Thursday Island - Aftermath
by Carter Fell and Zack
Chapter I: The Old Guard
"Whipping the meat off a girl's back, having her die of infection, did we ever want that? Well did we? And there's another one, staggering around like a zombie, doesn't know who she is or what she is, or why her back's a mass of cuts." Strokely clenched his wrinkled fists, raised them in the air in frustration, and then banged them on the table. "We were supposed to be having a bit of sport, admiring some well turned-out ponygirls. And what are we now? Murderers, torturers - is there any filthy crime that is not being committed on this island?"
Maynard nodded, but did not speak.
Pye pursed his lips, made as if to speak, but also said nothing.
Strokely launched in again. "So where did it all go wrong? I'll tell you where it went wrong. It went wrong when we let in new members; we should have kept it to ourselves. It went wrong when we brought in a flood of ponygirls for the new members. It went wrong when we appointed the Panel to run the new members and ponygirls. It went wrong when we let the Panel create an insane structure of little Napoleons among the ponies; they're all thrashing each other, and plotting against each other - it's got to stop." He glared around the table at his fellows.
Maynard spoke now, very quietly. "It also went wrong when we got too old to be bumped around in pony carts anymore. The Panel paraded a few ponygirls for us here at The Hall every Thursday, and we thought that everything was fine. But it wasn't fine, was it? We knew about the construction project, but I for one assumed that the Panel had brought in machinery to do the job. But they hadn't; and I can't believe what's happening there." He shook his head. "It's like something the Nazis dreamed up, and we're responsible."
Strokely was starting to simmer down. "So what do we do? I suggest that we haul the current Panel in next week, and we kick their arses for them."
Maynard was in calm agreement. "Yes, we should do that. But what exactly are we going to tell them?"
Strokely had already thought about that. "Three things. No more new ponygirls. No more new members. And they have to come up with a plan to start running the operation down, I don't want to die with this place on my conscience. Are we agreed?" He raised his own hand; the two others joined him in pointing at the ceiling. They could hear their helicopter's engine spooling up outside on the pad; no more was said, the three owners and founders of Thursday Island got to their feet, and shuffled out of the room.
Chapter II: Masters Of Discontent
The next Thursday, the founders were again gathered in their room at The Hall on Partner's Point. Sat on the other side of the table from them was the Panel, a committee of three elected by the ponygirl-owning partners. Paul Gordon had only just been elected to the Panel, and was naive enough to have allowed himself to be nominated as chairman for this meeting with the founders. In consequence, he found himself to be the main target of Strokely's unfriendly fire, as the old man contrasted the beautiful vision of elegant ponygirls that the founders had enjoyed with the brutal reality that they had seen on their tour.
Strokely must have been preparing for this, for his adjectives had been honed to a cutting edge, his verbs had been dipped in venom, and his nouns were armour-piercing with a one-in-three incendiary mix. He wielded sarcasm like a scythe, poured scorn like napalm, and deployed disdain with military precision. Paul, in his capacity as a repository for all of Thursday Island's evils, was alternately derided, accused, and damned. A vision was painted of an island paradise that had been colonised by demons, those fiends being now represented by the Panel, and by Paul in particular. When he had finished, Strokely was well satisfied with the hatchet job he had done. He leaned back in his chair and awaited Paul's response, confident that he had demolished the man, and that he would hear only the feeblest of excuses.
But if Paul had been hurt and angered, he had not been damaged or cowed. He looked slowly at each of the founder's elderly faces. "Is that it? I've never heard such a load of bollocks in my life. It's a good job you're an old man, Strokely, or I'd have to punch your lights out for speaking to me like I was a piece of shit. What kind of Joe Blunt do you think I am? And just who the fuck do you think you are?"
Strokely almost exploded. "I think that we three own this island, that we started everything here, and that we didn't spend over thirty years building it all up to see it turned into a theme park for sadistic psychopaths like you, you foul-mouthed, ugly, abusive little cretin."
Paul was unmoved. "More bollocks. Let me educate you silly old sods. I'll explain things in simple terms, for the benefit of minds ravaged by time. Firstly, we can't use machinery on the construction project, because we've no way of bringing it ashore, and because we've nobody who can maintain anything more complex than a pony rig. So we have to use what we've got, which is a pool of clapped-out ponygirls, and that is exactly what we will continue to do. And that brings me to my second point. Those first girls you brought here, all those years ago. Just what do you think has happened to them?"
