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Mr. Happy – Chapter 09

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Captain Leighton Saunders was already bored of the girl. After he had hog-tied her to the bed and whipped her young body until it bled he found that the screams of terror did not even give him an erection. This had been happening a lot lately and was becoming something of a cause for concern. Saunders was only fifty-five years old; he planned on being around for a good few years. Surely the change wasn’t due yet?

Saunders caught sight of himself in the full-length mirror as he dragged the girl to the floor by her long hair. His big hairy belly was hanging over his unresponsive genitals; Saunders felt suddenly guilty and a little ashamed at what he had become. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” the girl kept saying, although Saunders really didn’t know what she had to apologise for. There was no disputing that she’d kept her side of the bargain – and more. Saunders, as he liked to remind his underlings, was a sadistic bastard whom you crossed at your extreme peril. He was not, however, an unreasonable sadistic bastard. This one would live to fuck another day. Probably.

The mews house that Saunders rented in Soho was one of three residences in which he split his time. Unlike the apartment in Little France and the villa in Sheffield, this one was cheap and private. While the other two dwellings, with their lofty reception rooms and offices filled with private dossiers and maps, represented the public face of the Bunker’s chief of security, Saunders’s Soho abode fulfilled other needs. Saunders went there two or three times a week. He’d pick up one of the Soho girls along the way and take them back for an evening’s entertainment. He enjoyed their shocked expressions when they saw the blood stains on the walls as he eased them through the door. It wasn’t quite what they were expecting from the big, harmless looking man with the generous smile and the generous wallet.

Although nobody mentioned the way in which Saunders chose to entertain himself when not in uniform, Saunders’s habits were well known to his men and only served to enhance his reputation as a cruel and merciless sadist. Saunders might have worn the uniform of a soldier but he could not be described as such. Not really. Although he had drawn plenty of blood during his ten-year reign of chief of security, Saunders had never done so in the heat of battle. Enemies of Saunders did not usually carry weapons when they died. Saunders liked to hold all the cards when he was torturing and killing.

Saunders gave the girl a hefty smack across the cheek with the back of his fist and stood back to observe the results. This one was very young – sixteen… maybe seventeen. She was undernourished and her complexion was matted with acne scabs. She lay face down on the floor and sobbed.

“Don’t cry, baby,” said Saunders, still feeling nothing in his loins. “There’s just a couple more things I’d like for you to do and then you can go home.”

“Please mister,” cried the girl. “Please let me go – I’ve never done this before. Sob. I’m sorry. I just want to go home.”

For a moment Saunders found himself almost believing what he was hearing. It was true that he’d not seen the girl around before and it was also true that she didn’t much resemble the other girls. There was something about her that was fresher, not so fucked up as the others. Perhaps, she was telling the truth. If so, then maybe his luck had changed a little.

Saunders once more took hold of the girl’s hair and pulled her to her knees. The girl yelped and looked pleadingly into his eyes. She was actually quite pretty. Saunders slapped the girl again and realised that he hadn’t noticed this before.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

The girl sobbed again before managing to answer. “Lena,” she said.

“Lena, eh? Lena pretty ballerina.”

Without warning Saunders began to laugh. His voice filled the room. “Your first time,’ he sneered. “If this is your first time I’m the Queen of Sheba.”

Saunders raised his hand again but heard a noise elsewhere in the room. The sound emanated from the pile of discarded clothing at the foot of the bed. It was Saunders’s communicator. Someone was trying to contact him. Saunders found the device in his shirt pocket and checked the readout. It was one of the plebs from A-Wing.

“This had better be good, ” he said, discarding the girl and flicking the communicator on.

“This is Morton,” said a voice. “We got a situation developing here, Sir. I thought I’d better inform you.”

“Well inform me,” said Saunders.

“It’s Nathan Philips.”

“Phillips? Are you telling me that you’re calling me to talk about Phillips? What’s that geriatric old fart been doing now? I hope for your sake that you’re telling me he’s dropped dead.”

“He’s gone missing, Sir. Ray Moore, too.”

“What do you mean, ‘gone missing’?”

“They’re not in the Bunker, Sir. We’ve had people out looking for them for the last three hours. There’s no trace of either of them.”

“Three hours? Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier, you little shit?”

“We thought it was a false alarm, Sir. We didn’t want to disturb you without good reason.”

Saunders bit down hard on his upper lip and thought for a moment. He hated Nathan Phillips more than he hated anyone. Ever since Saunders had become chief of security Phillips had been a constant thorn in his side. Even though Saunders was technically Phillips’s superior in rank, the old man had many high-ranking friends in the Bunker. This was why Saunders had resisted the urge to have him killed; it would have been too obvious.

“There’s one other thing, Sir,” said Morton.

“Go on.”

“Somebody’s jumped. Sorry, two people have jumped, Sir.”

Saunders’s voice suddenly became a crescendo of rage. “Whaaaaattttt!” he screamed. In the corner of the room, the girl began to cry.

‘We think they’ve both jumped…”

“Jumped? What do you mean they’ve jumped? Jumped? Where have they jumped?”

“We don’t know yet, Sir. We’re trying to find out.”

Saunders punched the wall in anger. Shards of cheap plaster fell to the floor. “You’ve got one hour.” He said. “Do you hear me? One hour – or somebody is going to be very, very sorry.”

Saunders brought his fist to his lips. The knuckles were bleeding but he realised with some surprise that he had the makings of an erection. It was true that every cloud had a silver lining. He looked over at the girl. “Tell the men that I’ll be back at A-Wing in one hour,” he said, licking his lips as he eyed her up and down. “And I’ll be wanting answers.”

Saunders turned the communicator off and hurled it on to the bed. He caught sight of his reflection in the mirror once again: his big, fat, naked, white body. It was an almost comical sight – even he could see that. “Lena,” he said. “Lena pretty ballerina. I’m not quite finished with you yet.”

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Mr. Happy – Chapter 8

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Nathan Phillips and Ray Moore were dressed in suits that were probably forty years out of date, which meant that their appearance occasionally elicited puzzled glances from passers-by. It was all they had been able to find in the limited amount of time that they had to prepare for the jump. Although they had been in England for two days the two men had resisted the urge to purchase new clothing. Both men agreed that the less contact they had with the inhabitants the better. This had not stopped them, however, from undertaking a little reconnaissance.

Since arriving, the two men had visited Mayor Street on a number of occasions in order to get a first-hand look at the contact point. From a secluded vantage point they had even been able to watch David Griffin twice pass by the contact point. On one occasion he had been alone, but on the second occasion a young girl had accompanied him. This was a fact that Phillips and Moore both found troubling.

The two men purposefully kept well away from the Phoenix Hotel, even though it would have been possible to warn Slater about the fate that awaited him. Instead, Moore had used a primitive telephone to make a call to the Holiday Inn. He had been told that there were no rooms available due to a last-minute block booking. This would help explain why Slater had booked into the Phoenix.

The sheer recklessness of what they were doing was ever-present in Ray Moore’s mind. Now that he was here he regretted allowing himself to be caught up in Nathan Phillip’s enthusiasm. He had never seen Nathan like that before. In the twenty or so years they had worked together, Nathan had always been reluctant to leave anything to chance. He was a perfectionist: everything had to be worked out to the smallest detail before Phillips would even begin to consider taking action. It was an attitude that kept him in his job, even though there were a number of younger men – including Moore – who were perfectly capable of overseeing the project.

