, realise that if you
limit the amount of guns on sale you automatically limit the amount of gun crime
and the number of deaths; it’s hardly rocket science.’
‘That’s what that preacher they’re calling “the new Messiah” is saying. Has
anyone seen anything about him?’ Rob asked.
“If it’s the one I think you’re talking about, I did see something about him in
one of the papers. I began reading the article but it seemed ludicrous. Something
about him being the re-incarnation of Christ and being sent down here to give the
world back to the meek.’
‘That’s the guy. His name’s Jedediah Christofer. It seems he’s been saying
that the rich and the powerful have forsaken ordinary people but that a time is
coming when they will be cast out and the world will belong to the meek and the
‘Hallelujah,’ Cassie said, raising her arms mockingly, ‘he gets my vote; it’s
about time something like that happened.’
‘The trouble is that someone like him can be dangerous,’ Rob said, ‘a lot of
people who, let’s face it, aren’t that intelligent will be taken in by him, sending
him donations they can’t afford simply because they think it’ll buy them a place
in heaven.’
‘Intelligent people can be seduced and brain-washed and taken in by these
cranks just as easily,’ Cassie said, ‘what about film stars and rich people who
believe in cranks like Ron Hubbard?’
‘But they’re only cranks to people who don’t believe in them. In their eyes
their religion is no less valid than Christianity or Islam and who’s to say they’re
‘Michael’s playing Devil’s Advocate now,’ Anna smiled.
‘But it’s a valid point I’m making. Most people tend to rubbish other’s beliefs
if they don’t coincide with theirs. You only have to look at all the wars that have
been fought between people who believed in the same God but had a different
way of worshipping him.’
‘I guess that’s true when you think about it, maybe the answer is to do away
with religion,’ Rob said.
Cassie laughed. ‘Jesus, that’d be harder than trying to ban the sale of guns!’

Following lunch they went for a walk along the lane passing Hank and Ruby
Tucker’s place and going a half mile beyond the spot where Michael had met up
with Luis Santos, which reminded him that he hadn’t spoken to the Columbian in
a while. He mentally made a note to do so when he was back from vacation. On

the return leg they crossed the creek and followed it until they were back at the
Anna cooked pasta with seafood for supper followed by a dark chocolate and
brandy torte of which nobody, even Michael, wanted seconds because it was as
rich as its name. After, Michael switched on a couple of lamps and they took their
coffees to the sofa and the easy chairs around the stone fireplace.
‘This must be really cosy and romantic when you have a fire,’ Cassie said.
Anna gave Michael a meaningful glance. ‘Too romantic sometimes.’
Cassie laughed. ‘So you’ve christened the rug then?’
‘A few times,’ Anna grinned.
‘Maybe we should rent the place off you now and then,’ she said, looking
suggestively at her husband.
‘I think I’m getting a bit old for carpet burns,’ he replied.
‘We came up here a few times in the winter and it was great to have a fire
roaring away in the hearth,’ Michael said.
‘It must be nice to be able to hunker down in front of a roaring fire;’ Rob
said, ‘I’d rather that than going off to work in some freezing apartment that we’re
refurbishing and hitting my thumb with a hammer because I can’t feel my damn
‘But I wouldn’t be able to open the café.’ Cassie said
‘How often do I get home in the winter to hear you say you don’t know why
you bothered to open because you only had a dozen customers all day?’ he
‘Not that many times.’
‘Uh, I think you sent me home early about ten times last winter because it
was so quiet,’ Anna said, ‘and on other occasions we barely had twenty people in
all day.’
‘I guess January is a bit flat, especially when the weather’s bad,’ she
‘In fact it’s often so bad I don’t know why we don’t take the entire month off
and go on vacation somewhere south of the equator where it’s warm and sunny,’
Rob suggested.
‘But we probably can’t afford to.’
‘Crap. We’ve got money in the bank we could use.’
‘But that’s to supplement our retirement.’
‘We could be dead before then,’ he countered.
‘And what if we’re not? Would you want to live in poverty in your old age?’
‘That might be preferable to being crippled with arthritis because of all those
times I’ve hit my fingers working in the cold. Anyway, if we closed up the house
and the café for a month we’d probably save enough in heating bills to pay for a
month’s vacation.’
‘And you would also save my salary and Chrissie’s,’ Anna added.
‘Are you all ganging up on me?’
‘I’m not, Cassie, I don’t want you to close in January because the café is the
one place I get to warm up on my way home,’ Michael said, smiling, ‘so you
ignore these two.’
‘Talking about vacations, I hear you’re off to Wyoming next week,’ Rob said.

