Thursday, March 24, 2011

curiously red #17

When Sam awoke it didn't take him long to realise that he wasn't in a Holiday Inn. He'd seen enough TV adverts to be sure that the thin, stale, gray mattress he lay upon could never be mistaken for a luxurious SlumberSystem. And while both took inspiration for their colour scheme from what he thought of as "Suburban Misery Beige", Sam had never heard of a hotel using reinforced steel doors and strip lighting.

Of course, he thought, this could be a Japanese theme hotel. After all, who knew what oddity they'd come up with next? But, it was the small video camera perched like a petrified budgie in the top left corner of the room and the painful swelling on the back of his head that convinced Sam's addled mind of the severity of his circumstance: Bruised Mick had double crossed him and he'd been abandoned to face the brutality of British law.

Steeling himself against a wave of nausea, Sam gathered his long legs and gingerly stood up. The room swayed alarmingly but after a few seconds it stopped spinning and he was able to let go of the wall. He waved weakly to the camera and spotting the small bucket in the corner of the room, turned his back to the lens. As shyly as possible in a narrow cell under close camera observation, Sam emptied his bladder and stifled the urge to simultaneously break wind and pass out.

Deciding to sit down before he fell down, Sam settled back onto the meagre mattress and waited for the inevitable. He'd only been incarcerated once before. The authorities were still seeking his previous persona in connection with the incident that forced several officers on duty that night to take disability pensions and left four other offenders with recurring-remitting gastrointestinal disorders.

It didn't take long before the strip light began to dim. Moments later the little green light on the CCTV camera blinked off. Then, as darkness gradually consumed the cell, he felt the familiar tingle in his fingertips and heard the first tiny sound of metal stretching and beginning to twist. Sam surrendered himself to the growing waves of exhaustion that dragged his consciousness into convenient oblivion. He'd discovered over the years that it was best not to fight it and besides, it was often easier to deal with the consequences if he didn't know everything that had happened.

As the last shred of his awareness dissolved, Sam heard the door buckle open and fast footsteps approach him. Rough hands grabbed his gangly frame but gasped with a cry of sudden pain, dropping him like a hot stone.

"Mother of god," wheezed the guard's strangled voice. "What are you?"

"Get out of the way!" barked Bain, appearing like an apparition of juvenile wet bedtime horror behind the reeling guard. Bain pushed past him and reached out to Sam's now-slumbering body.

"Don't!" gasped the guard, then suddenly he crumpled to his knees and began to violently vomit. "He's...wrong. Don't touch...him."

"You!" ordered Bain, pulling back and pointing at a second guard. "Pick the prisoner up and follow me."

"Me?" stammered the guard, simultaneously trying to look at both Sam and his prone companion while his legs shuffled backwards and his body remained pinned in place by Bain's glare. At that moment, the cell door squealed and slammed to the floor.

Bain scrambled hastily aside but the unfortunate guard couldn't coordinate his confused legs, body and eyes in time to avoid the toppling slab of steel. He went down with a sound like a poleaxed goat and lay unmoving. The other guard had finally fallen still, curled into the fetal position with his eyes wide and vacant.

Bain backed into the corridor as the lights there began to fade and flicker. Desperately swallowing her fear, she retreated into the gloom as a tall spidery shape uncurled itself from the shadows and wove sinuously around the destroyed doorway.

"Run, little piggies," snickered a low, venomous voice. "Run as fast as you can."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

curiously red #16

Bain removed her dark glasses and looked at the sadly disappointing prisoner, struggling to understanding what all the fuss was about. He'd hardly been a challenge to capture and she couldn't believe for a second that he was the Belgian-loving arch-criminal Head Office asserted him to be. No, something else was at play here and she needed to work out what.

Bain hadn't risen above every other female officer in the Force by being complacent or trusting. In her experience, those traits just got you either bundled off to the continent with a garlic bulb stuffed up your arse or just plain dead and, if there was one thing Bain hated, it was the continent.

The loss of her protege was another disappointment, but he'd failed by getting sloppy on that rooftop and deserved his fate. Fortunately, Bruised Mick had secretly been in her employ for almost a decade and she had no doubt that he would deliver a suitable punishment to Longthorne. Perhaps, if the Special Inspector had the stamina and skill to escape and make his way back to her, he might learn a valuable lesson and become all the more useful.

