Saturday, 31 October 2015

Why Do Supermarkets Sell Christmassy Stuff Before Halloween?

It was shaping up to be a cold winter. Not only were overnight frosts turning the grass outside our student digs a strange shade of white and covering the roads with shining snail trails of ice, but the cold was seeping through the walls and into our houses. Across the country, and especially in Luxembourg where tax rates were low/non-existing, men who already had too much money rubbed their hands together as families switched on their central heating. Half a dozen kids were staring into the Windows, Windows Ten if they’d updated recently, wondering if the cold would freeze their screen. At least one kid whose parents identified as ‘urban Amish’ was debating when the next time he’d be able to uproot weeds outside would be. The Bin men, trawling the streets whilst their lumbering vehicles grabbed many a toddler’s attention, cursed under their breath, the resulting ‘dragons breath’ fogging up their sellotape affixed glasses. “Not long till Christmas, lads.” They kept calling to each other, in the overly masculine way that men did.
Not only, however, was the cold infiltrating our homes literally, with it’s trail of crumbling mud from the bottom of roughly discarded football boots, but it performed it’s terrible sneaking literally too. The hearts of many an Irish loving middle aged woman froze over as Daniel O’Donnell was booted out of Strictly, their husbands’ eyes rolling over as Claudia Winkleman declared they’d always have ‘Danny Zuko' to remember. As the nobodies who constituted as celebrities nowadays chimed, “Keeep dancing!” and the Antiques Roadshow theme began to play, the husbands let out a huff and announced, “Off t’garage.”
I could quite happily stayed in the room and flipped Doctor Who from the previous day up, but no. I wasn’t there. Instead of sitting in a room, having just witnessed Will Young do some quite pathetic dancing before ‘Len’s Lens!’ I was stood in a  room, wishing I was dead.
I, personally, have never been described as a party animal, at least not without a certain air of sarcasm in advance. The closest I got to adventurous on a Saturday Night was Walkers’ Mix Bag of Cheese flavoured crisps (What a disappointment they were!) and that was just once. But, it was a Sunday night and, as Steve repeatedly told me, that meant something. I had lost Steve about half an hour after we entered the party. There was a lot of people and a lot of noise; I disliked both of them. There was only one way the situation could get any worse, and that was on the off chance that someone insisted I danced. I hate dancing.
I was in the desperate search of either a nice quiet area where I could continue to read a Storm of Swords on my phone or an exit. I was quite sure that none of the others would miss me. Suzy, David, Steve and Elise had, on two occasions, been described as party animals, and I think only Elise’s description had been sarcastic once.
As I trailed through the endless corridors of the mansion, I realised how confused you dear readers must be. Ooh, you must think, where is our intrepid hero wandering, in search of a quiet reading space? Ooh, why is this building a mansion, and since when were there any mansions in Accrington? Ooh, I hope he doesn’t give us any spoilers from a Storm of Swords, I’m only on season two.
Well, dear reader, prepare to have all those answers solved with the beautiful use of the much frowned upon literary technique of exposition. (The one reviewer who actually reads these things but refrains from reviewing due to the pre-existing low quality has just pressed CTRL - W.) A few moons ago, a posh person began attending Accrington University. We all commented it was a fall from grace, which was even funnier when you considered the posh person was called Grace. In an attempt to stop everyone from calling her ‘Fall Girl’, she called for a mass Halloween ball at her mansion. The only condition: everyone had a great time, got bladdered and wore costumes.
As I strolled through the corridors, people looked towards me and cried, with varying shades of impolite language, “What the hell is he dressed as?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I asked the fiftieth person who asked me. I pointed towards the hardback novel sellotaped to my head. “I’m Facebook.”
“The point was to dress as a monster.”
“How is Facebook not a monster?” I asked. “It is a body formed of a thousand different people, brought to life by a single bloke with an enigmatic name.”
“Frankenstein?” Asked the person’s friend.
“No.” I said. “Zuckerburg.”
The two women looked at each other and then let out a giggle, which I decided was properly emphasised by the alcohol puddling in their stomachs. I smiled at them, the one dressed a vampire first and the one who naturally looked like a witch second, and then continued my intrepid quest in search of a quiet reading.
I found a doorway which led into the stereotypical posh library, where the walls were coated in ceiling high oak bookcases. All the books were old and dusty, filled with annoying nonsense like Wuthering Heights. There was a proper bookcase which contained all the volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, except from A Clash of Kings. 
“Have you got to the siege of Kings Landing, yet?” I asked to the seemingly empty room.
“How did you know I was in here?” Replied ‘Fall Girl’.
“There was a book missing, yet this is a perfectly kept library. To such an extent that there’s a sign on the door asking party goers to keep out. Yet, inside there is a book missing. The rest is elementary, I hope.”
“Who are you?” Grace asked, standing up and walking towards me. She was dressed as Cthullu, with her hair tied around the bottom of her chin as a beard of tentacles. She wore huge wings on her back and I couldn’t hep but think of Juliet in that adaptation with the Americans and guns. 
“I’m Douglas, but everyone calls me Duncan.”
“We have a pet Christmas Tree called Douglas.”
“Are you drunk?”
“I don’t drink.” I said. “Or do drugs if you’re wondering.”