‘Yep, we’re catching a flight early tomorrow afternoon.’
‘You looking forward to it?’
Michael glanced at Anna. ‘I guess we are. It’ll be good to get out of New
York now it’s getting so hot, and thanks to that book that Cassie leant Anna, she
has lots of places lined up for us to visit.’
‘Only about four,’ she protested.
‘That preacher we were talking about, apparently he’s got a place somewhere
in southwest Nebraska, not a million miles from where you’re going; perhaps you
ought to pay the place a visit when you’re out there,’ Rob suggested.
Michael smiled. ‘Not a chance. We’re going for a couple of weeks R&R, the
last thing we need is to go paying a call on some fire and brimstone preacher.’

Rob and Cassie left around ten thirty and after Michael and Anna had again
washed up and locked up the house they got into the Alfa and began the drive
back to New York, little realizing that in the weeks to come their conversation
that night would come back to haunt them in ways more frightening than they
could imagine.

Chapter 4

The internal flight from New York to Salt Lake City was relatively pleasant as
there was none of the lengthy and annoying rigmarole involved in boarding and
leaving an international flight, especially foreign arrivals on American soil where
the authorities are so paranoid since 9/11 that entry has become a nightmare for
anyone not flying on an American passport.
After Michael adjusted his wristwatch to Mountain Zone time they found the
desk of the car hire company and spent a few minutes completing the paperwork
and adding Anna as the second driver. It was just before seven pm when they left
the air-conditioned terminal building and then the residual heat of the day hit
them. The pilot had informed them that the temperature in Salt Lake City was a
pleasant 78F so once they’d found their hire vehicle, a blue Ford SUV, opened it,
stored their bags in the back, climbed in and switched on the engine, Michael was
amazed to see the temperature readout at 91F; no wonder wet patches were
already forming under his armpits. He flipped the air con to cold, put his seat belt
on and the vehicle into “drive”.
Their first stop was a motel just north of Logan that Michael had booked on
the internet mainly because it had what looked to be, a decent restaurant. They
collected the key to their room, parked outside it and unloaded their bags before
taking a quick shower. Once they’d changed they walked the hundred yards to the
main building where the restaurant was situated and were soon seated in a
comfortable alcove close to a ceiling fan that kept the air circulating. A waitress
took their order and then returned a minute later with the beer he’d ordered and a
glass of red wine for Anna.
‘To a good break,’ she said holding out her glass, ‘you’ve worked hard this
year and I think you need it.’
He touched her glass with his. ‘I think we both do; it’s been a while,’ he said,
thinking back to when, a month after the events at the cabin, they’d taken a
week’s break to fly back to the UK, ostensibly for Anna to visit her family and to
introduce Michael to them, but secretly for him to visit the graves of his son,
Adam and his mother-in-law. It hadn’t been easy for him, primarily because he
still felt their loss keenly and still assumed much of the mantle of responsibility
for their deaths; even though he now knew no-one could have foreseen the
repercussions his actions had initiated.
‘Are you looking forward to going camping?’ he asked, changing the subject.
‘I am as long as I don’t have to sleep on the ground. You did order some sort
of mattress, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, although you get the job of inflating it each night.’
‘Is that to improve my lung capacity?’
‘No, it comes with a foot pump; it only takes a few minutes to do.’
‘During which time you’ll be doing what?’
‘Making a fire.’
‘Why can’t I make a fire while you inflate the mattress?’