Moore was not to know that Phillips had been grimly contemplating retirement ever since finding a small lump under his armpit last January. The doctors told him that it was inoperable and had given him the best part of a year. The drugs held off the pain but they could not hold off the sense of failure. Phillips had spent his life in the dark corridors of the Bunker; he’d lost count of the number of attempts that had been made to unravel this unholy mess. Had anything really been achieved in all that time?

Nathan Phillips had made several jumps; including two visits to 22nd century America and a brief visit to 19th century Germany. He could still remember the excitement that he felt when he made his first jump and had been keeping a watchful eye on his companion. As Ray Moore had never before made a jump Phillips was concerned about the slim possibility of Palmer’s Syndrome. This was a set of symptoms that could sometimes affect first-timers that ranged in seriousness from cold sweats and dizzy spells to hysteria and loss of consciousness. Opinions were divided as to the cause of Palmer’s Syndrome. Some believed it was a reaction to the jump itself that caused the symptoms; others argued that the syndrome was brought on by the bombardment of new images, sounds and smells that overpowered the senses after a jump, sending the traveller’s brain into an uncontrollable tailspin.

Much to Phillips’s relief his travelling companion had suffered none of the above, aside from a constant urge to smile in awe at what he was witnessing. To see people able to walk freely through the streets, to hear the shouts of excited children playing in the parks, the cars, the buses, the metallic airplanes that regularly carved an arc across the sky. Wasn’t this what we really fighting for, thought Moore, the chance to live again like this?

Twentieth century England was every bit and more than Moore had imagined it would be. The air smelled cleaner – indescribably cleaner, the sun shone with a brightness that was beyond comprehension, the sea lapped against the pebbled beach with an unconcerned ease that for Moore was both comforting and thrilling. But even though Moore could have spent a lifetime studying the things that for the people who passed him by in the streets were impossibly nondescript, he was constantly aware that he was here for a reason. There was a job to be done, and the quicker that job was completed the better.

Nathan and Moore had been watching David Griffin’s house for two days. They were beginning to grow accustomed to his habits. Griffin was an early riser who liked to walk. He walked constantly: to the university in which he worked, to the alcohol house where he sat with friends for several hours before exiting on unstable legs. Sometimes Griffin would just walk to nowhere in particular, taking in the sights and sounds of the city, letting the sun burn his skin an even deeper brown.

Late last night Griffin had returned home arm in arm with a young girl. His two shadows watched from the darkened street as the lights in Griffin’s house went on and off. First the kitchen light, then the bathroom light, then the bedroom light. The girl was a problem. The two men would have liked to have been able to approach Griffin when he was alone; indeed, this was a necessity. But they were running out of time – the longer they stayed in this place the more the danger increased.

This was the second night in succession that the girl had slept at Griffin’s house. As far as Phillips and Moore knew, she could be a permanent fixture and they could spend the rest of their lives waiting for Griffin to be alone. This was what prompted Nathan Moore to come to a decision. At 10.14 a.m. Phillips turned to his companion and said: “Okay Ray let’s do it. If we don’t do something right now we risk losing everything.”

Moore’s response was exactly how Phillips would have responded had their roles been reversed. But even as he voiced his concerns Moore knew that his colleague was right. What they were doing was reckless in the extreme; contrary to everything he had ever been taught. The two men once more discussed the possible repercussions of their actions and then shook hands. After waiting for a quarter of an hour to ensure that as few people as possible would witness them approach the house, Nathan Phillips moved swiftly towards the front door. With Moore standing behind him, he reached out unsteadily and rang the doorbell.

 

***

 

“Yes. That’s right… Although I can’t remember the last time that anybody called me that… I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met…”

David Griffin didn’t know what to make of the two men standing at his front door. They were both wearing shabby dark suits that looked as if they had been recently slept in. Both men sported several days’ growth of stubble. The elder of the two men spoke again.

“Mr Griffin,” he said in a soft, steady voice. “We have something of the utmost importance to discuss with you. May we please come into your house?”

“Look, if you’re selling something…”

“I can assure you that we have nothing for sale, Mr. Griffin,” interrupted the same man. “It is, however, imperative that you spare us five minutes of your time. I cannot stress how important.”

David Griffin frowned and began to push the door closed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Some other time. I’ve got things to do right now.”

This time the younger man spoke: “Mr. Griffin, I realise that our contacting you in this way must seem odd to you,” he said. “But it really is very important that we speak to you.”

“I’m sorry but…”

“Mr. Griffin, my colleague and I are both scientists like yourself. We must speak to you.”

David Griffin stopped in his tracks for a moment and raised an eyebrow. “I’m no scientist,” He said.

Now the younger man stepped forward to block the doorway. He began to recite as if reading from a list. “David Griffin,” he said. “Born 15 September 1947. Married, Susan Davies, 1969. Two children. Mark, born 1972. Sandra, born 1974.”

“What is this?” said David Griffin, beginning to feel a little scared.

“Moved to Brighton, England, 1979…”

“Look, I’m calling the police if you don’t go away.”

“…Died 5 August 2002.

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Mr. Lucky – Chapter 07

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The dreams were unremitting. With no beginning and no end. Thoughts, sounds and images shimmered in and out of focus until Winston Young no longer had any idea who or what he was. Sometimes there were fleeting moments of clarity: the taste of liquid in his mouth, the smell of burning incense, the voice of someone singing a strange song with words that had no meaning. But at other times Winston was as a child, seeing the world for the first time through eyes that could make no sense of the colours and shapes that drifted in and out of focus.

And there was the pain. It was with him all the time. It had been with him for as long as he could remember. For Winston Young to exist was to endure pain. Pain was in every pore of his body. Pain was all that he knew and all that he would ever know.

On the fifteenth day the pain grew too much. Its level of intensity could no longer be controlled by Winston’s sub-conscious mind and he awoke for a few seconds, howling like a newborn baby. Winston could not see the wide-eyed look of surprise from the people sitting around him but he felt hands constrain him as he instinctively tried to climb off his back. Then he was back to the dreams. And the pain.

Winston slept for four days before he woke up and opened his eyes for a second time. A little of his strength had returned and he was briefly able to gather his senses, to lie still for a few moments and try to think about who he was and what had happened to him. Before the pain grew too much and he slipped back into the sanctity of unconsciousness, there was even time for him to bend his neck and look around at the stark wooden walls that surrounded him, to take in the smell of hay and fish and spices, to hear the soft, gentle snoring of the young girl asleep at his feet.

Then, when it seemed to the people who were caring for him that Winston was destined to sleep forever, he awoke for good.

 

***

 

No word for day existed in their language. There was no need for such precision. They measured their events in seasons, often in generations. That was why they had no means of recording that Winston Young had been lying in a coma in the hut for almost three weeks. Oh, they knew he’d been there for some time, and that his injuries had brought him to the brink of death, but they could no more tell him how long he’d been lying there unconscious than he could tell them how to cut down a tree or skin a dog.

It was the young girl named Kut who found Winston lying unconscious by the steam. She was carrying a sharpened stick on her shoulders on to which half a dozen freshly caught fish were impaled. At first she had thought that the lifeless bundle of blood and bone was a dead animal that had been mauled by scavengers. But on closer inspection she realized it was a man. He had evidently collapsed while attempting to wash away the blood from his wounds.

