At exactly ten thirty New York time Davies
took a bottle of pills from his pocket. He
opened it, removed the cotton wool, tapped
out an orange tablet with a tiny blue dot at
its centre. Swilled it down with a glass of
water. In a small diary he flicked to the
calendar page for August. Circled the day,
noted the time, just as he had for the last
three weeks, just as he would have to do for
several more weeks.
has a habit of barging in on all
precision plans. A middle-aged woman pushed
past the drinks trolley in the aisle and
knocked Daviesís elbow. The pill bottle
tipped and orange tablets bounced
everywhere. The woman apologised, lowered
herself to her fleshy knees and started
scrambling on the floor to pick them up. The
flight attendant joined in. More unwanted
attention. Davies told them: itís okay, Iíll
get them. Leave it to me. Just vitamin
pills, no problem. But they carried on,
making small talk, and tautening his temper.
Then the woman moved the zip-up bag to reach
a tablet. His legs twitched involuntarily,
and he snarled. I said leave it. She
looked up at him and in her wide eyes was
surprise, flecked with fear.
When sheíd gone he counted the pills
silently from his tray table into the
bottle. Eleven missing. Rattled and angry,
now Davies just wanted to do it now
and have it finished with. But he knew he
couldnít. Not yet. Not until the right time.
After the film, more drinks, and then the
irritating tangle of headphones and eyemasks,
blankets and bedsocks. After all that. When
the lights were dimmed and the artificial
rules of jet sleep descended. Only then
could Davies get up, and do what he had to
do. What he had so long dreamed of doing.
A thin smile played on his lips. Out of the
window all light had been swallowed by the
ocean of night. A world heading into
darkness, at a speed beyond natureís
* * *
It was midnight New York time when
Pharmstar Corporation chief executive John
Sanford Erskine III left his World Business
Class seat to go to the toilet. He walked
past the sleeping forms of his personal
assistant Penny Ryan and Don Quiggan, chief
financial officer. Across the aisle Bob
Mazzio, head of mergers and acquisitions,
was watching a movie on a personal screen.
Inside the rest room Erskine straightened
his silk tie, brushed the shoulders of his
jacket, and patted cologne on his tanned
cheeks. At six foot four, he needed to stoop
a little for the mirror. He checked his
leonine profile in the mirror, tucked a
paper towel into his collar and carefully
brushed and flossed his teeth.
With a small silver comb he flicked the last
two or three errant hairs to the correct
side. Satisfied, he smiled. Fifty eight
years old and he still had a thick mane of
hair. Once jet black, now it was grey and
shot with white above his ears.
From a monogrammed leather bag he took a
small jar of cream. With a fresh face towel
twisted on a finger, he took a dab and
smoothed it along his bushy black eyebrows.
Once the wayward hairs were in place he
dabbed off the excess and used a hairdryer
to set them. The eyebrows emphasised his
piercing blue eyes, but Erskine had more
subtle uses for them. With tiny arches,
inflexions and frowns, what he called his
calligraphy of influence, he was able to
steer a meeting without raising his voice,
and engineer a seduction without lowering
Iron Jack Erskine, they called him. He wowed
investors and swayed bankers, he overawed
rivals and intimidated opponents. Oppose
Iron Jack, it was said in the pharmaceutical
industry, and the odds were a thousand to
one you would lose.
Trouble is, some enemies never look at the
While victims sleep, predators hunt.
It was 2.15 a.m. in New York and 8.15 a.m.
in Amsterdam. Davies retrieved his zip-up
bag from beneath the seat and pressed his
fingers through the material, to feel the
seal around the box lid. Intact. His
curly-haired neighbour lay slumped under a
blanket, a paper swan in his hand. Across
the aisle a bald businessman lay snoring
with his laptop computer still open, its
cursor blinking for attention.
The economy cabin was like a darkened
battlefield: sprawled bodies, splayed limbs,
gaping mouths, and across the aisle a
blanket spattered with red wine. In a few
places reading lamps knifed the gloom,
illuminating old biddies with permed hair
and spectacles on chains, ploughing through
the latest thriller. If only they knew where
the action really was.
His fingers reached inside the zip bag and
eased off the rubber bands. The lid was
still tight. He put the bag on his shoulder
and headed towards the curtain partitioning
off business class. There was a flight
attendant preparing drinks in the kitchen
beyond, but she didnít look up as he padded
past. Five feet further on was the staircase
reaching up to the business class upper
deck. The target area.
Davies placed his feet slowly, to make sure
the metal stairs didnít ring as he climbed.
Three stairs below the top, he stopped. Wide
soft seats, reclined with bodies upon them.
Soft, vulnerable, sleeping. He lifted the
box from the bag. Took one last glance above
him. No-one stirred. No-one was watching.
Carefully, he took off the lid/
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