Dark and funny. Strong Language. 2,600 words.
|Please read previous chapters first.
UK spelling and terminology
Colin weaved between the throng of desks without acknowledging, or even noticing, anybody. He went through his pockets as he walked, pulling out scraps of paper with lines of code written on them. He’d scribbled them down on the bus, his head buzzing with ways to improve the voice recognition software. Typing it up and checking for mistakes would take all morning. Longer if he had to debug it. He had Anthony to help him, so he would need a diversion to keep him out of the way.
Anthony believed himself to be a competent programmer, but he also believed the picture of the Virgin Mary in his wallet – a photograph, not a drawing – was genuine, and pointed to the signature on the back as proof.
Give him something to do, upgrade the software, then Colin could focus on collecting voice samples. If everything went according to plan, he should have a name for Archie by the end of the day.
Only after Colin sat down in his chair did he notice the absence of the computer from his desk. His drawers hung open and empty. Colin fired a questioning look at Anthony, whose desk and computer appeared the same as normal, and found himself receiving a questioning look in return.
‘What’s going on?’ Colin asked him.
Anthony shrugged. ‘Ah don’t rightly know.’
Colin checked his drawers – just in case everything had slid to the back.
A deep voice behind him said, ‘Excuse me. Colin Brown?’
Colin recognised the two security guards from the foyer. The big, black, solemn-looking one, and the tubby white one with a Freddy Mercury moustache. Usually he only saw their shiny bald pates peeking over the top of the security desk, like a pair of mismatched bosoms. They looked a lot bigger standing over him. And a lot tubbier.
‘Would you come with us, please?’ the black one said. Despite his hefty voice, his tone was calm. The other one fidgeted with his belt buckle, sucked on the bottom of his ‘tash, and kept peering round.
‘Where’s my stuff?’ Colin asked them.
‘We took it up to the sixth floor. Mr Pelago would like to see you.’
The implication was obvious. He hadn’t told his idea to anyone apart from the boys. One of them must have said something to Archie and now he wanted to know the details. Moving his computer probably meant he had decided Colin should
work on it undisturbed and away from any distractions. It also probably meant he would be hovering over Colin’s shoulder through the whole process. Great.
By the time he explained everything to Archie, answered his questions and re-set up his system wherever his new work space was allocated, most of the day would be lost.
From the lift, Colin turned to see Anthony standing, watching like a concerned meerkat. Colin had left the code he wrote last night on his desktop. If Anthony typed up his newly written code, then the software would at least be ready to be tested; once Colin had corrected Anthony’s mistakes, of course. He pointed at his desk and wiggled his fingers to mimic typing. Anthony raised a hand to about chest height and gave him a feeble wave.
The black security guard hit the up button. ‘I’ll take him. You go back to the front desk.’ He nodded at the door a few feet away. ‘You could take the stairs. It’s downhill.’
The other guard didn’t move. ‘That’s okay,’ he said. ‘I’ll wait for the next one.’
The journey in the lift took a few seconds. The doors opened into a reception area where two women sat behind a large, curved desk made of dark brown wood. Colin smiled at them as he marched toward the double doors at the end of the corridor.
Every door he passed displayed a golden nameplate. He didn’t recognise any of the names. The last door on the left stood nameplate-less, and slightly ajar. Colin glimpsed a bare room with a desk, a large cardboard box with a picture of a computer on it and Danny, admiring the view from the window.
The guard opened the double doors in front of them and ushered Colin toward Archie, standing with his back to the large desk that dominated the room. Unusually for him, he was tie-less, top button undone, sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The toupee sat on his head like a flat cap with a parting
‘You have a lot of explaining to do, Mr Brown.’ He crossed his arms, his face a sneer of scepticism. He’d need to be convinced.
‘Sure,’ Colin said, eager to explain his idea and get on with it. If he was going to become a top floor executive he needed to get used to this sort of grilling. ‘Where would you like me to start?’
‘I want to know how you did it, who helped you, and how to fix it. So far nobody's been able to undo your little joke. Tell me there's a simple undo to clean up this mess, and maybe I can convince the Hibernian not to involve the police.’
The realisation of what Archie’s was saying washed over Colin. ‘You're joking, aren't you? You think I'm responsible for the rabbit?’
‘Obviously you're responsible, there's no point trying to pretend otherwise. We have the proof.’ Archie uncrossed his arms and pointed at the small trolley parked next to the desk and Colin’s computer, screen and keyboard stacked on top of it.