Kut had never seen anyone who looked or dressed like Winston. He was a strange sort of man. She had seen people with dark skin before, though. They usually carried bags and boxes for the white people but always smiled cheerfully at Kut whenever they spotted her peering out at them from the bushes with her astonished young eyes. She did not feel afraid of them for they shared a common bond – they were slaves just as she was.

Kut had run like thunder through the woods to find Naax, who pondered the situation for a few moments as he usually did before assembling a party of warriors to go and find the wounded stranger. Naax was right to be wary; Scotseye had already killed two of Naax’s brothers and was known to be trading scalps with the white men. These were dangerous times for the Haida, who took great care to watch out for ambushes as they approached the beaten up figure.

Naax could see that the young black slave was close to death. His wounds were terrible and he was burning with fever. This man had obviously escaped from the white man and had almost paid with his life. Naax ordered his warriors to carry Winston on their shoulders; it only took two of them to carry his emaciated body through the woods. Naax thought long and hard before deciding what to do with his find. It was not in his mind to give this man his freedom – even if he managed to survive his terrible injuries. Naax immediately understood that an opportunity had fallen into his lap: if this man had injured or killed the white man they would be coming after him. There would be a heavy price on his head and Naax could use the man to strengthen his fragile relations with the unwanted visitors. Naax inwardly thanked the Raven for his good fortune and promised to be wise in his dealings with the white man.

 

***

 

Winston was sitting up with his back propped against a wooden wall when he saw Naax heading towards him. A young girl was squatting beside him on the ground giving him his third cup of water. Winston’s lips were bone dry and he felt ravenously hungry. He was aware of a bad smell coming from somewhere nearby and realised that it originated from his own wounds. The gunshot wound to his shoulder had been covered in what looked like baked clay; he tried to move it but it hurt like hell. His other wounds were tightly wrapped in a kind of rough textured gauze. The man who approached was a tall and handsome, with bronzed flesh and sharp Mongoloid features. He wore a straw hat and had his long black hair tied behind it. Another young girl walked excitedly behind the newcomer; when Winston had awoken from his long sleep she had immediately hurried off to alert somebody, presumably this person. The man carried an air of authority – he was apparently the leader. But leader of what?

The man moved his face close to Winston’s. His eyes carefully worked their way over Winston’s features and the crowd of onlookers fell silent. “I am Naax, chief of the Haiku tribe,” he said slowly. “We have cared for you and healed your wounds. I welcome you. You are my slave. You will serve me.”

Winston felt for his weapons and realised that they had been taken from him. The abort button strapped to his thigh was also gone. In fact, all his clothing had been removed. Winston was completely naked.

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Mr. Happy – Chapter 06

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Thing were gradually becoming a little clearer. “We found this… And this… And this…” said Ray Moore, pulling out a sheaf of A4 printouts. The printouts contained facsimile copies of pages from old newspapers. “It’s looking more and more like our man has his own fairy godmother.”

Nathan Phillips took the clippings from Moore and examined them, holding them close to his face. “I see,” he said quietly. “This obviously complicates things.”

The time was 10.35 a.m. and Phillips had called Moore into his office because he had an idea to put to him. Off all his colleagues, Moore was the person whom Phillips respected the most, even if he never showed it.

Over the past thirty-six hours Phillips had been doing a lot of thinking. He’d been unable to sleep as his mind systematically worked its way through permutation after permutation. Time was running out for him. Phillips was now more than seventy years old and he was feeling his age more than he ever did. He knew that it was physically possible for him to commit to yet another mission, with all the planning and calculations involved, the long nights, the fatigue, the constant stress. Another mission might just be the last thing that Philips ever did. There had to be another way.

“A fairy godmother, eh?“ said Phillips, looking every year of his age. “Yes, you’re right, Ray. Things have suddenly gotten a lot more complicated.”

 

***

 

David Griffin had grown accustomed to the life of a single man. Naturally he still desperately missed Susan and he missed the kids, particularly the noises that the kids made when they were younger. He missed them playing, the giggles and whoops of joy that used to fill the house – even the tears and tantrums. He missed a lot of things. But in many ways he was as happy as he could be with his solitary lifestyle.

Griffin was a creature of habit: he liked to rise early, shower and take a short stroll before breakfast. He had been following this routine since he sold the big house two years ago and moved into the flat in Whitehall Park. He could have kept the other place had he chosen to but Susan and the kids were present in every nook and cranny and it was more than he could be expected to cope with.

When Susan died, Griffin had gone into a deep depression. Her illness had been long and fraught. Griffin had been forced to sit and watch as she slowly wasted away. The emaciated rag doll that finally drew its last choking breath one cold October morning back in 1996 bore very little resemblance to the golden haired beauty that he pursued through the streets of Cambridge thirty years earlier. Susan’s death had changed so many things. As the tiny nub of cancer lodged in her stomach had grown, Griffin found himself altering, too. Something happened between him and the kids. Susan’s death forced a wedge into their relationship and now David was lucky if he got a telephone call from any of them.

This morning, however, David Griffin felt like a new chapter in his life had finally begun. He’d been stuck on the last few sentences of the previous one for longer than he cared to think about. Today Griffin was having breakfast with another person. And it didn’t bother him in the slightest that this other person was smoking at the table while Griffin sipped his coffee. As far as he was concerned she could light up a hundred cigarettes if that was what made her happy.

“I think you read too much,” said Mary Simms, gesturing toward the overstocked bookshelves that filled every wall. “It makes the place look like an old man’s place. It needs a little colour.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I am an old man. Positively-fucking-ancient, as I believe somebody described me recently.””

Mary Simms was sitting at the kitchen table. She looked comfortable, like she had been sitting at that table for years. She fitted the table well. “True, but there’s no reason to advertise the fact,” she said.

“What shall I do then? Get myself a pair of leather trousers? Dye my hair and get something to hide the bit that’s missing at the back? Get myself a leotard and start pumping iron at the gym?”

“David, I don’t think anyone’s worn a leotard in the gym since the days of Captain Webb,” said Mary.

It was then that the doorbell rang, a big old-fashioned chiming doorbell, and David found himself instinctively looking over at Mary. He wasn’t expecting anybody at this time in the morning and thought for a moment that it could be someone for her. Perhaps it was common for young people to go visit each other at this time of the day. Maybe this is what young people did.

“Let’s leave it,” he said but the bell rang again and Griffin reluctantly headed for the door. What if it was a work colleague? In Griffin’s mind he was already deciding upon what was going to say about Mary sitting there in his kitchen if it was a colleague. In the midst of his thoughts a word suddenly appeared from nowhere. “Powell,” he said. “That was it.”

“Sorry?” said Mary, looking at Griffin in puzzlement.

“That was his name – Michael Powell. He was the guy who directed Age Of Consent.”

“Oh?” Mary Simms shrugged. “Congratulations. I’m pleased for you.”

Griffin reached the front door and undid the latch. He opened the door and saw that there were two men standing on his loose-chip pathway. One was old and one was in his early-thirties.

“David Griffin?” said the elder of the two. “Doctor David Griffin?”

“Yes. That’s right… Although I can’t remember the last time that anybody called me that… I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met…”

***

 

“It seems to me that we have a number of options – probably three in all,” said Nathan Phillips. “The first and most obvious option is that we start over. We begin a new mission from scratch. We try to work out what went wrong and we spend as long as we need to making sure that we get things right. Except that there is a fundamental flaw in this approach.”

