Category: suspense

MONDAY: Free Falling

BY PAUL MICHAEL DUBAL

Copyright is held by the author.

WITH THE wind whipping around the cabin and the drone of the DeHavilland Twin Otter turboprop drowning every other sound, Calvin Thompson stood at the open steel door, ready to jump. He looked across at his jump buddy Craig Forrester, the hatred in his eyes masked by his mirrored flight goggles.

At an altitude of 13,000 feet, the ground below had a strange sense of perspective. The expansive green and grey hue stretched into the blinding horizon. Of course it was impossible to make out individual landmarks, yet too low to get a proper viewpoint like a satellite photo.

Calvin felt the plane’s angle tilt slightly as they swept around toward the jump zone. He had not confronted Craig. That was not his style. In any event, he had to admit that Craig, 180 pounds of solid muscle, could probably take him down in the inevitable fist fight. No, he had to be more subtle than that. He would take Craig down first. Permanently.

Calvin smiled to himself at the irony of it. Down was exactly where he was going.

Annette never let her phone out of sight. His wife knew what he was like. That morning three days ago she had got up early to shower. The buzz of her phone was lost in the constant tinkle of running water. He picked up the phone and checked who was texting his wife at 7 am. A work colleague perhaps? No, too early. A girlfriend? No, definitely not. The name was not familiar but it was clearly false, a pet name.

Flyguy.

When he saw the text his face reddened as a burning, incandescent rage shot through him.

“Be patient my sexy goddess. Three days.”

His vision blurred and his knuckles clasped and released involuntarily, as if desperate to hit something. Or strangle someone. He looked toward the bathroom where his wife hummed gently in the shower, oblivious to his fury. The bitch was having an affair. He knew it. That was why she had looked so damned contented recently, a glow of happiness in her smile and a bounce in her step.

He knew things had not been right for a while, and as they began to drift apart, he had tried to control her. She had always been a good wife. She did what he said, usually without question. They didn’t really argue, he was used to her submitting to his jealous rants.

He couldn’t help it. That was the way he had been programmed from an early age. His father had been the same. Unlike his father, who regularly beat his mother, he had never laid a finger on Annette. And this was how she repaid him.

Who the hell was she sleeping with? His first instinct was to storm into the bathroom and confront her, maybe in the way his father did. Serve her right. It took all the focus and self-control that made him such an accomplished skydiver not to do that. No, he would bide his time, make her suffer but in more subtle ways.

It was the middle of the week and they had parted with their usual cold civility, Annette totally unaware she had read his text. Nothing different. As far as she knew he was blissfully ignorant. God, she must think he was a fool.

He had pondered over the pet name for a while and then realization had hit him like a bolt. The sudden dawn of the horrible truth was so blindingly obvious and so agonizing to contemplate it became physical. Jesus, what had taken him so long? He had collapsed heavily into a chair, sending a number of colleagues in his office running scampering to attend to him. They buzzed about in the concerned manner of colleagues who didn’t really know what to do but just hung around, afraid to leave him out of a sense of guilt. Clutching a bottle of water handed to him, and with tetchy assurances he was all right, he ushered them out so he was last left in peace. Sitting in a private conference room, the initial shock over, he was able to contemplate the worst nightmare.

Flyguy.

It was similar to when people put their passwords on as their date of birth, their first born or their favourite pet. It was too damn obvious. Maybe she never expected him to read her texts.

Flyguy.

They had been inseparable for years, sharing everything together. But that did not extend to his wife. How could he do that to his best friend? The thought of them together made him want to retch. He just hadn’t seen it. Even the last dinner party, where Craig had brought another flighty piece of skirt just to hang on his arm. That dreamy look she gave him when she thought he wasn’t looking. He dismissed it as down to the wine, as if his mind refused to even consider the possibility. It was too obscene to contemplate, so he closed his mind to it. Craig had brought plenty of dates, but they never lasted long. Not surprising. Women were far more intuitive. They probably saw it long before he did. The bitch was sleeping with his best friend. Not just his best friend but his jump buddy. Someone that he relied on in the life and death sport of skydiving.

Death.

At first he had dismissed the idea, ashamed of himself that he had even contemplated it. Could he really go through with something like that? He had completely rejected the train of thought. It was absurd. He could never do it. The feeling, however had refused to budge, lodged in his brain and gnawing away like heavy, eroding waves slowly crumbling the cliff face. His defences had slowly melted until he was forced to seriously consider the idea. When it had taken root, the idea grew into something palpable and realistic. It had swept through his brain like cancer, destroying every other thought process until it had become an obsession.

The next step, therefore was deciding how Craig would die. That had quickly become obvious as well. A jump situation. In skydiving if you got it wrong you were dead. Simple as that. No margin for error. Craig was considerably less experienced as a skydiver than he was. Craig was sub 100. Calvin had topped 250. Accidents happened, tragic of course but Craig knew the risks.

They were careful on the pre-flight checks of course. It was a rigorous routine before anyone took to the skies. After 50 jumps the club allowed you to pack your own chute, but even after that time it was mandatory for someone more experienced to conduct a second test. There had been a couple of documented cases of suicide by skydivers, so nobody ever checked their packs alone.

It was customary in the club for the jump buddies to check each other’s packs. Craig and Calvin had been partners for the last thirty or so jumps, and trusted each other implicitly. Until three days ago at least.

That morning he had arrived at the airfield early, Annette still in bed. He had watched her gently snoring as he packed his jumpsuit. She would belong to him again pretty soon. If he still wanted her that is. He had not got that far yet. The air was cool and crisp, a light south-westerly breeze adding a freshness, sun shining through light, wispy clouds. Perfect jump conditions.

