Only seconds after Dr. Tom O’Rourke had set up the tripod,
a gust of wind ripping down from the promontory knocked it
over. The infrared camera struck the basaltic ledge with a
Damn!” Tom examined the camera’s damage.
Alice Boyd, his wife and research partner, jerked up her head. “Broken?” Tom
rotated the camera in his hands. He nodded. “Yep. Smashed lens. Good thing
I brought a spare.” He tossed the damaged camera into the Scottish loch’s
pool and removed the backup camera from inside his field pack. Disappointment
coarsened his voice. “Today was a bust. We’ll eat a hot meal and
turn in early. Tomorrow before daybreak, we’ll hustle straight down.”
“My travel guide books didn't mention these Arctic blasts.” Alice
yanked up her parka’s hood to pull the drawstrings tight. Tom nudged gold-rimmed
glasses back up his nose. “I figure April is a windy month. But I can handle
it. Can't you?" he said. “Perhaps the broken camera is Nessie’s
hint that we shouldn't do this. I've been having bad dreams about this place.” Tom
scoffed. “You and your mystical dreams. This sea loch voids into the Atlantic.
Well, you can start doing the Australian crawl for home.” After rummaging
in her field pack, Alice set out his meteorological instruments. She recorded
their measurements to input on his PDA: 4:30 p.m., 30.14 inches of mercury and
falling, and thirty degrees Fahrenheit. “This camera isn’t working
either. All right, bag my stuff and let’s book. Tomorrow we'll be back.” Tom
retrieved the tripod to stash in his second field pack. As Alice clasped her
two field packs to sling over a shoulder, Tom appraised the stone-choked wasteland
around them. Loch Tram lay twenty-five miles northwest of Loch Ness. The runoff
drainage of local peat dyed its waters opaque brown. Their lone footpath out
was over a series of switchbacks down the cliff face.
One false step, Tom realized, would be their final. He didn’t share that
insight with Alice. Besides, he was always sure-footed. He took pride in it.
He hefted his two field packs.
They hiked up the ascent. Curious, Alice toed a few pebbles over the edge. She
didn’t hear them strike the bottom. An idea popped into her head. If Tom
should lose his balance and fall, might he die on impact? Might she bury him
beneath a cairn erected from Loch Tram’s gray rocks? One little slip was
all it took. The thought shamed and excited her. She tramped by a stone memorial
built to honor a bomber crew who’d crashed here in 1945.
Tom followed Alice, Wolverine boots crunching over the rubble. Their field packs
sagged heavy carrying his critical, heavy equipment. The nylon straps gnawing
into Alice’s shoulders needed readjustment. At the next switchback, breathless,
she shouted out. They halted for her to tighten the straps' buckles. She started
to rub her raw spots but thought better of it.
“Can’t you hurry it up? I can’t be trapped down here all night,” said
Tom. “Then we should’ve left earlier.” “My dear little
Alice-in-Wonderland, I’m not jumping into another spat with you. We agreed
it was reasonable to rig up an infrared camera to shoot overnight pictures. But
then the wind kicked up. The tripod blew over and the camera broke. Bad luck
but tomorrow we'll recover just fine.” "You're the man always with
the plan,” said Alice. They resumed the climb. All Alice had to show for
her first day in Scotland were sore muscles and a grouchy disposition. Something
bothered her. Tom had kept everything secret to safeguard his research about
Nessie. Nobody knew they were in Scotland. Tom would break his big news to the
world know soon enough.
How long do you figure your disguise will succeed?” she asked him.
“Whatever do you mean? Aren't we newlyweds here sightseeing? Why, who’d
Alice wasn’t amused. “How many other newlyweds prowl these lochs
toting expensive video and sound equipment? Gossip spreads between the villages.
Soon some smart cookie will be on to you. Once caught, what will you say?”
