Authors: Peter Temple
Tags: #FIC019000, #FIC000000, #FIC050000
He was on a main street now, lots of traffic, bright shops, crowded pavements, no idea where he was. He saw a parking space, pulled in behind a Volvo. Sat, trying to think, too much adrenaline in the system to think straight.
‘Lookin for me?’
Niemand jerked away, his right elbow coming up in defence.
‘Relax, relax, mon. Need to calm down, chill out. Smell the roses. What can I get you? I’m your mon.’
A black man stooping, standing back from the open window. Not big. Shaven head, goatee beard. Tight leather jacket. Three strands of golden chains.
‘I need a cellphone,’ said Niemand. ‘Quick.’
The man looked at the car, side to side, exaggerated movements of his head.
‘Got any ID, officer?’
The man looked at him, weighed him up.
‘Sixty quid,’ he said. ‘Bargain. Today’s special. Nokia, brand new. Okay for a week. Guaranteed. Well, say six days from today. Be safe not sorry, hey, mon?’
He was gone. Niemand looked around for something to identify the car’s owner. Nothing in the glovebox, on the tray. He felt behind his seat, in the footwell.
A nylon jacket? No, too heavy.
It was a BB, a belly-and-balls bulletproof waistband, hips to solar plexus, fastened at the side with Velcro, tied between the legs. Niemand had owned one. Never mind the chest shot, what worried soldiers was the gut shot, groin shot, balls shot off—those were the major worries.
There was a pocket across the back, sideways. It held a Kevlar knife, like a piece of thin bone, a fighting knife. Weighed no more than a comb and you could carry it through a metal detector.
Niemand put the corset into his bag.
The man was coming back, weaving down the busy pavement. He came close, showed the device.
‘State of the fuckin art, mon,’ he said. ‘The 6210. Internet. Voice diallin. Four hours talkin time to go.’
Niemand found a fifty and a ten. ‘Where’s the owner?’
‘On holiday. Won’t know till he comes back.’
They did the exchange.
‘Where is this?’ said Niemand.
‘Here. Where am I?’
The man shook his head. ‘Battersea, mon. Thought it might be sunny fuckin Hawaii, did ya?’
Niemand watched him go down the crowded pavement, slick as a fish through kelp. He took his bag and got out, left the car unlocked, keys in the ignition. He walked in the opposite direction to the phone seller. Cold drizzle, smells of cooking oil in the air. It took a long time to find a cab.
‘What is your desire?’
The driver was an Indian, a balding man with a moustache, a stern, worried face.
Jesus Christ, where to?
‘Victoria Station.’ It came to mind. What did it matter? At least he knew where Victoria Station was.
He leant back, felt his muscles let go, watched the world go by. Into a main road. Night traffic, heavy both ways. The driver said nothing.
They crossed a bridge. Presumably Battersea Bridge. He must have come this way on the back of Jess’s bike. On the other side of the bridge, the traffic was bad.
Who were these people trying to kill him? How did they find him?
He should give them the film in exchange for letting him leave the country. Ring the woman who’d betrayed him. No. That wasn’t the way it worked: they wanted the film and they wanted him dead. They knew he’d seen the film, he couldn’t be left walking around.
Jess. They would kill her too.
They would think she was in this with him. Why shouldn’t they think that? She’d picked him up on her bike. She’d taken him home. Of course, they’d think that.
‘Pull up anywhere you can,’ he said. ‘I’ll get out here.’
‘Well, this is not hardly worth my while, you said explicitly you wanted…’ Niemand found a twenty, showed it. ‘Just pull up,’ he said.
The driver didn’t look impressed, pulled to the kerb. Niemand didn’t say anything more, got out. It was the Kings Road, he recognised it, knew where he was. He leaned against a wall, got out the cellphone, found Jess’s number.
It rang. And rang. The little electronic sound.
It wasn’t going to be answered. He knew that.
He should have done this before. She had saved his life. Taken him onto her bike, into her house, organised his doctor.
And she had phoned him in time to save his life, save it for the second time.
There had been nothing in it for her. Nothing. She had simply done it for him. For another human being.
All I said was, Thanks very much. What kind of a person am I?
The sound of being picked up. The button.
He closed his eyes for an instant. Thank God.
‘Who’s that?’ A woman.
It wasn’t Jess.
Jess was dead. He knew it.
‘A friend. Is she there?’
Silence. He thought the line had gone.
Niemand let his breath go.
‘Yes.’ He said.
‘Are you all right?’
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘They tried to kill me again.’
‘Where are you?’
He told her. He should have said thank you again and goodbye and sorry about your building, but he told her.
‘David Carrick from Lafarge in London. Does that mean anything?’
The man had the kind of English voice Anselm disliked. Eton and the Guards. He’d come across a few of them. The pinstriped suits with a white stripe. Not blue, not red. White. When had he come across them?
‘Wonderful,’ said the man. ‘Good. We’re secure here, are we?’
‘What can be done has been done.’
‘Of course. That’s Latin, isn’t it? Totally rotten at Latin. I wonder if I can ask you to run a credit check? Someone new to the UK.’
‘Martin Powell.’ He spelled the surname. ‘Recent arrival, we would think. And we’d also like a general search, anything that turns up in the name. May I say that this could not be more urgent.’
‘You may. We’ll give it priority.’