“Which is?” asked Ray Moore.

“The fact that we’ve already tried to do it this way twice before and on both occasions we’ve failed. We might just find that we fail every time we attempt this mission. We could spend the rest of eternity trying to get this right. We may be approaching the problem from entirely the wrong angle.”

Ray Moore nodded his head in agreement and felt relieved that somebody else was doing a little thinking for him for a change. The old man could still be impressive when he was in full flow. His mind was still capable of stopping Moore in his tracks and forcing him to think about problems in ways that might not have occurred to him. Somehow, though, Moore doubted that Phillips still had what it takes. Lateral thinking was the one essential pre-requisite for this problem – the ultimate problem. Acuity of mind and the ability to think around corners was what was needed here. A few years ago, Phillips might have been up to the job – that was why he succeeded Bliss as director, for Christ’s sake – but nowadays… Well nowadays he was just too old.

“The second option is that we go back even further – we skip a generation or two and choose a new subject entirely.”

“Well we know that’s okay in principle but…” said Moore.

“Yes I know, I know. But in practice it introduces up a whole new set of variables into the equation. I know that Ray. I’m well aware of that. I’m just saying it’s an option, that’s all.

“And the third?”

Nathan Phillips sat back in his chair and stretched out his arms. “Ah, the third option,” he said. “Tell me, Ray, what do we know about our man?”

“Sorry?”

“What do we know about Griffin? What does his personality profile tell us?”

“You’ve seen all the reports, Nathan. You probably know as much about the subject as anyone.”

“Come on, Ray. Indulge me for a moment. Tell me what we know about our man.”

“Well in reality not a great deal,” said Moore. “In fact, very little of a personal nature. We know his background. We know when he was born and when he died. We know the names of people with whom he formed emotional alliances during his life.”

“Be more specific, Ray.”

“I can’t be more specific. You know that, Nathan. We simply don’t have the background information.”

“You’re missing the point, Ray.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Nathan.”

“Forget all about specifics, Ray. I need to know what kind of person he was.”

“Again, we don’t know that.”

“Yes. But you can give me a pretty accurate picture of the kind of person Professor David Griffin might have been.”

“Well obviously we have general character projections of the type of person that David Griffin might have been.”

“Well project for me.”

“Well we know that he was a university lecturer at a fairly highly regarded college. That means that we can assume that his intelligence rating was at the high end.”

“And?”

“We know that he married only once and had two children.”

“Which suggests?”

“Which suggests that he was probably monogamous. Which, of course, is probably fortunate for us.”

“What else?”

“Well, we safely assume that he was an habitual alcohol user.”

“The significance of which is?”

“I don’t know,” Moore shrugged, thinking for a moment. “That he was unhappy with his life and needed drugs for excitement, maybe?”

“Or?”

“Sorry, Ray.”

“Well couldn’t it suggest he was a sociable person? We know how popular alcohol houses were in the twentieth century. People went there to meet other people. To develop friendships. Doesn’t it suggest to you that our man was a gregarious sort of fellow? Someone who liked the company of others.”

“I suppose it could.”

“Well isn’t the answer we’ve been looking for?”

“You’ve lost me, Nathan.”

“I said the answer. It’s been staring me in the face since we began this project. I only regret that it took me so long to realise it.”

Ray Moore shrugged his shoulders and found himself smiling at the old man’s energy. “To realise what?” he asked.

“Listen Ray. All the way along we’ve been locked in an intricate game of chase your own tail. If A happens to B then C happens to D. If we stop B happening to D then A happens to G. We’ve been drifting in a sea of calculations and forgotten our humanity. Instead of using the handle to open the door we’ve been blowing the house down with a stack of dynamite.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“I’m suggesting a whole new tack. Instead of eliminating the problem by hiring professional killers to go and wipe then off the face of the earth we try to get the problem on our side. Do you understand? We know that our subject is intelligent, we know he likes the company of others; we can fairly safely assume, therefore, that he’s probably a reasonable sort of person. Let’s go and see him and appeal to his better judgement.”

Ray Moore’s mouth dropped open. “You are kidding, I hope?”

“No I’m not kidding, Ray. Don’t you see it’s the best way? It so simple it’s brilliant. We go to his – to Griffin’s – house. We knock on his door. We introduce ourselves and we ask for his assistance. If we do it right away we could kill this thing off once and for all.”

“But Nathan, this would take months of planning.”

“No it wouldn’t Ray. We can do it right now. And you want to know the best thing about this plan?”

“Go on.”

“The best thing is that nobody knows anything about it because I only thought of it ten minutes ago. If we go now it could all be done before anyone knows anything about it.”

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Mr. Happy – Chapter 05

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The jump took the boy back to a very different place. Instead of the crystal sunshine of a warm summer afternoon, clouds of grey smoke blocked out the light, making it impossible to know what time of day it was. The fresh salt air carried on the coastal winds was gone and in its place was the smell of burning tar. The fumes crawled inside Winston Young’s throat and he began to cough.

The jump had been a good one; it had gotten Winston to within a couple of miles of the drop-off point. He had emerged on a hill overlooking the remains of the town. Winston knew this place. Even though there had been inevitable changes since he had last been here, Winston was able to pick out a few landmarks. In its time the town had carried strategic importance but now all that remained were the crumbling avenues of shattered masonry with the long, twisting arms of buckled metal that reached up into the skies like bizarre sculptures. The scene reminded Winston of the photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki he had seen in his history lessons.

And yet there was life among the ruins. Movement. Hazy figures in the smoke with faces wrapped in strips of cloth, powdery dust rising like steam from their ragged clothing. These people were scavengers, survivors of whatever had happened in this place. Looking for anything of value that could be sold on the black market: a strip of metal… Old, tattered clothing… Burned out electric components. Everything had its price.

Before he left the hotel, Winston had discarded his porter’s uniform and was now back in full combat gear: a grey canvas jumpsuit, pockets bulging with ammo and weapons ranging in sophistication from the soundless A-16 that he had used to kill Slater to a small pocket knife that Winston kept for absolute emergencies. Like many, Winston always felt nauseous after a jump. The effect of the best part of a month in the field, eating and drinking foods that tasted of mud and slime did not help matters. Moments after arrival, Winston was relieved to be able to rid himself of a few of these noxious substances. Nobody paused to assist him as he emptied his guts into the dust. People around here knew better than to approach a Grey – especially one so young.

Winston checked his watch: the date read 16 June and the time three-thirty but he could not be completely sure of its accuracy. Winston began walking. His first priority was to find Morris and let him know that the mission had been a success. Winston was anxious to get his money. And to get rid of Slater’s head.

Slater’s head was stored in a small portable cold box that was handcuffed to Winston Young’s wrist for safekeeping. Winston didn’t know if he was actually prepared to lose a hand in order to protect his property, but then nobody had so far been willing to put him to the test. Winston had been bred to feel no compassion but he nevertheless felt a slight pang of regret when he thought about the person whose head he carried with him. Before embarking on this mission. Winston had studied Slater’s file meticulously. It was an unusually large file, testament to the success and longevity of its subject. It was a pity to lose somebody of Slater’s calibre; men like Slater were few and far between. Slater was a brother. In another life the two men might even have been allies.