Strokely stirred uneasily. His mind leapt back thirty-eight years; to a dark forest road in Germany, and three army officers driving much too fast in a Bentley. A group of refugees from across the Iron Curtain caught in the headlights... and later, when they had arranged to smuggle out other women, promising them a new life in the West... no, enough of that. "Are they still here?" He asked weakly.
Sensing that he had got the upper hand, Paul visibly relaxed. "Well where else would they be? And can you work out how old they are? Exactly. They are part of the island's greatest problem; the population of aging ponygirls. For now, we have to use them on whatever work there is." He paused. "But, in the not-too distant future – do you really want to talk about that just now?"
Strokely shook his head violently. "No, no. I'm sure we can all see where that line leads."
"OK then, my third point. You've been whining about the structure of seniors and drivers, but the answer to that is that the island couldn't run without them, so the structure will have to remain. The ponygirls outnumber members by about six to one, if we tried to control them ourselves we would be fighting petty rebellions all the time, we would have to be the masters of discontent. As things are, we can just arrive on the island, and our divide-and-rule system puts four perfectly disciplined ponies in front of us. What could be better than that?"
He looked at each of the founders in turn, to see if he had any challengers. There were none, so he continued.
"My final point. You old duffers want to empty the island, and pretend that none of it ever happened. Don't make me laugh; I might piss myself. There's no way to do it without all of us going inside, no way. You old wrinklies might not be in prison for long, but your families would be destroyed. It would make a fine new story for that author daughter of yours; I can see it now, 'Larry Spaggott And The Kiss Of The Whip', by A.K.Strokely."
Paul leaned back; he had roughed them up enough, it was time to be friendly. "Now look, everyone recognises the sheer bloody magnitude of what you guys achieved. And no one is more admiring than me. Really. So let's see what can be done to meet your wishes." If his words were conciliatory, his expression made it clear that he was laying down the new guard's law.
"If you're telling me that the construction drivers are too brutal, well then of course they can be brought under control. Bearing in mind that it needs a good incentive to tunnel into a rock escarpment by hand, and a lick across the bare back is damn fine motivation. As for the runaway who died, I can't account for that, it's a mystery. But I can promise you that she was not flogged to death, maybe it was a reaction to the antibiotics. Anyway, we may consider cutting the runaway penalty to thirty strokes, just to be safe. The other one, the zombie as you called her, is pulling all our plonkers, I guarantee it. I've never heard of brain damage from the whip, have you? No, crafty Tina is up to something."
Maynard was curious. "Why would she do that?"
Paul's thick reddish eyebrows pulled together in a scowl. "I would think that she wants off the construction gang, and her old job back."
"Are you going to let her do that, Paul?" Strokely was making the effort to put harsh words behind them; he now regretted his verbal assault.
"I just might do. Tina is a master at producing well conditioned, disciplined ponies. She sets her objectives and uses whatever means are necessary to obtain them." Paul grinned wolfishly. "I do admire someone with an unlimited capacity for brutality."
Strokely suddenly thought that he was staring into the face of madness, that he would be glad to leave the island, and that he did not want to ever come back. Maynard sucked his teeth noisily; Pye was silent and expressionless, he appeared to be drowsy and inattentive. The devilish glow faded from Paul's face, and he looked like a normal well-balanced man as he concluded his response. "You want to ban all newcomers, those with tits and those without? OK, it's your island, so that's what will happen. Now, unless there is anything else, I've come here today to drive my ponies."
Maynard feared that Strokely was about to renew his offensive, so he spoke quickly. "No, that's fine Paul. Perhaps we can all meet again in four week's time, to review matters? Yes? Then we can say this meeting is over."
Paul and his two companions left the room; through the door, the founders could hear him berating his Panel colleagues for failing to support him. Strokely knew now that he had fouled up, but was not inclined to apologise. He looked at Manyard, who returned his silent stare, and then they both looked at Pye. But Pye was not ready to speak.
Chapter III: Here In My Heart
Outside The Hall, the Panel held an ad hoc conference. Then they left on the direct route to the compound, while Paul went the long way, via the construction site. As he trotted his ponies along, Paul reflected on the likely increase in their value that would result from the banning of imports. The four of them had cost him two hundred and thirty thousand pounds, and it would not be unreasonable to estimate that their value would exceed half a million when it became known that no more new ponygirls could be expected. Paul had long doubted that Thursday Island could remain hidden from the world for much longer; he thought that he might sell his girls in the next auction, and disappear.