On reflection, other than the stroke of luck having her quarry walk into Bruised Mick's den, it had been a night of disappointments. Challenging the boy to boost Longthorne from the hospital was simply a test of his skill, a test that he'd failed the minute her officers reached the ward before he was able to flee. It also enabled Bruised Mick to maintain the secret of his affiliation to Bain and Dark Squad.

Unable to stomach another disappointment that evening, Bain left the slumbering boy and moved along to the next cell. She quickly opened the door, startling the sullen woman sat inside. Her dark eyes watched as Bain dragged an uncomfortable-looking chair into the cramped space and sat down facing her. Neither said a word, but Bain had no doubt who would be blabbering like a cheerleader on speed by the end of the night. She smiled coldly and felt the old thrill that always accompanied a fresh challenge.

"Emily Durant, aged 28, known lesbian, fitness coach," said Bain. "Fitness coach? God I hate you people. So, you're going to help me or else I'm going to have you spanked. Very fucking hard."

Emily said nothing.

"You joined the Green Party in school and got assigned to befriend that sad sack of shit next door. That much I understand. What I'm at a fucking loss to comprehend is why. He's hardly a threat, so why assign a full time resource to watch him?"

"What sad sack of shit?" asked Emily innocently.

"Don't try my patience, fanny fucker, because I'm not in the mood for foreplay tonight," snapped Bain angrily. "Who is he?"

"How should I know?" retorted Emily. "I don't know what the Green Party is, or who you have locked up next door. I've been in this fucking cell since you raided Bruised Mick's place and threw me in here. Now either charge me, fuck me or fuck off."

"Nice," smiled Bain. "But you're too skinny for my tastes and I'm going nowhere until the dawn, so I'll start by charging you with Conspiracy To Commit Treason Against The Crown. By itself that carries a life sentence of hard labour in the Teesside Slag Pits."

Bain leaned forward with a lizard-like smile. "Ever been to the north, Emily? No? Well, try to imagine a place where a Ginster's Meat Pie and a packet of onion rings is considered gourmet dining and a night out isn't complete until there's vomit or violence, preferably both at the same time. Onion rings, Emily. And that's the highlight."

"Sounds like a fun place," shrugged Emily.

"Indeed," agreed Bain. "But you won't be going there because when I add in the charge of Aiding And Abetting A Belgian, then you're suddenly looking at the death penalty with exceptional pain."

"You have nothing," insisted Emily, but a tremor entered her voice. Normal executions were televised events and could be attended free of charge each month. Only those executions deserving of exceptional pain were performed in secrecy because even the British government wasn't stupid enough to broadcast that kind of show. Emily had watched an illegal copy of one and had vomited within 30 seconds.

"I don't need conclusive proof," smiled Bain, putting her sunglasses back on and standing up to leave. "You'll give me the answers I want because I'm in charge of the Nocturnal Counter Insurgency Division and you're all alone in the dark. I own the dark Emily and all I need is reasonable suspicion to avoid any tedious questions about my decision."

The cell door closed behind her with a heavy clunk. Five years ago she'd had a series of concealed speakers wired into the hallway outside those cells and through them she periodically played either a recording of a screaming, begging prisoner being dragged from their cell and led away, a mixup of the early works of Bronski Beat and Brittany Spears or an assortment of children's music with singalong choruses.

It was astonishing how much fear such simple techniques could generate. Bain had experimented with different voices, pitches, musical artists and styles until she'd found a selection that worked best. She thought she'd been onto a winner with Billy Joel, but the effects turned out to be attributable to a undercooked batch of chicken, bacon and sweetcorn crispy pancakes. Every now and again she'd have one of her officers bang into the doors or walls of an empty cell to simulate a prisoner thrashing around which added a whole new level of realism.

Emily had been in her cell for less than four hours which meant she'd most likely never experienced one of the broadcasts. Bain decided to return after the next one and see whether it had warmed her subject up. So, with some time to spare, she left in search of someone young and impressionable to torment.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Curiously Red #15

Sam hurriedly pushed the gurney into the elevator and muttered a prayer to any deity listening that he'd find no more policemen waiting in the hospital's reception area. He knew he'd been lucky; convincing the two Dark Squad lurkers that Paul Longthorne had been moved to another floor for additional surgery was audacious. In a world in which Sam rarely got away with anything beyond moderately risky, he knew he was heading for a fall but hoped to make it outside to safety before connecting with the ground.