“I recognise you.”
“It might help if I take the book off.” I said, peeling the sellotape from my face. 
She ummed and arred for a second, then realised, “You’re the Christmas tree guy!”
“That I am.” I said. “You’re Fall Girl.”
“I dislike that nickname.”
“Christmas Tree Guy is no better.”
She smiled. “I like you, Duncan.”
“That is quite polite of you to say.” I said. “Are you drunk?”
She let out a laugh. I smiled, which was the best reaction when unsure what was going on, unless the situation was a funeral. Before she could say something important or I could say something incorrect, there was a sound that I didn’t think I’d ever be used to hearing.
A blood curdling scream.
“If they don’t turn those bloody Halloween special effects off…” She began.
The music had stopped thumping, nobody was chattering or belching, laughing or singing. I turned to Grace. “I don’t think that was the bloody Halloween special effects.”
My face turned graver and graver. “I think that was a person.”
She put down A Clash of Kings. “The Siege of Kings Landing can wait.”
We scampered towards the door and she pulled it open, creeping towards the edge where light was seeping through. We stepped out into the corridor and looked both up and down, surprised to find nothing except a selection of half emptied bottles of beer. I grabbed the least empty (analyse that to mean I’m depressed, English Teachers) bottle and then knelt down, wrestling my shoe off.
“What are you doing?” Grace asked.
I took my sock off, wriggling my elongated toes, and then pulled my shoes back on. “There was once a bloke called Molotov and he annoyed the Finns. That’s a bad thing to do; they can throw flatpack furniture at you.”
“That’s the Swedish.”
“Oh. Sorry. Anyway, he annoyed the Finns. In annoyance, they stuck a rag into a bottle of petrol and created the Molotov Cocktail. Admittedly, this is Fosters instead of petrol and I’m using a sock instead of a rag but, point still stands. Molotov Beer Bottle.”
She smiled, but said nothing.
I looked down at her. 
She looked up. “Waiting for something?”
“Yes.” I said. “This is the bit where the person normally says something flirtatious or charming and then I turn bright red as I attempt to diffuse the situation with awkwardness.” I paused, then added, “I appreciate routine.”
“Sorry, mister,” she said, “but I’ve got to burst your bubble.Where are the matches?”
I cursed.
We trailed through the corridors in the direction of the ballroom where the scream seemed to have come from. There was a complete and utter silence in the air, a chill that certainly wasn’t coming from outside plagued our skin. I held the Molotov cocktail out in front of me, my other hand holding Grace’s. She had taken an ornamental sword from the wall and swirling it. 
“Do you know how to wield that?” I asked.
“Yes.” She said. “I did fencing at school.”
“Lucky you.” I said. “We did badminton.”
She laughed, her smile a beam of light. “The ballroom is just around the corner.”
“Maybe you should lead us in.” I said. “Seeing that you’ve got the sword.”
“You’ve got the Molotov.”
“It’s a bottle with a sock and there aren’t even any matches.”
“This isn’t going very well.”
“I feel sorry for whoever did the screaming.” I said. We took another step forwards and reached the huge wooden doors which led into the ballroom. They opened with a sinister creaking, revealing the marble floor and the twirling mirror ball near the top. The last time I had been here, Thriller had been belting from the speakers which surrounded the room. I was reminded of a dance routine Suzy had once taught me to that song. It looked good when she did it, but when I attempted it I looked like a camp interviewer from ITV. We stepped forwards, underneath the spotlights which hung from the ceiling. As we did, we saw the person who had screamed.
A single spotlight was shining down, casting a circle of white illumination. Normally, the person the light was shining down would be locked in an embrace with their desperate lover, performing some sort of slow sway which, apparently, counted as a romantic dance. This time, the person the light shone on wasn’t dancing. They weren’t even standing. The person who had screamed was maybe twenty five, with muscles used to playing rugby, and he was lying on the floor. Dead.
We raced over, the sword and the Molotov crashing to the floor, and looked at the young man. Grace plunged her fingers into the glinting material on the side of his neck, searching for a pulse. “Eurgh, it’s sticky.”
“It’s blood.” I said, checking the scene around him for fir needles. It may only be Halloween, but one would do well to remember that Paranormal Christmas Trees are by no means predictable.
“No, it’s not.” Grace said. She raised her fingers and, with a cringe, licked them. “Good God.”
“Have you turned into a vampire?”
“No.” She said. “It’s not blood. It’s… it’s… Pumpkin.”
I moved around and stared at the wound. The neck had been torn out by terrible jaws, but there was more than just blood splattered across the skin and shirt. I gave it a taste, just as Grace had, and discovered that the material was most definitely pumpkin. “That’s strange.”
“Duncan,” announced Suzy from behind us, “stay very still.”
Unfortunately, Suzy didn’t extend this invitation to Grace, who instantly turned and screamed. I sighed and turned too, discovering what had caused her scream. I can tell you, dear reader, that I didn’t quite expect what I saw.
“Bloody hell.” I whispered. Floating about five feet in front of us, their eyes glowing with evil and the candles within, were several pumpkins. They were bulbous and bright orange, but some had splatters of blood around them. Their mouthes, where slices of pumpkin had been cut away to make jagged fangs, were gnashing up and down. From between the rows of jagged fangs, a childish giggling was emitted. “Heheheheheheheheheh!” 
