Captives on the Orient Express
The snow covered alpine peaks glowed ruby
red, standing out vividly against the pink evening sky as they reflected the
last rays of the setting sun. Shadows had already engulfed the wide Swiss
valley, and twinkling Christmas lights from the nearest town reflected off the
layer of sparkling snow left from the last winter storm.
Adriano loved these mountains. It didn't matter whether they were coated in snow, or basking in the intense summer sunshine. Being among them constantly reminded him of the power and majesty of nature. He remembered family holidays to the Italian alpine regions as a child. They were the happiest of all his memories.
The carriage of the Orient Express shook as it passed across a bump in the track, rattling the full coffee cups resting on his dining table. He was surprised the train was still running. Snowdrifts over six feet tall were piled up at the trackside, and it was going to be another harsh night. Yet the train continued on its journey unhindered, powering its way through the snowy scene en-route to Venice, his hometown.
"I hate snow," Bryony sniffed, resting her head against the rattling window pane.
"You're British. Hating snow is what you do best," Adriano grinned at her.
"You forgot queuing," Bryony smiled, running her pale hand through her bright red hair as it tumbled onto the shoulder straps of her black sequined dress.
"And complaining about queuing," the healthily tanned Italian retorted, shooting her a charming smile through the stubble covering his lower face.
The grey haired man with an immaculately trimmed beard sitting beside Bryony finished his tea in one gulp, and then said in a soft voice, "If there is one thing people in my home country can do, it's make a good cup of tea. Other nations do a decent job but they can't quite get the blend right."
They were the only people talking throughout the entire restaurant car. All the other travellers remained completely quite, the only thing piercing the silence was the piano music tinkling over speakers. It was a disturbing silence, the kind heard in situations when people knew something terrible was about to happen.
Adriano couldn't help but examine the other guests, noticing how the majority of them were women. Behind their table sat two Japanese girls, presumably students travelling Europe, dressed in tartan skirts, pullovers, dark tights and colourful flat pumps. They huddled together around their digital camera, pointing at the pictures taken on their trip. Across from them sat an attractive middle aged African American lady. Her straight jet black hair was held with a red headband, keeping it off the grey trouser suit she wore with black high heels. She read a novel on her E-reader, reading glasses perched on the bridge of her nose.
In the far corner was someone Adriano knew all too well. It was impossible to travel throughout Germany without seeing her face on every billboard or television. She was Freida, Germany's latest pop sensation. She'd sold millions of records throughout the continent, and was tipped to win next year's Eurovision Song Contest. She was quite stunning, even when she looked as bored as she did now. Flowing blonde hair tumbled over her shoulders and reached the strappy red dress she wore, with black tights and high heeled ankle strap sandals with gems on the buckles. Sitting with her was an older woman with dark hair tied in a tight bun, dressed in an immaculate skirt suit with high heeled boots reaching her stocking clad knees. Judging how this woman didn't seem able to wrench herself from the phone she was typing into frantically, Adriano surmised she was Freida's agent.
Then directly across from his table sat a young woman alone, resting her head against the window having not touched the juicy rump steak they had been served for dinner. Her brown hair was styled into a short bob haircut, and she dressed casually in a plain white blouse, tight fitting jeans and flat pumps on her feet. She looked like she was a million miles away, oblivious to Adriano as he continued staring at her intently.
The only other male guest was a man in his late forties, small and rotund with a rapidly receding hairline. He was dressed in a crumpled suit, with a cheap looking tie and a stripy shirt underneath his jacket. He was pretending to read the paper spread on the table, but was constantly looking up at the occupants of the carriage, particularly at the brown haired girl, though she seemed to be doing her best to ignore him.
Under any other circumstances Adriano would have bought a drink for any of the six pretty ladies filling the restaurant car, but these were not normal circumstances. On the surface all the guests were simply travellers passing through Europe in the lap of luxury, but underneath was a tight web of intrigue linking all these people together. It was why everyone was sitting in complete silence, trying to ignore the heinous crime that everyone, bar one individual, knew was about to be committed.
The door to the carriage slid open and the head porter walked through. Speaking in fluent English with a French accent he announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen. We have re-arranged your cabins into your bedrooms, and they are now ready for you to use. You may remain in here until the bar closes at twelve o clock. Thank you for your patience, and good evening to you all."
