This is a piece of “flash fiction” (something fun and different and under 1000 words) prompted by a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig in a post over here. With apologies to the memory of the real Ernest Shackleton, a man who was, by all accounts, an intrepid and heroic soul who never would have knowingly endangered either man or beast. Well, apart from repeatedly dragging them off in search of the South Pole. There was that.
It was when his first mate ran out onto the frozen Antarctic tundra in just his socks and shirtsleeves that Shackleton knew he had a problem. He listened to Jesper make his report, a tightening fist of dread in his gut.
“I swear, sir, we were just tossing the broads, just me, Rogers and Nelson.”
“Tossing the broads.”
“Yessir. A friendly game of, er, whist. And then all sudden-like, Rogers jumped up and started talking crazy. Said he felt invincible. Powerful. That he wouldn’t ever die. Afore we could stop him, he kicked off his boots and tore off his sweater and ran outside. Me and Nelson, by the time we got all suited up… well, Rogers was done for.”
“What else were you doing?”
“What else?” The man wouldn’t meet his gaze.
“What were you drinking, Jesper?” Shackleton’s voice was heavy with resignation. And guilt.
“Weeell now, we might have had a wee dram of whisky. Just for warmth.”
Bloody hell. He’d suspected the whisky was contaminated but hadn’t been sure. He’d kept it locked up and out of sight. “Rogers had the key to the storage locker,” he said softly. Shackleton had given it to him earlier when they’d inventoried the supplies.
“Yessir. That he did. ”
“Thank you, Jesper. Go back to quarters. And keep quiet about this, you hear?”
Shackleton stood up and paced the small hut. Why Rogers and not the others? Did it matter? He should have dumped the damn stuff, but there was nowhere in this bleak white wasteland to pour out five crates of Scotch whisky. Not without causing a mutiny.
Damn that man, Claremont, and his crackpot theories. Shackleton had never understood how his father, a reputable doctor, had been so completely taken in by that miserable charlatan and his “fortifying experiments.” Claremont had approached him with another offer of conditional funding but he’d told the man never again. Not after what happened on the last trip. Twenty-two dogs, good dogs, and all of them dead. Tainted food, they said. Tainted by crazed dreams of immortality.
Claremont had gifted him with the whisky. A gesture of goodwill. He’d accepted it and now Rogers was dead.
Swearing viciously, Shackleton vowed to bury the swill in the icepack, where no man could recover it.
A CENTURY LATER
Efforts to recover Shackleton’s Scotch “scotched” by thieves
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (IP)- A spokesman for distillery group Whyte & Mackay confirms thieves have disrupted efforts to recover a portion of five crates of Scotch whisky thought to have been abandoned in 1909 by Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said the theft was “devastating” and “bloody brazen.”
Bella leaned against the splintered doorframe of the rented room, feigning nonchalance as she watched the stocky man make his slow sweaty way up the narrow staircase, a rough hewn crate balanced on one shoulder. So this was her contact. McGinty. She remembered him from Algiers. She straightened and took a step back as he wedged his way into the room.
He lowered the crate to the dusty floor and turned to smile at her as she closed the door. “Bella,” he said, huffing a bit, “always a pleasure. You got my money?”
She smiled easily but it was harder to keep the loathing out of her voice. “You’ve come up in the world, McGinty. Last I heard you were pimping out little boys.”
For a short man, he had long arms. His meaty hand smashed into the side of her face, sending her into a staggering spin. He’d gripped the back of her neck before she could recover. She’d forgotten how fast he was.
“And I heard you like it rough, girly. You wanna play before we deal?”
She felt him grind his erection into her backside and fought the urge to gag. “I’m always up for a good game. Who’s been talking about me?”
He turned her to face him. “Your old pal Chase is in town. Let’s play 20 questions about what he’s doing here.”
This time when he backhanded her, she made sure she landed on the narrow bed. And waited until he was fully on top of her before she pulled the knife from under the mattress and slit his throat.
She’d changed clothes and wiped most of the blood off when she sensed she wasn’t alone. The man was a damned ghost.
“Bastard. You told him I like it rough? How the hell would you know?”
“No, I told him if he planned to fuck you before he crossed you, he might want to tie you up first.” Chase glanced at the bloody heap on the bed. “Never was one to heed a warning.”
“I thought you’d retired from company work.”
“Old dogs never retire, darlin’, you know that. We just find new masters. This is private.”
She laughed. “You planning to shoot me? Killing me is the only way you’ll get that whisky.”
“Tempting. But I’d hate to waste a bullet.”
“McGinty already killed you.”
The hell he did. She turned and glared at the dead man. “What did he do to me?”
“He’s been spending some time down in South America. ‘Going native,’ he called it. You should keep better track of your enemies.”
She rubbed a trembling hand over her cheek where McGinty had hit her and felt the sting of a fresh scratch. “Poison?”
“My guess is spider venom. It was all he could talk about, down at the pub. That and anti-venom.”
“There’s an antidote?”
“I wasn’t paying that much attention. Who’s funding you?”
“Go to hell.”
“He said it was slow-acting, you’ve got a few minutes. Give me a name.”
“That whisky is useless to you. I’m the only person with the knowledge to develop Claremont’s formula.”
“Yeah, we know.” He picked up the crate. Hesitated. “You want that bullet before I go?”
“You’re a cold bastard, you know that, Chase?”
“So I’ve been told.”