I shot a sceptical look at Suzy. She shrugged. “Nothing surprises me anymore.”
Grace grabbed my hand and pulled me up, her other grand grabbing wildly for the sword. The Pumpkins roared towards us, screaming in terrible hunger. She swung the sword out and sliced a chunk from one of them, but it hardly slowed them down. Simply angered them.
Suzy and David joined us as we scampered through the doorway. “Where is everybody?” I shouted towards them.
“Hiding.” Suzy replied. “After that pumpkin killed that person, they all ran off screaming.”
“Like something from a horror movie.” David added with his rich Welsh tones.
“What about Steve and Elise?”
“We haven’t seen them since we saw you.” Suzy said. “Who’s your friend?”
“Grace.” She introduced herself. “Aka Fall Girl. You’re the rest of the Pine Resistance?”
“No.” Suzy said. “We’re the Paranormal Christmas Tree Agency.”
“PCTA for short.” Said David.
The Pumpkins were still on our tail, giggling and screeching. How they floated, I did not know, but they did it bloody quickly. We were running to such an extent that I was beginning to sweat, yet they were still just behind us, creeping ever closer. We rounded a corner and found a large staircase, but we ignored it and jumped into the lift just next to the stairs. The doors began to close, but the Pumpkins increased their speed. The one at the front of the pack slid towards the doors and found itself crushed as the two pieces of metal closed. We were sprayed with fragments of pumpkin but it was fine, because we were still alive.
“What the hell is going on?” Grace demanded.
“Search me,” I said, “but not literally.”
“We don’t know yet.” Suzy said. “But we’ll find out. We need to go and get weapons and then come back, do some shooting and then ask a few questions.”
“We need to find Steve and Elise first.” David said, having to duck due to the height of the lift.
“I’ll call them.” I said, reaching for my phone out of my pocket.
“No need.” Grace said. She got her phone out and opened up an organisation app. “Did they book a room?”
The Gods of Exposition reminded me that people could book one of the many rooms upstairs, if they’d wanted to, to stay over for the night. “Yes.” I said. “They did.”
“What are their surnames?” 
“Wright and O’Hallain. Steve Wright and Elise O’Hallain.”
“Right, give me on second.” She typed the names in and clicked the button. There was a few moments of nothing happening and then the phone told her the room number. “Room 63.” She turned to the control panel to her right and pressed a button. The lift lurched into life, a display telling us we were passing through floors. Eventually, we stopped. Floor 3. The doors slid open. There were no pumpkins.
“C’mon.” Grace said. “Quickly and quietly.”
We crept down the corridor, passing doors on either side until we eventually found one with the number ’63’ painted on. I gestured to David and he nodded, swinging his foot towards the door. It crashed open and we burst in. Steve and Elise quickly pulled the cover of their bed over them. “Guys, do you mind?” Steve demanded.
“Paranormal Pumpkins, Steve.” I said. “There are paranormal pumpkins. We need to deal with them.”
“Can’t we ever just do something?” Steve demanded.
“Get dressed. We’ll be waiting outside.”
We marched back out of the room and stood in the corridor, our backs to the broken down door. “Sorry, by the way,” David said, “about the door.”
Grace shrugged. “I’m sure the Pumpkins have caused much more damage.”
“Wait till we come back with our guns.” Suzy said. 
“How much does a service from the Paranormal Christmas Tree Agency cost?”
“The lives of half a dozen Christmas trees, usually.” Suzy laughed.
“Seriously, though?”
“We don’t charge.” I said. “Although, a favourable donation is always appreciated.”
She smiled. “I’ll see to that, then.”
Steve and Elise emerged from the room, wearing clothes now, and said, “What now?”
“We get to a place of safety and then call the Professor.” I said.
“We’re going to need a car.” Elise said. 
We all turned towards Grace. She looked bemused. “Didn’t any of you drive here?”
“We got a lift.” I said. 
“Right.” She said. “The car’s in the garage, but that’s at the bottom of the house.”
“We’ll have to go to the garage then.”
“What about the Pumpkins?” Steve asked. “Do we not have any weapons to deal with them?”
“We’ve got a Molotov Cocktail without any matches and a sword.” I said. 
“There’s nothing like being over prepared.” He said.
We trekked down the corridor and found the staircase, twirling down it. The Pumpkins were nowhere to be seen, causing us to adopt a certain air of fear that, any second, they might turn up and kill us. We found a couple more corpses as we went, covered in sticky Pumpkin fragments, but we found no survivors. We presumed they’d quarantined themselves to their rooms, but a part of me was worried that might not be the truth. 
The childish giggling of the Pumpkins was present in the distance, so we kept as quiet as we physically could. For some reason, we crouched over as we ran, even the slightest tapping of our footsteps against the floor causing us to cringe. The corridors seemed to stretch on for all eternity, winding this way and that towards the garage. I held the useless Molotov in front of us, Grace stood just to my side with her sword. The sword quivered in her hand, leading me to worry that she would slide it down and it would kill me. I believe I was being slightly over paranoid in that moment, but I let the fear remain. If I’d tried to banish it, it only would have grown larger.