‘No,’ Colin said. ‘You don't.’
Archie’s glare only intensified.
‘You can't have, because I didn't do it,’ Colin said. ‘So suggesting you’ve got some kind of evidence is just ludicrous.’
‘Colin,’ Archie said, switching to a gentler tone, trying to sneak up on him, ‘we checked your computer. It didn't take long to find the scraps of code you thought you had disposed of. It's not quite as easy to delete things off a hard drive as you might think.’
‘I know. I do work with computers, remember? You really think I would have left traces on my own hard drive?’
‘So you admit it!’ Archie said.
‘Are you nuts? I just proved it can't have been me. To program the rabbit to swear without anyone catching me, I'd have to be some kind of coding genius. And to give myself away so easily, I'd have to be some kind of idiot. You can't have it both ways. If you found some incriminating evidence on my computer then somebody else must have put it there.’
‘Who?’ Archie asked.
‘Whoever told you it was there, obv—’ Colin stopped talking, spun around and ran past the security guard.
‘What are you doing?’ Archie screamed. ‘Stop him before he gets away.’
Thoughts of escape were the furthest thing from Colin’s mind. He hadn’t done anything wrong and running away would only make him look guilty. In any case, where would he go? His destination was much closer at hand. He headed straight for the nameplate-less office that should have been his.
Colin barged through the door, spanking the door handle into the wall as Danny turned away from the window. Before he could move any further, Colin had slid across the desk on his knees and clamped his fingers around Danny's throat.
‘Why?’ he yelled as they both toppled onto the floor. ‘What the fuck, Danny? What the fuck?’ Colin shook Danny like he was trying to get the ketchup out, and very possibly would have if large black hands hadn’t grabbed him round the waist and hauled him off.
Danny got back on his feet, his clothes even more crumpled than usual.
Archie stood in the doorway. ‘Assault. We'll add that to the list.’
The security guard had Colin’s wrist folded back on itself and his arm pulled up behind his back. A hand on his shoulder prevented him turning and the only way to relieve the pain was to stand on tiptoe, one shoulder higher than the other.
‘Fine,’ Colin said through his neck. ‘Call the police. Then we'll see how all this bullshit stacks up.’
‘An excellent suggestion,’ Archie said. ‘Do you really think anyone will be interested in what you have to say?’ He looked over Colin’s shoulder at the guard. ‘Have you got somewhere secure to put him until they get here?’
‘Don't worry,’ the guard said. ‘He won't be going nowhere.’
‘Chill out, Col,’ Danny said, brushing himself off. ‘You know the rozzers. They’ll get to the bottom of things.’ He winked at him.
Realisation of what Danny meant stripped away Colin’s bravado. They wouldn’t care how the evidence got there – less work for them. They’d stick him in a cell and leave it to the lawyers to sort out. He’d start off guilty and have to prove himself innocent.
‘I’ll make them believe me,’ Colin said, in a voice that didn’t even convince him.
‘And who are you?’ Archie said. ‘You’re nobody and I’m somebody – and for good reason. Who do you think they’ll be inclined to believe?’
‘Just call them then.’ Colin needed time. His only hope was to provide the police with the real culprit. He already had Danny’s voice on his phone, if only he could match it to the voice from the rabbit.
‘Right,’ said Archie. ‘This way.’
The guard pushed Colin to follow Archie, still holding him in a wrist lock. Colin took a couple of uncomfortable ballet steps on his points. ‘Do you think you could let go of my arm now? I was hoping to use it sometime in the future.’
The guard released him. ‘Don’t try anything though.’
Colin rubbed the side of his arm. ‘Thanks,’ he said, and then charged for the door.
His feet made no noise on the plush carpet. Archie stood at the receptionist desk with the phone to his ear. Colin shoved him aside and flew past into the stairwell, with Archie shrieking, ‘Stop him!’ behind him.
Colin skittered down the steps three at a time, perilously close to losing his footing. He used the banister to swing round at the bottom of each flight. Behind him, he heard a booming voice shouting instructions.
‘We're coming down! We're coming down now! To you, to you.’
Colin peered down the centre of the staircase and saw a puffing red face slowly ascending. The sound of clattering steps closed in from all sides. Colin smashed through the first door he came to.
The floor he emerged onto was his own. Familiar faces watched him scamper past. He formulated an escape plan as he ran. On the other side of the room there was a fire exit. He didn't know exactly where it led to – everybody ignored the monthly fire drill – but it would be somewhere outside.
