It was one of those days.
One of those days where you wonder quite how you ended up gagged, hanging upside down by your feet, in a cave in an unfashionable province of the Republic of China.
The kind of day you wished you’d picked up the alarm clock, thrown it out of a window under a passing road roller, rolled over and gone back to sleep. One of those days.
The kind of day you think the pretty girl with Nikanov eyes is smiling and waving at you, but it’s at her sailor boyfriend behind you.
The kind of day when they add all the wrong fillings to your sandwich – including raw onion.
In my case I was wishing I’d rolled over several days on the trot rather than flying to Mexico then crossing the Pacific to China then trekking far from the cities and coasts to one of the few places on the planet where no one has ever heard of me. I wouldn’t have minded had it not seemed to be going so well. After all, I’d defeated the villain, hadn’t I?
Something just dripped on me. And if I had been the right way up it would have gone down the back of my neck. And now I can’t help thinking how Miss Nikanov would have berated me in tenth grade English for starting a sentence with “and”, twice. Miss Nikanov with just a hint of a Russian accent and a twinkle in her eye when you got the answer right. Eyes that meant no boy ever dared utter the oh-so-obvious nickname she could have been lumbered with.
Yet here I am wondering how I ended up hanging upside down by my feet, gagged with an old rag, in a pitch–black cave with only a fake jade statue of a long–dead emperor and a sense of my impending doom for company.
“Now I’m going to count backwards from three. You’re going to think of the little emperor. When I reach one, you’re going to fall asleep. Three… Two… One. Now when you wake up you’re going to make your way to Shanghai and turn yourself in at the American consulate on Huangpu Road.”
Then she opened her eyes. That’s when I knew how she made men do her bidding. Why Ted said she could sprain men’s eyeballs. It wasn’t her figure or her ruby–red lips or the mesmerising sway of her hips; it was something in her Nikanov eyes.
And the way she pressed her knife against my chest.
“Your mind games may work on my weak–willed help Mot.”
The way she grazed the sharp tip of her knife against my chest without piercing the skin.
“Unfortunately for you they won’t work on me.”
I should have figured it out before. She wasn’t the puppet, the pawn, the femme enacting some master villain’s plan. She was the villain and the femme fatale wrapped up in one very dangerous package.
“I don’t want you turning any more of my hired help as they truss you up. So if you’d be so kind as to just open wide. Then I can gag you. Unless you’d rather I opened your chest.”
I could just grab the blade.
“You’re thinking, ‘I can just grab her arm and push the blade out of the way’.”
Her face was close. Her mouth shaped the words so beautifully.
“Can’t say I blame you.”
Her eyes danced a quick tango with mine.
“You’re the big man and I’m oh so little. Oh so weak. Oh so helpless. But sir, I’d so easily be at you’re mercy.”
She was right – it would be easy. I tried to move my hand to grab the blade.
“Arms not working? Poor dear not feeling so big and macho now? A bit deflated? You see the blade’s coated in a toxic charm of my brother’s invention. He’s good at things like that. His gas wiped out the villagers you turned on us. It was him or them and he’s a complete hypocrite to his Hippocratic oath when it comes to choices like that.”
Cold fear ran through my veins.
“Don’t worry, this toxin won’t kill you. Not one little scratch. A few more crisscrossing your heart and you’re in trouble. One little scratch like this and it just slows you down. First your beautifully toned arms and legs. Then your strong jaw, steely eyes and oh so dangerous tongue. All you’ll be left is fluttering your eyelids and flaring your nostrils heroically.”
I didn’t have a choice. I opened my mouth. The dry gag tasted foul. I could make word-like noises but couldn’t enunciate.
“You’re hoping I’ll tell you my plan. Then you escape before I kill you and you can stop me. There’s no sport in killing you. So I’m not telling you my plan. Instead I’m going to tie you up and leave you to your own devices.”
“When the toxin wears off things can go one of three ways. You can prove you’re the greatest escapologist alive. Someone finds our little jade friend and their greed kills themselves and you. Someone finds you, resists our little jade friend and rescues you. I suppose there is a fourth way. No one ever finds you alive. That wouldn’t be much fun though. Well, not for you.”
“It doesn’t matter because I’ll be gone long before any of them come to pass. In an ideal world I could have finished building my little kingdom here. It’s not necessary. I’ve taken everything I need.”
So that’s how I got here. Well, without going into the humiliating detail of being carted about like a bag of potatoes by oafs, being tied up or being hoisted up to the ceiling of a cave on a length of chain. And finally left in the dark to dwell on Miss Nikanov’s eyes.
Definitely one of those days.