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Round Robin 4
Harbingers of doom
Chapter 1 by Muriel Waldt
‘As the worst blizzards for fifty years sweep the country, police are urging people to stay at home, unless their journey is absolutely essential.’
Kate switched the radio off and dropped onto the sofa, breaking out in an icy sweat as the news reader’s words brought back harrowing memories. Thankful she was on her own, she felt the carefully constructed facade of composure she had built up over the past three years disintegrating, like so many crumbling bricks, as vivid flashes from that terrible night, passed before her eyes. Her fragile hold on the present slipped away as she recalled, with alarming clarity, events she had done her utmost to forget.
Winter had come early that year, as she set out for a concert near Leeds where she planned to meet up with fellow members of the string quartet with whom she played violin. Kate had ignored severe weather warnings and set off, in delightful anticipation of a packed concert hall. After the barrenness of the motorway the last fifteen miles across country were her favourite, starkly beautiful even in this inclement weather.
It seemed to Kate afterwards that the weather deteriorated within minutes for, in no time at all, shards of icy sleet pierced the air and battered the car with menacing fury. In the hedgerows that marched beside the road, the inverted, elongated triangles of fat crows clung tenaciously to skeletal branches swaying amidst the louring skies: harbingers of doom, they dispersed in a flurry of harsh screeching, at one with the menacing clouds. Panic gripped Kate as the wheels began to slide beneath her on a bed of rapidly freezing mushy autumn leaves and, around her fragile car, an evil wind charged angrily, tossing high brittle leaves, bony twigs. With increasing strength it howled through the naked tree tops, effortlessly snapping solid branches and tossing them high in the air with reckless abandon.
Seeing a cottage not far ahead Kate knew she would have to ask for shelter until the storm abated. Staying in the car with all the debris flying around was simply not an option. Relieved to see lights on, she grabbed her bag, ran to the door and banged loudly; when no one replied she ran around the back, now soaked to the skin and bitterly cold. Still getting no answer she tried the door handle, and as it opened, blessed warmth reached out and pulled her in. The sight that met her eyes was one that would stay embedded there forever, together with two thoughts that crossed her mind at the time. Firstly: she was aware that she would sell her granny for a farmhouse kitchen like this one with its free standing pine units and aged terracotta tiles, and secondly: the body that was slumped over the pine table with a large knife protruding from its back, still had blood seeping from it; which could only mean that it was freshly dead and the murderer close by.
Kate fainted clean away onto the much coveted terracotta tiles.
Chapter Two by Veronica Sims
Kate awoke to find herself lying on a chintz-covered sofa being energetically fanned with the Radio Times by a woman who looked a whole lot like Theresa May. Her terror returned. What on Earth was happening to her? Murder! Now Madness.
‘The door was wide open, so we came in. You appeared to have fainted. Do you know where Ian has got to? The woman’s voice was clipped and without much expression.
Kate struggled to sit up: ‘Have you seen the body?’ she asked.
The woman frowned. ‘Body, body…what are you talking about? Who are you anyway?
‘I just came and knocked on the door; because of the weather; to ask for shelter. The body was in the kitchen.’
‘Are you completely insane? There is no body in the kitchen. Do you know whose cottage you have invaded?’
‘I haven’t invaded: the door was open.’ Kate was beginning to feel irritated by this May lookalike. When I came into the kitchen there was a man’s body splayed across the kitchen table with a knife in his back.’
‘My dear young women I have been in the kitchen and there certainly isn’t a body in the kitchen,’ the woman sneered, her lips twisting with contempt. ‘In fact, the only person we found in the whole of the house, is you…a complete stranger.’
Kate struggled to sit up. She was sure she hadn’t imagined the body. How long was I out of it? she asked herself. ‘Who had moved her to the sofa?’ She pushed by the woman and opened the door to the kitchen.
Nothing…no sign of the body. She moved nearer the table. The surface was wet, clean. The woman followed her into the kitchen.
‘As you can see, no bodies.’ Kate was about to comment on the wetness of the table top but then thought better of it. She became aware of a sharp discomfort in her right arm, looking at it she saw a pinprick. Now she knew why she had been out of things long enough for the body to be removed and the table cleaned. Next question: what part had this woman played in the murder? It seemed unlikely that she would have survived if this female; sour as she might be, were in on the crime. Kate decided that it was time to leave, return to her car, forget the whole experience.
‘Has the storm blown over?’ she asked.
‘I’d better get on then. I have an important business meeting today. They will be alarmed if I don’t turn up.’ It felt ridiculous being so matter-of-fact when only moments ago she had been telling the woman that there was a body in the kitchen, but now she knew she had to escape from the house.
‘Well I don’t think I can let you go as easily as that,’ declared the woman, ‘After all, we found you in Ian’s cottage. Unconscious. Then you declared that there was a body in the kitchen. We have no idea who you are and there is no sign of Ian.’ Kate started to push past her. She just wanted to get out of the cottage and back to her normal, unremarkable, everyday existence
Chapter 1 by Andrew Stock
The mid-night chimes of Big Ben faded away as she hurried along the deserted city streets. The recent rain had left pools of water that mirrored and yet somehow distorted the regular neon shop signs. Thoughts of ghost trains and haunted houses filled her mind unexpectedly, she shook her head roughly, now was not the time for schoolgirl hysterics. Without breaking her stride, she darted suddenly down a small side alleyway and turned a sharp left at the bottom, she followed this with a quick right and then a left, until she was heading along an adjacent route to that which she had started. As she hurried on she contemplated the events of the evening. It should have been so easy, they had followed the plan, they had changed nothing, well, almost nothing. She gripped the object in her coat pocket more tightly, partly to check its safety but mostly with frustration, he should never have spoken to that woman.
