Ebbe kept glancing through the dirty glass window of the store. She felt paranoid today, although she didn't know why, and felt the need to keep the Land Rover in her field of vision as she grabbed a few essentials.
"Nine pound seven," JC slurred lazily.
Ebbe absently dug out a fifty pound note and tossed it onto the counter, paying more attention to the vehicle than JC who eyed the note with suspicion. He picked it up as if it may be toxic and held it up to the light, squinting his round face. A daft potato faced man, Ebbe thought as she briefly allowed her attention to return to the shopkeeper, who was now holding the note under an ultraviolet light box. Ebbe noticed with a wry smile that the box wasn't even turned on. With a shrug JC finally relented and pounded clumsily on the till, which popped open with a ping. Good God, Ebbe marvelled each time she watched this ritual, these people are barely in the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first. But that was what had drawn her to Barton St Johns to begin with; isolation and the worst mobile and internet connection you could get bar moving to an island somewhere in darkest Scotland. That had been a possibility, until she realised civilisation had to at least be accessible reasonably quickly, should the need arise, and a two hour boat ride, plus four hour car journey just to reach a village store was not going to swing it.
After much fumbling JC finally dropped some ten pound notes and coins onto the counter unceremoniously. Ebbe scooped it all up, not bothering to double check and turned without a word. She didn't care to ingratiate herself with the natives, all that took up far too much time. She only knew JC was JC because he had enthusiastically introduced himself and offered a handshake when she made her first trip to his convenience store. Ebbe soon put paid to such foolishness by telling him she didn't care if his name was WC and would he kindly keep his greasy paws away from her if he didn't want to lose a finger or two.
The bell on the door jangled irritatingly as she exited, brown paper bag held in one arm. She caught what appeared to be a shadow in the corner of the adjoining building and whipped her head around. Nothing. There's that damn paranoia again. What is my problem, she puzzled as she swiftly popped the back door open and tossed the bag in, not caring that a couple of tins tumbled out and fell under the drivers seat.
Slamming the door shut again she gave a quick survey of the town, which was nothing more than a collection of derelict looking buildings huddled together to share in their misery before committing suicide. Everything seemed as dreary as ever. Not that it mattered of course, she reasoned with a dry smirk. Try to shake off the growing paranoia Ebbe made her way to the driver's seat and made the usual effort to pull herself into the tall chair. These damned things weren't designed for someone only five foot two she cursed as she grasped the steering wheel and hoisted herself in.
After she slammed the door shut Ebbe paused and closed her eyes tightly. Of course, of course, they will come, nobody likes a secret to get out and the bigger the secret the bigger the need to keep it that way. The chatter on the net had been about a V6. Someone had one on their head. Nobody knew who and nobody knew why. But the fact that a fabled V6 was even being mentioned was enough to keep the geeks and their conspiracy theories ticking over for another century. Ebbe re-opened her eyes and let the dim light flood back in, making her head throb a little. Everyone had a theory and of course they were all wrong. Other people are always wrong. Especially the secret keepers. Whatever secret they thought they were protecting, it was the wrong one for the wrong reason.
Ebbe started the engine, which spluttered to life like a heavy smoker on a respirator. Without checking her mirror she swung out into the road and drove away, engine coughing and wheezing.
A V6, she continued to ponder, is such a ridiculous concept and one that surely was never meant to be actioned. Of course, one only has the word of the types who spend their days in dark dank rooms, stealing data from places they shouldn't and trying to find someone who actually cares. Ebbe always found it surprising how little the ordinary person cares what companies, agencies and businesses know about them and what they do with that information. I suppose that is why they are ordinary she surmised. But a V6. A real V6, was anything but ordinary. So if it truly had been sanctioned, it would have to be for a truly extraordinary reason. And Ebbe could think of nothing more extraordinary than what she had discovered.
The Land Rover came to a skidding, juddering halt in the middle of the road, just before the turn to the abandoned railway bridge. I'm not paranoid, Ebbe declared rationally, I'm simply aware that the V6 is for me. They'll likely be on their way. If they're not here already.