‘Because I don’t want you burning down half a National Park.’
‘But I wouldn’t. …’
‘Not purposely, I know, but there are ways to build fires in wooded areas that
minimize that risk especially at this time of the year when everything’s tinder dry.
A couple of sparks and. …’ he left the sentence unfinished.
‘Okay, okay, I get your meaning, you can light the fires,’ she took a sip of
wine, ‘if we’re going to Mount Rushmore we’ll have to hope we can find a motel
up that way.’
‘That shouldn’t be a problem,’ he said confidently.
‘As long as you don’t book us into anything that remotely resembles the
Bates Motel; I had nightmares for weeks after I saw that film.’
He frowned. ‘It wasn’t that scary.’
‘It was when you were twelve, believe me.’
The waitress appeared with their meals at that moment so their conversation
came to a temporary halt. However, once she’d left, he found Anna looking agog
at her steak.
‘I don’t know how I’ll get through this, it’s enormous.’
‘Cowboy country,’ he explained, ‘they don’t do nouvelle cuisine out here.
Maybe you should have ordered something else?’
‘No, I fancied a steak; I just didn’t realize they’d be this size.’
‘And you’ve got pudding to go yet.’
‘I may have to pass on that. I think a coffee might be enough; how about
you?’ When he didn’t answer she looked up from her meal to see him staring past
her. ‘What are you looking at?’
‘The TV behind you. I can’t hear what they’re saying but they were showing
a crime scene and it looks like there’s been a murder somewhere and now they’ve
put up a picture of someone and I’m pretty sure it’s that preacher Rob was talking
about last night. Maybe he’s been killed.’
She glanced around then turned back. ‘Do you want to ask them to turn it
‘No, I’m not that interested, it just caught my eye,’ he said, taking another

The next morning, after an early breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast
followed by a short stack of pancakes with maple syrup, which they shared,
Michael settled the bill before they continued north into Idaho.
By ten they had crossed the State line and were parked up outside of
McGuire’s Wilderness Camping and Hiking Store in Montpelier loading up the
equipment they’d hired.
McGuire was a big bear of a man with thick grey hair and a moustache that
almost obscured his mouth and Anna liked him simply because he called her
“Missy” and wouldn’t allow her to carry any of the equipment to the Ford.
‘A pretty little thing like you should be sat up in that cab fixin’ her nails not
shifting heavy gear like this,’ he drawled, ‘that’s man’s work, ain’t that right,
Mister Angelus?’

Michael smiled to himself, surprised that Anna, who wouldn’t have taken that
sort of condescension, however well meant, from anyone else, seemed to be
enjoying it.
‘You’re right, Mister McGuire, we wouldn’t want her snapping a nail or
If McGuire heard the sarcasm in Michael’s voice he chose to ignore it. ‘No,
sirree, we wouldn’t. Why my Josie would never forgive me if she came out and
seen little Missy here humping bags around while there’s men here to do it; she’d
be on my case for a week.’
‘Well, we wouldn’t want that,’ Michael said as he stowed the last of the
equipment into the rear. ‘Now how much do I owe you Mister McGuire?’
McGuire pointed him towards the store. ‘If you’d like to come inside Josie’s
got it all worked out. If you’re payin’ cash you get a ten per cent discount; saves
all that electronic shit with cards and such. Where you aimin’ on goin’?’
‘Grand Teton National Park for a couple of days and then on to Yellowstone
but we want to stay away from the regular tourist bits.’
‘While you’re settlin’ the bill I’ll get you a map and pinpoint a few places
where it’s pretty well secluded and you can camp safely.’
‘I’d appreciate that; thank you.’
When he rejoined Anna in the Ford, she was still looking like the cat that got
the cream.
‘What a gentleman,’ she said, ‘he’s got to be the most well-mannered
American I’ve met to date.’
Michael grinned. ‘He was certainly the most flattering; he knew exactly how
to charm you.’
‘Yes, he was charming, that old world sort of charm that you don’t often get
nowadays; it’s a pity there’s not more men around like him.’
‘I agree. I’ll use him as my role model.’
‘I didn’t mean you, you’re fine but so many men nowadays are just plain rude
and ignorant; he could teach a lot of them a thing or two about politeness and
good manners.’
‘You’re right, he could. Anyway, do you fancy a coffee? There’s a place
across the street; you must be in need of a drink after sitting in the cab doing your
nails,’ he chuckled, managing to duck the slap that was intended for his head and
get out of the cab before she could try again.
On the way into the coffee shop Michael halted, his eyes caught by the
headline on the newsstand outside the front doors:


