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Round Robin 3
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?