We got to the door to the garage and David kicked it open. A gigantic crash was the result and we heard the giggling of the Pumpkins intensifying as they crept toward the source of the disturbance. We raced through the door and saw that the garage wasn’t the ordinary type, holding a half stripped down car, a selection of rusty toolboxes, a bicycle and a lawnmower, but instead a classic car museum. There was at least a couple of 
million pounds worth of cars, over twenty as I furiously attempted to count them. Grace ran over to a rack of keys on the wall and began to search through it furiously for the keys to a limousine with waited on the other side of the room from us.
“Hurry up!” Steve urged her.
“I’m searching as fast as I can.” She replied.
The giggling of the Pumpkins was no longer in the distance. 
“Got them!” Grace cried, grabbing the keys and turning. We ran towards the limousine and she clicked it open, allowing us to throw ourselves inside. The Pumpkins raced through the doors towards us, but it was too late for them. Grace floored the throttle and we were off, in a haze of smoke, down the country paths and towards civilisation. But we would return. The Paranormal Christmas Tree Agency had a date with destiny.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Operation (part 3)

The two metal sheets that acted as doors to the lift slid open and revealed the gleaming mirrors within, interrupted merely by a metal rectangle holding the control buttons. Cassidy and Tom stood in the centre of the lift with their hands pressed against their heads and their holsters empty. Behind them was Rosemary Travers, their guns in her hands. "Don't stop." She said.
As they walked forwards, Rosemary turned one of her guns to point towards the technicians and data analysts caught in the glow of each and every computer. Those who had sank their hands towards their own holsters thought better of it.
John looked up as they approached. He had guns pointed at him by both Nadia and Owen Travers. He raised his eye brows. "They got you too?"
"Tell me you didn't know this was going to happen?" Cassidy said to him.
"Because I'd so send a couple of top agents into the field knowing this would happen." He sighed, stepping away. The guns followed him.
"Stay where you are!" Nadia barked.
"Or you'll shoot?" He asked.
"Yes." She said it with such conviction that it could only be true.
"What do you want?" Cassidy demanded, drawing the gun away from John and towards her. Owen kept his eyes fixed on John, however. "Why get us to rescue her if you were just going to do this?"
"We needed to get into the building." Nadia said. "This was the only way to do it."
"Why?" Tom asked. "Why did you need to get into the building?"
"So we could access the main servers."
"Of where?"
"Everywhere." She said. "Or, more specifically, every bank."
"We can't do that." John said. "Nobody has the ability to do that."
"Really?" Nadia asked. "Is that true? Do you really expect us to believe that?"
"Yes. I swear it's the truth."
Nadia raised her gun and shot Jason. His exploded with a resounding bang, splattering the glowing screen in front of him with blood. "Do you want to reconsider?"
"Nadia!" Owen exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Shut up, Owen!" She exclaimed. She turned her gun back at John. "You're going to do as we say or you will end up with more blood on your hands!"
John exchanged a brief look with Cassidy and Tom. They were the operatives, his look told them, they needed to come up with something! You're in charge, their looks replied, act like it.
He sighed as he looked back towards Nadia. "Why are you doing this?"
"ask the questions and make the demands. Not you!"
"No answer, no consideration of agreement." John said. Cassidy estimated the best course of action for the three armed hostiles in the room. He was buying time, she was spending it.
"We are greedy. Leave it at that."
"He's a media tycoon." Tom said, jabbing a thumb towards Owen. "You have all the money you could need. There are exterior motives to this, I can see that clearly."
Nadia sighed. "Do we really need to make this any more difficult than it already is?"
"Tell us why and we'll consider your demands." John said. "What's difficult about that?"
Nadia sighed again. She reached into her pocket and removed a small device that looked like a trigger. She pressed her thumb against it. Cassidy's eyes flickered immediately towards Nadia's bag, inside the conference room. Nadia laughed. "Don't be so stupid. As if I'd put a bomb in there. Any simpleton can tell that glass is bomb proof, and do I look like a simpleton to you?"
"Where's the bomb then?" John asked.
Nadia pointed her gun towards Rosemary. Rosemary's face squinted into a furrow of confusion. "What? I don't have a bomb on me."
"Not on you." Nadia said. "In you."
Rosemary's spare hand instantly dropped to her stomach, her face flashing with pain as it touched a space under her dress. "They said it was a tracking chip. So that if the agents took me somewhere different, I wouldn't be lost."
Nadia frowned a cynical frown. "Unfortunately, life isn't that simple." She turned back to John. "You've got one chance to agree before I activate the trigger."
John sighed. He looked around the room, searching for a solution, or anything that might help him. He found nothing. "How much? And from where?"
"100 Billion pounds. That's eleven zeroes." She said. "And get it from whichever bank can give it to us."
"Nadia, this stopped being funny a few minutes ago." Owen said, stepping towards Rosemary and away from her. "This isn't good any more."
"Shut up, Owen." She said. "You're ruining this."
"You're acting like you're working with them." He said, then a cold dread spread across his face. "Oh, good God, you are, aren't you? You're working with them."
Whilst they had that little discussion, Cassidy turned t John and said, "You can't seriously be considering doing this?"