But no-one wanted to make use of the bar. The nervous looking man stood up first and walking to the exit as casually as possible. The women quickly followed him, one by one returning to their cabins in the carriage next door. The brown haired woman was the last to leave, and as she stood up she and Adriano made eye contact. Her brown eyes were tinged with red, and filled with sorrow and regret. Adriano was all familiar with that look, not too long ago his eyes had been just like hers.
"Better get ready you two, the game's afoot," the grey haired man remarked as he rose to his feet. "I'll persuade the porter to leave us in peace while we work. Then I'll pay a visit to the intended victim."
Bryony nodded, and was about to get up herself when she noticed Adriano was staring aimlessly out the window. "You ok?" she asked, placing her hand on his reassuringly.
Her touch brought Adriano back to reality. His thoughts had drifted into a dark place he had spent most of his life trying to repress. Images had flashed through his mind; walking up a darkened staircase, stepping on a sticky pool of red liquid on the kitchen floor, opening the bedroom door to see his younger sister cradling the motionless bodies of his parents and older brother. But he managed to bring his thoughts back under control, and smiling at Bryony he said, "I'm fine donna bella. Come, we have work to do."
Adriano fixed the grey hood over his head, pulling it tight so it covered the upper half of his face. Looking at himself in the mirror of his cabin he readjusted the belt around his waist, to which a number of pouches were attached. He wore a grey hooded top and dark trousers infused with special padding to make them knife and bullet resistant. He wore soft trainers on his feet and fingerless gloves on his hands.
Once satisfied his outfit was suitable he opened his cabin door to see Bryony already waiting for him outside, dressed identically with her red hair spilling out from underneath her hood. "I'll take cabin seven if you take cabin six," she whispered as he silently slid his cabin door shut. He nodded in confirmation, walking silently to his assigned door as Bryony made for the room just beyond. They paused at the doorway, waiting for the signal to begin. They got it when the grey haired man appeared at the end of the corridor, and gave them a nod.
Bryony went first, knocking on the door of the cabin and saying loudly, "Hello this is the engineering staff. It's an emergency. Could you please open the door?"
There was the sound of confused voices talking in Japanese from inside the room. Then the door was tentatively pulled aside, revealing one of the Japanese students still fully dressed with a confused look on her face. "Hello," she greeted nervously, "What kind of emergency is itttttttttmmmm?"
Before she could finish her sentence Bryony dashed forward, clamping her hand over the girl's mouth. She emitted muted squeals as Bryony pushed her back inside the room, swiftly pulling the door closed behind her.
It was now Adriano's turn, and knocking on the door to cabin six he said loudly, "Entschuldigen sie bitte, Fräulein Freida. Ist eine dringlichkeit. Mag ich mit ihnen sprechen?"
He heard a frustrated cry of, "Scheiße," before the door was opened by the smartly dressed agent. "Was genau diese dringlichkeit ist?" She asked curtly, looking distinctly unimpressed.
But her expression changed to one of fear when, with a single swift movement, he pulled a knife from his belt and held it against her neck. "Seien Sie ruhig. Rufen Sie nicht um hilfe!" He instructed calmly, at which the agent nodded slowly.
"Excuse me. May I come in for a quick word?"
"Who are you? Look I'm getting ready for bed. Whatever it is can't it wait until morning?"
"If you go to bed now then you will probably not wake up in the morning."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that there are people on this train that seek to do you serious harm. Only with the protection provided by me and my colleagues will you live through the night."
"Well...I guess you'd better come in then."
"Keep still, don't make this harder on yourself" Bryony told the wriggling girl she was kneeling on as she pulled taught the zip tie she'd placed around the girls wrists, having already crossed them over behind her back.
"Mmmmggg yyyyymmm kkkrrrrrnnnn!" the Japanese student squealed through the wad of sponge stuffed in her mouth, held in place with strips of black tape slapped over her lips. She bounced about on the bed with all her strength, trying to buck off the hooded girl kneeling on her back.
Bryony grabbed the girl's tight clad ankles, pushed them together and pulled a ziptie around them. Before she tightened it she felt a kick to her ribs, though not powerful enough to push her off. Bryony shot a quick glance at the other student, lying at the side already bound and gagged. She wriggled her tied legs as she lined up for another kick. Bryony dodged her attack this time, the student flicking her legs so vigorously that one of her bright gold flats shot off her foot.
Bryony applied one last ziptie around the girl's knees, then got off and rolled her over against her friend. The Japanese girls bunched together, their dark hair intertwining as they rested their heads against each other. They gazed up at Bryony as she placed the small roll of tape back into its pouch, then readjusting her belt.
