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.”

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