"What choice do I have?" John asked. "I can't let them take the room."
"There must be something." She said.
"We've both counted the variables, Cass." Tom said. "Can you see a way out of this?"
Before she could reply, there was an explosion and everyone in the room thought the bomb had gone off. Much to their disgust, and a few thankful gasps, they discovered the bomb hadn't gone off. Instead, Nadia had shot Owen.
"Two dead." She said. "Want to increase that number?"
John turned to the technicians. "Open a transfer. Prepare to break into the banks."
"Sir?" They said.
He shook his head. "Don't argue. Just begin."
Nadia smiled. "Thank you."
John didn't smile back. "You're welcome. Now, for the sake of God, tell us why you are doing this?"
"What did Dad mean when he said you're working with them?" Rosemary asked, before Nadia could refuse to answer any questions. "You're not working with them, are you? You're not working with Islamic State, are you?"
Cassidy, Tom and John suddenly exchanged very worried looks.
"Rosemary, not now." Nadia warned.
"You told us you knew nothing!"
"Rosemary!" Nadia warned. "We'll talk about this later. Let me remind you of what's in your stomach."
"She can't hurt you." John said. "If she presses that trigger, we all die. She can't do that until we've given her the money, so speak freely."
Rosemary turned to them. "We were kidnapped by IS. Me, Mum and Dad. They told us that they'd let us go if we worked with them. Helped them steal loads of money from the banks. They told us the plan exactly as it had happened," she let out a whimper, "but Mum is improvising now. Like she isn't scared of them. There was nothing about killing Dad in the plan, and nothing about killing me. I was there at every meeting and not once did they mention the bomb. How do you know, Mum?"
Nadia laughed. "Well, I have always been an actress."
"You were in on it from the beginning, weren't you?" John said.
She smiled. "Of course I bloody was! I had the power to assist the angels of my religion, why wouldn't I help?"
"And the one billion pounds will be spent on what? Sharper axes? Guns? Explosives?" Cassidy asked.
"Got it in one."
"And how will they solve anything?"
Nadia smirked. "I don't know. Why don't you ask your own army? Don't you understand the fact that we are just the same, you and me? We fight for our patriotism, in the name of our ruler. The only difference? You believe you're right and I believe you're wrong."
"We need an account." One of the technicians said.
"In my bag." Nadia said. "Is a slip of paper. One of you go fetch it."
Tom nodded and went over to the glass conference room, strolling over to her bag and picking up the leather bag she had brought. Inside was a purse, a set of keys and a slip of folded paper. Tom opened it and read it. A random selection of numbers, perfect complete and utter anonymity. No wonder she'd needed a slip of paper with it written on.
"76193175787." He read. "That's the account name. There's some more information if you'll be needing it."
"Thanks." The technician said. Cassidy jogged over and took the paper from Tom and handed it to the technician. Tom remained where he was, near the door to the bomb proof room.
There was a furious typing as the technicians entered the information and then the lead technician said, "Sir, shall we go ahead?"
"Yes." John said. "God help us."
He hit enter and the transfer began.
What happened next happened in quite the blur. Rosemary threw her gun at Cassidy. The operative leapt forwards, grabbed the gun. As her fingers slid into place, her thumb hit the safety and her other hand pulled back the slide barrel. She felt the heavy weight of the trigger as she tore it backwards, releasing a heavy stream of bullets into Nadia's face. The terrorist actress just had enough time to press the trigger for Rosemary's bomb.
Tom swore. He grabbed Rosemary by the neck and threw the two of them into the bomb proof room. His leg caught the door as he flew through, kicking it shut. Cassidy swore, running towards the bomb proof room. For a second which felt like hours, nothing happened. Tom looked up as if if nothing was wrong.
The next second, the glass walls were scorched with boiling blood and black smoke. The explosion cut through the floor, throwing her backwards. The clouds blasting against the glass were dark and couldn't be seen through. Cassidy cursed an infuriated scream. John spun, shouting, "Cancel the transfer! Now!"
One of the technicians snapped out of their awestruck daze and clicked the cancel button. The transfer paused. John let out a relieved sigh and then turned back to the glass room where one of his agents had just been torn apart protecting his comrades. In the back of his mind, the Spin Doctor mocked him. "This was meant to be a quiet op..."

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Operation (part 2)

"This is Echo 1 through to Command. Are you receiving me Command?"
"Loud and clear, Echo 1. Announce your status."
"The Capacitor is in the DeLorean, we're on the move. Hostiles in pursuit, trojan is live."
John, stood on the other end of the line, stretched out his arms towards the control panel in front of him. A keyboard was built into it, with a selection of switches around it. In front of him were three monitors, one showing a communication break down, another a blank word document and the third a green map with a pulsing yellow dot to represent Echo 1, Cassidy and Tom's car.
He pointed to a couple of the people on the front row of the Command's computer rows. "Jason, cut off all roads entering the area. Felicity, I want the local panda cars told to clear off. Arthur, intercept all police calls for a ten mile radius. If anyone reports gunshots, send a cleaning team to them and map the location. And, for God's sake, call off the local news."