 

***

 

Winston walked on for several miles, oblivious to the sights, sounds and smells of the ruined town. There was nothing here that he hadn’t seen before. Other than the scavengers he saw few people in the streets; anyone who appeared brave enough to approach him was quickly deterred by the sight of his hand moving towards the A-10 strapped around his waist. The town was in even worse shape than Winston remembered: the last time he had passed through here there had been roads… cars… even the odd person out shopping. But all of that was gone. Most of the buildings had collapsed and the piles of rubble had been systematically picked apart and carted away to be bartered or sold. This place had once been a thriving cultural centre with shops, restaurants, cinemas and hotels similar to the one Winston just left. Something had happened to change things.

In the middle of town the burned out remains of a huge tower jutted out into the sky, its metal girders buckled and melted almost beyond recognition. It was, however, a landmark of sorts – something to aim for. Winston had not been given precise directions to the pick-up point, that would have been impossible – he had simply been told to head for the largest man-made structure he could see. Sure enough, Morris was waiting nearby. Winston spotted him skulking in the chalky debris. Like Winston, he wore the uniform of a Grey – although he certainly could not be described as such. Winston had already dealt with this man on three other occasions and knew he was not to be trusted. Winston approached Morris warily, his muscles tensed, ready to react.

“You’re late, kid,” said Morris. “I’ve been waiting for three days.”

 

***

 

David Griffin felt a sudden urge to stop and look around him as he walked along Mayor Street. His eyes fell upon the drab frontage of the Phoenix Hotel, mock Georgian covered in garish signs. He had no idea why he was drawn to this building – he walked down this street most weekdays and had never before given the place a second glance. What’s the matter?” asked Mary Simms, walking beside him sucking a cigarette. “You’re looking weird again.”

“I dunno,” said Griffin. “For a moment I had the strangest feeling… Like someone was watching me.”

“They probably were. You know that the temperature of your skin changes whenever somebody looks at you? It’s because of the light being reflected from the other person’s eye. You subconsciously sense the change in temperature and you get that creepy feeling.”

“Well somebody must have been looking at me, then. Either that or I’m going to have to stop drinking…”

 

***

 

Winston Young wasn’t interested in what Morris had to say. He just wanted his money. And he wanted to rid himself of the heavy box that was handcuffed to his wrist. There were too many people like Morris, filling the empty space with jabber and mock-friendliness, doling out gossip and hearsay like cheap candy. “They say there have been three actions during the past fortnight alone,” said Morris, ignoring the other man’s glazed expression. “Two minor and one that took out a whole city…”

“Keep your bullshit to yourself,” said Winston.

“One minute it was there and the next it wasn’t… A whole population simply disappeared into thin air. Think of it Winston. Think about all those women you could have ass-fucked. All those women and children. All gone… forever and ever amen.”

“My money. Where is it?”

Morris stopped talking and looked over at Winston in disdain. “Money,” he said, shaking his head theatrically. “Who wants to talk about money when the world is crumbling away before our very eyes?”

Winston guessed that Morris could not have been any older than twenty-nine. Old for someone who wore the uniform of a Grey. Old enough for the years to have carved into his features a pretty accurate representation of the sort of man Morris was. Morris was a middleman kept on a retainer by the agency. He evidently wasn’t the sort to place himself in danger – the lack of any scars on his face was testament to this – but he apparently had no problem in accepting more menial tasks such as this. He’d take this type of job on at a moment’s notice: go here, pick up this, drop off that. It wasn’t exactly challenging work. Morris was little more than a courier with a gun, permitted to wear the uniform because of who he worked for not who he was. Morris was also an addict. Winston had already spotted the telltale markings under his eyes and on his cheeks. Probably Dellamite… At the very least VCA. That was why Morris was not to be trusted. It was also what made him dangerous.

“That’s all it is to anyone,” said Winston. “Everything I do I do for money – so do you. You’ll be getting your cut from this, too.”

“It could be us next, kid. It could be you… The world is a fucked up place.”

“Who gives a shit? You wouldn’t know anything about it anyway.”

“Oh but I would, kid. I’m sure of it.”

“Just give me my money.”

Winston opened the cold box and flashed its contents at the other man. Morris reached into his own bag and pulled out a hypodermic. He inserted its thick needle into Slater’s shattered skull and took a sample of chilled brain tissue. This was not the first time that Morris had done this task. Morris pulled out a small lab kit and tested the sample. He waited for a few moments and declared: “It’s positive.” Then he turned and ran.

The first rock hit Winston on the corner of the head and staggered him. He managed to avoid the second one that was thrown. For the briefest moment Winston was in shock but then his conditioning kicked in. A quick look around told Winston that there were six – no seven – figures emerging from the rubble surrounding the tower. All were scavengers, their faces hidden beneath strips of rag. Some of them were brandishing guns – old-fashioned, antiquated looking guns such as the ones used by cowboys in old westerns. As blood dripped down from his head wound Winston took aim and easily picked off three of them. They hit the ground like sides of beef, smoke billowing from their fatal wounds.

But somebody was behind Winston. He whirled around and was dazzled by a bright flash; suddenly his right shoulder was on fire. Winston’s instinct was to feel for the wound with his good hand, find out how bad it was but instead he sought out the A-10 and began shooting in an arc around him. Several more of his ambushers dropped like stones but one managed to crawl along the ground to within touching distance. Before Winston could react the man stuck a knife into his calf. The pain was intense. Winston let out a howl and kicked out at the man, shooting him dead as he cowered on the ground.

Now more hands were upon Winston and he felt the gun snatched from his grip. Another knife slashed at him, this time at his good hand, and Winston was dragged to the floor under a pile of bodies. Winston could smell their breath and hear their grunts of exertion. Once on the ground they set about him. Quickly emptying his pockets of weapons, bludgeoning his face with their fists and kicking out at his panting body. Then, as Winston felt his consciousness begin to wane, he saw the long carving knife and realised what they planned to do with it.

From someone within the chaos Winston heard the distant voice of Morris: “Take care with the head, I’ve told you… Don’t damage the head.”

Winston felt the blade cut into his wrist. Through electric jolts of pain he fumbled for the abort button. Every Grey was required to carry an abort button. It was usually to be found in a pocket or sometimes strapped to the thigh. It was compulsory. In their line of work there were inevitably occasions when a swift exit was called for. This was one such occasion.

“Stop him!” cried Morris. “Stop him!”

Winston’s bleeding fingers found the button. He jumped.

 

***

 

The bundle of bodies that pinned him to the floor melted away into nothingness and Winston sucked in huge mouthfuls of air. His pulse was racing and the adrenaline had temporarily dulled the pain. The jump lasted only a split second and Winston found himself lying in lush, green grass. A gentle breeze blew against his face and the sound of running water could be heard close by. Winston’s attackers were gone and he was safe for the time being. The pain kicked in and through the agony, Winston found himself thinking about Morris, thinking about what he was going to do to him when he caught up with him. Morris was going to die a slow and painful death. He would be howling for his mother before Winston was finished with him.

Right now, however, Winston had more urgent things to think about. He realised this as he tried in vain to pull himself to his feet. The Jump had been unplanned. Random. He’d had no time to select a location. Winston knew that he could be anywhere right now. He had to think fast.