They had gathered in the briefing room, sixteen of them, five women and eleven guys. Lots of banter and laughter as the flight martial explained the drill. Thirteen thousand feet, two sweeps of the airfield where he would drop eight in each pass. Each team of eight would create their own formation, which they rehearsed on the ground. All very routine. They had broke for coffee, studied the weather conditions, kitted up into their jump suits. Then it was a case of assembling their packs. The parachute, a square canopy with a high wing loading had to be folded in a certain way. It ensured that the chute would open quickly and the bridle would pull the closing pin, avoiding entanglement when deployed.

Calvin had checked his pack with usual efficiency in the small private cubicle each jumper was assigned, and they had swapped packs. They had checked each others packs before handing them back, and it was then that Calvin had made his move. The knife he used was small but razor sharp. It fitted easily into the lining of his suit. He made the tiny but fatal incisions in the pack. He knew exactly where to cut. Two fifty jumps did that for you. The parachutes were like your companions, every part well known, and more importantly, every vulnerability. It had been easy, almost too easy.

He had noticed that, on previous jumps, Craig had not undertaken a final visual check after Calvin. Not that it would matter too much. The first check was detailed, as was the check made by the jump buddy. Even if a final check was made by the owner of the pack, it was more of a cursory visual inspection. The incisions were almost invisible unless you were looking for them. If you suspected something.

Why the hell would Craig suspect something? How long had he been…God he did not even want to think about it. Let’s assume it was a couple of months. They had done fifteen to twenty jumps since then. Why would today be any different? Annette had no idea he knew about them, neither did Craig.

They had each given the other the thumbs up to confirm that the chutes were in order, and continued to chat amiably before joining the rest of the flight team. At one point his courage nearly failed him. He was on the verge of confessing everything. He suddenly felt nauseous and had to rush to the bathroom where he emptied his stomach before the feeling quickly passed. The thought of killing someone was abhorrent, but then he remembered what Craig had done, and what he was likely to do. Stealing another man’s wife was not acceptable in the honourable world of skydiving. He had to remind himself of how much he hated Craig.

By the time he got out of the bathroom it was time to go.

“Are you alright?” Craig asked with genuine concern.

“Fine,” he replied sheepishly. “Still get nervous sometimes,” he said with a forced laugh.

Craig handed Calvin his parachute pack and soon they were in the plane, and the ground below was a green and grey patchwork.

As the DeHavilland cruised toward the jump zone, Calvin remembered he still had the knife. That was okay, he assured himself. He would dispose of it mid-air, before they combined in the eight way sequential formation which was planned to occur six to eight seconds into the jump. He was skilled enough to maintain his flying stance and whip the knife from his suit. At this altitude the knife would be sucked into the void and eventually land miles from the drop zone. The murder weapon would never be found. The police would never be able to prove anything. It would be just another tragic suicide. He could picture it now.

“No officer, I had no idea he would do something so crazy.”

“No officer, I didn’t know he was depressed.”

“No officer, I had no idea he was sleeping with my wife.”

“Yes officer, I know that is a strong motive but like I said I had no idea. I would have confronted my wife. Ask her if I knew.”

So now Calvin stood at the open cabin door, looking down into the abyss. He took one more glance at Flyguy. He would not be flying much longer. The roar of the turboprop drowned out everything. He saw the flight leader give the signal and launched himself out into the sky. The wind instantly whipped around his body and his cheeks rippled through the roar of onrushing air. Fighting the fierce wind resistance, he pulled the small knife from inside his suit and sent it spinning into the air, out of sight within a millisecond.

He adjusted his body position in one fluid movement, arms and legs outstretched like the Vitruvian Man, and glided effortlessly to meet the rest of the team to create the formation they had practiced in the pre-flight briefing. He loved the exhilaration of the onrushing air, the fierce wind pressure, the sheer joy of free falling. It was like a drug. Better than sex with Annette. He would make love to her tonight, comfort her over the loss of their mutual friend.

Hands locked in formation, eight skydivers spun through the air, plummeting at terminal velocity, yet the ground hardly changed aspect. Craig had caught hold of his suit gripper, just like he had with Daniel, their method of joining up. Calvin peered at Craig through his goggles. Craig was already looking back, smiling. More like a grimace with the air pressure. He smiled back, baring his teeth, knowing it would be the last time he saw Craig. Other than his funeral of course. They whirled and circled for twelve seconds before they broke formation, each skydiver flying off in pairs and performing their aerial gymnastics, free from the shackles of conventional gravity. They had only eight seconds before they could safely deploy the chute.

Calvin and Craig, as jump buddies, moved together into their designated quadrant, and then the moment came. He glanced across at Craig, sixty metres away. They opened their chutes in unison. It was then the cold realization dawned on him. Instead of being thrown back upwards into the air, Calvin’s chute merely slowed his rapid descent. Not nearly enough. Craig shot up into the air and as he did he swore he could see Craig waving. Suddenly the canopy above him shredded from the air pressure ripping through the torn nylon. He began to drop like a stone. Jesus, the two minutes he had spent in the toilet. Three days, his text read. Today. Saturday. Craig had the same plan as him. How did he not notice that the bastard had switched the packs?

Calvin had about 15 seconds before he would hit the ground. He emptied his bowels as the ground rushed up unrelentingly. In his last few seconds of life, all he could think of was Flyguy and his wife celebrating their successful plan and making love in his bed.