Ebbe rolled that juicy thought around in her head. What if they're here already? What if? I suppose I ought to assume they are and simply turn this metal beast around and drive straight to that Scottish island. And what then? Sit there until the sky falls on our heads? No no, think about this sensibly. What kind of person do they send to undertake a V6? What kind of person would you trust to kill a civilian, their entire family and all of their known contacts? You can't just send a mindless thug. They would make it too high profile, too messy. Unexplained deaths may simply serve to highlight the person and their activity. No no, a V6 requires care and attention. A man with brains. Of course it will be a man. Those in charge of such agencies are always men and they would only trust a man to do it. Fools. A woman can be far more ruthless. Men are easily distracted. It will be an intelligent man, with experience and probably no clue what his order is until the target is in his sights. Too little time to question the validity of the order or think. But he'll be a quick thinker. A man with morals. A good killer is the one who does it only when absolutely necessary. The men at the top never realise this.
Ebbe fired up the Land Rover again and sped away, the engine seemingly gaining a second lease of life, as if it had coughed up whatever had been choking it earlier. Ebbe pressed her foot down hard on the accelerator as the sun began to vanish beyond the horizon and the woods were lit up in a blaze of deep crimson. I shall, Ebbe continued, meet this man and convince him to join me, not kill me. I only hope he isn't like other intelligent men, who feel the need to surround themselves with morons, presumably to further flag their readily apparent intellect to women. A moron with a gun is a dangerous thing.
The thought of Jorge and Sam being shot in cold blood sent a shudder down her spine. What's worse, Ebbe wondered, seeing the end of all things, or dying at the hands of a government lackey? After all, the second would at least prevent them from seeing the suffering, the chaos and God only knows what else. But no one has the right to make that choice for them. Not even me.
The drive from town to the farmhouse took nigh on an hour, the road growing ever thinner and winding mercilessly through thick woodland. The day had long faded to a magnificent clear sky night as Ebbe pulled up to the house, nestled in less than idyllic marshlands. The place had been a bargain because the surrounding land had long been unusable for crops or livestock and the house had fallen into disrepair.
The Land Rover shuddered to a halt, giving out a little sigh as it did, as if it were relieved to be resting after being pushed so hard over the uneven road, long since abandoned by the local council. Ebbe pushed the door open, which creaked in protest. Down she jumped and then stood, looking first in the dark thick woodland to the front of the property and then down at the sweeping valley, currently glistening with silver light reflected in the marshes from above. There was no moon that night, but by God, with no human light to pollute the skies, those stars sure did sparkle.
Taking a deep breath Ebbe sucked up the bracing cold air and glanced up. It was the same sky she had fallen in love with growing up in South Africa. The sky at night in the desert was a thing of true beauty that had been seared into her mind since childhood. Ebbe had believed in Heaven purely because of those tiny little jewels scattered across the inky blackness. Clearly such beauty could only exist in Heaven, she had believed, long before she studied astronomy and learnt the constellations. For some reason, the Great Bear, Ursa Major, was always her favourite. Most astronomers moved on from such obvious constellations, but for Ebbe, it was the one that truly captured her imagination. It was for this reason that she sought it out before making her way to the house. A faint hope that gazing upon it may steel her reserve for whatever may be coming next.
There! That was The Plough, which forms the hind quarters and tail of The Great Bear. Hello my old friend, I'm glad that, for now at least, you are still with me.
Enough sentimental nonsense Ebbe, she scolded, shaking her head. Into the house and face whatever demons may have ascended upon you from Hell.
And so Ebbe made her way to the house, forgetting her shopping bag that had tumbled to the floor of the Land Rover during the bumpy ride home.
After stepping across the threshold Ebbe found herself peeking into every room, half expecting to see a heavily armed military unit staring back at her and before she could utter a word they would all fire and that would be that. Well, if they do, then you doom the rest of humanity to the same eventual fate, Ebbe scolded her imaginary soldiers. After turning on the light in every room only to find no intruders awaiting her arrival Ebbe made her way to the living room. Her head began to swim and she found herself staggering to the wall, right hand clasped to her forehead. Taking a moment to compose herself Ebbe decided she needed a hot sugary drink.
"Damn," she cursed out loud suddenly remembering the shopping still sitting in the Land Rover. "What a fool I am," she said, suddenly feeling silly for having bought into the idle gossip of the geeks who loved to blabber about obviously mythical agencies and their supposed crazy actions. Ebbe stared at all her star charts and the vast picture of the moon. She only followed those geeks to see if anyone else had spotted the problem. Or at least whether anyone who may have spotted it had dared speak out. Obviously they hadn't. Everyone else was ordinary.
Ebbe made a snap decision to get the kettle boiling before heading back to the Land Rover.
As she passed back through the living room, heading to the front door, she stumbled across four heavily armed men doing a sweep of her living room.
"What the hell is going on?" Ebbe heard herself say before there was a loud crack and everything went black.