Neon Burning Up Above (Knopfler).
Peter likes his initials. He signs ‘PAL’ on emails. He’s never used it as part of a password – certain death.
This week’s password is ‘LazU007’. It was supposed to be written ‘LazY007’ but he hit the wrong key and was too lazy to change it. Peter likes clever funny.
He also doesn’t like murder and the network never give him those jobs.
Tonight he has three jobs – all small but the pay is good.
Three jobs in the same place: a small semi-static funfair. Peter reckons he’ll be up against some gang operation.
He has two clear photos and one blurred through movement, job descriptions and prices agreed, one phone number and a deadline: 23:30.
Jean Halder: Find and get the contact details of a Ryan Gaston. Check they are real; email immediately.
Kieren Jones: Scare the shit out of him. Not too much damage. Use text ‘You’ve been a bad boy. We’re coming’ and say something that will convince you’re there on the spot watching him.
Ozzie Richards: Get a decent photo.
Peter knows none of the names are real but that’s not his problem.
He wonders why, when there hasn’t been rain for days, churned mud lies either side of the footpaths leading to the rides and stalls. He’s brought very little with him; some cash, his phone and a curiously bulky holdall made of hessian in which rests nothing. Peter’s pockets hold varying lengths of paracord, handcuffs and other bits and pieces including a new pay-as-you-go with a new SIM. The inside of the bag is lined with two more layers through which cable ties are threaded around their tops, tying them together. Peter likes his bags.
He expects the gang members to arrive separately, at different times and be on a sharp lookout for last-minute tailing issues.
Jones is first on the scene, leaning by a food stall eating a hot dog. He’s wrapped in steam and the smell of onions.
Peter can’t be seen watching so he buys plastic rings and tries to throw them over a small tacky mirror. The prizes reflect the miserable fee he paid for the pleasure. The mirror reflects Jones subtly studying of his surroundings. Casually he drops waste into a bin and turns his back on two police officers dawdling through the punters and getting closer.
Jones joins the queue for the ‘Ride of Death’ – actually a tame indoor roller coaster. Lit only by strobe lights, the riders suffer all manner of darting plastic vampires, squirts of water etcetera.
Peter has never been on it but knows the passengers hang facing a vertical drop for several seconds before plunging down in a mess of screams and lost fast food. He’s sussed this job. This is what he loves about being independent. No stupid boss giving orders and making up unworkable or unimaginative plans. Peter thinks on the spot.
The only fly in this ointment comes when he heads to get a burger. He can feel Jones’ eyes on him.
Sitting on a flimsy metal stool that squelches unsteadily in the torn soil beneath, Peter breathes in the aroma of fried onions and greasy meat. The Ride of Death warms up and screeches up to speed. The second set of carriages is filling. Peter compiles the text:
You’ve been a bad boy. We’re waiting for you at the end of the ride.
He waits until the carriages have stopped at the top, and presses text. Only having time for one more bite of scorching rubbery burger before the passengers disembark, he notes Jones is not with them and the second ride is all ready underway. Jones is twenty metres up amid moving machinery in the dark. Strobes can really mess up spatial awareness. Peter wonders how he’s getting on.
The plastic tray thrown in the overstuffed bin only causes a hissing sticky landslide and the hollow rattle of Styrofoam cups. Peter wanders in search of the next victim.
He pauses some minutes later and looks through a circular covered stall to a woman walking with an elderly man. Checking his phone, he matches her unequivocally with Halder. Peter frowns and wonders: Why the man?’ It doesn’t take him long. Right, he’s probable not that old: it’s a disguise. Frailty is the second best distraction. Maybe they’re going to approach a caravan, ask for a seat and a cup of water as the man feigns illness. Then it’s a matter of charging through the opened door with the support of the rest of the gang. He wonders what’s in the van, or whatever, that lures them here.
The best distraction comes in the form of Halder and the way she’s dressed. Peter reckons the man is there in case a woman opens the door.
Tailing them is hard but made easier by the man evidently unsteady and needing support from time to time. Halder is occasionally distracted from her constant monitoring. The man points to a raised caravan. Peter smiles. A public lavatory may offer a good opportunity.
Halder helps him to the stairs and waits as he ascends and opens the door. Peter enters from the door on the other side: Halder can’t see him.
All the cubicles and sinks are free. The man alone at the urinals looks genuinely elderly, maybe a family member helping out. The bag goes over his head and the first cable tie is tightened. On cue the man’s hands fly to his neck; just in the right place for the handcuffs. Moans and cries from the man are deadened by the layers of hessian. He’s carried to a cubicle; the cuffs are swapped for more ties and secured to the cistern with cord.
