| Joe put his full force behind the keyboard as he swung it at the younger man’s head, using his momentum to lift him from the chair in a sweeping arc. The bespectacled man hadn’t expected the sixty-eight year old to attack, but dodged away just quickly enough for the keyboard to cut the air beside his ear. Joe stepped forward as he reversed the stroke of his improvised weapon, determined to chase off this upstart and so have the time he needed to finish his work. As the stranger backed away, Joe continued to follow him, his famous shock-white hair giving him the halo of an avenging angel. The keyboard faltered mid-swing as Joe reached the full extent of the cable that tied it to the computer still sitting on the antique desk beside the bay window. Knowing that he had lost the initiative, the elderly professor stepped back, frantically searching for a better means of defence. So much for the pen being mightier than the sword, he thought wryly.
He regarded his would-be assailant closely, determined to take in every facet of his short, slight stature and dark, greasy, unkempt hair in the hopes that it would help the police identify him later. He was much shorter than Joe’s 180 cm, but he looked stronger. Joe guessed that the other man was about 40 years old. He couldn’t see any distinguishing marks, but did memorise the man’s grey eyes, framed by small round glasses. They were the cold eyes of a shark. They were the eyes of a killer.
Without saying a word, the younger man turned and headed for the door. Seizing his chance, Joe scanned the top of his yew and walnut desk, looking for his letter opener. It had been a present from his late wife, Abigail, found on their travels across Arabia many decades before. Its long curved blade, like a miniature scimitar, would be a welcome upgrade from the keyboard. With that, he hoped to hold off the other man until help came. Help had to come. Joe knew that his work was too important to be left unfinished.
He saw part of the blade half hidden by a pile of papers on the far side of the desk. Joe glanced up to see if he had time to reach the letter opener while the cold-eyed killer still had his back turned. The younger man had just reached the far side of Joe’s bookshelf-lined office and gently closed the door. As he turned back, he pulled a pistol from his pocket. The elderly academic watched in frozen horror as the man raised the bulbous barrel of the weapon towards Joe’s suited torso. The dull grey of the silencer-fitted gun matched its owner’s eyes, both deadly and devoid of emotion.
Instinctively, Joe swung the keyboard forward, echoing his days as a cricketer years ago. Though a look of fear hung on his weathered face, some small ever optimistic part of his brain told him that it may, just, be possible to deflect the bullets away. The reality hit him with the full force of the 9mm round that carved through the plastic keyboard and in to his yielding abdomen. Joe crumpled forward, knocking the computer monitor forward on the desk and dislodging a pile of papers and books on to the floor. The second shot hit higher than the first, smashing two ribs and halting in his right lung. Joe looked in shock at the hole in his silk waistcoat. Pity, he thought, It was always one of my favourites. Surprised at his own abstract thoughts, his thin frame slumped to the floor, waves of nausea washing over him as he struggled to breathe.
Having replaced the pistol in a pocket, the young gunman grabbed the prostrate professor by the throat and dragged him away from the window and in to the middle of the room. Joe was surprised at how numb he felt as his wrists, thighs and ankles were tied tightly. He watched with a detached fascination at his blood soaking rapidly in to the reds and browns of his Egyptian rug. He could smell the rubber of the gunman’s surgical gloves as his mouth was taped closed and he watched as his attacker pushed back the leather couch and antique low table. He continued his impassive observation as his assailant retrieved a cloth bundle from a pocket within his jacket and reverently unrolled it on the small table. Joe could just see as the man’s fingers danced over the handles of the knives, finally selecting a small cleaver and a large carving knife. Unlike the dull sheen of the pistol, the bright blades glinted, seemingly alive, and Joe’s impassiveness evaporated in their harsh light. The eyes of the man that the newspapers had once called the ‘Nation’s Favourite Grandfather’ filled with terror and tears. He knew that help would not come in time. As his body began to shake violently, he resolved not to say a word about his work and prayed that Maia would be able to continue it.
“Time for me to begin, Professor Franks,” whispered the younger man, his oily voice sliding across Joe like a basket of snakes. He hummed gently to himself as he got to work with the razor sharp blades. Joe Franks’ last thoughts were of being with Abigail once more.