The right-hand ponygirl, Lenka, was always inclined to slouch in harness; Paul corrected her with his driving whip, she straightened her shoulders and lifted her knees higher. Lenka had arrived on the island as a rather slender girl, but Paul had entrusted her to Tina to train, and the usual miracle had been worked. Some of Tina's methods were unspeakable, but she had always got results. In a rare mellow moment, Paul thought again that if he could restore Tina to normality, he might just let her get away with her act.
Stopping briefly at the construction site, Paul saw Tina sitting on a large rock, her head hanging low. Six weeks after being whipped as a runaway, her back was still an appalling sight. Swollen ridges were crowned by intermittent cuts, some of which were still open and weeping. Clumps of chloroxylenol and salicylic acid powder – a veterinary antiseptic preparation – adhered to patches of dried blood. He saw Stevie, the senior pony whose responsibilities included the project, and called her over to his rig.
"You've not got her working then?" He nodded towards Tina.
"No Member, she's still hopeless. There's not much I can do until her back has healed. Unless you want me to try the strap on her?" Stevie had not become first a driver, and then a senior, by having any scruples about inflicting pain on her fellow slaves.
"Stevie, sometimes you make me feel that I'm really a good person. No, I don't want her strapped. I want you to bring her before the Panel at three this afternoon. We'll have to use the pony's canteen."
Stevie was curious, but she knew better than to ask questions. "Very well, Member, I'll have her there at three."
Paul's eyes were taking in the grim scene around him. The construction project used surplus ponies leased to the island by their owners, and a handful who had been sent there as punishment for various offences. The leased ponies were all older women; the whip-wielding drivers were working them to death. When the lash had fallen for the last time on their exhausted bodies, when their hearts had given up the unequal struggle, their owners would be given cash compensation from island funds. Paul well knew that the project would never provide the concealed pony stables that were the stated purpose, the whole thing was a scheme by the insiders to turn unwanted and unsalable ponygirls into cash. He wondered if the founders were right, perhaps this should be stopped. Then he drove his ponies up the exit ramp, and onto the circuit. He trotted them at maximum speed to the compound; the other Panel members would have arrived long before him, and he wanted to speak to them again before Tina was brought in.
At dead on three, the Panel were sat at a table in the canteen for their second meeting of the day. As was normal, the Panel were wearing hoods over their heads, in a futile attempt to conceal their identities from ponies or non-owning members. Paul had declined the chairmanship for this meeting, he feared that Tina would recognise his voice. There was a perfunctory knock at the door, and then Stevie led Tina into the room, she moved very awkwardly, as if on borrowed legs. The usual practice would have been for her to kneel before the Panel, but on this occasion a chair had been provided for her. Stevie pushed her into the chair, she slumped back, and her eyes rolled to stare at the ceiling. The chairman's hood was tickling his nose; he pawed clumsily at the fabric.
"Now then Tina, I say now then. You've been here a long time, and you must know that we men of the island have only one aim, only one I say."
Tina's head lolled over; a stream of phlegm oozed over her lower lip, and crawled slowly down her chin.
Under his hood, the chairman wrinkled his generous lips with distaste, but continued. "That aim is to be as fair as possible. Oh yes, fair is what I said. You also know the iron rule: the runaway must be flogged. But we think that you have suffered enough, enough I say, and we would like to be generous with you. So then, Tina. If you can understand what I'm saying, I want you to know that your old job is waiting for you. When you're ready, of course."
There was no response from Tina.
The chairman cleared his throat noisily. "That's it. You may go now."
A puddle was forming under Tina's chair.
Paul could stand no more. "Stevie, get her out of here." He waited until Stevie had led Tina out, and then he turned to the chairman. "Stone the crows, Major, as an anonymous spokesman, you're as much use as a chocolate teapot." He stood up, and pulled his hood off. "And if there's anything wrong with that bitch, I'm a fucking Chinaman."
The chairman pulled his hood off his head with obvious relief. He glared at Paul. "Now then Paul, there's no need for that kind of profanity. And since you're obviously in the mood for plain speaking, let me tell you that not everyone believes that Tina was a runaway; and here in my heart, I have my own doubts."