A mass of desks blocked his way. Colin decided on the most direct route and clambered onto the first desk, which sent its occupant diving out of the way. He deftly skipped over a computer screen onto the adjoining desk. From there, he leapt onto an empty chair – without realising it was on wheels. It scooted across the aisle, with Colin holding on, wobbling precariously.
I can do this, thought Colin. He jumped from the chair onto a paper-strewn desktop. All he had to do was hop, skip and surf his way across the room to freedom.
The thing he remembered too late was Simon Groom’s ongoing feud with Rashid Ahmed. A wall of books, files and folders separated their desks. Colin attempted to surmount the barrier in a single bound, but his footing slid on paperwork, his trailing foot caught on a cantilever box file and down he went.
Raffo checked his uploading files – sixty percent complete – and then clicked back onto the video surveillance. He checked his watch and tapped the edge of the keyboard with a finger: the image cycled through the rooms of his house. Satisfied by what he saw, he clicked back onto the Romantic Meals for Two website and continued to jot down details of a recipe for a pasta dish reminiscent of the one in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.
Max stood up. ‘Hey, what’s going on over there?’ He pointed across the room.
Steve pushed himself up to look over his computer screen. ‘Nothing.’ He plopped back down again. ‘See? You're too easily distracted.’
Raffo did his best to block them out, and jotted down the ingredients he needed to buy.
‘No, mate. I'm observant,’ Max said. ‘A leader needs to be aware of his surroundings at all times. Plus, I'm older than you.’
‘Irrelevant,’ Steve said, ‘is what you are. I’ve got miles more experience.’
‘Mate, I’ve got life experience.’
‘So have I,’ Steve said. ‘I grew up in the ghetto. I know how to cope with high pressure situations.’
‘What ghetto? A three bedroom in Hackney? Not exactly a Soweto township, is it?’
‘Maybe not,’ Steve said, ‘but I have the people skills.’
‘So do I.’
‘Max, you’re an Aussie.’
‘So, when was the last time they sent a Middle East peace envoy who was an Aussie? The accent alone’s enough to set off a diplomatic incident.’
‘That, mate, is an outrageous slur,’ Max said. ‘We are a friendly and internationally well loved nation. Raffo, what do you think of my people skills?’ He waited for a reply. ‘Oi, Raffo, you fat bastard, did you hear what I said?’
‘I'm ignoring you,’ Raffo told him without looking up from his screen. ‘Please show me some common courtesy and do likewise.’
Since the sudden announcement of Danny’s departure to the sixth floor, the two loafers had done little else but squabble. Someone would have to be put in charge, but so far there’d been no indication who.
‘Come on, mate,’ Max said. ‘Who would you choose?’ He raised a hand over his head and pointed down at himself. ‘Be objective.’
‘I find the idea of either of you lollygaggers being put in charge highly objectionable,’ Raffo said.
‘That's one vote for me,’ Max said.
‘What? How’d you figure that?’ Steve said.
‘Ah was told to join you.’ Anthony was standing there with a cardboard box full of stuff. ‘Who’s the tame ladder?’
Max and Steve looked at each other. Raffo sighed and said, ‘He wants to know who’s the team leader.’
‘I am,’ Max and Steve said together.
‘Where’s Colin?’ Steve asked him.
‘Ain’t too sure,’ Anthony said. ‘Looks like he got and gone his self fard.’
‘Shit,’ Max said. ‘Has he been to see a doctor? A shot of penicillin will clear that right up. I mean, that’s what I’ve heard.’
Anthony sat down at the desk next to Raffo and dropped his box onto the floor. He leaned across to look at Raffo’s screen. ‘So, what we doing here, fellers?’
Raffo’s computer pinged and confirmed the file a hundred percent uploaded. He switched off his computer and took his coat off the back of the chair.
‘Where you going?’ Steve asked. ‘You can’t be finished.’
‘I certainly can.’ Raffo continued buttoning up. ‘While you’ve been wasting your time, and to be blunt, your lives, I have completed all my assignments.’ He addressed the new arrival. ‘Welcome. I see from your hopeful, smiling countenance you think you are joining a busy and dynamic outfit. Unfortunately, I haven't the time to correct your cretinous misconception. I leave it to my colleagues to molest you with their incomprehensible babble, which, I trust, will more than do the job for me. Good luck to you. Good luck to us all.’
Raffo walked off. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible, to unplug Susan from the machine and see the results of all his hard work.