He'd dialled the mobile phone number given to him in the unlikely event of his success. Bruised Mick's muscle were waiting outside, about as inconspicuous as two large men with little use for intelligence could hope to be while idling in the ambulance drop-off zone in a blacked-out 7-seater SUV.

Struggling down yet another corridor, Sam decided the gurney must have different sized wheels on each corner because no matter how he pushed and twisted it, the damn thing was less responsive than a Co-op shopping trolley in deep snow. Surprisingly, despite Sam's inexpert handling and frequent collisions, the mysterious Paul Longthorne hadn't woken from the drug-induced slumber he'd been subjected to. Sam wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not. The prospect of him waking up and screaming in terror as Sam attempted to abduct him was certainly quite terrifying, but the thought of him already being dead was even more brown-pants-worthy. It was unlikely, thought Sam, that Bruised Mick would take kindly to damaged merchandise.

Eventually reaching the quiet lobby, Sam aimed the gurney directly toward the doors. Staring straight ahead, he pretended not to notice the security guard at the entrance watching him with a puzzled expression. When the doors swooshed open and he felt the cold Yorkshire air on his face, Sam couldn't suppress the smile. Bruised Mick's men opened the boot of the SUV as he approached.

Suddenly a hand gripped his shoulder and the smile vanished from his face like a scared rabbit down a hole. Equally terrified, Sam had no where to run and so he involuntarily farted.

"Main entrance," said a stern voice behind him. It span Sam around and he saw the security guard speaking into a walkie-talkie. Then looking Sam in the eye with his own triumphant smile, the guard tightened his grip on Sam's shoulder. "Sir, please wait here."

Bruised Mick's men were beside him in an instant. Calmly moving into place, brains took hold of the gurney while meat-head seized the guard's hand from Sam's shoulder, twisted it up his back and simultaneously slammed his forehead down onto the steel bar edging the bed. Instantly the guard collapsed like a bin bag full of wet Weetabix and the next moment Sam was being shoved toward the side door of the SUV.

"Get in," said meat-head.

"Sam!"

The sound of his voice being screamed in the night jolted Sam. He span around just as the fist reached his face and connected with a crunch. For a split second he felt his jaw bulge and his vision span as the ground inexplicably accelerated toward his head. Lights flared and he found himself on the floor looking up at a figure straddling him like a dark angel about to proclaim the start of Armageddon.

The squeal of tyres and more screams seemed to come from a vast distance as he struggled to focus his eyes and stop the ground from spinning. He felt like vomiting but his jaw throbbed so badly that all he could think of was that his head might fall off. A familiar face swam into view.

"Emily..."

"Who?" said the woman looking disdainfully down at him. Without waiting for a response, she slammed her foot into his face. "My name is Bain."

Monday, January 31, 2011

Curiously Red #14

Despite the urgency of his situation, Sam was unable to suppress the slight smile that crept across his face when he found the stethoscope. It wasn't every day that you got to use a real stethoscope and, in Sam's case, do so without expecting to hear the words "thank God, he's still breathing".

He emerged from the changing room and tried to stride confidently along the deserted Corridor G, which had the general effect of making him look like a malfunctioning robot. Fortunately, it also had the unanticipated advantage of drawing any attention from his face and the obvious fact that he had the medical credentials of Tom Baker's scarf.

According to Brains, the person he had to boost from hospital was in room G9 and called Paul Longthorne. So, gripping the ends of his stethoscope tightly, Sam followed the corridor past rooms G3 to G8 where it ended abruptly at a elevator. He span around and rechecked the plastic room tags, each with a description of what lay inside. Stores, labs and equipment rooms but nothing remotely resembling a patient's hospital room. In fact, thinking about it, Sam realised that the whole corridor had an empty feel. Like a school assembly hall after the last bell had rang, Sam could tell this wasn't the place he needed to be.

