Dark and funny. Strong Language. 2,300 words.
|Please read previous chapters first.
UK spelling and terminology
The area above one eyebrow felt more prominent than the other. Colin tapped the bulge with his fingertips, testing his pain threshold. When the fat oaf of a security guard landed on him, his elbow had caught the back of Colin’s head, bouncing his face off the floor. A black eye might look quite cool. Carpet burns across his forehead might not.
Junk filled the windowless storeroom. From the locked door all the way to the filing cabinets lined up against the back wall, cardboard boxes overflowed with old telephones, chunky computer monitors, lamps and other bits of office flotsam.
Colin sat behind a big, sad desk. It had one broken leg and drawers large enough for a small child to crawl inside and suffocate. The black office chair under him had lost all of its compressed air and squeaked, low off the ground, as he twisted side to side.
He played back the sample of Danny’s voice on his phone.
‘Go fuck yourself?’
Half an hour ago, they’d stuck him in here and told him the police would arrive in ten minutes. He’d spent most of that time surfing the web on his mobile phone, searching for how to clear your name if wrongly accused of a crime. 495,000 results and the only useful information was how to get blood out of a shag pile carpet.
Colin played Danny’s recording, then the rabbit. One after the other, over and over. They sounded nothing alike, but no surprise there. What Colin needed was access to the voice recognition software on his computer.
Or on Anthony’s computer.
He made a call.
‘Anthony? It’s me. Colin.’ Anthony started asking some question or other, but Colin cut him off. ‘Never mind, listen to me. I’m going to email you a WAV file. I want you to run it through the ...’
A babble of words came out of the phone.
‘No, a WAV file. W-A-V ...’
Anthony seemed to have no idea what Colin was talking about.
‘W-A ... W for willow, I for ... No, willow. W-I-L ... No, L. L for Llama. Llama, L-L-A-M ... Not N, M. M for – look, I’ll explain in the email, okay? I said, I’ll explain everything in the email. Email. E for echo, M for – oh, forget it.’ He ended the call.
It took a few minutes to compose an email instructing Anthony to analyse the WAV files attached. He wrote it in the simplest way possible, broken down into small steps even Anthony couldn’t fail to follow – he hoped – and sent it off.
If he laid low until Anthony ran the comparison and sent him the results, he’d have conclusive proof for the police. What he didn’t want was to be stuck in a cell with no way to contact anyone.
He turned off the phone to conserve the battery, put it in his pocket, and scanned the room again.
In one corner, a small fridge hummed to itself for a bit and then, as if embarrassed by Colin’s attention, stopped. In another corner a huge, artificial Christmas tree leaned against the wall. Beside it, a shop-window dummy dressed as a slim, handsome Father Christmas shyly faced the wall.
Just a bunch of junk.
He picked up a plastic Rolodex from a box on the floor and hurled it at the door where it burst into a spray of index cards.
Mottled marble tiles covered the foyer of oMRon Software Solutions Ltd. The floor, the walls and the ceiling. At one end, a sweeping wall of glass faced the street, at the other, the brushed steel doors of the lift.
A building of this size required a team of at least half a dozen men to provide proper cover for access control, CCTV observation and emergency evacuation. With the current financial climate and the computerised monitoring system, the team consisted of Curtis Ajaye, Head of Security, and Gus.
Curtis sat staring at the bank of closed-circuit television screens. Gus prowled around the front of the security desk. ‘Then, they left us on the island. Said they'd be back to pick us up in three weeks. That was it. No supplies, no officers, no iPhones, nothing. We had to fend for ourselves. And if it all went pear-shaped, then so be it.’ He was still buzzing with the morning’s excitement. Curtis thought it best to let him walk it off.
‘Sounds rough,’ Curtis mumbled from behind a hand. A loud bang echoed around the foyer.
The sound died away and Gus continued. ‘Rough? It was Lord of the fucking Flies. At one point, we even thought about putting a message in a bottle. Hoped a passing trawler might rescue us.’
‘That’s never going to work though, is it?’ Curtis said. ‘I mean, when was the last time some guy got saved ‘cos of a message in a bottle?’
‘As it happens,’ Gus said, ‘I once found a message in a bottle. We were down on Southend Beach, me and the family, and I find this bottle in the surf, slip of paper still inside.’
‘Really? What did it say?’
‘Well, it was a long time ago, but I think the exact words were: 'No milk today, please.'’
Curtis stared up at the ceiling. Somewhere a ventilation fan purred – not nearly loud enough. ‘Where exactly was this island the army stranded you?’
‘Just off the Isle of Man. Harsh, it was. Seagull shit everywhere. But it honed my skills. Toughened me up.’ Gus threw a few punches, adding sound effects by expelling air out of his nose. ‘Prepared me for any eventuality – like this morning’s takedown.’
Ever since they’d captured the guy and stuck him in the old storeroom, Gus insisted on calling it a takedown. In reality, he’d have probably got away if he hadn’t taken a tumble off that last desk, but there’d been absolutely no reason for Gus to hurl himself on top of the poor guy while he lay there on the carpet. Apparently, when it came to hitting a man when he was down, the army’s favoured method was the belly flop.
‘Look at that.’ Gus hiked up his sleeve and displayed a reddening forearm. ‘Coming up lovely.’ He slapped the bruise and winced.
Curtis sighed into the palm of his hand. Another bang reverberated off the storeroom door.
‘You see, that's what I'm talking about,’ Gus said. ‘Soft. He's only been in there ten minutes and he's already freaking out. Can you imagine how fast he'd crack if he was being tortured for information? They tortured us as part of basic training, so we'd know what to expect. ‘Course they don't do that anymore, it’s against Health and Safety regs. Can you believe it? Health and Safety, in the army. You've got to fill out a risk assessment form before you can shoot anyone. Ridiculous is what it is. What about you, Curtis? How long do you think you could take being tortured?