"I'm sorry you girls had to go through this. Stay here and wait for someone to release you, and you'll never see me again," Bryony told the girls as she unlocked the cabin door.
"Mmmmmggg hhhhyyyynnnn rrrrrmmmm!" the girls chorused in frustration, bashing their backs against the carriage wall and crumpling the bed sheets as they threw their legs around. Bryony gave them one last look before she sidled out into the corridor, closed the door and locked it with the students own key, which she dropped on the carriage floor where it would be found once this was all over.
In the neighbouring cabin Freida stifled a sob as the hooded man zipped her hands behind her back. She gazed helplessly as her agent writhed on the opposing bed, already bound hand and foot and gagged with sponge and black tape. "Warum tun sie dies?" the pop star moaned as the intruder knelt at her feet.
"Du kennen den grund warum," Adriano told her in a quiet yet authoritative voice. Freida gasped in pain as he drew the plastic tightly around her ankles, just above her expensive high heel sandals. Adriano took one last plastic tie and swiftly pulled it around her upper legs, underneath the hem of her red dress. The cabin was filled with a harsh zipping sound as Adriano pulled it tight, fixing her legs tightly together.
He then opened a pocket in his pouch and withdrew a small sponge ball, one designed to expand greatly when it came into contact with moisture, such as the saliva in someone's mouth. Freida whimpered when she saw it, having already witnessed her wriggling agent being gagged with something similar.
But just before Adriano pushed it in, she suddenly asked in broken English, "This is to do with Barston, yes?"
Adriano nodded slowly and replied, "Yes." At this single word Freida closed her eyes, a single tear rolling down her cheek. But Adriano knew it wasn't from fear, but rather a sense of failure. As much as he hated doing this to her, it was necessary to ensure she wasn't burdened with a dreadful secret for the rest of her life.
To that end he stuffed her mouth with the sponge, the girl moaning slightly as he pushed it in. Then he withdrew a small roll of black electrical tape from another pouch, and pulling off a strip placed it over her mouth. He added six more strips to ensure she could not spit out the sponge, making sure he did not trap any strands of her beautiful blonde hair. He then lifted up her legs and laid her to rest on the bed in as comfortable a position as possible. Freida stared at him while he did this, wondering what his intended purpose was.
"Guten abend, hübsche damen," Adriano told his two captives as they writhed about on their beds. Grabbing their cabin keys he stepped outside, shooting them a reassuring smile before he locked them inside.
"Have you ever read 'Murder on the Orient Express'?"
"Isn't that the one where they all did it?"
"Well that's the simple way of putting it. There's a reason it's Agatha Christies most famous work. The concept that a cast of apparent strangers trapped on a train could actually have been working together in a meticulous revenge plot, made it one of the most surprising resolutions in crime literature history."
"What's this got to do with me?"
"Well sometimes works of fiction can inspire people to carry out similar acts in real life. Here we are on the famous locomotive, speeding through the snow covered valleys of Europe, on a night where a similar act of revenge is being prepared."
"Act of revenge? Against who?"
"You know full well who it's against."
"...This is about Angela Peach, isn't it?"
"This had better be important," Gina Ward huffed in her rich New Orleans accent. "I have an important meeting in Venice and I need to get some...Is that really suitable attire for an engineer?"
"Not really. It's more suitable for pulling stunts like this," Bryony replied, before she darted through the open door of cabin number five, clamping her hand over the pretty businesswoman's mouth. She pushed Gina through the cabin, kicking the cabin door closed with her foot. She pushed Gina onto the bed and jumped on top of her, keeping her hand firmly pressed over the business woman's mouth. The African American snarled and huffed through the hand gag, strands of her jet black hair sprawling across the pillow, staring up at Bryony with eyes filled with anger.
Wrestling to keep Gina under control Bryony said, "I'm not really interested in what business you have planned in Venice. I am interested in what business you have planned for tonight." Bryony smirked as she saw Gina's eyes widen. "Oh yes, I know exactly what you're planning. And I can't allow that to happen."
Bryony then caught sight of Gina's free right hand rooting through the open bag on her bedside table, before she withdrew a small white capsule. Bryony realised what it was just in the nick of time, and managed to shield her eyes the split second before Gina aimed a spray of mace at her. The stinging spray failed to reach Bryony's eyes, but it gave Gina the chance to push her off. She flung herself to her feet and made for the door, but quick as a flash Bryony grabbed hold of her left hand. Using her years of training she twisted Gina's arm into the small of her back, making her yelp in pain. She then directed her captive back to the bed, pushed her face first against it, and used her body weight to pin Gina down.
