I'LL BE RIGHT HERE

Chapter Fifteen

"You're not gonna get in my head."
"I am already in your head."
(From: 'Safe House'.)

-x0x-

Now…

On the spot improvisation was simple enough in the cosy confines of Chief Vick's office, or at a local crime scene, surrounded by Lassiter, Jules and McNab. When you had an ocean below you and an ugly thug in a suit at your back, it was very, very hard to maintain your concentration. Shawn had drained himself dry, to an absolute husk, spinning clues into convoluted theories when his brain could barely cope with his current situation. Everything felt like a dream – no, a psychedelic nightmare, caused by the unknown drug that Meek had used to subdue him. If only that were true. His final bluff, delivered to Marcus, had been a shot in the dark. He had nothing left to give, and that was dangerous.

I'm shark-fodder, he thought bleakly.

The graphic image and the chill wind combined to set him shivering again, uncontrollably this time. Lifting his free arm from the rail, he tried to wrap it around his chest. Marcus still held the other one in a vice-like grip that threatened to cut off the blood flow to Shawn's fingers if it wasn't loosened soon. The big man's face was pale. Shawn's fake revelation had touched some kind of nerve – but how could he use that advantage when all he had was a movie hunch and a single cryptic phrase?

"That's how I roll," he mumbled, trying to spur himself on. After all, he had charmed Captain Yoly. And the hairy guy – Bluto – had chosen not to throttle him with his own shirt, which was definitely a win for Team Spencer. Surely he could tackle this man-mountain too? Jules always said he had the enviable knack of making friends easily. Of course, he was fairly skilled at being irritating too… "Swings and roundabouts." Had he said that out loud? Was he losing it? Shawn hoped not. "So, Marcus. Tell me what I win." Please don't let it be a one-way trip to the bottom of the ocean.

Marcus set his lips together mutely. He reached up with one hand and tugged the tie from around his neck, loosening the knot with a ragged motion. It took several attempts. Shawn watched him in sick fascination. "Is it Casual Friday already?" he joked, though his heart was sinking. There was no version of this scenario that played out happily in his head.

Grabbing Shawn's free arm, Marcus yanked it backwards so that he could lash both wrists together. Déjà vu. Shawn swallowed. "Can't we talk about this?"

"I'm not talking to you anymore."

"Ha! You just did." Pulling at his bonds, Shawn could feel how secure they were. The cheap tie rubbed his skin as he wriggled. "Come on, Marcus. We were having a moment there. I know it. You know it. This is no way to handle a minor disagreement."

"I don't think so," Marcus told him stubbornly. "You're sneaky, like a snake. I don't want you in my mind. So I'm going to get rid of you."

Oh, God. The relentless sound of the ocean thundered in his ears. He couldn't focus on anything else. He was shaking so badly that Marcus had to hold him by the shoulders just to keep him upright. "Please…" Begging was worse than degrading but Shawn loved his life and could not bear to part with it this way. "Please don't."

Oh, Jules.

"Don't what? Oh!" Marcus shook his head. The tiny smirk he gave at Shawn's distress seemed out of place on his solid features. "Not that. Not yet, anyway. I'm handing you over to Meek."

"You are?" It was impossible for Shawn to hide his relief. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet," said his captor with deep foreboding. "Meek's the devil himself. Read his thoughts if you dare, and you'll know I'm telling the truth."

-x0x-

Even with the moon behind the clouds, Shawn could tell that they were walking back along the port side of the ship. His normally buoyant mind was already under immense pressure – but now he had a brand new worry. They were heading in the direction of the radio room. What would happen if they bumped into Yoly and her daughter? Did Marcus have a gun, or was he strictly a hand-to-hand kind of guy? Shawn twisted, looking for (and finding) a tell-tale bulge in the man's jacket that indicated a shoulder holster, just like the one Lassie always wore.

Awesome.

"Stop that." Marcus shoved him forwards. "Keep walking."

"Oh, sorry," Shawn said lightly, trying to pretend that none of this was bothering him anymore. His eyes were shifting from side to side, seeking help, or possibly some kind of blinding revelation, but nothing came to him at all - apart from a crazy lifeboat-related plan that relied far too much on his being ten times stronger and faster than he really was. The only other people that he saw were shadowy figures, here and there, working hard and keeping their distance. He could not even tell if they were real sailors or fake agents. Either way, they offered him no hope right now.

And then he saw it. A tiny movement in the tarpaulin that covered the nearest lifeboat. He pasted a blank look on his face and looked-without-looking – a useful skill, honed by his years as a fake psychic. Marcus marched on, oblivious, but Shawn saw everything he needed to in just a couple of seconds. Yoly's shining eyes and another pair of eyes beside her. Yoly's thumb sticking upwards before it slipped back out of sight.

