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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.

 

 

 

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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.

0

Mr. Happy – Chapter 03

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The Do Not Disturb sign had been hanging outside the door for three days and the room had inevitably taken a turn for the worse. Not that it mattered much to Slater – his interest was location not aesthetics. Plates of half-eaten food lay in a jumble on the spare bed along with the contents of the mini-bar. Slugs of discarded tissue paper were scattered across the carpet, into which Slater had been steadily jerking away the boredom. Apart from the voices on the telephone and the boy who occasionally delivered food to the door, Slater had seen or spoken to no one since booking into the hotel. The isolation was beginning to affect him. “Fuck-king amateurs!” he angrily repeated to himself again and again. “Fuck-king amateurs!”

This job was doomed from the start: According to the itinerary, Slater should have been able to book straight into The Holiday Inn upon arrival. He couldn’t. The hotel was somehow full and he’d had to carry his bags through the streets until he found an alternative location. He ended up in a place called The Phoenix, which just about gave him a clear view of the contact point. If that wasn’t bad enough, Griffin had failed to show at the allotted time – he’d come a day later and Slater had committed the cardinal sin of not being fully prepared. It wasn’t professional. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again. No Sir.

Slater had now fixed his rifle to a portable tripod for pinpoint accuracy. But although he was ready for action he didn’t feel good. Slater had a headache from the alcohol and couldn’t stop farting. His stomach wasn’t used to what they ate here: the sticky sugars, the saturated fats, the dangerous free radicals. Slater peered through the digi-viewer and idly targeted a passer-by in the street, a young mother pushing a pram. His finger brushed the trigger. “Bam!” he said aloud, imagining what the E2.02 bullet would do to her skull. The E2.02 was a significant upgrade: it was designed to explode within 1/1000 of a second of hitting the target. It would burst the woman’s head open like an over-ripe melon. 

The thought of melon made Slater feel hungry. He called room service.

***

“Now this, young Winston, my boy, is what you might call a 24/7 wanker,” said Lester Barnes, flicking on the speakerphone with his stubby fingers. Barnes’s torso was lodged behind a desk in the reception of the Phoenix Hotel; standing next to him was seventeen-year-old Winston Young, who, besides lugging bags and trays of food up and down the stairs for twelve hours a day, was also expected to laugh at Barnes’s weak jokes whenever the need arose.

“I’m surprised that his little winkle hasn’t withered away and died,” continued Barnes, carefully aiming his voice away from the speakerphone, his eyes demanding Winston’s approval.

This was only Winston’s third week at the Phoenix – just about long enough for him to get used to the smell of fresh paint and decaying food that permeated every brick in the building – but it seemed like he had been there forever. Lester Barnes himself had interviewed him for the job: stale sweat, cheap cologne, hands a little too friendly. Winston felt himself instinctively recoil when Barnes placed a meaty arm around his shoulders and told him that he could start straightaway. There was a self-indulgent smile on Barnes’s face as he said the words – like he was handing Winston the keys to a gold Porsche.

“Hello?” Hello?” called the voice in Room 42.

Barnes liked to keep the guests waiting when he was on reception. He liked to sit at that desk with a big wad of gum between his teeth and take his time answering their calls. Winston imagined that doing this somehow made Barnes feel important. But then Winston had probably never met anyone quite so unimportant. Loathsome as he was, it was difficult to begrudge Barnes even the mildest opportunity to boost his ego.

“Hello? Hello?”

Sometimes the guests really lost it. They would get so fed up of waiting that they would storm downstairs and demand to see the manager. That was when a sickly smile would appear on Lester Barnes’s face. “I am the manager, “ he would proudly proclaim, daring them to challenge this blatant lie. This morning, however, Barnes was obviously feeling benevolent. He made the man in Room 42 wait for only twenty seconds or so before lowering his lips to the speakerphone:

“Good morning to you… Sir,” said Barnes, in a voice that somehow managed to both antagonise and ingratiate. “What can I do for you this fine and pleasant day?” 

“I want the same as last night,” said Room 42. 