Again Winston’s conditioning took over. While his eyes scanned the surroundings for any potential danger, Winston felt for his wounds, mentally calculating how much of him was left that could be called into action in an emergency. He knew immediately that his condition was not good. Blood was coursing from wounds to his right shoulder and to both hands. One… no two of his ribs was cracked or broken and blood from the gash on his forehead was streaming into his eyes. Of greatest concern was the wrist that his attackers had tried to slice their way through. They must have severed an artery. Winston tried again to stand and for a moment forgot that he still had the cold box chained to his wrist. The metal handcuff dug into his damaged wrist causing the blood to flow faster. Like a wounded animal, Winston let out a shriek of pain. Then post-traumatic stress hit him and Winston began to sob.

 

 

 

0

Mr. Happy – Chapter 04

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Brighton Chronicle, 8th March 1999

GRISLY FIND IN HOTEL ROOM

By Chief Crime Reporter Geoff Sullivan

The headless torso of a man was found late last night in a room at The Phoenix Hotel, Brighton. The man, who has not been named, was discovered at approximately 7.30pm by chambermaid Margaret Marsh of Lewes. The man had been dead for some time and had been decapitated. His fingers and toes had also been removed. The head has not yet been recovered.

A police spokesman said that the grisly find had all the hallmarks of a ritualistic gang killing. Police wish to interview Winston Young, 17, (pictured left). Young, a porter at The Phoenix Hotel, has not been seen since Friday evening.

 

***

 

“Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!” Nathan Phillips slammed the file down hard and his desk threatened to buckle under the strain. “Where did you get this?” He demanded.

“It was in the archive,” answered Ray Moore, lowering his eyes to the ground like a schoolboy on report.

“In the archive? Fucking hell, Ray… Why wasn’t it discovered earlier?”

“Because it wasn’t there when we looked earlier, Nathan.”

“Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!”

Phillips was not a young man, nor was he physically imposing; but he could still make people nervous. When Phillips lost his temper he had the habit of throwing whatever he could lay his hands on around his office, and he didn’t care who or what they hit. Even though Moore was clearly not to blame for this unanticipated development, he felt under threat.

“And what do we know about this ‘Winston Young’?” asked Phillips, already sensing the futility of the question.

“Absolutely nothing, I’m afraid. I’ve got C-Section looking for any info. Although I have to say I don’t hold out much hope.”

“No…” sighed Phillips, his anger subsiding. “Neither do I.”

Phillips picked up a pad and pencil and scribbled down some words. Unlike most people in the organisation, Phillips did not wear a uniform. The slightly soiled white overcoat that he wore most days gave him the look of an elderly shopkeeper. Or an ice-cream salesman. “Slater, eh?” he mumbled. “I can’t say that I liked that animal but at least his work was reliable… What now then, Ray?”

“We’re thinking about taking a look at Martin…”

“Martin?”

“Howard Martin. He’s young but promising. He got a +10.23 rating from the agency.”

“How young?”

“Twenty-one.”

Philips shook his head. “I don’t like young people at all,” he said to no one in particular.

 

***

There were three hours of discussion and counter-discussion to endure before Ray Moore was finally able to leave the complex and head for the exit point carrying a stash of papers and mini hard drives. Naturally, everyone had his own theory about the failure. Most agreed that it could not have been down to planning. Too much work had gone into the mission. It had to be external factors.

Moore had a long walk home and an even longer night ahead of him. As he headed towards B-Corridor the sounds of other voices died away and the silence took over. Silence was what you got used to most of all when you lived in the Bunker. There was simply too much of the Bunker to fill. And far too few people to fill it.

The Bunker was a huge building complex the size of four cities that lay slap bang in the middle of nowhere. No roads led to its electrified gates and it was surrounded on all sides by hundreds of miles of desert that made access near impossible. Visitors were not welcome at the Bunker – any enterprising sightseer who somehow managed to make the long hazardous journey would have the machine gun towers to contend with. Although no one, of course, could be completely sure of this, the Bunker’s anonymity had so far ensured that it was protected from any major events.

According to popular myth, the Bunker was originally designed as a giant hangar for a long forgotten secret government project but it was so old that no one could be sure as to its purpose. What was for certain is that it was home to more than 15,000 people of all shapes and sizes, whole families whose children and grandchildren had been born under the flickering orange lights. Whoever originally built the Bunker had evidently been no great admirer of architecture. The building was clearly not intended as a tourist attraction. In fact, the designers of the Bunker had taken considerable trouble to conceal its vast, shapeless prefabricated concrete chambers from any prying eyes.

Ray Moore, who knew the Bunker better than most, imagined that it might once have been a great hospital, a place to take the sick and wounded from all over the world in the days when life was apparently not so expendable as it is today. On the long, dark nights he could all most hear the groans of the injured echo through the recycled air.

The main corridor in B-wing, out of bounds and unbeknown to most of the population of the Bunker, was a lonely place. The fifteen-minutes or so that it took Moore – even at his usual brisk pace – to get from one end to the other always allowed him ample opportunity for thought. More than two years of planning and hard work had gone into this mission; for it to go up in smoke at such an advanced stage was heartbreaking. But then Moore knew the odds; he knew just how minuscule were the chances of success. When you play for such high stakes you have to be prepared to lose most of the hands. Even so, the thought of picking himself up – picking everybody up – and starting again from scratch was disheartening to say the least.

Moore could only begin to guess at what had gone wrong. Someone, somewhere had known what they were up to and had been there to stop them. There were an infinite number of reasons for the failure. It could even have been pure accident, unlikely though that was. Moore watched the huge steel access hatch loom ever nearer. In a few minutes he would be back in the living sections: an unremarkable nobody, ignored by the crowds as they went about the important business of putting food in their mouths. An unremarkable nobody with one fuck of a report to write by tomorrow morning, if such a thing as morning still existed in the outside world.

Home for Ray Moore was a steel and plastic studio flat located in Little France, one of the oldest sections of the Bunker. Moore’s seniority allowed him to bypass Soho and Sheffield, the two largest settlements in the Bunker, where walking was in the streets was ill advised and living was a hit and miss affair. In those places life expectancy was pitched somewhere around the mid-thirties mark. You had to possess truly exceptional qualities if you were unlucky enough to be born there and had any ambition to leave.

Ray Moore was one such person. His intelligence rating had been spotted when he was only six-years-of-age: at 13.6 he was only three stages away from genius level. Moore had no idea why his genes had conspired to bestow him with such intellect. It certainly didn’t run in the family. Moore’s father had been a packer in the munitions factory, as had his father before him, while his mother had taken in sewing to make ends meet. Both, of course, were long departed, as were Moore’s two sisters, neither of who shared his genetic good fortune.

Moore slotted his Identity card into the door and waited for the retinal scanner to activate. Moore had installed this himself after the third break in. It was by no means fool proof but it had served its purpose up until now. Moore entered his room and poured himself a drink from the dispenser above the refrigerator. Then he took out his notebook and began typing.

 

***

 

“Do we know exactly what our man was doing in The Phoenix?” said Nathan Phillips.

“Not really. We can only assume that for some reason Slater wasn’t able to book into the Holiday Inn.”

The 9.00am debriefing: a small wood-panelled conference room in A-Wing. Twelve men sitting around a table, each holding a copy of Ray Moore’s report. Eleven pairs of worried eyes. One pair of angry eyes.