“Bloody Terry!” She muttered to herself, the words sounding more of a growl than speech. She took another right and rushed on. Terrys’ smiling face taunted her thoughts, ‘It’s ok, it’s ok.’ He said in time with her hurrying footsteps. She grimaced at the smug vision ‘when I’! or ‘if’? That thought caused her to swallow hard, ‘Not if, but when, he finally caught up with her, Terry was going to get a proper rollicking. She kept her pace to just below a jog for a few minutes more until she came to the end of the small street she had been following, stopping in the shadows, waiting. She stood panting, listening hard. There seemed to be no movement not even a late-night reveller rolling along the street as though tossed by the waves of some unseen ocean. Her hand slipped into her pocket, and her fingers wrapped around the object. She had seen it only the once, as she had slipped it in her pocket. It had been about the size of a man’s wallet, a dull metal, hard to the touch, smooth on one side, the other a series of scratches and marks, all random in placement but somehow, deliberate in their randomness. The ‘Fat man’ had been right, no one would have expected them to have taken it, that had been the easy part, the difficult part was getting it away, “Just stick to the plan.” He had said, She smiled to herself, she had stuck to the plan, that was for sure, sod Terry, what he did was his fault, she was on the home straight. Feeling calmer now, she sauntered casually back out to the main street and followed easily along her predetermined route, until gradually more people began to come into sight, all heading in the same direction, St Pancras station. Entering the large building, she stood for a few moments soaking in the beauty of this building, before removing her pre-purchased ticket from her inside pocket and heading down the escalators to platform ‘B’ and safety. The last train out arrived on time and she sank into a seat of the first empty carriage she came to. She looked at her reflection in the dark black window and saw the 40-year-old personal assistant stare back at her, she looked tired and old, but she knew that the worst was over, she may have looked old and tired but she was safe. She rested her head back and closed her eyes, imagining her life to come. She felt before she heard, the presence from the seat behind her.
“I think you have something of mine, don’t you Janine!”
Chapter 2 by Sue Barton
As she turned in her seat, the shock of seeing him raced up her spine and turned her brain to a state of confusion.
Who the hell was Janine? Anna asked herself.
What was this guy doing here as cool as a proverbial salad vegetable in his cobalt blue suit? Anna noted the marks her splash of red wine had made on his lapel when she’d made her bid to distract him while Terry dipped his pocket and dropped the contents into her open silver bag. Her memory back.
Janine was the handle the ‘Fat man’ had hung on her.
Blue Suit put his thin pale face close to hers. ‘Hand it over…Now! Don’t even think of crossing me, yours won’t be the first neck I’ve broken.’ As he spoke he cracked the forefinger of his left hand.
She’d been so sure she’d got away. Terry wasn’t with her but for once she’d put herself first. If he couldn’t stick to the plan too bad. She’d decided on the way to the train she would keep the cash for herself.
‘I know who sent you.’ The guy said. ‘I’ll deal with him later.’
The ‘Fat man’s’ instructions ran across Anna’s mind.
‘You’re going to a reception at the Royal Academy. Here, tickets in the names of Janine and Marcus Williams – art dealers - that’s you. Get some decent clothes,’ he’d handed over a bundle of notes. ‘Bone up on David Hockney, it’s a do in his honour, you have to fit in. Find this guy’ He showed them a picture. ‘He’ll be wearing a bright blue suit, always does. He continuously pats his right-hand pocket. Find him, distract him, get the contents of that pocket and bring it back. Go to this pub’ he wrote the name on a piece of paper, ‘Stay there until it’s time to get the last train to Bedford. It must be the last train. There £500,000 in it if you succeed.’
‘And if we don’t? Terry had asked.
‘No payment! And I won’t pretend that this is a nice guy. You are taking one big risk here. Don’t do it unless feel you can pull it off.’
The ‘Fat man’, no name given, had allowed them a moment to discuss it. They’d been going straight for a while now and life had become almost terminally dull. It had been exciting to be head hunted and the cash injection might just improve their dwindling relationship. They’d signed up to the plan.
Now, here she was in mortal danger and alone. Damn Terry and his flirting. He’s been immediately flattered by the smile from the stunning Chinese girl at the bar of the “Rocket”
He’d spent the whole time chatting and laughing with her as though Anna didn’t exist. He’d ignored all signals, texts and calls from Anna to leave at the right time. She’d left without him expecting him to follow. He hadn’t.
She looked desperately up and down the empty train as it began to pull out of the station.
‘He’s not coming.,’ Blue Suit said calmly. ‘He’s in Lillie’s hands. She’s one of mine. She’s good. She saw what you two did and followed you to the pub. She even managed to get that useless man of yours to tell her where you were going when you left the pub. A quick text from Lillie and here I am’. He grinned coldly at Anna as he delivered his message of betrayal. He held out his hand expecting Anna to hand over his precious possession.
She sprang away from him, ran down the carriage and shut the toilet doors in his face just as he was about to grab her. She had to make her own plan now.
Chapter 3 by John Broadhouse
Anna felt trapped within the toilet cubicle of the train but at least she was safe for the moment but she heard Blue Suit threatening her to come out, when she suspected nobody was nearby.