“I’m afraid I’m going to need just a teensy bit more information… Sir,” grinned Barnes, covering the speakerphone with a fleshy palm and winking at Winston Young, who was listening in on the conversation. 

Winston Young appeared to like that one. He let out a high-pitched chortle but was immediately shussed by Barnes. 

“I want to eat what I had last night.”

“And what might that be?” asked Barnes, even though the man in Room 42 had ordered precisely the same meal for three days’ running – breakfast, lunch and dinner. “We have a very extensive menu, you know.”

The man in Room 42 put down the phone and rummaged around for a few moments to find the menu. Since his arrival at the hotel he had become the main focus of attention at reception. Barnes and Young had been using the booking computer to monitor his activities. For the first day or so the man had sat in his room watching whatever happened to be on Pay TV: a Disney film… Jurassic Park III… Then on Saturday night he’d discovered the porn channels and had been watching them around the clock ever since, never venturing out of the hotel. He’d have almighty shock when he saw his bill.

The man in Room 42 returned to the phone. “I want a Philadelphia Steak Sandwich,’ he said in monotone. “Medallions of beef fillet served in a white baguette with a rich Philadelphia cheese, mushroom and cream sauce.”

***

Winston collected the tray from the kitchen and carried it to the stairs. It was a hot day and the cheap nylon uniform he was obliged to wear clung to his body like a second skin. Winston was up and down those stairs at least forty times a day and he found it hard to conceal his hatred of the people he served. As far as he was concerned if this was what working for a living was all about you could stick it. 

Room 42 was located on the fourth floor. Winston carried the tray through the twisting corridors and tapped on the door. The man was standing in the doorway before the third tap, his big frame blocking out any view of the interior of the room. “Your order,” said Winston, not for the first time slightly taken aback at the sheer size of the man in Room 42. He must have been at least six-four/six-five. He towered over Winston. 

Slater took the tray from Winston and laid it at his feet. Then he fished into his pocket and pulled out a clump of banknotes. “Take this,” he said, awkwardly handing Winston a brand new ten. Winston pocketed the money and tried to stay calm: the man in Room 42 was certainly a generous tipper but he made Winston feel nervous. Winston was determined not to show it.

“Thank-you very much, Sir – shall I take away the trays from last night?”

“No.”

***

Slater ate the food with his fingers, grimacing at the taste. He checked his watch again. It was 11.46. Three hours and twelve minutes to wait before Griffin was due to appear. On the TV mounted on the wall a man was penetrating a woman from behind and Slater tried to keep his anger in check. Right now he needed to stay cool and professional but he was going to let that weasel Phillips have it when he got back to the Bunker. Jobs like this rarely ran 100 percent smoothly, but to have to sit and wait for three days, well that was just plain shoddy work on Phillips’s part. Recon was by its very nature notoriously imprecise – but even so. Every second that Slater spent in this place only increased the danger of his being discovered, and he wasn’t about to let himself become another statistic. He’d have Phillips up against the wall when he got back – and he was going to claim compensation. Yessir. Time was money in this game.

***

“Well?” said Lester Barnes on reception. 

“He wouldn’t let me in the room and he still wouldn’t let me clear away any of the plates,” replied Winston Young. “It smells pretty bad up there, too.”

“I bet it does… said Barnes, with what Winston took to be a determined look on his face. “Right…”

Barnes called Room 42. The phone rang for a few moments before it was answered. “Good morning to you once more,” announced Lester Barnes. “Terribly sorry to bother you but we were hoping that at some point in the distant future we might be able to send a maid up to clean your room.”

“Huh?”

“The room. It hasn’t been cleaned for three days – it’s plain unhygienic. We’ll have the Health And Safety after us. Are you intending to pop out at all today – we could do it then perhaps?”

“No.”

“Well maybe Margaret could just clean up around you. You’d hardly know she was there.”

There was silence for a moment before the man spoke: “Listen, you fat fuck,” he growled. “Don’t call me again. You can clean your shitty room when I’m ready.”

“I beg your pardon…”

“…And tell that boy to bring me more drinks – I’m thirsty.”