They were all cast in the green glow of an even bigger map at the front of the room, surrounding by a blocky boarder forged from CCTV views. The target, the warehouse that Cassidy and Tom had attacked, was marked in red. One of the CCTV screens was announcing that it was on fire.
"Paul, call in the fire brigade."
"Roger that." Paul said, sat just in front of John.
"This isn't the RAF now, Paul." John said. He turned his attention to Echo 1, pulling out of the industrial estate that the warehouse was part of. It took a sharp left out of the estate and then roared down an abandoned road towards the traffic lights.
"This is Echo 1," Cassidy barked through the radio, "lights are red."
"Jason?" John said.
"Green for go." Cassidy said, the 'DeLorean' thundering on.
"Tom?" John said. "Have we performed the identification process?"
"Performing now." Tom said.
On the screen at the front of the room, the green map minimised into a small square in the bottom left corner. Taking it's place was a shaky live link to the car. Tom's hands were holding a camera over his passenger seat, staring it directly at the girl in the rear seat. They heard Tom's voice announce, "Seat belt, please."
The girl clipped it over her, but it drew very tight. She was gaunt, almost grotesque in her malnourishment, with grey skin that hadn't washed in days. Her eyes were black and scared, unsure whether the latest development had been a good one or not.
"Running facial recognition." Nancy announced, one of her twin computer screens performing that task. "Proceed with questioning."
"Can you please state your name?" Tom asked. "Into the camera."
The girl looked up, staring directly towards John as if she could see him. "Rosemary Travers." She said. John saw a transverse wave fluxing on Nancy's screen. She pressed enter and the vocal recognition process began.
"Your age?" Tom said.
"Your address?"
John didn't hear the rest of that, however, due to a sudden scream behind him. He turned towards the rear of the office and sighed. There was a glass box of sorts, big enough to be the average living room but instead used as a sound proof meeting room. The glass was specially designed to be electrochromic, that is to say it could turn from opaque to transparent at the flick of a switch. Inside, when the glass had been an opaque, milky white, had waited Rosemary's parents, Mr and Mrs Owen Travers. Owen was a media mogul with enough money to pay the combined wages of everyone in the building, twice for every time in their collective life spans. His wife- Mrs Nadia Travers, a thirty five year old, retired actress- was bordering on hysterical.
"Look at her, Owen!" Nadia screamed. "Look at her! She looks awful! We should have paid the ransom!"
"I thought somebody was taking care of these two!" John cried, his Glaswegian accent stronger than usual. The agent who had been calming them tried to usher them back into the room but they wouldn't budge.
Before John could give them a shout which had melted many terrorist's hearts, Paul made an announcement. "Look through the back window. There's a car!"
He took a shot of the live feed and zoomed in on the rear window, magnifying the two cars behind. They were black and muddy, but boasting full body kits and spoilers. Undeniably bad guy cars.
"Can we get the regs identified?" John shouted.
One of the tech monkeys to his right said, "Somethings can't be magnified."
"What'd I pay you for? Get on it!"
"We've got gunshots." Arthur cried. "Two blocks north. Running parallel in a Range Rover."
"On board SatNav?"
"Running a trace."
Amplified by both the radio system and the live feed, Cassidy shouted, "Permission to fire?"
"Negative, Echo 1." John said. "Standby for further orders."
The live feed suddenly fizzled out. Dark took over the screen. John grabbed a tablet from his desk and used it to control the screen. He brought up the map as half the screen at the front and opened the CCTV display on the other side. "Felicity, get me CCTV feeds for Echo 1's relative location." The map told him they were still on the road which was better news than it could have been telling him. It was just a case of the state they were in.
He grabbed his radio. "This is Command to Echo 1, come in Echo 1. Can you hear me?"
No reply. Radio silence.
"Just had a report of an explosion." Arthur said. "Report from North Gower Street, the explosion was in the distance."
"That's three blocks south of where Echo 1 is." Felicity pointed out.
"Confirmation." Nancy cried. "It is Rosemary Travers in the back of the car."
Mrs Travers simply wailed more.
"Paul, call another fire truck. Felicity, make sure there aren't any pandas responding. Jason, where's the nearest safe point to Echo 1's last reported whereabouts?"
"As the crow flies, two minutes. By the road, a minimum of ten."
"Can you plan a quicker, if not more illegal, route?"
"I'll get on it."
"We've got eyeball on the reported gunshots." Arthur cried. "They've got a SatNav as you guessed. They're turning onto Main Street."
"That's Echo 1's predicted location." Jason pointed out.
John grabbed his radio. "Echo 1, respond if you're receiving this. You have three armed hostiles on your tail."
"Two armed hostiles." Cassidy shouted back. "Sorry about the silence. We've taken one of our tails out."
"43 Portland Road. They're going to need a new front wall."
"They have live trojan?"
"Felicity, send in an armed Ambulance." He turned away from her and picked his radio up again. "We were told there was an explosion. Confirmation?"
"There was an explosion." Cassidy said. "But we're fine."
John grinned. " Jason, that route ready?"
"Almost isn't good enough."
"It's done." He said. "Do you want to authorise it?"
"Consider it authorised." He said, waving his hand at the screen without a look. "Send it over."
"Will do."
"Can I ask for permission to fire again?" Cassidy shouted.
"Standby, Echo 1. Not yet."