She looked around the cubicle for a means to escape and noticed an alarm button above her head on the wall near the window.
I could press it when I get near to Bedford, she thought, checking her watch she calculated 5 minutes back from arrival time, this would make sure the train would stop at Bedford Station when Transport Police would release her and probably fine her for improper use, at least Blue Suit wouldn’t get her and it would buy her time.
Thoughts kept spinning around in her mind, trying to find the best solution, she could tell the police that Blue Suit was stalking her but then they would do a background check on her and reveal her criminal past and reveal the false name on her Art Dealer identity card or she could pretend to be ill and hopefully go to Bedford Hospitals A & E and spend at least 6 hours in hospital, yes that would buy her enough time to get Terry to help her out.
Anna reached for the mobile in her silver handbag and phoned Terry, he eventually answered it sounding the worst for wear.
“Are you on your own”, asked Anna.
“Yeh, that woman I was talking to must have slipped something into my drink and the next thing I remember is the bar man throwing water into my face thinking that I was drunk, why are you whispering?”
Anna filled him in with details about Blue Suit waiting for her on the train, the Chinese woman, Lillie, who picked him up in the pub and pumped him for information and her plan to eventually get to Bedford A & E.
“I really screwed up this time”, Terry answered very sheepishly, “I’m easily led astray by a beautiful woman.”
“You bloody well are”, retorted Anna, “get your head into gear and get me out of the hospital without Blue Suit getting me, remember I still have the package and we won’t get paid until the fat man gets it, how long will it take you to drive to Bedford?”
“This time of night shouldn’t be bad, traffic wise, so give me an hour and a half, I will phone you when I’m in the car park.”
Anna put the mobile back in her handbag and pulled out the dull metal package with the strange markings wondering its importance that could cost her life, she couldn’t find an answer!”
Anna’s plan worked due to her excellent play acting and the Transport police phoned for an ambulance, as an added bonus they didn’t fine her.
In the waiting area Anna thought she saw Blue Suit briefly but he was probably keeping in the lime light so as not to draw attention to himself, she had been there 2 hours and was hoping he wasn’t getting impatient and hatching a plot.
Anna’s mobile rang.
“I’m in the car park, going to check the area for Blue Suit, make sure you are ready for a quick escape.”
Anna put the phone back in her handbag and looked around for signs of Terry or Blue Suit without success but she did see a nurse heading towards her.
“A doctor will see you now”, said the nurse, “follow me.”
Terry entered the waiting room to see Anna and the nurse who’s face seemed familiar, My God, it’s Lillie!!”, exclaimed Terry.
Chapter 4 by Barrie Hyde
Lillie smiled sweetly.
'You’re looking very well considering the concoction I gave you,' she said looking at Terry. ' Her smile dropped and as she spoke she pulled a small pistol from her pocket. 'The two of you into that office, now, don't argue.' she pointed at a door, Anna and Terry walked towards it meekly.
Anna looked around in despair, there were three other people in the waiting room, none of them paying any attention to what was happening. She headed towards the office and went in. There was a desk, a trolley, medical equipment and a sink. She was conscious of NHS posters pinned to the walls.
Lillie stepped in front of them making an obvious show of the pistol. As she did so the door opened. Blue Suit stood there, only this time he was wearing green pyjamas, the uniform of casualty doctors.
He pushed Anna with such force she fell to the ground. Closing the door and looking directly at her he said pleasantly,
'Hand it over before you get hurt.'
As he spoke the door opened again, he half turned , two 'phuts' were heard. Blue Suit and Lillie fell to the floor.
'You'll need to get the hell out of here quickly,' whispered Fat Man, 'And meet me in the usual place in three hours. Lay low and don't go home' He wore an operating mask, cap and glasses concealing his identity to all but those who really knew him.
'Are they dead?' whispered Anna picking herself off the ground.
'No, just heavily sedated, I don't want bodies to clear up. You two have really fucked up. Before you go help me put the woman on the trolley.' he said to Terry, ‘And you, go and find one for him.'
Anna was too shocked to argue, she was well out of her depth and felt physically sick. 'How the hell did I get myself into this position?' she thought as she walked briskly down a quiet corridor. She tried several doors, they were all locked.
Eventually she arrived at a side ward. It was in semi darkness and she could hear an old man moaning and was conscious others were asleep. A trolley stood to the side of the room. Quickly she manoeuvred it back down the corridor and into the office. The three of them man handled Blue Suit onto the second trolley, drawing a sheet up to his neck.
'Go' said Fat Man, 'With luck these two will come round before they're discovered. If they are found in this state people will be confused and hopefully won’t think to check the CCTV.'
The two walked from the office, through A&E briskly and out into the fresh night air.
‘We’ll get a taxi,’ said Terry
‘Are you completely stupid?’ barked Anna. ‘We need to disappear, not leave a trail, we’ll walk.’
‘Where to?’ asked Terry in a resigned manner.
‘The Fat Man’s already told us, you thick twat’.
‘But that’s miles away.’ He whined.
‘Look,’ she said venomously, ‘Thanks to your balls ruling your brain we’re now in a real mess, cut the whining before I do something I may regret.’
She was tired and irritable, the thought of a five mile hike did nothing to lighten her mood.
The roads were quiet as they made their way towards the town centre.
At least it’s not raining’, said Terry trying to sound jovial.