For a few seconds the two men glared at each other, and a palpable tension hung in the air. The Panel's third member, a rather nervous stockbroker from Esher, wrung his hands anxiously, but was determined to stay clear of the dispute. Then Paul smiled angelically; his shoulders lifted slightly, and he showed his open palms. "That may be true. I just happened to be there, and I saw a new member and two ponygirls at the landing stage. If he says they were attempting to run away, then we have no alternative but to believe him, now do we? But I do agree with you, there is an element of doubt."
Paul's face was serious now; as he looked into the Major's eyes, he was a picture of sincerity. "Now look, why don't we all agree that if Tina does recover, we give her the benefit of that doubt, and we let her stay on as head senior?"
The Major grinned toothily. "Now that's grand, I say it's right grand is that." The two men shook hands on the agreement, and then the Panel went their separate ways.
Chapter IV: The Prodigal
Tina was not returned to the construction site after her appearance before the Panel. Stevie took her to the canteen, and then fetched them each a mug of tea from the counter. There was silence between them for a few minutes, while Stevie sipped nervously at her tea, and Tina stared into space. Finally, Stevie spoke. "Tina. Tina. If the Panel don't believe there's really anything wrong with you, then I don't either. So you might as well cut the crap now, and speak to me."
Perhaps there was the light of a distant amusement in Tina's eyes, or perhaps there was not. But she made no reply. Stevie sighed heavily, and continued. "I cut you up with the whip because that's what I was told to do. You would have done the same thing, so I don't want it to be something personal between us." She put her mug down. "Well, there's nothing more I can say to you. If you are still here later on, I'll have to chain you to a bunk as usual." She stood up, and looked down at Tina with her hands on her hips. "But you know perfectly well where your own room is, don't you?" Still Tina was silent; Stevie sighed again, and then left the canteen.
Tina's untouched tea cooled rapidly, a layer of milk scum began to form on the surface. After a while, the canteen attendant took the mug away, looking curiously at Tina as she did so. Trollies rattled noisily as hot food from the kitchen was brought in, the day was drawing to a close, and the place would soon be full of ponygirls having their evening meal. Outside in the compound, members were returning their rigs; exhausted ponies were being unharnessed, and put in stables for a brief rest. All of them would be aching, some of them would have sore backs, and many would lie on their bunks and cry. As members left the island, the place would slip onto its routine; cuts on backs and feet would be attended to, the ponies would be showered, dressed, and fed. For a few hours, the ponies would have the luxury of disposing of their own time, before they would be lined up before their drivers for the head count, stripped, and chained to their bunks for the night.
The attendant, Alice, limped over to Tina's table. She was a beautiful girl, who had served in harness for just six months before suffering a broken leg. The island did not have the facilities to treat such injuries properly, so a leg fracture was invariably crippling. In some ways, such an injury was a blessing, for its recipient would never again be lashed along in harness. In other ways it was disastrous, for a cripple would become a drudge on Laura's domestic teams, and would work long hours for seven days of every week. Laura was a notoriously kind-hearted senior, although not all of her drivers were. But if Alice failed in any of her duties, there was no issue of kindness or cruelty, it was simply routine that she would be tied to the frame in the punishment shed, and her back would be savaged with a leather strap.
Alice leaned on the table, and spoke quietly. "How are you, Tina?"
Tina replied instantly. "Oh, I'm not too bad. I'm just doing some thinking."
"I heard you'd been flogged." Alice sat down. "That's the only bloody awful thing on this island that's never happened to me. I've had the strap a few times, but I've never been cut. Did you faint?"
"I don't know. After the first few strokes, I didn't know what was happening. Alice, would you be a darling, and get me hot cup of tea?'
"Of course I will." Alice patted Tina's cheek, then went on her errand. Watching her move away, Tina thought how good it would be to enjoy a woman's body again, even a crippled woman's body. She felt her face flush with anticipation, and was shocked at how suddenly the fire inside her had flared up. When Alice returned with the tea, Tina's face was wearing its first smile in six weeks. "Sit down Alice, talk to me for a while."
"I'd love to Tina, but I really must get on with my work."
"I told you to sit down, Alice. Now you can obey me, or I can arrange your first meeting with the cart whip."
Alice sat down.