He put his hand into his jeans and pulled out some change, inserted two coins
into the slot and drew out a copy of the local newspaper before joining Anna
They sat at a booth by the window and, after ordering two coffees, Michael
spread the paper on the table top.
‘Is that about what you saw on the TV last night?’ Anna asked him.

‘I think so,’ he said, without looking up, ‘seems they found a body in a house
near a place called Alliance in Nebraska. The victim was a John Butterman, forty
years of age and divorced. Apparently, his ex-wife raised the alarm when she
didn’t get her monthly support cheque. It seems this so-called Messiah guy has
been taken in for questioning concerning the death. That’s his photo there,’ he
said pointing at the newspaper.
‘So they think he might have done it?’
‘They must have a good reason for questioning him although it doesn’t say
he’s been charged with anything.’
‘Is that all it says?’
‘No, apparently there’s been a number of killings in the last two months
spread over three States that have similar M.O.’s that…’
‘What’s M.O.’s?’ she asked.
‘Modus Operandi.’
‘What does that mean?’
It’s Latin – the mode of operation, I guess. I suppose all the murders must
have been carried out in the same way which obviously leads the police to think
it’s the same person perpetrating them.’
‘Does it say anything about the other murders?’
‘No, just that they’re still unsolved,’ he said, reading on, ‘and it says that
there still appears to be no clear pattern as to why the victims were chosen.’
‘Does it say anything more about this Messiah guy?’ she asked.
‘Only to say that he now has more followers than anyone else apart from the
mainstream religious groups and that he’s catching them up fast.’
‘But I’d never heard of him until Sunday; had you?’
‘I saw that article on him a while ago and when I think back I’ve also seen his
face on “Time” magazine, but I wouldn’t have known who he was until I saw his
picture today.’
‘He looks familiar,’ she said, looking at the photo.
‘I know; apart from the eyes he looks a dead ringer for Charlie Manson.’
Following a stop for lunch in Jackson, they left the 89 taking a left turn to
Jenny Lake that led them through the small town of Moose where they followed
the road up a heavily wooded valley between the mountains. After about eight
miles, following McGuire’s instructions, Michael took another left onto a rough
track that the camping store owner said led to the west side of the lake where only
backpackers tended to camp.
Eventually, after a bumpy ride, they found a small clearing near the water that
looked promising and Michael parked up and began unloading what they’d need.
Once they got the small two-man tent up Anna began inflating the mattress while
Michael foraged for dry sticks and fallen branches with which to build a fire later.
It was now mid-afternoon and the sun was blazing down from an azure sky.
In the mountains it was cooler than when they’d left Montpelier although Michael
knew the sun was more likely to give you sunstroke up here where the
atmosphere was thin, but at least there was plenty of good shade under the canopy
of pines.
Once they’d got everything set up, he suggested they go for a walk and
explore along the edge of the lake, which they did, returning an hour or so later.