‘Thank you. The numbers, you have them?’
In his segment of view, Anselm could see that the day was darkening.
‘Immediate contact, please.’
They said goodbye.
‘LET ME be clear. I’m tired, I don’t want to be in this shithouse town.
We have the place, the cunt is there alone. Now one man is dead and two are in hospital with burns and the cunt is gone.’
‘Well, in essence.’
‘In essence? That means?’
‘Yes. Mr Price.’
‘So keep your fucken Limey talk for your old private school pals.
This’s a fuck-up of some size, not so?’
‘Yes. It is. But we had…’ ‘Who hired these people?’
‘We’ve used them before, Charlie, they’ve done…’ ‘You hired them?’
‘Well, ah, Dave…’ ‘Don’t be a prick. Don’t fucken shift the blame. Who’s the seller?
In fucken essence?’
‘We’re not sure right now. We’ll be…’ ‘That’s so fucken reassuring. You don’t even know who the cunt is.
We’re trying to kill some cunt, we don’t even know who he is.’
‘Haven’t had very long. This thing kind…’
long? You want
long? Oh, well, sorry to rush you. Listen to me. You now have
fucking long. You have absolutely
long. You are in
‘We’re doing everything we can.’
‘I need to say to you, any more fucked up than this, you boys, you get skewered asshole to Adam’s apple. Cooked like fucken barbecue pigs. All night long, meat falls off the bone. Only the pigs, they kill the fucken pigs first.’
‘If I can say something, Mr Price…’ ‘Say. Just say.’
‘This is England, we can’t just…’
‘Wow, you fucken Limeys are somethin. Dunkirk, fucken retreat,
fucken disgrace, your finest hour.’
‘It’s the Battle of Britain actually.’
The Battle of Britain. That’s England’s finest hour.
‘That right? Excuse my fucken ignorance. Well, listen to me, goes for you both. Things don’t get better quick your fucken worst hour’s gonna happen real soon. Your fucken worst minute. Anyway. Now. Where the fuck are we?’
‘Mr Price, someone shot two men in a hotel in Earls Court the night before last. In the legs. The room was in the name Martin Powell. No sign of him. The men have told a story—met a man in a pub, he invited them to his room to have a drink, he turned…’ ‘Just the fucken ending.’
‘Mackie said people tried to kill him in a hotel, he told the woman that. Wishart. This Powell could be our man.’
‘You heard this when?’
‘An hour ago. We’ve got people on it.’
‘So pleased to hear that. The motorbike rider? It’s the one picked this Mackie up?’
‘Yeah. The address we got for the bike, it’s her old address. We sent someone, parcel to deliver, you know. Wrong address, this other woman, she gave the new address…’ ‘And your people went around there and shot themselves in the balls. Jesus, Martie, I cannot fucken believe…’ ‘They say they heard the phone ring inside. Hit the front door, he was already gone.’
‘Who’s carrying the can for this?’
‘No problem. They’re, ah, reliable. Good.’
‘Are you fucken mad? One man. One solitary fucken individual. On a plate. First, your reliable cunts decide to take him out in the most public place they can find, make this brilliant fucken decision, you don’t put them straight.’
‘Can I say, I didn’t…’
‘Fuck that up, then they set a building alight, own casualties minor. Just one dead, two in hospital having emergency skin grafts…’ ‘Private clinic, it’s…’
‘Shut the fuck up.’
‘Ah, there’s no chance of any ID, not the vehicle either. It should be…okay. Yes. Safe.’
‘Should be? Safe? Boy, who the hell trained you, you ask for your money back. Plus fucken interest. This Powell? When you gonna know?’
‘I’VE GOT a Martin Powell on entry.’
Anselm looked up.
Inskip, languid in the doorway.
‘Heathrow. Four days ago. Central African Republic passport. Age 36, occupation sales representative. Flight from Johannesburg. Hand luggage only.’
He crossed the room and put a copy of the file note on the desk.
Anselm took the pad, got up and went to the filing cabinet, found the folder, the page. He wrote the key on the pad. ‘Run this,’ he said.
‘Immediately, Minister. In my pigeonhole today I found a cheque.’
‘Should keep you in black T-shirts for life. Or red.’
‘You noticed. It crossed my mind to spend some of it on a decent dinner. Hamburg haute cuisine. Might invite you.’
‘Very generous. Put most of it aside. When my anti-dining phase ends I’ll take you up.’
Anselm thought he saw something, hurt perhaps, in Inskip’s eyes.
‘Take me up, take me down, just as long as you take me.’
Anselm found the Lafarge file. The number rang twice.
‘Lafarge International. How may I help you?’
‘Mr Carrick, please.’
‘Carrick.’ The clipped tone.
‘Weidermann and Kloster.’
‘Right, yes. Hello.’ Some anxiety in the voice.
‘Is this a good line?’
‘The person entered from Johannesburg at Heathrow four days ago. Central African Republic passport. Age thirty-six, occupation sales representative.’
They said goodbye. Anselm went to Inskip’s station in the workroom.
‘In,’ said Inskip. ‘Amazing. How can we do this?’
‘They bought Israeli software.’
‘Meaning it’s got a rear entrance. Run Jackdaw.’
Shaking his head, Inskip clicked on an icon, a stylised bird with a D for
superimposed on it. A box came up.
‘The name,’ said Anselm.
Inskip typed in