"Speed camera!" Felicity shouted.
John flicked a switch on his desk and it deactivated before them. He switched it back on just after they'd passed. It grabbed two excellent pictures of the pursuing cars. The tech monkeys stretched it and threw it onto the front screen. The Range Rovers was being driven by a couple of Islamic State rejects, literally. They'd been thrown out for their overexcitement. The other car, what looked like a Mercedes on steroids, was being driven by a couple of battered Rugby types. The guy behind the wheel was splattered with blood. The passenger was sliding a metal block into a semi-automatic pistol.
"Armed hostiles." John muttered. "Jason, have you cleared your route?"
"In the process. I'm tripping the fire alarms at the further places, locking the doors of the nearer."
"Good work." John said.
He took a couple of steps backwards and then felt the melancholy shadow of his associate at his shoulder. A spectre at the feast, looming over them. "The Home Office is going to crucify you for this."
"I'm sure you'll spin it to them somehow." John said.
"At what cost? This was meant to be a quiet op."
"There's no such thing. We've played the game as the game was presented. As we always do."
"I'll add that to my notes." The Spin Doctor said.
"Should I feel honoured or threatened?" John asked, but there was no point in asking. It didn't matter what the Spin Doctor said; he would always feel threatened.
He stepped forwards and rejoined the game. "How are we doing?"
"We've just seen Jason's award winning route." Felicity said. "Good luck Echo 1."
John brought up the map and studied it. "Bloody hell."
"The Range Rover has crashed."  Cassidy announced through the radio. "Player 2 is gaining."
"Okay, Echo 1." John said. "This should take him out."
"Who designed this route?" Tom shouted.
"Jason." John said.
"We're coming for you next." Tom said, no doubt with a grin.
Jason gulped anyway.
"Sir?" Arthur said. "The route contains a great deal of surveillance equipment. We can block some of it but the rest of it-"
"We might have to take it out."
"I'm sorry?"
"We may have to take out the Grid for that quadrant. Some of them are state of the art systems which we can't hack at this short notice." A tech monkey said.
John turned towards the Spin Doctor. He shrugged. "Go ahead. It's your call."
"Do it." John said. "God help us."
There was a hurry of scrambled typing and then Arthur said, "It's done."
As the CCTV screens on the board at the front flickered out of life, John said, "Echo 1, you're on your own."

Cassidy throttled it and sent the car flinging across the curb and onto the pavement. Bollards which usually raised from the floor were activated by a remote system, shrinking away before them so they could plummet over. Tom looked over his shoulder, barking, "Hold on, Rose. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
The car streaked across immaculate pavements, creeping towards a grand glass building which housed dozens of award winning accountants. There was an open foyer leading through the centre, towards the other side where an alleyway led to the safe place.
Cassidy slammed her foot into the accelerator, throwing them back into their seats as they zipped through the gap between glass walls on either sides. Accountants watched in horror as two cars chased through. The battered Rugby players had begun firing guns through their windscreens. A couple of shots shattered the glass walls, another hit the 'DeLorean's' boot. Cassidy changed the gear. "Get our guns ready." She said. Echo 1 soared across the pavement flying onto the road. "Stuff not having trojan." She said. "Fire at will."
She pulled the handbrake, twisting the wheel, spinning the car until it was facing backwards. One hand released the handbrake, another grappling the gear stick into a reverse. Her handbrake hand settled the wheel, lining them up with the approaching alley, the other took a gun from Tom. "Damn the windscreen. " She said and began to fire.
Bullets tore through the glass, cutting through the air and towards the car described as 'Player 2.' The front wheels exploded, the passenger dropped dead. The car kept coming, slicing forwards faster and faster.
As they slipped into the alleyway, Player 2 reached the edge of the pavement. A bollard leapt up and smashed into the rear of the car, whilst Cassidy fired one more shot and killed the driver. Then the garage door behind them opened up and they were safe. They were home.
"The Game isn't over yet." Rosemary said, pulling a gun on them both.

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Operation

"Sweet child o' mine, sweet love o' mine." Bellowed Cassidy, having to try exceptionally hard not to beat her foot against the pedals too much. The radio blared away in front of her, Axel Rose's voice drowned out by her own. Rain pelted against the hood, creating metallic tinkles with each droplet. She was thrashing her head up and down, spraying her long brown hair out in either direction as she did. "Sweet child 'mine, sweet love o' mine!"
She slid her fingers in a one hundred and eighty degree turned, pointing towards her passenger. Tom, who had also been beating his head along to the music, instantly grabbed an air guitar and began to thrum his fingers against it. Cassidy, who had been taught how to play a guitar as a child, knew that he wasn't in anyway playing the right notes, but she didn't point it out. They were both having a good time, that was enough.
At least he was keeping time with Slash, blaring out of the radio like he was stood just in between them. Tom's fingers slid across the imaginary strings, plucking all sorts of cords. His heads rocked and his hair swung, his feet bumping against the floor with such momentum that he was surprised he hadn't kicked a hole in the floor.