Tom pivoted to size her up. “Just stick to the original plan, Alice. Don't
even think a word that might blow my secret until I’m ready to tell it.” Lacking
the will to argue, Alice plodded upward. Tom’s charm and confidence had
hardened into arrogance. He’d been so much smarter than all their professors
at the university had. He was a young, rising Ph.D. destined for stellar feats.
Nothing or nobody had better, by God, stand in his way. Alice wondered if she
was a partner in her husband Tom’s scientific expedition or a pack mule. “Brrr,” said
Tom perched on a crag shivering for her benefit. “Now I can understand
how your favorite authors Emily and Charlotte Brontë must've felt.” “The
Brontë sisters had better sense than to photograph imaginary kelpies.” Stooping,
Tom reached a hand out to grab for the straps on her smaller field pack. “I’ll
get that for you. But I get dirty sex later. Everything is a tradeoff, Alice.” Alice
snatched the field pack back. “I can carry my own load.” "Suit
yourself." Tom assumed the lead on the footpath. A blister on his heel burst.
With each stride, pain burned his foot. He didn’t leave Alice too far behind,
though. He preferred a warm bed to a cold couch. Alice satisfied two basic needs:
money and sex. But then Dr. Tom O’Rourke deserved all that and plenty more.
He was on to something big. Pulitzer Prize big. He stood on the brink of proving
the existence of Nessie, the sea serpent heretofore championed only by crackpots
and con artists. Things hadn’t gone well at first. But marrying Alice had
been a last minute addition when his grant had evaporated. Her rich father had
funded this expedition. He’d solved the popular conundrum by first theorizing
Loch Ness had been Nessie's original habitat. After poring over satellite images,
eyewitness reports, and lakeside seismic recordings, he concluded Nessie was
neither reptile nor fish. She was, in fact, an amphibian, capable of locomotion
on the land or in the water. By nature a camera shy creature, Nessie wanted to
flee from the attention lavished on Loch Ness. One starless, foggy night, Nessie
had slithered undetected to Loch Tram, the next nearest body of water -- Tom
grew fanatical in his conviction believing his theory. Tom had reserved an upstairs
room at the Draper's Inn. Alice called it “quaint” and “romantic.” Tom
relished its remoteness. At the door, Alice unhitched her field packs. While
she sashayed into the lobby to create a diversion, Tom hustled all his cameras
and video equipment up the fire escape stairs away from any prying eyes. It took
Tom three trips down the fire escape stairs to cart up and stash his gear inside
a walk-in closet. Alice changed her clothes and went downstairs. Stretched out
on the brass bed, Tom lit a cigarette and relaxed. Smoke curled in devil horns
up from his head. He went over the dark plan he had in mind. From a conversation
with Alice, he knew she swam like a hammer. He’d also noted that the rocks
high above Loch Tram were slimy -- and slick. The room key rattled in the antique
iron lock. Tom coughed on his surprise. Alice poked her head inside the doorway. “Can
you mosey on downstairs? Mr. Campbell has invited us to dine.” Warmed by
the glow of his murderous intent, Tom hopped up from the brass bed. “Lead
on.” He butted the cigarette.
“I’m so keen to hear all about Loch Tram,” she said. Whap!
Tom’s hand tagged Alice high on the cheek. Legs buckled under her. “Shit!
What was that for?” A welt materialized. Tears scraped down her chin. Mascara
smudged her white Peter Pan blouse. Feet anchored wide, Tom stood over Alice. “Remember
our rules. Thou shalt not mention Loch Tram. That was my gentlest reminder. Now,
our host awaits us.” Croaking out, Alice rubbed a wrist across her forehead.
With a visible effort, she leveraged in the knees and stood up on her feet. Tom
didn’t offer her a hand for assistance. Braced against the wall, she took
You’re a son of a bitch,” she said.
“Nessie is my all. Remember that. Nothing else matters. Not even you. Downstairs,
you'll mention to Mr. Campbell what a klutz you are. Late this afternoon in the
fossil grove, you tripped and whacked your head on a petrified tree stump.” “If
you ever lay a finger on me, I’ll take my checkbook and be on the next
flight home. In fact, I might go any damn way.” Tom flipped aside the flap
to his corduroy jacket. The Luger’s black bore pointed at Alice’s
midsection. “Recognize this? Excellent. I carry all your money in travelers
checks. I can kill you at any time I please. Move.” He shoved her shoulder.