‘Shut up,’ came the tart response.
Chapter 5 by Gerald K. Fox
‘Lillie was beautiful though, you should have seen the way she smiled at me’.
Anna kept looking straight ahead, knowing that if she turned to him she would probably try to strangle him. When she thought about it there was no probably about it. She would do it.
‘I told you to shut up’.
She felt in her pocket for the object. It was still there. She didn’t know how? But it was.
She felt Terry break into a run to keep up with her.
‘Do you think we could find a chipper that’s open? I’m starving’.
Letting out a long sigh Anna responded.
‘Are you for real? Are you? We have a long journey and you want to stop.’
As they crossed over the bridge a red car that was pumping music slowed down and inched beside them. As the window lowered the noise got louder.
Anna quickened her steps and muttered to Terry to put his arms around her. Terry started to break into a sweat as he tried to keep in line with her.
The voice was very soft, kind and sounded familiar.
Anna stopped, stooped and stared in the passenger window. As her eyes met his, her heart skipped a beat.
‘George, what are you doing here? How did you know where to find me?’
With the same kindness George simply said, ‘Get in’.
She barked at Terry to sit in the back. Once she was comfortable and seat belt secure, she turned to look at his chiselled jawline, his nose that sat perfectly in the centre of his face. She wanted so desperately to stare into his smoky eyes but thought that given the circumstances of their meeting it would have to wait until another time.
‘I… I…I…I’m sorry, when we last parted it wasn’t on great terms. I’m confused how you knew where I am I mean where I was….. Why are you helping me… us... Terry this is George. Don’t ask don’t have time to explain I will do that another time.’
Terry noticed that she defrosted somewhat since getting into the car. He wished that he knew what the secret was. Maybe he would ask this George guy if he got a chance.
George lowered the music. Pressed the switch to let the windows slide back into place. When he spoke it was like rhythmic poetry falling from his lips.
‘We can discuss you and I another time, but right now I need to get you out of here. You are being followed....’
‘OH gosh I know blue suit…. Yes I know who he is.’
Anna widened her eyes as the realisation sunk in. Her hand flew up to her mouth to prevent her from saying something she shouldn’t.
‘No you don’t know, that man is a trained killer. If he got what he needed he would have killed you. He’s ruthless’.
A tear trickled down her face. Turning to look out the window she noticed that the mist was creeping along the river. Swallowing hard she looked at George.
‘Where are you taking us?’
Terry, not oblivious to the tension in the front of the car, was not forgetting that he was hungry and leaned forward.
‘Any chance you can drive by a chip shop? I’m starving’.
George stopped the car and turned towards Terry with a look of concern in his eyes.
‘Do you realise how much danger you’re in and all you seem concerned about is your stomach, wait did Lillie drug you? Did she? Quick think.’
George reached over to the glove box took out a small brown bottle and shook out two yellow pills.
‘Here take these. I’ve got no water but you will be fine, hurry whatever she gave you this should help’.
Terry did as he was told and the need for food started to slip away.
Anna coughed, cleared her throat and turned in the seat towards George.
‘You still haven’t told me how you know what’s going on and where you are taking us’.
George looked away as he couldn’t bear to see her upset.
‘Do you honestly think that the fat man would be allowed to pull off a stunt like this? We are watching him. Orders from above are to monitor observe and report. Only to intervene if needed. Well I guess it’s needed so that’s why I’m here.’
‘Ok that’s explained a little of what went on. Now, where are we going?
Anna could feel the heat leaving her face.
‘There’s no we. I have to stay here. You and Casanova in the back are getting out here. Walk over the foot bridge. You will be met by Zycrus. He will take you by canal boat to the next town. It’s too dangerous to travel by land. When you get off Zycrus will take you to the safe house where Recto will be waiting for you’.
Anna put her hand over his.
‘Will I ever see you again?’
George turned the key in the engine.
‘Goodbye Anna, if you get out of this mess I will find you’.
Chapter 6 by Laura Richards
Anna gazed longingly at the departing car, feeling as abandoned as a puppy left on the road side. When she was with George, she felt feminine and helpless. My God, she had even cried. She knew that wasn’t for her. She had to be as tough as the next man, unless the next man was Terry, who had turned out to be an untrustworthy wimp.
‘Okay, let me think’, she muttered. ‘How in hell did things go so wrong?’ It had seemed a simple task. Distract the man who needed his pocket picked. She and Terry had done it dozens of times to order. Why work when there are people seemingly begging to be separated from their valuables? This time however, Terry messed up badly. Sneaking a look at him leaning against a tree, smoking a cigarette, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world, Anna decided she’d ditch him as soon as she could. Not only would she get all the money but hopefully she could divert the hunters away from her and onto him. He was a screw-up and didn’t deserve her. Even his screwing wasn’t all that great.
Feeling more positive now that she had made a decision about Terry, she turned her mind back to her current predicament. Should she trust George and put herself in the hands of these men with ridiculous names? Men she had never met? What were her options? This was an isolated part of Bedfordshire. She wasn’t sure where she was. There were no lights showing, no buses, no trains. She had no idea where she was and where to go next. She had to get the money owed her for the job. Reluctantly, she realised the best idea was to go along with George’s plan, get the money and go far, far way, where no one would find her. Jaw set, she stomped over the bridge, Terry trailing to her rear.