Chapter V: Back At The Office
It was dark when Tina made her way to the Seniors' office. Stepping through the doorway, she felt as if she had been away for a thousand years, or maybe just for two minutes. To her surprise she found Laura at her desk, her head bowed over some work assignment forms. Laura looked up; she had clearly been dozing. "Tina! I can't believe it - are you back now?"
Tina just smiled, and Laura ran to her. They hugged, and then Tina held her friend at arm's length. "Yes Laura, I'm back. It's good to see you. Now tell me, what happened to Corrie?"
"Haven't you heard, Tina? She died." Laura's face showed her to be under enormous strain, dark shadows under her eyes told of sleepless nights.
"What! How did she die?" Tina was appalled.
"Her back became infected. The doctor gave me antibiotics for her, but I didn't give them to her. I let her get away, she's better off dead." Laura's face was blank, as if she were afraid to show any feeling. She sat on the edge of a desk, and gripped it tightly.
"Oh no, Laura. What are you, death's winged messenger? Corrie would have charmed her way back into favour, I'm just glad you weren't looking after me."
Laura slumped forward, and began to cry. "Well, I wish I was dead."
Tina seized her friend's hands. "No you don't, you must never say that. I'm not really blaming you for Corrie, you did what you thought was best. Come on now, this place is all about not giving up hope; someday we'll have our own lives again, you have to believe that."
Laura forced herself to laugh; it required a huge effort. "I'm sorry Tina. After all you've been through, you don't need to hear me sniveling. Was being flogged as bad as you expected?"
"No, it was much worse than that. And it has changed me Laura, changed me forever. Before that, I thought that I was safe and secure, all I had to do was organise the member's pleasure, and I was left alone to enjoy my job. But then, for no fault of my own, they had Stevie lay my back open with the cart whip."
"But Tina, we all saw that man take you away on a coffle chain, why didn't you tell the Panel what really happened?"
"Oh Laura, you've never seen ponies on trial before the Panel. You just have to kneel in front of them while they discuss you as if you couldn't understand what they're saying. They don't speak to you at all, not even to pass sentence. My owner was there, but only to argue for better compensation. When you're sent to the construction gang for life, you become the island's property, and that's the only good thing to come out of it, I've now got no owner to worry about. But Laura, Laura. Why are you so sad?"
Laura was abject. "My owner died, Tina; his property here is being sold in the auction next month. You're going to have to prepare me for sale, Tina. You'll have to strip me and line me up with his rig ponies."
"Oh shit, Laura. But don't give up, let me see what I can do. Look honey, I really do need to get on top of things here, can you find Rita when you leave, ask her to pop in and see me?"
"All right, I'll go right now. I'm sorry to trouble you." Laura was hurt, but before leaving she turned to say, "I really am glad to see you back."
Tina watched through the office window as Laura crossed the compound. She was disturbed by Laura's news, but not unduly so. Any ponygirl could suddenly find herself in that situation; there is no protection for a woman who does not own her own body. She forced herself to put Laura out of her mind for the time being while she concentrated on getting up to speed with the island's business. A shipment of twelve new ponies had arrived while she had been on the construction gang, all African women. She glanced through their files, paying careful attention to the age, height, and weight of each of them. Seven would probably make good ponygirls, the others were too old. Next, she examined the punishment book, starting on the day when she and Corrie had been flogged. There, in waxy black ballpoint ink, was the record of her agony. Name: Tina. Property Of: Jeff Braun. Offence: Runaway. Sentence: Fifty whip strokes.
"Rita, I hear Laura's owner has died."
Rita dropped into the chair facing her senior. "That's right kid. Tough on Laura eh? I've asked my owner to put me forward for her senior position if her new owner wants to use her for himself. Now they've stopped importing ponies, I think that all of the younger ones like Laura will find themselves in harness." Rita had pulled a rig for fifteen years before becoming a driver; she well knew the hopeless misery of it. "Tina, I know she is your friend, but you're going to have to start training her very soon. If she's out of condition on sale day, then having a flogged back might not save you from the resident."
"OK then Rita. I want you to take charge of training the sale ponies; do it now. But go easy on Laura; if I find you've been too cruel to her, I promise you a visit to the frame."
"Blimey, Tina. You always did love a strapping didn't you?"
"That's not true." Tina lied. "I just understand the efficient discharge of my duties."