Three of them gathered at the oblong oak table. Mr. Campbell, a robust Scot with
sandy hair and a furnace face, was a retired barrister who ran the bed and breakfast.
“Mrs. Jones, you’d better let our doctor look at that bad bruise,” said
Mr. Campbell. Before Alice could respond, Tom cut in. “Thanks but we carry
first aid supplies in our bags,” he said. They chewed on the roast beef
until Mr. Campbell cleared his throat. “Tomorrow you should go see the
Antonine Wall. The Romans erected it in 142 A.D. to repel the Northern barbarians.
No tourist should miss it.” Tom scraped back is wood chair. He got up and
crossed the plank floor to stand on the stone hearth. “We’ll add
that to our itinerary,” he said. Mr. Campbell’s eyes steadied on
Alice. “You’d better be more vigilant and watch your step, young
miss.” “Yes, young miss. You’d better watch your step,” said
Tom. "Watch your own step." Mr. Campbell took a sip from his ale. “You
won’t forgive yourselves if you don’t at least take a side trip down
to Loch Ness. Who can know? You might spot our fabled Nessie.” “What
a marvelous idea!” said Alice. Shifting in his cowboy crouch, Tom grunted. “This
area is soaked in lore,” said Mr. Campbell, warming to his subject. “Legend
has it an angry bride prowls the shores of our own Loch Tram.” “Why
is the bride angry?” asked Alice. “Because her bridegroom ran off
with a tart.” Mr. Campbell lowered his voice to exaggerate his sinister
whisper. “The bride stalks the night world brandishing a bloody axe in
search of her unfaithful bridegroom’s neck. Better beware of her in your
hill walking.” “Sounds like advice to take to heart,” said
Alice. “We’ve no plans to see Loch Tram,” said Tom. “Oh
my yes, don’t go tramping around Loch Tram. Several locals have drowned
in its heavy waters.” He was no longer smiling. “Heavy waters?” puzzled
Alice. “Aye. Dark as lead, nothing can survive in treacherous Loch Tram.” With
a derisive snort, Tom rose to his feet. The Jones nodded Mr. Campbell and left
the room. "Good night," he called as they ascended the stairs. At the
door, he stepped away to allow Alice to enter their honeymoon suite unmolested.
She detoured around the brass bed and collapsed in the overstuffed armchair. “Won’t
you be warming my sheets tonight?” said Tom. “The gates of Hell will
freeze shut first. By the way, Mr. Campbell sleeps directly below us. So, don't
try anything stupid," said Alice. Tom savored the memory of striking Alice
on the stairway. He removed his glasses and switched off the nightstand lamp.
He fell asleep sure that she'd forget and forgive by the morning when he found
Nessie. Alice in the armchair debated where Tom had hidden his Luger and her
traveler’s checks. She guessed they were underneath his pillow. She padded
over the plank floor toward Tom. A hound bayed in the alleyway. Tom rolled over
and his thrown pillow hit the window.
Dread pulled Alice back to the armchair. Cold, she curled up into a ball. She
visualized their dawn trek to Loch Tram. Two fools scanned the horizon, but Nessie
only existed in Tom’s head. Gingerly feeling the head bruise, she felt
a seething hated of Dr. Tom O’Rourke.
Cold rage crystallized her thoughts. Her father's money, never her, had attracted
Tom. That realization, always there in plain view, had never registered as it
did at this instant. Her bruised face ached. Tom wanted exclusive credit tomorrow
as Nessie's discoverer. She couldn't share even as a silent partner in that glory.
He planned to kill her, didn’t he? That’s what Tom had snarled on
the stairway. New waves of anger steeled her. She’d show him by striking
first. She’d have her revenge for his sadistic behavior. But how? An accidental
stumble off Loch Tram’s perilous summit? No -- too obvious and suspicious.