“Do we know why he wasn’t able to book in?” asked the voice of ‘Captain’ Leighton Saunders, owner of the angry eyes. “There wasn’t supposed to be any problem. You fuckers should hang for this!”

Saunders was wearing the plain green uniform of chief of security, a position he had held for more than a decade. Sewn on to his too tight shirt was a collection of medals that he had awarded himself over the years. He was big man: more than 240lbs of muscle turned to flab. Ostensibly Saunders’s job was to maintain order in the Bunker, a task that was a great source of pleasure for him; raw ambition, supported by his sheer physical presence, had, however, allowed him to expand his job description. Unlike his predecessors, Saunders had made sure that he was a leading figure in the Project. Saunders was the only member of the military ever to get a seat on the committee; he was hungry for power and made it his business to ensure that nobody was going to prevent him from putting his finger in the biggest pie of all.

Saunders, who had long since given up trying to conceal his aspirations, was an outspoken critic of Nathan Phillips. Everyone was aware that he favoured a more direct approach than the one adopted by the ‘pussyfooting’ scientists. Phillips had no time for scientists; he saw their intelligence as a sign of weakness and made no secret of the fact that if it were up to him he’d have the lot of them up against the wall.

“If you read my report you’ll see that there are a number of possible explanations,” Ray Moore replied nervously. Moore had only managed to grab a couple of hours sleep after he had finished that morning and he was already feeling the pace. “Poor reconnaissance… Sabotage by a third party… Unanticipated intervention… Or just plain bad luck.”

“Bad luck? Since when did luck have anything to do with it?” said Saunders.

Now Nathan Phillips began talking: “Let’s imagine for a moment that someone knew that Slater was due to book into the Holiday Inn,’ he said, disregarding Saunders’s comment. “How would you prevent that from happening?”

There was silence from the room.

Phillips shook his head in irritation: if he had wanted to look after sheep for a living he’d have become a shepherd. “You’d have to make sure that there were no rooms available in the hotel – like Bethlehem on a Christmas Eve,” he said in slow motion, as if he was speaking to a room full of dribbling toddlers.

“Or you could just take out the hotel,” chipped in one of the historians from C-Section.

Phillips ignored the comment and turned to look at Ray Moore. “I don’t suppose we have any information on this?” he asked.

Moore shook his head: “No. Nothing,” he said. “Information like that would require recon. We simply don’t have the budget.”

“Well try and see what you can do, Ray – it’s a starting point of sorts…”

“I was against it from the beginning,” cut in Leighton Saunders. “It was just too easy to fuck up. Our man was too exposed. We gotta do things differently next time. Send in some real firepower. Get this fucking thing done properly.”

Nathan Phillips turned towards the man who was technically his superior in rank and eyed him coldly. “Then it’s a pity you didn’t raise your objections two years ago,” he said. “You could have saved us all a lot of time and trouble.”

0

Mr. Happy – Chapter 03

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“Another drink, David?”

In David Griffin’s experience, having sex with a person almost thirty years younger than you was something that they only did in the movies. It didn’t happen in the real world – especially not to somebody as real world as him… Now what was the name of that film? No, not The Graduate, because Dustin Hoffman sure as hell isn’t female… Well… Unless you include Tootsie. Now what was that film called?

“David?”

“Oh… I’m sorry Pat. I was miles away. Yes… Please. Hmm. I think I’d better stick to beer this time.”

“Fuck beer,” said Patrick Taylor sitting opposite him with a big Cuban cigar wedged between his fingers. “You’ll have another brandy and be grateful for it.”

Age Of Consent. That was it. Age Of Consent. An old James Mason and a young Helen Mirren. Directed by the guy who did Peeping Tom. What was his name? Michael something…“

“David?”

“Sorry Pat. I’m not feeling myself today. No, you filthy sod, but somebody else was last night. Just a beer please. I’ve got a lecture in an hour. I’ll fall asleep in the middle of it.”

Age Of Consent. He was a painter on a desert island. She spent the movie posing in various states of undress or swimming naked in the sea. Quite a memorable little film as it happens.

“David you’re such a lightweight” said Taylor, raising his glass towards the other man’s. “Mind you, what can you expect from a grandfather?”

Grandfather. Sandra had given birth to a baby boy yesterday morning. Had that really happened? Little Sandra. Had she really grown up so much? Had she really brought a child into the world? Little Sandra had given birth to a bouncing little boy named Michael yesterday morning and he – baby Michael’s proud, delighted grandfather – had spent the night getting drunk and screwing Mary Simms.

David Griffin picked up his glass and clunked it against his friend and colleague’s. “God I feel so old…” he said feebly. “I’m only fifty-two for Christ’s sake… Grandfather sounds so old.”

“Well you are old,” laughed Taylor. “Positively-fucking-ancient.”

The two men were sitting in the back room of the Red Lion; a stone’s throw away from the university. The bar was a popular hang out for students on the campus and Griffin and Taylor were conspicuous by their age. “When I got in this morning they’d made me a card,” sighed Griffin. “It had a drawing of Methuselah on the front… Very droll.”

Mary Simms had drawn that picture. She had presented it to Griffin in full view of everyone with an innocent – authentically shy – smile on her face. The rest of the class stood and applauded as if Griffin had just scored a goal in the FA Cup final. How many of them already knew? How many of them had she told?

It had been a long time since David Griffin had been involved in the courtship ritual but the rules didn’t seem to have changed much since he spent the summer of ’67 trying to get into his future wife’s pants. Then as now it was the eyes that did it first: the longer than natural glances, the widening of the pupils, the way that Mary looked away whenever he returned one of her stares. Mary’s shiny hazel eyes – her impossibly young and indescribably beautiful eyes – had given him a fair approximation of what going on behind them and he had first been flattered, then excited, then sexually charged.

The question of what those eyes could possibly see in a balding, middle-aged father of two with varicose veins and a beer gut of some standing was something that didn’t really occur to the usually rational David Griffin. Instead, David let his dick do the thinking for him. Standing firmly and embarrassingly to attention whenever Mary came within three feet of it, his dick made all the decisions. David had been but an innocent bystander in its quest to fuck up his life.

After the looking had come the touching. It was all such a cliché but David was powerless to prevent it from happening. One cold February morning Mary had appeared in his office on the pretext of needing advice. She was a first-year physics student and he was a fifty-two-year physics professor. It wasn’t supposed to tingle like it did when Mary ‘accidentally’ brushed his bare arm with her own. And he wasn’t supposed to tremble like a frightened rabbit when she edged closer to him and rested her shoulder – just for the briefest moment – against his. And no amount of sleepless nights spent dreaming about what he would do if he perchance awoke in a parallel universe to find Mary’s naked body lying next to him was worth all the pain; the relentless, nagging ache that followed him around every day – not in his heart but in his balls.

Three months ago David’s testicles had suddenly decided to jump ship. They had done so spontaneously and without his permission, and had thoughtfully provided lead weights as replacements. These he carried with him at all times, in constant pain as their weight increased with every day. On more than one occasion David had considered seeking counsel from his doctor but in the end he decided that a visit to a scrap metal merchant would probably prove more helpful. Curiously, the pain was gone now.

 

***

 

Page III

07/03/1999. 12.07. SUBJECT EXITS FRITH STREET ACCOMPANIED BY PATRICK GEORGE TAYLOR. UNARMED. SUBJECT PROCEEDS TO ALMOND GROVE.