Zycrus, scrawny, dressed in black and smelling like a sewer, was waiting on the other side. He barely said a word as he gestured them to follow him down the overgrown path. In a short while, the three of them had reached a ramshackle excuse for a boat. ‘Whoa, you’re not getting me on that thing’, Terry exclaimed. In a flash, Zycrus had twisted his arm behind his back, painfully pulling the joint in the wrong direction. ‘You’re going to do exactly as I say. You and your pretty little friend have caused us so much trouble. I wouldn’t think twice at getting rid of the both of you. It’s a wonder George didn’t give the order. Consider yourselves lucky. Do what I say and you might survive.'
Anna briefly considered running off but the bulge in Zycrus’s pocket told her she’d not get far without being shot. They clambered in quickly and sat on the edge of the wooden bench seat, hands clenched in their pockets in a futile attempt to keep warm. Anna thought furiously. Did George know what sort of man Zycrus was? Did he care? What was the object she had taken? What could be worth this determination to possess it? Could she sell it to the highest bidder? She daydreamed of riches as the boat carried them away.
Anna jerked to awareness as she felt an irregular vibration come from the stolen object.
Chapter 7 by Rosemary Ostley
The vibration was vaguely similar to a mobile and retrieved hers from her bag, pretending to check a message in case anyone else had noticed. She didn’t want to bring the stolen object out here. As soon as her phone screen lit up the object stopped vibrating. But ‘Zycrus’ - where had Anna heard that name before? – was intent on piloting the boat and Terry was beginning to turn a bit green around the gills.
“You gonna be OK?” she asked. He clutched his stomach and groaned, looking at her pathetically, but Anna didn’t feel sorry for him. He’d be thinking only of himself, trying not to throw up, so she took the opportunity to sit down on the corner of the bench furthest away from both of them so she could really think, wrapping her arms round her to try to stop shivering.
She was acutely aware that she needed to pee, but she could see there were no facilities on this heap of unseaworthy junk so she crossed her legs and hoped they’d make land again soon. It began to dawn on her that she could have offloaded the metal object onto the ‘Fat Man’ at the hospital and had done with it, but in the confusion it hadn’t occurred to her. As her brain cleared a little more she remembered where she’d heard the name Zycrus. She and Terry had recently visited someone Terry had met in a bar a few months ago. Paul, gay as a nine bob note and lovely with it, loved computer gaming and Anna had sat with the two men while Paul played during the evening, noticing that another player, calling himself ‘Zycrus’, was online at the same time. Paul’s online name was ‘Bogle’ which he explained with a fruity chuckle was a nod to Kenneth Williams. ‘Who he?’ Anna had asked.
Now her head started to fill with all the possible ways she could get away from Zycrus when the boat landed. OK, she was in a shit position but she’d come this far and she was buggered if she was going to let someone else profit from her efforts. Anyway, she and Terry had obviously become expendable. The object started to vibrate again but she was saved from having to do anything by a sudden movement from Terry. He stood up, swaying slightly, and turned to lean over the side of the boat. As he wretched the boat swung violently to port and Terry flew over the side to be reunited with his stomach contents. It happened so quickly Anna wondered if she was hallucinating.
“Stop the boat,” she yelled, “he’s fallen in.”
If Zycrus heard her he gave no indication as he swerved back on course.
“Terry’s gone overboard,” she screamed, “stop the fucking boat, arsehole.”
Nothing. Not a flicker. Anna began to shake with rage and fear as she stared at the back of the man who now held her life in his hands, all thoughts of profit evaporating quickly. She’d wanted to ditch Terry, but not like this. Even in her terror it occurred to her that in the long time she’d known him he’d never had a problem with sea sickness. She stared out of the back of the boat, but saw nothing but an expanse of cold, cold water. What was in those yellow pills George had given him?
She wrapped her hand round the object in her pocket and came to a decision. She could no longer trust anyone, not even gorgeous George, but she’d probably be safe from Zycrus as long as he assumed she still had the object in her possession, and she thought he would be keen deliver her and it to Recto, for his own sake. What he might do after that, Anna could only speculate. As the boat slowed and drew to a stop by the side of the bank, Zycrus jumped out and secured it to the landing stage. Anna accepted the hand he proffered and climbed up next to him. She wanted to ask why he hadn’t stopped the boat for Terry, but she was too scared. As they began to walk she pretended to stumble and fell against him, slipping the object into his jacket pocket. It was a bold move, but she hoped it would implicate this Neanderthal and take the heat off her. He grabbed her arm to steady her and held on to it as they walked. She was wondering how to get away before they reached Recto, or before the object started to vibrate again and alert Zycrus, when her body reminded her she needed the loo.
“How far is it?” she asked, “I’m desperate to pee.”
Zycrus threw her a pained look and pointed to the bushes.
Chapter Eight by Veronica Sims
While she peed, she thought. Clearly, the only reason she hadn’t been pitched over the side with Terry was the stolen ‘vibrator’. There was no one she could trust. Should she have been so ready to get rid of the damn thing? Was now the time to run? No, that sod Zycrus would catch her in a minute. She had to get rid of him. Quickly. She felt in her pockets. Some change, a lipstick, a pen…it had to be the pen.
She emerged from the bushes. She’d only get one chance. Zycrus still led the way. The path was rough and uneven lined with broken branches and nettles. They plodded on.
‘Now’, she thought and fell to her knees. Screaming in pretend agony. Zycrus turned angrily... He lunged toward her ready to drag her up. One chance. She thrust the metal pen at his solar plexus. It was his turn to scream. While he still writhed on the ground she clubbed him over the head with a broken branch. She didn’t stop until he fell silent. She went to retrieve the plunder from his pocket.
