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A Matter of Latitude - Thriller Set In Spain

A Matter of Latitude - Thriller Set In Spain

Book excerpt

The ocean heaves to its own pulse, angry and insistent, forcing its bulk against the rock; my wet and salty companion, silent, even as it roars. The tide runs high, the wind cyclonic, waves spill their spray into the fisherman's hut through the window cavity. The boom as each wave hits sends a lesser boom through me.

I'm using a wooden table with a missing leg as a barricade. Also occupying the fisherman's hut are two backless chairs and three wooden crates, their slates rotting and brittle. In a cracked plastic bucket are short lengths of frayed rope, discarded as useless by their owner, along with scraps of fishing net, tangled and no good to anyone.

I huddle in the back corner of this cold cell of a room with all the detritus, for all the good it's doing me. I can hear the canine, sniffing and whimpering outside: my stalker. The cavity should have been boarded up against the wind and the spray that coats everything in salt. My only comfort, it's too high for the dog.

The cavity must be too high for the dog or it would have leaped in for the kill by now. Unless it's building up the courage or figuring out its approach. I don't care to think about it. The barricade would be useless against that snarling beast, but I'm not crouched down here on the cold stone floor hiding from a four-legged enemy.

I reassess the condition of my body. I'm not in good shape. The dog bite on my left calf is bleeding through my jeans. I can feel the blood, sticky and warm. My left arm is a mess. Broken at the shoulder, it hangs, limp and unusable, the pain throbbing in time with my heartbeat. If I move, even a fraction, daggers of agony radiate through the whole of me, eclipsing the searing pain of the burns I received exiting the car, burns on my face and my hands.

I managed to get far enough away before the whole crumpled metal carcass went up in a ball of flame, despite the rain that had started teeming down. The wind that came with the rain sent the flames my way, scalding patches of exposed skin, singeing my hair.

The dog can smell my blood, my weeping flesh. Hungry, feral, it shouldn't be out here where there is no other food but me.

I'm as hungry as you are, buddy.

The accident is stuck in my head on replay. It was a miracle I got out. How the hell I managed to grab my rucksack is anyone's guess, but I was motivated by its contents, or one particular item among the rest, my daughter's birthday present. What happened? The storm happened. I knew it was coming, it was the talk of the island, but I thought leaving at midday would give me ample time to drop off a painting to a regular customer, a Swedish doctor with a smart villa in the little village of Mancha Blanca, and make it back up the mountain to my wife's parents before the birthday party. Erik was insistent he wanted the work this weekend. And I needed the cash, not least to recoup the cost of what was inside that pretty wrapping paper. I was on my way to the party when the impact occurred.

That stretch of road is narrow and flanked by dry stone walls. Drivers shouldn't put their foot down, but enjoying the lack of hairpin bends, they do. I didn't see the vehicle that ran me off the road at the intersection and slammed my car into a wall. No, I definitely didn't see it coming. It was a large vehicle, that is all I recall, much larger than my own little car that flipped over and spun and came to a rest upside down.

The driver sped away and I was alone in the wind and the rain. I got out as fast as I was able, a sixth sense telling me that was no accident and the driver would come back to make sure of his success. Paranoid thoughts maybe, but then again, maybe not. I wasn't taking any chances.

Besides, the stink of petrol was strong and the hiss and sizzle under the bonnet augured only one thing. My car was going to explode.

Nursing my bad arm, I walked, heading off up the road and into the rain and the wind, following a natural sense of direction away from the village and down a lonely track that led as far from other people as it's possible to get on the island. I trudged along, determined, not thinking straight, my instincts telling me to head in a direction no one in their right mind would head in a tropical storm. The dog joined me as the farmland gave way to lava scree on both sides of the road, or at least, that was when I became aware of a scrawny, bedraggled-looking mongrel trailing behind.

I ignored the dog and kept walking, arriving at the coast and a fork in the road about half an hour later. My mistake was to pause to get my bearings. I was assessing the best way down to the cluster of fishing huts when the dog seized the moment and attacked me from behind, sinking its jaws into my calf. I hurled the rucksack at the dog's head, it was the only weapon I had, and it was sufficient to startle the dog. It released its grip, giving me enough time to reach down and fumble around in the grey light for a rock hoping there'd be one. My hand curled around hard stone and I hurled it at the beast's flank. I detected a thud and a yelp. Taking no chances, I found another rock and then another. The dog scuttled off. Heaving the rucksack on my right shoulder, I limped down the track to the east and pushed on doors until I found one open.

I knew once I'd settled into my damp corner of the hut that I was trapped. That the moment I headed back up the track I would be exposed, visible, vulnerable to a second dog attack. I also knew that whoever had run me off the road would want to make sure I was dead.

Or maybe they thought I was dead.

I soon would be.

The dog, my companion, had made me a prisoner. It can't get in and I can't get out. How long can I ride this out?

I have water, at least I have fresh water, a whole two-litre bottle, unopened. It added extra weight to the rucksack. It was the primary reason that first blow hurt the dog. I have snacks I carry with me on the road, chocolate, protein bars, nuts, treats for Gloria, a picnic of sweet delights now my rations.

I have two options. I can walk back, or I can stay here, eating and drinking what I have, and wait until some holidaymaker or fisherman comes by, and hope they do before whoever ran me off the road arrives to finish me off.

What am I thinking? No one comes here in winter. Not in weather that brought the ocean right up to the fishing huts. No one would think to come here. Only me. I wish I could turn back the clock and tell my feet to walk in another direction, towards the village, towards safety and civilisation. But I had my reasons and those reasons still hold true.

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