Peter taps the man on the head. “Won’t be long: you’ll be fine.” Closing the door, Peter goes to the entrance Halder waits behind. Counting to a hundred to lower his heart rate, raise her anxiety and give his next few lines credibility, he opens the door. Halder is halfway up the stairs. She does a double-take as if she recognises him.
Peter stops in front of her. “Granddad was escorted out the other entrance. He’ll be available after you give me your phone.”
Fury and violence fill her eyes. She hisses.
“Phone, now. Then you can rescue him. He’ll be fine if you’re quick.” He holds out his hand. “Now.”
Lips pulled back, she bares her teeth like a guard dog pushed to far. She pulls out a phone. Peter takes it and asks, ‘Number?’
‘3333. Where is he, you bastard? If he’s…”
“Look, he’ll be perfectly OK; I promise.” Peter finds the address book, locates ‘Ryan Gaston’, taps call, passes the phone to Halder and says, “Say all is on schedule but he’s to keep his phone on. One or two suspicious types about.”
Halder, almost shaking with malice and anxiety, does as she’s told. Peter snatches the phone back and jerks a thumb over his shoulder. “Last cubicle on the right.” As she pushes past, he taps an email address into the phone and heads away as he sends the data.
The poor-quality photo of Richards shows a heavily-boned man of about mid-thirties. A shaved head contrasts with bushy eyebrows. He look tough, maybe streetwise but not hugely intelligent. Peter never underestimates his enemy.
Using his personal phone, Peter starts taking photos of the fair or looking through the screen and apparently deciding some particular views would be useless.
Despite the fair covering less than half of a pitch, it takes him nearly forty minutes. He hadn’t planned for rain and hopes the new phone can cope.
Richards is talking to someone in a shooting gallery. Peter walks past to the T-junction at the end of the path, takes a photo of the big wheel, and walks back. Taking a shot of the shooting gallery, he presses ‘copy’. Richards pushes aside the man he’s talking to and advances on Peter. “You can delete that one, mate.” Hostility and threat pour from him. Peter reacts appropriately. He shrinks back, hunches, and with wide eyes, says, “Sorry … what?”
“Show me the photo…” Richards looms, huge shoulders and muscles flexing under the rain-dotted T-shirt.
“Here, here. I’ll delete it. Sorry, I really didn’t mean to of … offend…”
Richards watches it disappear. “Empty your trash.”
“Yes … there.”
“Show me your sent messages.”
“Um … oh dear, this is a new … wait: there.”
“OK, now piss off.”
Peter turns away. Richards stiffens. “Have I heard your voice before?”
“No … not unless you go to Walsall. That’s … that’s where I come from.”
Richards turns away, uninterested.
Peter knows he needs to get away. Three dangerous people saw him clearly and seemed to recognise him. He’s been in this place too long and blown his own cover; broken his own rules. Arrive, find the local network, do a qualifying job, spend no more than two months and get out. He’s been here six months, kept telling himself he’d straighten up and get a job – even in a warehouse and start a normal life. God knows, he’s accumulated enough to keep him comfortable for years.
Squeezing through a rusting fence he slips down to the disused railway, climbs into a corroded drum and buckles the crackling metal until the opening is closed. He’ll wait until tomorrow if necessary. He’s pretty sure he’s being hunted.
His anonymous hire car is only fifteen minute’s walk, ten if he goes through the old station. His survival pack is stashed in the car, next identity and all.
Minutes later he hears quiet movement both up and down the line. Silence follows for an age, then more noise. The noises move away. He feels four hours have passed at least. It’ll start to get light before too long and he’d prefer to move in the dark if possible.
His phone vibrates and a text appears. He types his password in.
One more job: urgent.
Nothing happens for a moment.
A drop is one part of two related actions. Anywhere you choose.
Treble. I want to see my account before I do anything.
He notes someone is paying through the nose for this. Peter smiles, checks his business bank, transfers cash and listens for movement outside. Easing the metal of the drum back, he slides out into tall wet grass. Moving into the darkest areas Peter heads for the old station. He assumes it’s the woman’s phone he’s to drop. A gang will really mess with another’s assets if they can hack sensitive information. Not that it would need much hacking, Peter thinks, that phone number was virtually out in the open.
The phone is in a dry bit by the ticket office in the station. The other part of the job?
A long pause follows. He moves to the edge of the station and checks the road that will lead him to his car.
You are to witness the execution of one Peter Anthony Little
©Gary Bonn: 2016