Quickly retracing his steps, he navigated the corridors of the Northern General Hospital until he reached the main lobby. Hoping no one asked for his help, Sam shuffled up to a map of the campus and tried to work out where room G9 might be in relation to the "You Are Here" arrow pointing helpfully toward the hospital's public washrooms.

"Excuse me," said a weak voice beside his waist.

Sam looked down at the sunken face of an old man in a wheelchair. Dressed in what must be an obligatory faded tartan dressing gown and brown slippers, he appeared to be more raisin than human. Sam experienced a rising dread assert itself and he cast a quick glance toward the door. Twenty yards; he could make it before the security guard lumbered upright.

"Er, yes?" he asked unable to hide the tremor from his voice.

"You're stood on my dressing gown," said the man, patiently pointing to Sam's tatty black Converse All Stars sneakers.

"Oh, sorry," gasped Sam, jumping back quickly.

"Lost, are you?" enquired the old man. "First night on the job?"

"Um, yes," said Sam. "You could say that. I need to find a patient in room G9."

"I'll show you the way, doctor," said the old man. "If you can get me outside for a cigarette afterwards. I'm dying for a smoke but that ogre of a security guard has instructions from my nurse..."

Sam nodded, scarcely willing to believe his luck. "Which way?"

"Elevators, straight ahead and on the left. Up to the seventh floor," said the old man without hesitation. "My name is William but you can call me Willy."

"Sam," said Sam automatically, belatedly realising who he was supposed to be. "Er, Doctor Sam."

They rode the lift in silence. Sam stared straight ahead at the indicator as it climbed from one through seven. When the doors eventually clunked opened, it was into a dimly lit Ward reception. The nurse on he night desk looked at them in surprise as soon as they stepped out.

"Oh, Mr. Smallwood!" she said in a tone that reminded Sam of his mother just before she lost patience with him. "How on earth did you get out of your room?"

"Guile and cunning," replied Willy happily. "I cannot be contained."

"Thank you Doctor," said the nurse, scuttling from behind her desk to assume ownership of the wheelchair handles. "I'll take him from here. I'm sure you're very busy."

Sam nodded nervously and waited while the nurse wheeled the old man down the left hand corridor, leaving him alone. The sign above the desk indicated that rooms G1 to G20 were, luckily enough, in the opposite corridor. Room G9 was the fifth room on the left. Without knocking, Sam opened the door and slipped quietly inside.

The room had two beds, one empty and the other occupied by a man bound in bandages and attached to an impressive array of machines. From deep experience gathered watching back-to-back re-runs of Casualty and bootleg copies of House Series 1 - 5 on DVD, Sam guessed that simply ripping the sensors off the mysterious Mr. Longthorne and making a quick dash for it was unlikely to be a successful escape strategy. He had to be cleverer than that.

Suddenly, a buzzer sounded from the reception area. Once, twice, three times. Sam cracked open the door and carefully stuck his head around to see what was happening. Two very large policemen stood at the desk, both armed and dressed entirely in black. Sam knew that only one arm of the law dressed in those uniforms: Dark Squad.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

curiously red #13

When Sam awoke it was to darkness. Cramped, odorous darkness. With hindsight, making fun of Bruised Mick in his own bar certainly wasn't the smartest thing Sam had ever done, but then again, smart had never been a word used to describe Sam and at the end of the day, he just couldn't stop himself getting into trouble. It was hardly surprising that had Mick lost his temper and once again locked Sam in the boot of a stolen vehicle.

As he lay still and tried in vain to work the gag from his mouth, Sam realised that he could hear hushed voices talking in the car. He strained to understand what they were saying, but the only words that seemed clear were "kill", "idiot" and "waste of time". Not very encouraging and Sam wondered whether or not to make a sound and alert them he was awake. On one hand, they might let him go like last time. On the other hand, they might be waiting for him to rouse before shooting him in the head. Say what you like about South Yorkshire gangsters, Sam had always appreciated their respect for a man's need to sleep.

After about five miserable minutes, cramps overcame his concern about being shot in the head and Sam kicked out with a low moan, pretending to just awaken. Quite why he thought that important, Sam couldn't say. Nevertheless, the voices responded to his movement by getting out of the car. Sam could hear them walk toward the rear of the vehicle and suddenly the door opened.