"Oooh!" Rita laughed. "I'll get right on it, boss." She picked up her duty sheets from Tina's desk, threw a mock salute, and left the office. Her mood darkened. She had never taken a senior into stables before, and she was not looking forward to it. Knowing where Laura had been going, she went to the generator shed. Laura was there, watching as two of her domestics topped up the fuel oil tank.
"Laura, I'm sorry about this, but I have to start your sale training."
"What, now? I want to speak to Tina." Laura was thunderstruck. She had known that her world would collapse, but had not expected it so soon.
"No, Laura. You can't speak to anyone. I have to take you now. And Laura, I can't show you any favour; you know that. I will have to say goodbye to you now."
Laura found herself unable to speak. She followed Rita to the number two stable, where she was stripped and chained to a bunk. What had hurt most had been giving up her panties; she lay on the bunk and sobbed. Rita left the stable, but returned shortly with the other five ponies belonging to Laura's late owner. Four had been his rig ponies; they were in good condition, and would need only some daily exercise. The other, Mary, had been working in the kitchen for many months, and like Laura, she needed some working on.
The next morning Rita attached Laura and Mary to the exerciser in the compound. This machine had a vertical shaft that was rotated by a geared-down electric motor. The center of a horizontal cross arm was attached to the top of the shaft, and the ponies were tethered to the ends. Each was in full harness, with bits in their mouths and their hands securely fastened behind their backs. As the exerciser rotated each pony followed, desperate to keep some slack in the tether attached to her harness, because a taut tether closed a switch, and a closed switch applied an electric shock through the contacts taped to the pony's nipples.
Rita had adjusted the speed so that the ponies were set to a brisk walk, and the machine kept them at that pace for hours. No driver was needed to keep the ponies moving or to show them mercy. When Rita finally returned both Laura and Mary were gasping and staggering from exhaustion. Rita led them into the stable, removed their tack, and chained them to bunks. Mary sobbed quietly. Laura was silent as she tried to think of a way to kill herself.
Five days later Rita had just started Mary and Laura on their morning stint on the exerciser when Tina stopped to talk. "I've never liked to use this machine. It's so impersonal."
Rita's reply was sardonic. "It certainly doesn't give the driver the satisfaction one gets from using the whip. But it does let the driver attend to her other duties."
Tina gave Rita a hard look, but let the remark pass. "How much longer will you keep them on it?"
"At least a week. I'll have to split them up. Laura is coming along much faster than Mary, as you'd expect."
"The auction is less than a month away. If they're not in condition by then you'll find yourself on this machine you like so much." Tina turned and walked away without another word. Rita watched her until she went into a stable, and then she adjusted the machine to increase the pace that would be imposed on the ponies.
After another week on the exerciser Laura graduated to pulling a sulky driven by Rita. The first few days were done exclusively on the oval, but once Laura became accustomed to the rig Rita took her out onto the track that circled the island. Rita did not expect sustained bursts of speed from Laura and she let her walk up the slopes, because she was pulling a load almost as heavy as that normally pulled by four ponygirls.
One bright morning they were out on the track for the first circuit of the day. Rita had Laura stop at the top of Whipper's Hill while she enjoyed the view of the sea and the islands in the distance. When the drive resumed Rita called for a trot and was gratified when Laura responded with unexpected enthusiasm. By the time they reached the bottom of the hill Laura was running flat-out. The track curved to the right here, but Laura continued straight ahead, off the track and onto the grassy verge that continued to the edge of the cliff. Rita jerked on the reins and Laura's head turned to the right, but her body didn't deviate from its straight path. Rita jumped from the sulky just before it went over the cliff. Laura quietly fell to the rocks below.
Rita remained face-down on the grass at the edge of the cliff for some time, stunned by her close brush with death and by the loss of her friend. Eventually she collected herself and went off to find Tina. Tina was shocked by the news, and the two women hugged as they cried for Laura. Then Tina had Rita stripped and fastened to the frame. She gave her two dozen lashes with the strap.
Chapter VI: The Betrayal
Paul Gordon sat quietly in his office while his solicitor explained the details of the tax fraud charges that had just been leveled against him. The Inland Revenue had managed to discover all of his fiddles. Luckily, they hadn't found the bank account where he had deposited the half-million pounds he had received from the sale of his ponies at the auction. He had already transferred the money into a numbered account at a bank located in the Cayman Islands, but it would be embarrassing if he had to reveal the source of the funds.
When the solicitor finished Paul said, "It appears they have a strong case. I want to make a deal."