‘I’m not sure,’ Curtis said. ‘What time is it now?’
Colin bent down and found the box empty. No more Rolodexes. He could wait for the police to show up – maybe they’d send someone who’d see sense. But how likely was that? Archie’s words rang true. They would give far more credence to Archie’s story than it deserved. Nobody cared if he was guilty or not. They only cared about having someone to blame. The police were useless. Of all the people he knew who’d had their houses burgled or their cars stolen, not once had the story ended with the police coming round saying, ‘We caught them, here’s your stuff back.’ Utter waste of everyone’s time. It was a good thing none of the other emergency services were that useless. Imagine if the fire brigade never ever put out a fire, just occasionally hosed down the wrong house. Useless. And he was going to be their next victim.
He got up and walked around the room, looking for something without knowing exactly what, but certain he would recognise it when he saw it. Which he did.
High on the wall above the filing cabinets, an air vent with a slatted cover peered down at him. Colin hoisted himself on top of a filing cabinet and stretched, but his reach fell short by a good few feet.
He hopped back down and unplugged the small fridge, which he then scraped across the room. After a few moments of struggling he conceded that it was too heavy and cumbersome to lift onto the filing cabinet, but worked well enough as a step up, once he tilted it onto its side.
The weight of the office chair took Colin by surprise, but he got it on top of the fridge, then on top of the filing cabinets. He got on the chair, knees first, and then gingerly worked his way to his feet. Still not there.
The chair swivelled violently when he tried to get up on the arms, so Colin followed the only course of action he could think of. He bent his knees in readiness. The chair wobbled. He took a deep breath and jumped straight up, simultaneously slapping his shoes against the chair arms, not so much landing on the arms as wedging himself between them.
He swayed a bit, but now faced the metal grill. A cool breeze ruffled his hair. Large flat-head screws fixed the cover to the wall. Colin rummaged through his pockets, the chair rocking precariously from side to side. He pulled out his keys.
The front door, the double lock, the back door and then a tiny key for a bike lock that was long gone, along with the bike it had failed to secure. Just thin enough to fit. Colin slid it into the groove in the screw head, and began to twist.
‘Fuzz taking their time, ain't they?’ Gus said.
Curtis glanced at his watch. Over an hour since he made the call. ‘Probably busy.’
Gus leaned on the armrest of his chair. ‘Yeah, busy stuffing themselves with bacon butties. I know at least half a dozen ex-army who ended up joining the thin blue line, and let me tell you, there's nothing thin about any of ‘em. Granted, I ain't exactly a svelte fucker myself these days, but at least I ain’t pretending like I'm here to help anyone, right? I ain’t claiming to be Superman, but these fat fuckers ... Which reminds me, I left my sandwich in the fridge.’
‘Get it later,’ Curtis said.
‘But it's nearly lunch time,’ Gus moaned.
Curtis glanced over at the door behind them. ‘I don't want to go in there and get him all excited again.’
‘Yeah,’ Gus said, ‘but maybe I should check, you know, to make sure. I mean, he's been quiet, he must be up to something, right?’
Gus had a point. There hadn’t been any banging or complaining for the last ten minutes. He might have dozed off; he might have dug his way out. Would it hurt to have a quick look?
Curtis unclipped a large bunch of keys from his belt. ‘Well, I supp—’ was as far as he got before a loud thumping interrupted him.
‘Let me out!’ the guy shouted through the door. ‘Get me out of here! I want to get out of here!’
Curtis re-clipped his keys. ‘You open the door and he's going to make a run for it – again. They'll be here to pick him up in a minute, then he’s their problem. Just leave it. Your sandwich isn’t going anywhere.’
Gus’s face sank into a resigned scowl. A few seconds later quiet returned, apart from Gus’s grumbling stomach.
A metallic cacophony erupted from inside the store room, shaking the walls and floor. Curtis yanked the keys off his belt again and shoved Gus out of the way.
Inside, the storeroom was a mess. Even more of a mess.
All the filing cabinets lay tipped over – giant grey dominoes in a very unimpressive world record attempt. The large office chair had gone its separate ways. The fridge was lying on its side. And two legs hung out of the air vent.
‘Get me out of here!’ a pathetic, muffled voice cried out. ‘I want to get out of here!’
A smile broke out on Curtis’s face. Nice try. He walked over without hurrying, while Gus pushed a filing cabinet off the fridge. Curtis grabbed hold of a black-socked foot and immediately realised something was wrong. One pull, and the legs – and only legs – fell to the floor with a hollow rattle. Followed by a slam.
Curtis ran toward the door but slowed when he heard the sound of the key turning in the keyhole where he had left it. He gave the handle a half-hearted jiggle, but wasn’t surprised to find it locked. He hit the door with his fist and glared at the floor only to find half-a-Santa glaring back at him.
‘Hey, look,’ Gus called over to him, crouching by the legs, waving a sleek, silver mobile phone. ‘Get me out of here! I want to get out of here!’ it yelled, over and over.
Curtis took out his own phone and wondered who he could call.
Gus climbed over the filing cabinets and grabbed the underside of the prostrate fridge. ‘At least we won't starve,’ he said with a grunt as he began to lift.
The red velveteen trousers were far too big for Colin and his shoes felt clammy without socks. An odd look, but one that went completely unnoticed by the two policemen sauntering up the steps as Colin skipped down. He paused at the bottom, stuck his hand in a pocket and took out a large sandwich, which he proceeded to stuff into his mouth as he headed for the bus stop.