Sam peered up at the two grim faces illuminated by orange street lights and tried to smile, but all that appeared to do was tighten his dry, rag-wrapped mouth into a twisted, rictus grin. He shifted his bound legs to sit up but stopped when an alarming frown reconfigured both mens face's into something resembling a bulldog licking piss from a nettle.

"Now, you little fucker," rumbled the slightly uglier of the two men. "The boss said we can't rip your head off unless you don't, umm..."

"Co-operate," finished the second man with obvious relish. Clearly the brains of the duo, Sam shifted his attention to him. "You is gonna do a job for the boss."

Right on cue, meat head laughed.

"There's a copper in the hospital across the street," said brains. "He's beaten up pretty bad, but not half as bad as he'll be if his boss finds out where he's holed up."

"He's in trouble, just like you," grunted meat head, lifting Sam from the car and slicing through the duct tape binding his wrists with a flick-knife.

"So, you're going to help him get out of that hospital before his boss arrives," said brains with a smile. "And don't think about running before that's done, not unless you want to see little bits of your cute friend appearing in photos on the front page of The Sun."

"And if I were you," said meat head. "I'd do it quickly because our boss just left an anonymous tip off."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

curiously red #12

Bruised Mick was a monster. Not the tentacled, multi-eyed, many limbed kind. He was more of the rip-off-your-limbs and puncture your eyes kind. He'd survived for thirty years as one of South Yorkshire's underground elite by knowing when to be a ruthless psychopathic killer and when to be nice to old ladies because, as he never got tired of saying, nice old ladies often have mean young sons with ambition. Emily thought he was creepy, but then she thought anyone over the age of forty who still wore leather trousers and listened to Rod Stewart was a sleazy paedophile.

But monster or paedophile, Bruised Mick and the Dirty Duck Club were their best chance of remaining alive that night while she worked out what to do. There was almost no chance that Bruised Mick was a member of the Green Party. They were much more discerning in who they recruited. For a start, members had to be able to remember their own real name. Bruised Mick had been Bruised Mick for so long he claimed not to know and anyone that might have remembered had long since gone to the great bar fight in the sky.

Wayne opened the steel slot in the door and peered into the gloom. It was the job given to the new recruits, or when they weren't any new recruits, to Wayne the Expendable. Wayne ranked high among the few people on the planet that rivalled Sam's depth of ineptitude. In fact it was probably the only thing that Wayne ranked highly at. If not for the fact that he was black, Emily would swear he and Sam had been separated at birth. She still wondered if they were brothers from different mothers. Both had the same weak chin.

When he saw Emily stood waiting impatiently in the rain, Wayne slid shut the slot. The sound of conversation echoed dully through the steel but eventually the door opened and they were allowed inside. The ante-chamber of the Dirty Duck Club was a cube walled with thick oak panels that local legend said Bruised Mick had stolen from the QE2. Bullet-holes, gashes and dark stains added character and non-too-subtly reminded any visitor that they were already inside a wooden box and should proceed with extreme caution to avoid the environment becoming more permanent.

Two bouncers eyed them up without expression, hands clasped over their groins. Emily always thought of the dole-queue scene from The Full Monty whenever she saw men stood like that, imagining them impulsively breaking into dance to the funky sounds of Hot Chocolate. She smirked as Wayne led them past and into the main room of the club.

Dim low-watt wall lamps barely illuminated the black walls and ceiling, slightly tacky linoleum flooring and worn red velour upholstered bay seating that encircled two thirds of a small dancefloor. The other third was taken up by a low stage with a steel-wire protective fence. At this early hour the club was empty. Emily looked toward the bar behind the seats and saw Bruised Mick sat at the far end beside a skinny man she didn't recognise.

Wayne pointed to a cubicle and waited while they sat down. Satisfied they weren't going to cause trouble, he sauntered off into the darkness on some unknown errand leaving them alone.

"This is a bad idea," muttered Sam. Bluster aside, Emily felt a vague uneasiness and hoped that she hadn't miscalculated. "When we're both about to die, remember I said this was a bad idea."

"Oh, will you shut the fuck up," snapped Emily. "There are things happening tonight that you have no idea of, Sam. You need somewhere to hide for a while and I need to find out just why the Green Party want you dead all of a sudden."