"That would be difficult, Mr. Gordon. As you say, they have a strong case. And, speaking impersonally, these are particularly egregious frauds. I'm afraid you should prepare yourself for a term of imprisonment." The solicitor managed to conceal the inner satisfaction he felt as he said this.
Paul shook his head. "I have knowledge of something else entirely. A crime so monstrous that my financial peccadillos are insignificant. I'll trade this knowledge for leniency on these tax charges."
"Perhaps you could elaborate, Mr.Gordon."
"A few months ago an acquaintance took me to a small island off the west coast of Scotland. Thursday Island, he called it. There were other men there, and dozens of women. The women were forced to pull chariots. Ponygirls, they called them. I was assured that all of the women were there voluntarily, some because they were well-paid, and others because they derived sexual satisfaction from the activity. But I don't believe this to be true. Many of the women were scarred by whips, and they were all treated so brutally that it is inconceivable that they were not being held on the island against their will."
"Why haven't you gone to the authorities before now?"
"When I declined their offer to join the organization I was warned that if I spoke about what I had seen to anyone I would be killed. They said their membership included persons in the government and high in the ranks of the police. As soon as I went to the authorities they would know and I would be immediately eliminated. I do not doubt that this is the truth. The place has been in existence for so long and so many people are involved that it could not have gone unnoticed without official connivance."
"Do you have any proof of the existence of this island?"
"Yes. When I went there it was foggy and the boat used a GPS navigator. I happened to see the display and I remembered the coordinates. I contacted a company that sells custom photos of the earth taken from a satellite." Paul opened his desk and removed some photographs. "These show the layout of the island and some of the chariots on the track."
The solicitor examined the photographs. "We must contact the authorities. What do you want in return?"
"First, absolute immunity for anything I did on that island. Second, I'll agree to plead guilty to the tax charges, but only if I don't have to go inside. I never want to be in custody at any time. If they do have members high in the police it would be too easy to arrange to have me killed in prison."
"I have an old friend who is now in the Home Office. I'll take all this to him personally, so we can keep it out of the official channels for a while."
"Can you be sure that your friend isn't involved with the island?"
"Oh, yes. He doesn't like women."
The next day his solicitor called and told Paul his deal would be accepted if what he said turned out to be true. Paul considered what he should do next. Then he sent messages summoning all of the Thursday Island members to an emergency meeting on the island. The more members caught in the police raid the better, because the larger the crowd the less the attention paid to any one individual. He definitely wanted those three old farts to be arrested. He knew that his leading role in the island's operation would not go unnoticed, but he wanted to delay that revelation for as long as possible. His immunity wasn't going to be worth a damn when his true involvement was revealed, and the longer he had to prepare for his disappearance the better.
He objectively considered his betrayal, and decided he was taking the wisest course. It was inevitable that the Thursday Island activities would be exposed, and it would be better if this happened at a time of his choosing. He was betraying his associates, but so what? Every man for himself.
Chapter VII: Liberation
The police raided the island on the Thursday after Paul's betrayal. They were prepared for resistance, but the members surrendered without a struggle. The police were appalled by what they found. When the construction site was discovered the senior police officers had to act quickly to prevent summary executions.
At first the police didn't understand the organization of the island. Who were the guards and who were the prisoners? They decided to arrest everyone wearing clothes. Tina was arrested and was one of the first to be interrogated. She was brought to the canteen, which the police were using for interviews. The handcuffs were removed and she was seated in the same chair that she occupied when she was taken before the Panel.
Three men were seated behind the table the Panel had used. The one in the center said, "I am Detective Superintendent Gardner. This is Chief Inspector Blair and this is Sergeant Poundstone." He didn't introduce the WPC standing next to the wall. "What is your name?"
"What is the rest of your name?"
"I don't remember."
"How long have you worked on the island?"
"I was kidnapped and brought here in 1984. What year is it now?"
Detective Superintendent Gardner was puzzled by these answers. Was this woman a simpleton? He accused, "You were in charge of the women who were forced to pull the carts. You have committed serious felonies."
Everyone could hear the venom in Tina's voice when she replied. "You fool! Every woman on this island is a slave! Everything that was done here was done because some man commanded it be done. All the women ever did was obey, and suffer."
"You had a position of responsibility. You ordered punishments. Are you saying that you were forced to act as you did?"
