Dan knew nothing of the latest man to grace the container with his presence. To Dan, he was merely a sign that the police had still not organised themselves. He felt his shoulders drop an inch or so. Are they ever coming?
The man looked determined, and was waving a gun around, wide-eyed as if he had won it in a raffle.
Joshua, it seemed, recognised the man. He seemed to almost raise a smile through his pain as the three in the metal box became four.
“So,” said the stranger, “Which of you will climb down this ladder and lock me in for my journey?”
Without a second of hesitation, Abigail said, “I’ll do it.”
Joshua squeezed her again with his left arm before relaxing it to its former position. “You’re going nowhere, girl.”
No one spoke for a moment, and then Joshua said, “Besides, this if the father of the girl you knew as Alicja. He tells me the police will be here at any moment.”
The eyes of the man grew ever wider. Dan looked confused. Does he also know Abigail? Was he supposed to be in that hotel when the police stormed in?
“What are you trying to tell me?” he asked.
“I’m telling you that you can’t just hide in here and hope for circumstances to turn in your favour,” Joshua said.
“Go on then,” the man said in a defiant tone, waving the gun around like an idiot. “What do you think we should do to get out of this mess?”
“I suggest we encourage the man in the yellow outfit to get us out of here.”
David shook his head. “I’m afraid he can’t be encouraged to do anything. He’s…”
The man said nothing, but drew a finger across his throat in a cartoon-like gesture of one’s demise.
“You killed our ticket out of here?!”
“He killed himself! The bullet meant for me bounced back. His own poor aim cost him.”
Dan took the chance to promote the uncertainty in their minds. Doubts lead to delays. Delays will lead to their capture by the police… when they eventually turn up.
“You expect to steer this ship out of here without any training before the police show up or the crew return?” Dan smiled and then let out a derisory laugh. “You’d have more chance of flying this container to the moon.”
Both men pointed their guns at Dan. The smile drained from his face.
“Shut up!” one cried, whilst the other shouted, “Be quiet!” In the apparent confusion he couldn’t discern who had said what.
After a sigh and a shake of the head, all the while lowering his weapon, the mystery man said, “I have no option but to try and get free. I can’t be here when the police show up.”
“Why not?” Dan asked. “Who are you?”
He waved away the question. “I’m not getting into all that. It’s just not in my best interests. Understand?”
“Well then,” Joshua said in a cheerful voice for a man with a smashed hand, “I suppose we need to see what we can do.”
“What shall we do with these two?” the man asked.
“Nothing.” Joshua said, letting go of Abigail and walking towards him, each keeping one of the Castles in their sights. “They’ll stay locked in here while we get things moving.”
Raising an eyebrow, he said, “I’m so sorry, Mr Castle. Where are my manners?” He nodded towards the man to his right. “This is David, the photographer who’s been taking those delightful photos of your daughter.”
A fierce rage filled Dan’s heart and mind. I would give anything to send that guy on a one-way trip to the floor of this ship, but I won’t risk getting shot.
“Now,” said Joshua, taking control of the situation, “I’ll go down the ladder with David, and you two can stay exactly where you are.”
Joshua kept his gun pointed at Dan and Abigail, standing beside each other, as David started his descent to the deck.
“How exactly do you plan on outrunning police helicopters and boats?” Dan asked Joshua. “These vessels move pretty slowly.”
With the gun still pointing towards them, Joshua tried to assert his alleged authority. “I’ll admit that there are flaws in this plan, but I’m willing to think on my feet. Now stay here and be good little hostages.”
Abigail laughed. “That’s worked out so well for you today, hasn’t it?” She asked in a sarcastic tone.
There was no visible response from Joshua. It was as if the comment had gone unheard.
A shout from below indicated that the first of them had reached the bottom of the first ladder. Backing up at a careful, steady pace, Joshua did not seem to have considered the need to drop his weapon to make the climb.
“Back to the sofa, both of you,” Joshua ordered. As they moved back and took their seats, he added, “David will still be pointing a gun up here from down below, so don’t try anything stupid.”
It was a hollow threat. How would a man like that hit a moving target from that distance, and in this weather?
Even so, an alternative plan started to form in Dan’s mind.
Joshua looked awkward but surprisingly controlled as he placed the gun on the floor and started to make his way down, one rung at a time. Before his head dropped out of sight, his right hand reached up and grabbed the gun, no doubt to place it in a pocket.
He’s only got one fully functional arm. Dan stared at the entrance to the container, the heavy dark red door starting to swing shut. He’ll need his good arm to close the door.
The door was almost fully closed when he heard Joshua raise up a couple of steps to engage the lock.
Without a word, or a moment to delay, Dan jumped out of his seat and ran for the door. Holding the side that was still bolted shut, he slid to the floor and kicked the closing door as hard as he could.
There was a shout of pure panic from Joshua as the door opened a couple of inches before slamming shut again. He’s got his whole body weight against this door.
Dan moved back a step and prepared himself for impact. Rolling backwards and winding his knees up to his chest, he let all of his fury out through his feet in one go, crashing into the door. He wound back and did the same thing again.
The door swung open and crashed against the outside of the container, swinging freely in the wind. At the same time, he heard the sound of Joshua screaming, failing to grab the ladder on several attempts as he fell.
Dan reached down and grabbed the top of the ladder, hoping to steady it enough to allow them to find their way free. In those three seconds, he could feel Joshua’s desperate attempts to stop his fall. A couple of heavy tugs later, he heard the sound of a heavy, blunt object hitting steel. Joshua had landed.
Dan peered over the edge. Joshua was lying in a heap. David walked up to him, dragged him from the base of the ladder, and removed something from his pocket.
“Get back!” David’s shout could just about be heard above the sound of the storm. “Stay there or I’ll shoot.”
Dan shook his head. “No you won’t. Even if you do, you’ll miss.”
“You shoot with a camera. Not a gun.”
He stared at David. He was standing there, staring up, silent. He had called the man’s bluff. If he was prepared to shoot me, he’d have at least tried by now.
After no more than five seconds of inaction, the man turned around and climbed down the remaining two ladders as fast as his hands and feet could take him, and then he disappeared out of view.
Do I chase him or do I stay here and hope the police show up? He looked into the distance and shook his head. Still no flashing lights. No sirens.
In all of Dan’s life, he had never picked a fight with a man holding a gun. Now, he was about to go chasing after a man with not one, but two. He turned around and started to climb down the ladder. When the police close off the scene, I wonder what they’ll think. Am I crazy, heroic or suicidal? Is there really much of a difference?