But It wasn’t there. For a moment her heart almost stopped, and her mouth dried with fear. She tried other pockets and at last found it.
She knew she needed to escape before he came around. She hoped he would wake, perhaps not…he hadn’t given a toss about Terry.
Yes, he was breathing. She went back to his pockets. She needed money and his phone. She found both just as he was beginning to groan. She started to run, which way though? Back to the river? Off into the fields?
She chose the field. Down the side, the hedge giving cover.
He was starting to yell now. At least I didn’t kill him she thought. Mixed feelings.
She kept running. Thanking her stars for her efforts over the past few years to keep fit. The yells faded into the distance. She started to recognise where she was: Harrold Country Park. Jeez! How bloody mundane.
She wanted to get somewhere where there was some light. As if right on cue a faint ribbon of brightness started to appear in the East. Dawn. Good…and bad. She needed to be with people, lots of people but she really wanted to have a good look at the piece of kit they had stolen. What was it? Could anybody tell her? What was it worth?
She also needed to dump the phone. She extracted the SIM and found a convenient hole in a willow. That couldn’t be used to track her.
Where should she go?
Chapter 9 by Andrew Stock
She pushed away from the tree and trudged across the park heading towards the daybreak. It was an aimless wander now, the energy had been sapped from her, she was tired, hungry and cold, in some ways she would welcome a surprise bullet in the back from Zycrus, at least it would put an end to this shit. After a brief walk she realised there would be no bullet to the back, not even the rancid hand of Zycrus grabbing her by the throat, and choking the life from her. Anna shook her head, how typical of her, she could not even have bad guys that were up to scratch, this was an open field for gods sake and her nemesis could not find her.
Anna made her way towards the edge of the park, a large road ran alongside, she stood for a few moments staring aimlessly realising she had no idea which way to go. For no other reason than that was the way she was facing at that moment she turned left and followed her nose. It seemed so long ago that she had headed along the empty roads of London, avoiding people and cars, her mind concentrating fully on the object she had lifted so deftly from the mark, her anger burning in her stomach. Terry had left her, bloody useless man, and now, well now he was where? At the bottom of a stinking river. Anna tried to push the thoughts away, yes she was angry with him, hated him even, but he did not deserve that as an end. The bright light caught her unaware, a cafe, large misted window that served up a sense of hot greasy food, tepid tea and a place to sit and think this through.
The inside of the cafe was all it promised to be from the outside, the smell of bacon, coughs of the workman receiving their pre work artery clogging and a warmth that enveloped her so tightly she felt as though she were wrapped in her favourite quilt. She pictured it now laying on her sofa, left from the restless sleep, before leaving to start this job. A small tear forced its way down her cheek, god she was tired. After ordering a full english breakfast, something she would never have usually entertained she took a seat in the corner and waited, her hand clutching at the object nervously. The food when it came was surprisingly good, the tea hot and large and bread that looked as though it had been freshly baked this morning. Anna ate slowly, each mouthful rejuvenating, her body relishing the first real rest it had been allowed, and then the object vibrated again. Her hand snatched for it, pulling it roughly from her pocket. Nothing had changed, no flashing lights, no secret compartments opening, not the slightest turn of a cog or a wheel, nothing, just the vibration. Anna rested it on her lap beneath the table and stared hard at it.
“What the bloody hell is wrong with this thing?”
“Hey Giorgio, sort it out will you!”
“Do I get a refund for the lack of entertainment?”
“Piss off all of you!” Anna looked up to see the large man behind the counter, fiddling with buttons on the remote for the television, “Bloody things shit, wait until I see Greg, selling me this crap!”
“The only thing in here thats crap is your cooking mate!”
“Bollocks!” The man behind the counter, Giorgio, she presumed, laughed over his shoulder at the workmen, they laughed in unison, friendly banter. The object stopped vibrating, and the television sprang into life, the picture strong and clear.
“Wahh!” the workmen called, jeering loudly, “TV repairs and cooking, who said men cant multitask eh Giorgio?” A tea towel arced across the room towards the workmen.
“Come on you three, time you were gone, what is it today building another wall that will fall over soon as the money is paid?” There was a bubble of conversation and laughter as the three men bid farewell to their friend. Anna was not really listening, her mind was full of unanswered questions, by the time she had refocused all that was left was the smell of bacon, the rumble of Giorgio singing to himself, and the recognition that whatever this object was, when it had vibrated, the television had stopped working.
Anna nursed a second cup of tea, deep in thought whilst considering her options. With a sudden movement she shot to her feet, she needed to move now, had to before she changed her mind. It was obvious, the more she thought about it, the more she realised, there really was only one course of action. Someone would know what this was all about, someone would have answers. To get her answers, Anna knew that she would need to travel back to where this had all began; London.