"Men forced me to do everything. Do you want to see how they persuaded me?" She stood and quickly pulled her shirt off over her head. When she turned and revealed her scarred back there were gasps from the police officers. She turned back and looked the Superintendent in the eye. "This was done to me because a man ordered it to be done. A man just like you."
Such was the force of Tina's accusation that the Detective Superintendent felt guilt and shame just because of his gender. He looked at the WPC and was not surprised to see an expression of loathing before she broke eye contact. "Apparently we misunderstood the organization here. Can you help us?" he asked.
Tina was glad to help. She wanted to be sure that the police considered her to be a victim and not a perpetrator. She wanted the police to pity her. This would help if someone were later to tell them how much she enjoyed using the strap.
Several hours later Detective Superintendent Gardner concluded that Paul Gordon was deeply involved in the atrocities that had been committed on the island. He called the Home Office official who was coordinating the operation. "This fellow Gordon lied to us. He wasn't a one-time visitor, he's a member of the executive committee that ran this death camp. Is he in custody?" He listened for a few minutes. "I can't believe it! Pick him up immediately."
"Something wrong, sir?"
"Those idiots didn't even make Gordon post bail. All he had to do was surrender his passport. At least they kept him under surveillance. He's supposed to be at home and they have someone watching the place. There're going to arrest him now."
Detective Constable Penn was bored. She had been watching the door of a modest ground floor flat in an unfashionable part of London ever since Gordon entered it several hours ago. She yawned, and then stood up straight when a car stopped next to her and two men got out.
One of the men showed her his police identification. "I'm Inspector Reed. This is Sergeant Canning. Any sign of Gordon?"
"No sir. He went in several hours ago and there's been no sign of him since then."
"Is this the only entrance to the flat?"
"Yes sir. The flat is right up against another building on the other three sides."
Sergeant Canning knocked on the door, and when he got no response Inspector Reed told him to break in. The three detectives searched the flat. No one was there.
Inspector Reed asked DC Penn, "Are you sure he didn't leave?"
"Yes sir. I was watching continuously, and he never came out."
"Maybe he's hiding. Search everywhere he might be."
DC Penn noticed that the back wall of a closet seemed to be displaced. She investigated and discovered a crude door cut in the back wall of the flat; a door that provided access to the flat that faced the next street.
Paul had not lingered when he returned home. He went straight to the hidden door and into the other flat. He immediatly applied skin dye and a false mustache so he resembled the picture on his false passport. He retrieved his air tickets and a thick wad of bank notes from their hiding place, and was out the door. He walked a few blocks to a main thoroughfare and hailed a taxi that took him to the railway station. A train took him to Birmingham. An aircraft took him to Frankfurt, and another train took him to Paris. Here he spent the night, and the next morning he boarded a flight to Sydney, with a different appearence and a different passport. From Sydney he flew to Darwin, where he chartered a sailboat and vanished.
Chapter VIII: Happily Ever After?
When the news of Thursday Island leaked out there was a media frenzy. So many prominent men involved with a death camp! The father of A.K.Strokely, a mass murderer! When the condition of some of the older women was revealed there was an outburst of public demand for the restoration of the death penalty. As Paul had planned, the police made only a perfunctory effort to catch him. There were much bigger fish already in the net.
What to do with the former ponies was a quandry that took some time to resolve. Some of the younger ponygirls, especially those who had families, were able to readjust and resume normal lives. But the older women were so dependent they were unable to cope when they were on their own. Finally, the government established a group home, and the ponies lived much as they did on the island, except for the hard labour and the whip.
Tina was one exception. The ability that had permitted her to survive and become the senior pony now enabled her to adjust to the wider world. She had used her position to follow events in the outside world by listening to the wireless and reading the magazines and newspapers that members left on the island. She was not surprised and overwhelmed by the changes that had occurred while she was enslaved. When the tabloids came to her and asked for her 'exclusive story' she fomented a bidding war that netted her almost three hundred thousand pounds.
Tina had no material worries, but something was still lacking from her life. She often came close to articulating her need, but the more rational part of her mind rebelled. Then one day she got a postcard postmarked Jakarta, Indonesia. All it said was, 'Having a wonderful time, wish you were here'. It was signed 'Paul', and it gave an email address. She exchanged several messages, and then she bought an airline ticket and vanished.
Story copyright© 2002, 2003 by Carter Fell and Zack. All rights reserved.
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