Back at the campsite, Michael changed into a pair of swim shorts and began
wading into the lake.
‘Are you being modest?’ Anna said, nodding at his shorts from her perch on a
long flat rock.
‘No, I’m just conscious that someone might come by and I wouldn’t want to
embarrass them; or me,’ he added as an afterthought.
‘But we’ve just walked a good four miles and only seen one other couple.’
‘But we didn’t go south; there might be a pack of girl guides fifty yards back
‘If there were you’d have heard them by now and I don’t think they call them
girl guides over here.’
‘Whatever; anyway are you coming in, it’s not too cold?’
‘What, after Sunday morning? You have to be joking. Your “it’s not too cold”
is everyone else’s “it’s bloody icy” so if you think I’m coming in there with you
and freezing my tits off, you’re sadly mistaken. I’m just going to sit here in the
sun and watch you.’
‘I could warm you up,’ he suggested with a grin.
‘No thanks, you can get too much of a good thing.’
With that parting shot he left her to her sunbathing and swam off out into the
lake where he did a few lengths at a steady crawl before rolling over onto his
back, using his feet to propel him gently back towards dry land.
He waded out of the water and walked to where Anna was laid in the sun,
picking up a towel as he went.
‘Good?’ she asked, squinting up at him over the top of her sunglasses.
He nodded. ‘Very refreshing and there’s some good sized fish in there; I think
I’m going to go fishing.’
‘With what?’
‘Wait and see.’
He took his hunting knife and moved back into the belt of trees behind their
camp site. After a good search he found what he was looking for, a straight larch
branch about five feet long and no more than an inch in diameter. He cut it off,
meticulously trimmed off any side shoots and carried it to the back of the Ford
where, after rummaging in the side of his old leather hold-all, he found a ball of
twine. Sitting down beside Anna, he took the knife and carefully split one end of
the pole so it was divided into quarters for about nine inches of its length. He then
bound the pole tightly so it wouldn’t split beyond that point. Selecting a pebble
about a half inch in diameter, he forced it down between the four prongs as far as
it would go then bound it in place with the twine. After that was done he
sharpened each of the prongs into an elongated point. He held it up for inspection.
‘It’s some kind of spear,’ she said.
‘More a harpoon; the prongs give you a better chance of hitting a fish but then
you have to move pretty fast to make sure it doesn’t wriggle off the points. That’s
where you come in.’
She eyed him suspiciously. ‘It doesn’t involve getting wet does it?’
‘No. There’s a patch of weed out there about ten yards or so offshore,’ he
said, pointing it out, ‘and I noticed there were several decent sized trout in and
around there. I’m going to work that area. What I want you to do is wait quietly

on the bank over there with the mallet we used to put up the tent, then when I
catch one I’m going to use the harpoon to flick it onto the shore where you only
have to bash it on the head to kill it, okay?’
‘That’s assuming you catch any,’ she said sceptically.
‘It’s good to see that you have so much confidence in me.’
‘Normally, I do,’ she protested, ‘but that’s looks a bit prehistoric,’ she said,
nodding at the primitive-looking weapon.
‘No more than fishing with a net or a trap and just as effective.’
‘Okay, but I’ll reserve judgement until I see the results.’
She watched as he began wading back into the lake. Once he was in amongst
the weeds he stopped and bent over, ensuring his upper body shaded the spot he
was watching. Noiselessly, he slid the points of the harpoon into the water and
waited, his bent arm poised above his head.
Anna stood on the bank watching, mallet in hand. For several minutes,
Michael stood as still as a statue. Suddenly, his arm shot downwards, thrusting
the harpoon deep into the water. Then, just as fast, it came out of the water and
there, on the end, was a wriggling fish which, even as she saw it, was arcing
towards her. It landed, writhing, on the grass about four feet from where she
stood. She shook off her surprise, took two steps and brought the mallet crashing
down; and missed. She swung it again and the fish instantly lay still.
She looked across at Michael who had assumed his former pose, his back to
her. She glanced down at the fish at her feet. It was grey and speckled with a
pinkish band along its side, its scales shining in the sun. She picked it up and
moved it into the shade.
Within the next few minutes, Michael struck twice more but each time he
missed and then, just when Anna thought it had been beginner’s luck, he struck
for a fourth time and, seconds later, she had to duck or the second fish would have
hit her in the face. Again it took her two attempts to kill it.
Michael waded ashore. ‘That’s enough for dinner,’ he said picking up the two
fish by their tails.
‘I take back what I said; that was quite impressive.’
‘It’s not the first time I’ve done it,’ he admitted.
He sat down in the shade and went to work with his knife on the larger of the
two fish, cutting out the gills and the large blood vessels next to the backbone
then repeating the process on the smaller one to stop the blood spreading through
the flesh. He then scraped off the scales from both fish before cutting them open
and removing the guts, head, tail and fins which he threw back into the water.
‘You’ve done that before, too.’
He nodded.
After the fish were prepared Michael disassembled the harpoon and cut it into
foot long lengths for burning, not wanting to be caught with it as he was pretty
sure it was an illegal way to catch fish and he didn’t particularly want to fall foul
of any Park Ranger who might happen along; in fact he wasn’t even sure if
fishing was allowed at all in the National Park; or an open fire.
Next, he used his knife to cut away a square of turf about eighteen inches
across, which he pulled up and put to one side. Then using one of the foot long
lengths of pole he scraped out the earth and stones to a depth of around a foot.