A short taxi ride to the train station, and a thankfully uneventful train journey, brought Anna back to St Pancras station. It was an easy decision to head towards the Royal Academy where this had all began, it would be here if anywhere that someone would have an answer. The Royal Academy drew into sight as she sat in the back of the taxi, she had asked the driver to drive round for a while, just to make sure she wasn’t being followed, she had explained that she was early for an appointment. She chose a small independent coffee shop that stood opposite, the perfect place to wait and watch. Anna drank a large latte, one table away from the window, close enough to see, but not so close so as to be spotted, her skills as a confidence trickster and thief, rose easily to the surface. Never hit a mark without doing the homework, know who they are, their likes, dislikes. Understand their wants and needs, scope them out, always have a plan ‘B’. It was the same for buildings, know the entrances and exits, look for security, cameras or guards, search out potential pitfalls, be one step ahead. When she was sure, she wiped her mouth and placed the napkin in her pocket, stood smoothly and made her way to the back of the coffee shop to the ladies toilet, busy searching through her pockets she collided with a teenager coming in the other direction, the girl stepped forward menacingly, all the time checking she was supported by her two friends, Anna smiled apologetically,
“Watch where your going bitch!” The girls thickly painted eyebrows feigned movement.
“Tell her, Bev, don’t let her disrespec ya.” The first girl sucked her teeth towards Anna,
“Good job I got somewhere to be, or I would wait for ya, outside, really mess ya up.” The three girls pushed roughly past Anna, and moved noisily out of the shop. In the toilet, Anna, used the lipstick and perfume she had lifted from the first girl, it wasn’t her colour or scent but it would do. The phone she had picked from the second girl when she had pushed past was locked, but it would do for the pretence, tools of the trade. She pulled her hair back and tied it into a pony tail, straightened her clothing and left the toilet, head down, she headed from the shop and into the Royal Academy.
Anna took a few moments for her eyes to adjust, before making eye contact with the smartly dressed woman sitting behind the enquiries desk. Holding the phone to her ear, she talked in a loud whisper,
“Yes sir, I am here now, I know, yes, let me call you back sir, yes sir, straight away, yes sir, chambers in 20 minutes, I understand, leave it to me sir.” She made a show of putting the phone in her pocket and raised her eyebrows in a ‘what can I tell you sort of a way.’ The smartly dressed woman stared blankly at her, she was obviously used to mixing with all classes of people.
“I wonder could you help me please,” Anna used what she called her Helen Mirren voice, posh with an edge of common, “You had an event here on Saturday evening, an art event.”
“You mean the Hockney exhibition?” This lady was genuinely upper class, no pretence of an accent,
“Yes that would be the one.” Anna smiled again as though they were both the best of friends, the smartly dressed woman, simply stared back. “Well it appears that the man I work for attended here and made an appointment to speak with the director of the Academy, as usual he did not inform me, and has lost the information as to when he is meeting the director.” She spread her hands in a gesture of frustration, “You know how it is when they do not keep you informed of what they are up to, how am I supposed to keep his diary eh?” The smartly dressed woman, stared hard at Anna,
“No, I wouldn’t know that, I am not a secretary.” Her voice was level, low, husky but this did not manage to hide the sneer.
“Actually I’m not a secretary, I’m a personal assistant.” Anna did not know why this remark had got under her skin so much, she didn’t care if she was thought of as a secretary or a personal assistant, all she wanted to do at this moment was stab this snobby bitch in the throat with her own pen, “I was just wondering if there was anyway I could arrange a meeting with the director so as to ascertain the meeting time and date?” The bitch, as Anna now thought of her picked up a phone and pressed a button.
“Cheryl, Eloise here, yes, I am in reception, I know, yes, its only for the photographer when he arrives, they wanted someone gorgeous to greet him and have their photo taken, yes I know, good choice.” Her laugh was like crystal, Anna hated her all the more, “It appears the Director made an arrangement to meet someone, I have his secretary here now, apparently he lost the appointment time.” She covered the mouthpiece, “Who is it you are running this errand for?” Just a small smile from her. Anna concentrated hard, blocked the need to thrust the phone into this woman ear.
“Lord justice Reagan.” The name came easily, rolled off the tongue, sounded important enough to be real. Eloise, spoke into the phone, repeating the name with a nonchalance that spoke volumes. “Yes Cheryl, of course, whats that, that is correct HRH, and the prime minister, yes, I will meet them in the main annex, talk them through the exhibition myself, lovely, chou.” She replaced the receiver and scribbled something on a pad, ripped it off with a flourish and passed it to Anna, “The Director remembers Lord Reagan and asks if you will come to his office now to arrange the appointment, top floor, end of the corridor, give this to his private secretary, the smirk again, she will show you in.”
Anna stood in the elevator alone, watching the individual numbers light the way on the keypad. She did not understand, Lord Reagan did not exist, she had created him, she was a fan of the Sweeney, how could he have attended the function? Was the Director just being polite, or was she in more serious trouble than she realised? Floor three and the door slid open silently. The gun that pointed at her was small and silver, she could see the the bright red well manicured fingernails gripping the handle tightly.
“Welcome, Anna, the Director is waiting for you.” The Chinese, woman smiled at her, brightly, as though admitting her to a posh restaurant.
“Hello Lillie, out of hospital so soon?” Anna spoke with more bravery than she felt at that moment, the gun looked small but surely at this distance could do some serious damage. Lillie shrugged nonchalantly and waved her free hand towards the large oak door.
“Don’t keep the director waiting Anna.” The room was light and bright, not what she had been expecting at all, a large desk of marble and glass sat centre stage, a vase of blue flowers the only real colour to break up the whiteness, Blue suit stood facing the door they had just entered, his face expressionless.
“Of course it’s you!” it was all she could think of saying, she scanned the room for another exit, nothing, square room, third floor, small windows, door blocked by a girl with a gun, this did not look good.