"Get the hell off me!" Gina snarled, her voice muffled as she spoke into the mattress. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Protecting you from yourself," Bryony replied coldly, pulling a zip tie from her pouch, crossing Gina's hands behind her back and then zipping them together. She then pulled Gina's legs onto the bed, and used another zip tie on her ankles above the cuffs of her grey trousers. A last zip tie around the knees left her captive fully secure.
As Bryony rolled her prisoner over she saw the tiny gold cross attached to the business woman's necklace. She raised an eyebrow as she withdrew her roll of tape, and said, "Think the good Lord would approve of what you were going to do?"
"It's you who has to worry about achieving salvation," Gina retorted defiantly.
Pulling a strand of tape with a loud rip, Bryony replied, "Thanks for the concern, but salvation found me a long time ago."
"I'm innocent. The trial found me not guilty. I didn't do it!"
"We both know full well that you did do it. You escaped punishment on a technicality, not because your innocence was proved."
"But this isn't fair."
"Not fair? Angela Peach was a beautiful young lady from a wealthy family. She dreamed of travelling the globe, teaching English in distant countries, working for charities in Africa. She was only back in London for her sister's birthday, when you spiked her drink at that nightclub and took her back to your flat..."
"Stop this! Get out right now! You have no right..."
"I have every right. I represent the ultimate authority, and I'm not going anywhere!"
Adriano knocked on the door to cabin four and repeated the words, "It's an emergency. Can I come in?" He got no response, at which he pushed against the door and found it was unlocked. Pulling his blade from his sheath he silently slid the door back, and stepped inside cautiously, watching for any sign of movement inside the darkened cabin.
Out of nowhere and arm wrapped itself around his head, and a knife was pressed against his neck. "Put the weapon down!" ordered a female voice from over his shoulder.
"Ok, I'll drop it!" Adriano replied, letting his blade slip through his fingers to the floor, where he kicked it under the nearest bed. Holding his hands up he added, "There's no need for you to do this Susan."
"How the hell do you know my name?" the brown haired woman hissed, keeping the blade positioned over his vocal chords. "You're working for him aren't you? You're trying to protect him."
"I work only for the pursuit of justice," Adriano replied.
Susan gave an indignant scoff. "Don't lecture me about justice. I trusted in it once, before it let me and my family down. What right do you HEY!"
Having distracted Susan enough for her to lower the knife slightly Adriano made his move, grabbing her wrist and pushing it away, twisting underneath her arm in one swift movement. Susan was pulled forward while he ended up behind her, pressing her hand into the small of her back. With a swift twist on her wrist she exhaled in pain, dropping her own knife to the floor.
"OW let me go. Let me go right now!" yelled Susan, stamping her feet angrily as she tried to break free from Adriano's grip.
"I can't allow that," Adriano told her, pushing the violently struggling woman face first into her mattress. Grabbing her other flailing wrist he pulled it against the other, then swiftly fastened them together with a zip tie.
"No!" Susan exclaimed, gasping as the tie bit into her skin. "I have to do this, I'll never have another chance!"
Preparing two final ties to apply to her jean clad legs, Adriano said, "This is not a burden you should have to bear."
"Stop talking in riddles and let me go!" Susan snarled, wriggling her pump clad feet as he fixed a tie around them, before fastening one more above her knees. Satisfied she was secure, he got off her and withdrew a sponge ball and roll of tape from his pouch. Susan watched this, and for the first time her fury wavered. "Please, I'm begging you, let me do this. I've waited too long for tonight. I owe it to my sister!"
Adriano paused, making eye contact with the young woman lying at his mercy. He felt an overwhelming surge of sympathy. She had suffered so much in her young life. Seeing her utterly consumed by anger reminded him of the young man he had once been. But there was still hope for her; hope she could live the normal life he never could.
Kneeling over her he pried open her mouth and stuffed the sponge ball inside, while she grunted angrily at him. "Honour your sister by living a life free from crime and anger," he instructed her as he pulled a strip of black tape which he pressed over her mouth. "Don't let her memory drive you into doing something you will regret."
"NNNNNNN. LLLLLTTT MMMM GGGGGMMMM YYYYYY BBBSSSTTTRRRD!" Susan screamed in rage through her gag, even as Adriano attached the last strip of tape over her lips.
With that Adriano got up and made for the exit. He stood in the doorway for a moment, looking over his shoulder as Susan bucked and twisted about on her bed, glaring at him with a look of pure fury. "I am sorry Susan. Truly I am," he told her, before sliding her cabin door closed and locking her inside.