07/03/1999. 12.18. SUBJECT ENTERS UNIVERSITY BUILDINGS IN ARNOLD GROVE. UNARMED.

07/03/1999. 14.12. SUBJECT EXITS UNIVERSITY BUILDINGS IN ARNOLD GROVE. SUBJECT PROCEEDS UNACCOMPANIED TO MAYOR STREET. UNARMED.

07/03/1999. 14.58. CONTACT.

 

The itinerary was garbled. Bits of it were right and bits of it were wrong. There was a pattern emerging but it was all too hit and miss to take literally. Griffin hadn’t appeared when he was supposed to but he did in fact walk down Mayor Street most days at around about the same time. Slater wished that he had more information but that wasn’t the way they did things back at the Bunker. Too much information was dangerous. Slater would have liked to have known, for example, where Griffin was actually going when he watched him pass by on the street from the hotel room. Was he on his way home? Did he meet somebody in secret? Even fundamental background information such as this would have changed things considerably. Slater could have improvised. He could have waited for Griffin at an alternative location and got the job done there. It wouldn’t have been pretty or by the book but it would have been over and done with by now.

Slater checked his watch again. It was 2.31. Less than half an hour to go. If he didn’t get it done this time he’d surely have to abort.

 

***

 

“How’s my favourite granddaddy?” Mary Simm’s voice appeared from nowhere and Griffin felt her hot breath against his ear.

“Mary!” said Griffin, turning nervously to face her, one eye fixed guilty on Patrick Taylor. “Hi. Hmm… Good to see you…”

“Isn’t that nice Mr. Griffin going to offer a girl a drink?” Mary was wearing jeans and a white blouse open at the neck. Even though David Griffin had seen this person naked only hours ago, he couldn’t resist stealing a glimpse of her breasts as she bent over him.

He wasn’t the only one looking. “What can I get you?” Patrick Taylor asked Mary, unable to take his eyes off her and not bothering to hide this from anyone.

“Thanks Patrick. Gimme a gin and tonic. No ice.” Mary raised herself to her full height as she said this: tall, blonde, with a flirtatious look on her face that made Taylor blush and the ache begin to return to Griffin’s balls.

Griffin waited for Taylor to go to the bar before broaching the subject: “Look Mary,” he said quietly. “I feel really bad about last night.”

“Oh you do, do you? Well I’m not sure I can cope with all this flattery.”

“No… No… Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel bad about what happened, I feel bad because I can’t help thinking that I… That I…”

“That you took advantage of me? Is that what you were going to say? Don’t make me laugh, David. You didn’t take advantage of me. I took advantage of you… You’re not bad for an old-timer, either. You’re in pretty good shape.”

Griffin looked around anxiously. Pleased with what he was hearing but not wanting the conversation to be overheard by anyone else in the pub. He had an overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around Mary and pull her towards him but he didn’t.

Apart from a one-night stand with a female delegate at a conference in 1992, Griffin had been completely loyal to Susan in over 40 years of marriage. But even though she had been dead for almost three years, Griffin still felt guilty about last night. Not guilty about the fact that he had drunk too much and had sex with one of his students – bad, nay, catastrophic, though that was – but guilty about what he was feeling at the moment. Looking over at Mary Simms, who had now taken a seat beside him, Griffin found it impossible to stop the word ‘love’ from swimming around in his head. He realised how ludicrous it was to be feeling like this but he simply could not help himself.

“David… What’s the matter?” said Mary, breaking the silence. “You’re looking at me really strangely…”

Before Griffin could answer, Patrick Taylor was back at the table with three glasses balanced in his clenched hands. “What are you two whispering about?” he asked.

“David doesn’t want anyone to know that we slept together last night,” replied Mary.

 

***

 

“Stop your fretting, young Winston… A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

Lester Barnes was sitting at his usual place at reception doing what he did best. He liked Winston Young. He enjoyed the feeling of total authority that he got from looking at the skinny looking black kid who had rolled in from the streets a few weeks ago. Winston was raw all right, but he not without a brain. Right now Barnes was interested in seeing how that brain would cope with a dilemma. Would Winston’s fear of the big man on the fourth floor overcome his fear of losing his job? Barnes couldn’t help smiling at his young protégés discomfort.

“But Lester… I’ve already been up there twice today…”

“Yes and a third time won’t hurt then, will it? It’s what you have to do in this business, Winston, my boy. Don’t be such a scaredy cat.”

“Why don’t you go this time?”

“Why don’t I go? I’ll tell you why I don’t go. Because it’s not my job to go. That’s why. I, Winston, am a shift manager and I, therefore, manage. You’re a general dogsbody and you, therefore, general dogsbody. Sorry, my boy, but that’s the way it is. Now go and get his trays before I put you over my knee.”

“But…”

“No buts, young Winston. Just console yourself that one day you’ll be the shift manager and you’ll be ordering some punk kid around. No offence.”

Winston slowly moved towards the lift. No offence taken you fat fucking queer, he thought to himself. I don’t plan to be around long enough in this shit hole to make shift manager. Winston wiped the sleep from his eyes and prepared to go and face the giant in Room 42.

 

***

 

Slater was sitting on a chair by the window in a trance, his eyes fixed on the contact point. The reluctant tapping on his door broke his concentration. “What now?” he said, once more checking his watch. Less than ten minutes to go.

“Room service,” Winston called weakly through the door. “Sorry but I need to collect your plates and glasses, Sir.”

“Go away, kid!”

“I’m sorry, Sir. But I’ve been told to collect them. Please… I’ll lose my job if I don’t …”

Slater’s eyes darted around the room. Everything was perfectly in place. The rifle was aimed precisely at contact point; the chair was in exactly the right position to make it easy for Slater to pull the trigger without fear of shaking the rifle. He wasn’t going to risk this job by dismantling everything and moving the rifle out of sight of the boy. Contact was too close.

Winston tapped on the door again, this time louder. “I’ll put them outside the door,” Slater called out. “You can collect them later.”

“I’m really sorry, Sir, but I have to get them now.”

Slater raised his eyes towards the ceiling and clenched his fists. “All right!” he exclaimed. “Give me a minute and I’ll bring them to the door!”

Slater moved towards the spare bed and scooped up the piles of crockery that covered it. He cradled them in his arms like a baby. Glasses and cups spilled out on to the floor. Slater reached the door awkwardly and twisted the self-locking handle, dropping more crockery in the process. The door swung open. Slater felt a searing pain in his chest and was instantly knocked backwards to the floor. The trays and crockery followed Slater’s fall as he tried in vain to reach for the handgun in his side pocket.

Before Slater could reach it, Winston Young quickly moved into the room and closed the door gently behind him. He aimed his gun towards the felled giant on the carpet. There was no sound at all as he pumped three or four shots into Slater’s head. Slater lay twitching on the floor, blood and brains collecting in a puddle by his shattered skull. Winston dropped down to his haunches and quickly checked Slater’s pulse. Then he moved over to the window and lowered himself into Slater’s chair, which was warm. He looked through the rifle’s digi-viewer and waited. At 14.58 precisely David Griffin entered into shot. A young girl accompanied the middle–aged university lecturer as he walked down the street. Griffin’s white hair shone like a beacon in the bright sunshine and drifted directly though the target cross on the digi-viewer. Then he moved out of shot and into the light. Satisfied, Winston began picking up the glasses and plates.