"Doors open in two minutes." The radio announced, Guns N' Roses ending instantly. Cassidy picked up her radio and thanked HQ, reassuring them that they were getting ready. Tom held back a laugh as he fitted his ear pieced into his ear and then clipped his radio onto his belt. His hand sunk to the glove compartment, where an biometric scanner studied his finger prints and then validated his privileges. The glovebox swung open and he took two square boxes from it, handing one to Cassidy and keeping the other for herself. She tied her hair back into a strict pony tail and then opened the box. She took her handgun out of it and examined it. The Heckler and Koch VP9. It was seven hundred and twenty grams, so just lighter than a bag of sugar. She slid a magazine of parabellum rounds into the handle and flicked the safety off. Tom did the same, pulling the slide barrel back so that the ammunition was live. He took a quick look at Cassidy, his eyes saying Ready?
You bet it. She said back.
Like one well oiled machine, they both opened their doors and climbed out into the drizzle of the early autumn air. Tom thrust his gun into his pocket, ready to fire it through the lining of his jacket should anyone jump out at them. Cassidy put her's through the waistband of her trousers and closed her jacket over it. Not ideal but better hidden. Less likely to be found if they decided to search her.
The ground squelched under their Doc Martens as they took synchronised steps towards the warehouse door. It was an imposing building, decrepit and rundown with just enough strength to project an air of horror about it. It was meant to have been knocked down a week ago, but a mysterious benefactor had bought it at the last minute, intent on preserving it's brutalist architecture. And committing even more brutal activities within.
They got to the door, a six foot rectangle carved out of the corrugated iron wall. There was a keypad to it's side, a flashing red light laughing in their face, refusing them access. Cassidy risked a quick glance towards the watch on her wrist. Five seconds.
"Opening in three, two, one." Said the voice in her ear, it's pronunciation almost deafening. The light to the side of the door blinked green, the door clunking open. "We won't be able to see you in the warehouse, so you're going dark. Good luck."
They stepped into the warehouse. Their feet seemed to echo against the concrete floor but they didn't let that phase them. They kept moving, creeping alongside the wall until they came across the first doorway. It was closed, so Cassidy took her time as she crept to the far side of it, Tom staying on the near. They both drew their guns, nodding at each other when they were ready; urging each other to go first. In the end, Cassidy decided to make the first move. She stepped in front of the door and lifted her foot, slicing it just left and below the centre. A wobble reverberated through the door but it burst open, revealing an empty room. There were two doors opposite, one in each corner. Cassidy returned her gun to where it belonged and went over to the tables in between those two doors.
Tom kept his gun at the ready, training it on one door then the other. His ears were more alert than ever to the patting of footprints, the buzzing of flies, the blink and hum of the electric lights. He could hear a slight movement on the other side of the right door, so he lingered slightly on that before turning to the next. He had already noted the position of the knives in the small kitchenette in the corner, knowing that would be where he retreated to if he ran out of bullets.
Cassidy search through the files and found nothing. They were just the deeds of the property and the acquisition rites for a couple of cars. She made a mental note of the registration plates then gestured to Tom for them to head towards the doors. He pointed to the right one and made a quick gesture which meant, 'Occupied.'
'How many?' She signed back.
He shrugged, pointing his gun to the left door. He crept over to it and gave it a brief nudge with his foot. It swung open easily enough, revealing a broom cupboard. He routed through the shelves but found nothing of any use, instead resorting to his gun again. He joined Cassidy at the right door and motioned to it with his head. She nodded and kicked it open.
The door swung open fully and they burst in, guns waving in every direction. Within a few seconds, they'd both mapped the entire room, understanding where everything was in relation to everything else. A selection of barrels were arranged in clusters in front of tables which held tools and make shift contraptions which Tom knew were for bomb making.
In the centre of the room was a single chair, a girl sat on it tied in chains. She looked thinner than she had in her most recent Instagram post, taken a week ago. The bags under her eyes didn't look as small, but probably because they hadn't had plenty of makeup to cover them up. She looked at them with a desperate plea in her teary eyes. If the masking tape had not been tight over her mouth, she probably would have attempted a smile.
To her either side were four men with machine guns, none of whom looked very impressed to see them there. Cassidy raised her gun and shot one of them through the head, jumping away from where she had been stood and hiding behind one of the long metal struts which cut through the air. Bullets scattered after herself and Tom, one of them reaching the blue rubber barrels they'd noticed earlier. Upon impact, the barrels tore themselves apart in a gigantic ball of fire. Whilst the gunmen were distracted, Tom took out a couple of their legs and raced towards the chair, falling to his knees behind. Cassidy fired a few shots to draw the final gunmen's attention. Another barrel exploded, it's booming ricochet deafening everyone within the warehouse.
Tom dropped his gun into his pocket, pressing the button of his flip knife and slicing the ropes which bound the girl's hands. Her hands fell free and she used them to pull the tape from her mouth. Over the bang of gunfire and the continued explosions, Tom shouted, "Are you Rosemary Travers?"
"Rose." She shouted back. "Who are you?"
"We're the Secret Service." He shouted. "We're here to save your life. Get up and follow me."
He emptied his VP9 into the surviving gunman and then grabbed his machine gun. Rose was behind him, Cassidy in front. The three of them raced through the burning building, towards the door they'd entered through and the car they'd got there in.
Yes, they'd saved the damsel in distress but the game had only just begun.