Ignoring the muffled cries from behind the door he walked down the corridor to where Bryony was waiting for him outside cabin five. "How'd she take it?" she asked.
"Not well," Adriano replied solemnly.
"Don't worry. She'll understand why we did this one day. Come on, we've got a train to stop."
"I thought I recognised her. She was at the trial wasn't she? And now she's come to kill me?"
"With five other women onboard this train. They've been watching you for months, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Your love of this marvellous train gave them the perfect opportunity to recreate one of the most famous murders in fictional literature."
"Are you going to let them?"
"No. It is not their responsibility to atone for how justice failed them. But my organisation has brought justice to those who have got away with terrible crimes for thousands of years."
"What's happening? Why is the train stopping?"
"Because this is your stop Peter Barston. Come with me, it is time to atone for your crime."
Two days later Susan walked up the tiny staircase leading to the top floor of her hotel, having just had her witness statement taken by officers of Interpol. She could hear the sound of musical instruments drifting through the closed shutters, as the Venetians prepared for the arrival of Christmas in just under one weeks time. The happy cheers and singing failed to improve her spirits, as she reflected on the events of the past days.
It had all been for nothing. All that planning, all that organisation, only to have their goal snatched from their grasp at the last moment. It left her feeling like there was a gaping hole in her heart. For months revenge had been all she could think of. Now it was all over she had no idea what to do with herself.
It hadn't been hard to find people willing to exact revenge on Peter Barston. Gina, a long time work colleague of her father, had been with her right from the start, stoutly believing in the old mantra 'an eye for an eye.' But the other members of her plan had come from the most unexpected places. Freida had spent a year as Angela's housemate when they were both at university, and they had become firm friends during that time. Convincing her agent to join wasn't difficult, given how she had once lost a family member in similar circumstances. Then she'd been contacted by two girls from Japan, who'd only been fourteen when Angela had taught English at their school in Tokyo. Appalled at what happened, they pledged to help her in any way they could.
The six women were utterly committed to their cause, and were prepared to face the consequences of their actions. But they could never have predicted that they would be attacked, bound and gagged in their cabins by a pair of hooded strangers. They could do nothing as the Orient Express was forced into an emergency stop, and could only listen as they heard the whir of a helicopter landing next to the train. Minutes later the porter had found them all and released them, but Barston and the mysterious strangers had all disappeared.
Susan sighed as she reached into her pocket for her room key. She could only presume a powerful friend of Barston had come to his rescue, and the thought that he had once again escaped unpunished drove her to despair. She twisted the key in the lock and opened the door, and gasped in horror as she came face to face with the man dressed in the grey hoodie, as he placed a letter at the foot of her bed.
"Hey, wait," she shouted, but the man was already away. He charged to her open window and without hesitation dived out of it. Susan ran to the railing, and scanned the Venetian canal that passed underneath her hotel window, as a man in a gondola shouted in energetic Italian about what he had just witnessed. There was no sign of the hooded man, just the ripples left from when he had hit the water. She waited for him to reappear, but she never saw his head breach the surface.
Turning around she gazed at the letter lying open on her bed. She trotted over and snatched it up. She read and reread the handwritten note, and after she was finished felt tears trickling down her cheeks.
Dear Susan Peach
I was once like you, so sure of right and wrong, betrayed and thirsty for revenge. I lost people close to me in an act of Mafia violence, and their killers were never brought to justice. I trod the path of the vigilante, not caring who I hurt along my way. I almost lost myself in my blind desire for revenge, but I was saved by an organisation that has balanced the scales of justice for millennia.
Justice and revenge are not the same. Justice is about maintaining the laws and fabric of society, whereas revenge is an act of selfishness. The ordeal you and your family suffered was terrible, but it is not your responsibility to seek revenge for the actions of Peter Barston. My organisation has taken him into custody and we will try him by our laws. If found guilty he will disappear forever, and rest assured he will atone for the appalling crime he committed.
I am truly sorry for what I did to you. We intercepted messages sent between you and your associates as you made your plans. We could not allow six innocent women to throw their lives away committing a blind act of vengeance. As compensation my organisation has transferred twenty thousand pounds into your bank account, to help you pick up the pieces of your shattered life. But I implore you to return home to your friends and family, and live the life your sister would have wanted you to live. It is too late for me, but it is not too late for you.
Tell no-one of this, and may our paths never cross again.
Adriano of The Guild.