"The Green Party?" said Sam. "Who are the Green Party?"

"They're trouble," replied Emily. "Lots and lots of trouble."

Emily fell silent as Bruised Mick approached their cubicle. He leaned heavily on his knuckles against the table and glared at Emily and Sam. "Well, I never expected to see you two in here again."

"Hi Mick," said Emily. "I'll have a whisky and Sam can have a coke."

Bruised Mick slammed his fists into the table. Then he started to laugh. "Wayne! Whisky!" Turning to Emily he pointed a long finger in her face and smiled. "You'd better be here to shag or keep me laughing girl, because it seems like the world has turned upside down tonight and I'm in desperate need of an interesting diversion. Besides shagging and laughing, there's only one other thing that amuses me..."

"Dolls?" muttered Sam.

curiously red #11

There had been plenty of occasions when Sam was at a loss for words, although none quite as uncomfortable as in that moment. He could feel Emily's eyes on him, watching for any twitch, any hint of movement. Waiting to see what he would choose to do with the bombshell she'd just dropped on him. The truth was, all Sam could think to do was flee.

Normally that posed no problem. He was good at leaving in an embarrassing hurry, but unfortunately Sam knew that in a run-for-your-life race, he stood no chance of beating Emily. While they were technically the same species, she was a Ferrari to his Fiat Yugo. Both Italian but one gorgeous and finely tuned; the other vaguely apologetic.

"Kill me," repeated Sam inanely. "Do you want to?"

He knew it was a bloody stupid question the moment he said it. On the one hand she could deny wanting to kill him and in doing so, attempt to lure him into a false sense of security. Then, when he least suspected it, would come the coup-de-grace and he'd have but a moment to groan inwardly at his foolishness. Alternatively, she could admit to wanting to execute him and then he'd really be in trouble.

"Oh shut the fuck up, Sam," said Emily, neatly avoiding his conundrum. "Although there are times..."

She turned away from him and carried on walking, rapidly vanishing into the deepening gloom. Rain began, persistent and cold. Really serious Yorkshire rain didn't just fall from the sky; it metaphorically leapt from the cloud clutching its knees yelling incoherent abuse at the heads below. Sam staggered after Emily and was drenched within minutes. His t-shirt clung to his skinny frame like a wet table-cloth over a wooden airer and his hair plastered itself miserably to his head. They half-walked, half-scrambled their way through the alleys, ducking under overhanging rooftops whenever possible, although Sam still managed to get hit by the fat drops that Emily effortlessly glided beneath. No-one else was around and the sound of traffic had long since vanished, replaced by the steady drum of the rain and slopping sound of their sodden feet through the puddles.

Sam was ready to call out and head home when Emily stopped and looked around. The yellow street lighting illuminated very little beside the rain mist surrounding them and the hard steel outlines of the cheap lockups lining the road around them. A smaller alley ahead gaped ominously at Sam and with a sudden sinking dread he finally realised where Emily was taking him.

"Emily, I don't think this is such a good idea," called out Sam, shuffling backwards away from the dark alley. "That guy was probably just a freak. Let's go home. Maria is probably waiting for you. Come on..."

Emily ignored him and stared down the alley, trying vainly to pierce the gloom. She pushed back her shoulders in a way that Sam recognised all too well. It meant he had no chance of dissuading her. They were going into the alley whether he liked it or not.

"Please Emily..." he pleaded when she turned too look at him. "You remember what happened last time I went in there?"

"Yeah," replied Emily grimly. "I remember, but right now it's the only place I can think of to hide. Besides, it was partly your fault. I mean, I still don't understand why you were carrying a leprechaun doll--"

"It was a limited edition, hand-made Bavarian Warrior Figurine," said Sam sullenly.

"Whatever," snapped Emily. "Everyone knows that little dolls freak out Bruised Mick. What were you thinking? Afterwards he said that he didn't really mean to lock you up for that long, but he got into a fight and forgot."

"He threatened to kill me if I ever came back."

"Well, better him than me," snapped Emily, setting off into the alley. "And believe me, you don't want to piss me off, so get in here now."

About Me

i love to play with words. this blovel (work with me) is an experiment in a new style of writing for me to play with.

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