Once this was done he collected a number of good sized stones and, assessing that
there was a very slight breeze coming off the lake, built a wall around the
windward side of the hole using the damp earth he’d excavated to plug the gaps
between the stones. He then laid the sticks and twigs in the hole in a simple tepee
fashion filing the middle with dry moss and bark then moved all the bigger dry
branches to a spot a couple of yards away where it was readily available but
downwind of any possible sparks.
Anna watched him interestedly. ‘Why the little wall,’ she asked, ‘you’ve
already put the fire down into the ground?’
‘It’s to shelter it from any wind, you don’t want it blowing into the fire as that
makes your supply of wood burn a lot faster and will create sparks which, with
the forest so close and it being so dry at this time of year, would be risky.’
‘I can see now why you didn’t want me doing it.’
‘It’s not that I didn’t think you could build a fire it’s just that there are
different ways to make fires depending on the environment you’re in.’
As they had now lost the sun and the temperature was slowly dropping,
Michael thought it was time to light the fire knowing that it would take a while to
burn down to the state where he could cook the fish in the hot ashes.
He struck a match and held it to the dried moss and watched as it smouldered
then flamed, catching first to the moss and thin bark above then to the twigs,
sticks and pine cones above that. Within a minute he had a good blaze going and
began steadily adding the cut up harpoon and then thicker branches.
Leaving Anna to feed the fire and keep an eye on it he again went into the
trees collecting more dry kindling and a good supply of decent sized fallen
branches, which he brought back to the camp site in two trips.
An hour later the fire had burnt down to a pile of hot embers and ash and at
that point Michael went to the Ford, returning with a roll of tinfoil. He tore off
two good sized sheets then laid a fish on each before smearing thick butter over
them and wrapping the foil tightly around each one and pushing the two parcels
into the hot embers. Twenty minutes later, using a forked stick, he carefully
turned them over.
While the fish were cooking Anna prepared mixed salad on two tin plates and
sliced up a small loaf of cheese bread, all of which they’d bought earlier in
Michael moved the smaller of the two parcels to the edge of the fire and
gingerly prised back part of the tin foil revealing moist pink flesh. It looked
cooked. He stuck the point of his knife in and dug out a morsel of flesh, blew on it
then tasted it. Satisfied, he pulled the parcel away from the heat.
‘Yours is ready,’ he said to Anna, who brought the two plates to the fire.
Michael lifted the parcel on to a plate, unwrapped it then slid the fish from the
tinfoil. He then removed his own from the embers, but left it in the foil while he
placed some moss and kindling on the embers and blew on them until flames
licked upwards. Once the kindling was crackling away he re-stocked the fire.
‘How is it?’ he asked Anna who was busily munching away.
‘Beautiful, in fact I can’t remember having fish that tasted this good. It’s
completely different to what you can buy in a shop,’ she enthused.
‘Well, it couldn’t be much fresher; that’s gonna make a big difference.’