“Sit Anna.” It was an order, she moved towards a chair in the corner, “No, on the floor.” Blue suit had seen her confusion and tilted his head towards his shoulder, “On the floor please, less chance of you making a run for it, not that there is anywhere to go of course.” His voice was low, threatening, Anna, sank to her knees, her remaining energy leaking from her,
“What are you going to do to me?” His laugh was sharp and short,
“Really Anna? Do you think this is the part where I spend time telling you of my plans, giving you the time to concoct an escape plan, Jesus, this is not a Bond film, just give me the item!” He held out his hand, straight, steady. When she did not move, he clicked his fingers impatiently, “Now!” The shout echoed around the room. Anna lifted her head, it was all she could do to hold his gaze.
“I haven’t got it.” She whispered the words, but watched his head flick backwards as though she had slapped him.
“Do not mess with me, I know you have it, give it to me now.” His voice was not quite so steady, “Search her!” Lillie moved quickly to her and moved her hands expertly over Annas body.
“Nothing.” Blue suit stepped closer,
“Where is it, what have you done with it, tell me now!” He grabbed her hair and she felt spittle hit her face, “Tell me, before you regret it.” The slap shook her and she instantly tasted blood, the second slap did not hurt, couldn’t she had still not recovered from the first.
“Stop, stop, wait!” She heard herself through the ringing in her ears, “The Fat man, he has it, I gave it to him, I….” A kick to the kidneys stopped her short.
“The Fat man, that useless turd, unless you gave it to a corpse, he definitely doesn’t have it, so where is it?” He was screaming now, all self control gone, “You stupid, stupid bitch, I will cut you up, do you hear me, do you understand? I get it or you are dead.” Blue suit slumped in the chair, he was breathing hard. Anna pulled herself into a sitting position, pain coursed through her.
“It’s in the park, Bedford, in a tree.” Blue suit shook his head,
“No, we have searched the park, followed your route, Zycrus, always one step behind but thorough, he traced your steps, park, cafe, taxi, train carriage, coffee shop even our reception area he left no stone unturned, you have it, where is it?” There was desperation in his voice now, she had to be careful, had to play this right.
“Ok, you win, I will take you to where it is, but if you hurt me, you don’t get it, ok.” Blue suit laughed,
“No, No, No! you really do not understand this. Once I get the item back, you are going to die. You just have a choice, die quickly or hold out on me and I can make death last for hours.” he pulled a knife from his pocket and opened it with a metallic click, the blade shone in the light. Anna stared horrified, the realisation dawned on her, she really was as good as dead, for the first time since entering the room she had no plan, and then.
There was a knock at the door, two sharp raps, knuckles hard on the wood.
“This is the police, open up, now sir.” Blue suit jumped to his feet, folding the knife in two, he motioned to Lillie, who pushed the gun into a holster beneath her skirt, he grabbed Anna and thrust her into the chair.
“Say a word and I swear, I will kill you in front of the police, do you understand me?” Anna nodded mutely, but keenly aware that this would be her only chance. Lillie walked towards the door and pulled it open,
“Yes officer how can we ….” Two soft phutts, whispered into the room and Lillie fell solidly to the floor, a spray of red dust painting the white wall, Anna saw her fall and concentrated on the red nails solid against the soft white rug. Two more phutts sounded and Blue suit crumpled to the floor next to the chair, his unopened knife clutched in his hand. The figure entered quickly and stepped to her side,
“Anna, bloody hell, you look terrible, come on, we have to get out of here.” She looked at him, unable to comprehend what was happening, “Come on get a move on, shit we can’t get caught here.”
“Terry!” The words caught in her throat, “Terry, how?” He grabbed her urgently under the arms and lifted,
“Come on girl, I’ll explain later, now lets get out of here shall we?”
Sitting on the barge they had hired on a years lease, they shared the cheap bottle of wine and toasted silently what they called the ‘event’. The news when it broke, had been no more than a minor headline, ‘Director of the National gallery kills himself after murdering his girlfriend’ It was only beaten to the top billing by reports of a mysterious alien object being handed into police by heroic teenager Beverley Edwards, who had managed to wrestle it off a knife wielding madwoman.
“Yeah she really tried to hurt me, but I bust her up good, I knew it was nicked when she tried to sell it to me to buy skunk.” Her painted eyebrows almost danced for the camera.
“Lying cow.” Terry had spat through the open window of the barge, you planted that on her with the note on the napkin, telling her there would be a reward for taking it to the police.” Anna smiled,
“It doesn’t matter Terry, it was my plan ‘B’, it nearly backfired though, I thought I would be able to find out exactly what was going on, see if I could get myself in the clear, never expected the very man I was trying to meet would be blue suit himself.” She took a sip of the wine, and screwed up her face, “God this is awful.”
“Yeah but what do you expect from a dead man eh?” Anna grinned at her friend, his story was as good as hers, falling from the boat as though drowned, swimming to shore following Zycrus as he searched for her, watching her enter the Gallery and realising her peril, making his way to the office, and well, they didn’t discuss that. At times they had both wondered at the strange object they had put their life at risk for, but decided that it was perhaps best if they did not know, if they were honest they no longer cared, they were just happy to be safe, after all it had put them in more than enough danger. She raised her glass to him in salute,
“To safety eh?” He tipped his glass towards her
In the darkness, the night vision scope pointed towards the barge,
“Control, I have a clear shot of both targets, do I take it?”