How else might she do it? She was too tired to think straight, closed her eyes,
and shivered until she fell into a restive sleep. A prod jarred Alice awake in
the armchair. She cracked her eyelids. Sunlight seeped in. So did a man's scowl. “We've
missed the first deadline to be at Loch Tram at dawn. I want to wind up things
this morning.” “But first, a bite of breakfast. And a hot shower.” “No.
Mount up.” Tom swung open the walk-in closet door and reached in for their
field packs. He kicked them sliding to her. But she put on a stubborn look and
refused to budge. He stalked over and jabbed the Luger into her ribs. She winced.
I said there’s no time. Now, mount up.” Tom moved the Luger’s
barrel along her breast’s contour to scrape over her nipple. “We’ll
celebrate my victory later.” Alice lashed out. He snagged her hand in mid-air. “I
said, mount up.”
They trooped down the fire escape stairs. Chimney smoke lay thick on the air.
Forced to take the lead, Alice felt her legs ache while the field packs chewed
new sores over the old ones on her shoulders. Hard on her heels, Tom breathed
in gulps. She could smell his sweat sour as kerosene. Alice knew this was Tom’s
big day no matter how high the cost. Nessie was his all. Wasn't that how he'd
put it to her?
But she smiled.
After a thirty-minute march, they halted at the cliff overlooking the dark mirror
of Loch Tram. The Luger’s muzzle goaded Alice above the kidneys. She bit
into her upper lip but didn’t whimper. She started to spit out the blood
but changed her mind. It tasted good -- like revenge. “You first.” Tom
wagged the Luger. “I’ll be right behind you. Drop anything, I’ll
slug out your teeth. Questions?” “No questions.” "Good.
Alice proceeding at a deliberate pace passed by the stone memorial for the downed
bombers. Its irony left her smiling. She dreaded slipping off the footpath more
than losing a field pack. Tom loomed too near. She could smell he’d been
drinking to celebrate his coup early. They descended to the cliff bottom.
Dawn winds stirring Loch Tram’s shoreline felt less cold than the previous
evening. Alice flopped down the field packs. She stretched her leg muscles while
kneading her shoulders. Her mind's eye focused with the clarity and precision
of a camera lens. She now understood how the next scene was supposed to unfold.
An osprey dipped to the brackish loch, encouragement for her to carry out the
next step. Alice groped inside the field pack’s pocket and found a pair
of binoculars. She uncapped its lenses, raised them to her eyes, and scanned
the skyline. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked. “Wait
. . . Yes, I believe I've spotted something. Off the north crag, a large, humped
shadow,” said Alice. Alice darted out on the basaltic ledge. She crouched
down and peered through the binoculars. “It’s Nessie!” Tom
scuttled over and knelt down beside Alice. “My Nessie? Where?” “Here,
take these,” said Alice, rising. "You'll see her so much clearer." Tom,
eyes glued to the lenses, gawked at the vista. His white-knuckled hands on the
binoculars began to tremble. “Where is my Nessie?” “Why, she's
right down there,” said Alice. Lunging, she shoved Tom. He grappled to
catch but only slid further down. Hurling out an oath, he created a splash. Sputtering,
he tried to tread water. “Y-y-you bitch,” he said. Alice scrambled
over, picked up the Luger, and squinted down its notched iron sights. Two fingers
tripped the steel trigger. Pop! Pop! Pop! Her third bullet penetrated Tom's skull.
One raptor hand pierced the opaque brown water's surface, his parting wave. "Bye,
Tom. Everything is a tradeoff."
Spitting blood, Alice tossed the Luger into the water. She watched his matte
of hair sink disappear from view. Head falling forward, she wept.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ed Lynskey's three novels are The Dirt-Brown Derby (Mundania Press,
2006), The Blue Cheer (Point Blank/Wildside Press), and Pelham Fell
Here (Mundania Press, 2007).
Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents
© 2006 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved