Sloane Englewood jumped into the Volkswagen Polo Mk2 and sped away as fast as he dared down the wet dirt track. He was tired and filthy. Every muscle in his body ached and he could feel a fever coming on. He hadn't been prepared to spend a rainy night in the woods, hiding from Scorpion Agents and fearing an ambush behind every tree.
Muddy water trickled down from the man's wet hair as he thought. What could have gone wrong? Pest Control had assured him the highest security. "More cast iron than if you were the Chief himself", Preswick Chattersley had said with that condescending smile of his. He had been given the full works, top secret safe house, souped-up car and a highly trained minder so physically daunting you could only call him Large.
Poor Large. Sloane couldn't say he got to know the fellow but he seemed a nice enough chap. He certainly didn't deserve to die like that. Sloane wondered how many of these agents and secret bastards ever saw a decent burial. At least Sloane would remember him. Had Large not put up such a fight, Sloane would be dead now, too.
Sloane wiped his brow with the sleeve of his jacket, smearing mud across his forehead. He tried to remember how many people Large had killed before he was taken down. He must have broken at least two or three necks. Four or five got a bullet to the head. Did someone get hanged or was that just his overheated imagination?
Large was a nice enough chap. A nice enough chap who killed at least half a dozen people one rainy night in the woods. Sloane had met quite a few nice enough chaps over the past few weeks. Killers and death-dealers the lot of them.
Sloane thought again about what could have gone so wrong. A pleasant drive in the woods with a trained killer and a briefcase full of money. A charming conversation with a nervous fellow called "Underside". And a return journey with a trained killer and an envelope full of very important photographs. What could be simpler?
But it wasn't simple, was it. Someone told Arachnid-9. They were waiting for us. Who told them? Was it Underside? Did they get to him? Or was he working for them all along? What about all those nice enough chaps? Preswick with his endlessly infuriating face, Clarence with his cold eyes, Harriet with her feminine wiles. The drivers, the doormen. Sloane didn't know any of these people. Any one of them could be working for Arachnid-9. Perhaps the whole job lot of them. Perhaps it was all a ruse to get rid of Large. Perhaps he'll never hear from any of them ever again. He could hope.
Sloane stopped the VW and got out. It was definitely a souped-up car and Large was certainly a highly trained minder but was the safe house really safe? Sloane looked around, shivered, sneezed and sneezed again. He tried to wipe his nose and succeeded in covering it in yet more muddy dampness. He walked around the house and peered into the nearby woods, trying to spot signs of Scorpion Agents. He sneezed. Inside the house were clean clothes, a mall fireplace, food and water. Outside was nothing but cold and wet.
Eat, he thought. He didn't have time to sleep but with food and clean clothes perhaps he could think and decide what to do next, where to go. He was already in the middle of a nightmare. If he became feverish and delirious to boot, he may never wake up.
He approached the door and fumbled in his pocket for the keys. A loud, resonating thud stopped him in his tracks. Sloane collapsed to the floor, his head drenched in pain. Lying on his back he watched the stone swing to and fro at the end of a long strand of silk. Sitting in her web, his assailant stared down at him, motionless and emotionless, like all the Spider Agents of Arachnid-9.
Sloane heard footsteps approach him slowly. As he lost conciousness, he marvelled at how he, a simple patent lawyer, could have gotten into all this trouble because of a pesticide formula.
Thanks a lot to Will for bringing the spider web stone to my attention!