She had rescued her daughter. But had she also managed to call for help? He tried to imagine how long all that would take her, and balanced it against the time that he had spent with Marcus. It was… possible. Ever the optimist, Shawn chose hope. Not possible – probable.

He clung to this thought as Marcus steered him through the doorway and down the stairs. Now he was right back where he started – but they passed the dark room quickly and kept on walking. One part of Shawn's brain – the logical part that he often hid behind his 'visions' – was keen to see where this passageway actually led. In a parallel world, governed by alternate choices, what would have happened if he had gone this way in the first place, rather than heading up onto the open deck?

Only bad things, he decided as the air grew stale again, and the lights that hung from the ceiling at intervals hummed discordantly, making his shoulders twitch.

One turn… two turns… three. All the doors they passed were unremarkable, and now Marcus halted in front of another one that bore absolutely no distinguishing features. He cleared his throat nervously and gave a ham-fisted series of knocks on the panel.

"Come in," said Meek's voice.

"Open it," Marcus ordered, nudging Shawn.

"Um… really?" Shawn's hands were still tied behind his back. He turned and gave Marcus a pointed look, little caring that it would annoy the man. Yoly's thumbs-up had definitely given him confidence. Help was on the way; he knew it. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more certain he became. An image popped into his head, of the Dunlap sisters, Barbara and the chief, riding the waves heroically with the rest of the Santa Barbara coastguard. Coming to rescue him. There was even a soundtrack: The Ride of the Valkyries. If he was lucky, Jules would be there too, because he really, really missed her…

Marcus grunted and reached around him. The door swung open and Shawn was pushed inside. Walking with his hands tied was never going to be an elegant activity. He tripped over the raised threshold and landed squarely on his knees with a jolt that ran up to his skull. By the time he had recovered, Meek was standing right in front of him. Shawn looked up, regretting his lowly position but determined not to let it cramp his style

"Eddie. Nice to see you. Thanks for the sleep – best one I've had in ages. You should try it. Might get rid of those bags under your eyes."

He could hear Marcus shuffling backwards behind him.

Meek ignored the insult and peered over Shawn's shoulder. He smelled of sweat, and sandalwood - cheap aftershave that clearly couldn't do its job. "Your tie, Marcus? Really?"

"He surprised me. And I couldn't use my belt. Didn't want my pants to fall…" Marcus tailed off into silence.

"He surprised you. This man." This pathetic specimen, said the look on Edgar's chipmunk face.

"I do have my moments," Shawn said obligingly. "And I, for one, am glad that he chose dignity over style when considering bondage options. No one likes to see an accidental pair of boxers on display." He paused, looking thoughtful. "No, wait. Tighty-whities?"

Marcus made a choking sound and Shawn couldn't help grinning. "I thought we'd already been through this. Psychic, remember?"

"So you keep saying." Meek's voice was quiet and deadly. "Don't take offence, Mr. Spencer, but I have yet to see any real evidence of that. Merely a few parlour tricks and far too many jokes at the expense of other people."

"Just because I'm funny doesn't mean I'm not gifted. Why be dull when you can be entertaining? I think that's a proverb, or something. Besides, everyone ought to enjoy what they do. I mean, clearly you do, Eddie." He turned back to Marcus. "Not so sure about you. Sorry, buddy."

Before the poor man could think of a suitable retort, Meek waved him from the room with a deceptively careless gesture. "I'll deal with you later," he warned as Marcus beat a sullen retreat and closed the door behind him.

Now they were alone. Shawn felt a surge of claustrophobia. Hoping to distract himself, he studied his new surroundings. The benches and shelves of equipment reminded him sharply of his old science lessons back at Leland Bosseigh High – the ones he had slept through, mostly – and he assumed that this was one of the research labs. If you had paid more attention to the class, and less to the inside of your eyelids, said Fake Gus primly in his head, you would know what those instruments do. You can't borrow my notes for this one, Shawn.

At the far end of the long room was a rectangular window, not unlike the two way mirror from Interrogation. Meek followed the line of Shawn's gaze. "By all means, take a look," he said, but made no move to help Shawn to his feet. There followed a highly embarrassing struggle, as Shawn brought one foot forward, wobbled precariously and then pitched over altogether. He rolled and wriggled like a beetle in distress for a while. Still Meek did nothing. Finally, Shawn backed up against the door, using it as leverage to help him rise, inch by ridiculous inch. Once he was upright, he lifted his chin and stared Meek in the face, as defiantly as he could manage after such a pathetic display.

"Thank you," he replied. "I think I will."

He felt battered and bruised but he crossed the room with dignity. Meek followed close behind him. The devil at my shoulder, Shawn thought uncomfortably, remembering what Marcus had said.

He knew what he would see through the glass before he even reached it – would have staked a substantial amount on it (though not his life) if someone asked him to and he had Gus's credit card handy – but he felt little satisfaction when he peered through and found that he was right.