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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Thriller – Part seven


2010
03.30

Entry by Tom Geraghty – May 08

The seat was hard, and lumpy. Once upon a time there were some springs, or some padding or something in there, but it had long ago decomposed, along with much of the truck. Though the light was starting to fade, Alex was sure there was a small hole in the floor of the footwell through which the road surface was visible, rushing past. Still, as long as there are no sudden bumps, it’ll hold together, he figured.

Petri held the wheel like he was wrestling a bull, and those bear-like arms looked like they’d be able to hold a bull at bay for the foreseeable future.

“Cold day.” Said the bear.

“Isn’t it always?” Alex replied.

“It gets colder.”

A man of few, but well chosen words, thought Alex, and English words at that. “How did you know I was English?”

“No Czech would go near that shit-hole of a brothel you just came out of, and you sure as hell aren’t German. Maybe American, but what’s the difference?”

“A sense of decorum?”

“A what?”

“Nothing. Listen, could you drop me on Jilska?”

“No. Van won’t get down there, I’d never get out again. Anyway, it’s out of my way. I can leave you at Karlov Most, it’s only a short walk from there.”

“Appreciated.”

The rest of the journey, what there was of it, was conducted largely in silence, save for the rumble of the engine and the disconcerting rattle every time they navigated a left-hand turn. As they traversed one of the numerous bridges crossing the Vltava, Alex saw the weir to his left, and further up the river, tourists in small red boats, rowing or in some cases, pedalling their way back to the pontoon as it was nearing dusk, and he assumed the boat hire gentleman wanted to get in the warm pub on the other side of the road. Behind, to the south-west, he could see the steeply rising hillside of the Vltava valley. Nothing like the hills and mountains back home, or rather, his mother’s home, where the summits were usually blanketed in cloud, and if it wasn’t raining, well, it was at least very wet, and probably about to rain. But at least Wales was quiet, peaceful, and had a certain majesty about it. His father’s home however, was majestic in a different way. In a decadent, indulgent, and grandiose way. Befitting of an ambassador, but not particularly to Alex’s taste.

The alarming rattle of the truck’s front axle roused Alex from his reverie as they swung a sharp left across the lights and beared north. A soft, dull ache in his lower back reminded him that it had been some time since he’d drunk anything other than alcohol, and he was in some danger of becoming dehydrated.

“Nearly there.” Growled the grizzly as they passed a small shopping arcade on the left.

Most of the traders were shutting up shop for the day, packing their goods into boxes and stacking them neatly on the shelves, or simply piling them on the floor. The rolling steel shutters of a couple of stores had already been pulled down, one displaying a rather concise piece of Czech graffiti, simply stating “Go gently”, followed underneath, in stylised writing, by the word “Zeko”. A nice sentiment, thought Alex. If you’re going to write graffiti, it should always be worth writing. Simply daubing or scribbling your name, or your tag, onto a wall somewhere always seemed fairly pointless – in all other methods of communication, the author usually has to create something before they sign it off. An artist simply signing a plain canvas rarely receives much in the way of praise, and a writer who signed off their blank manuscript would rightfully be ridiculed. But creating a statement, something that people read, absorbed, considered and potentially discussed? That’s different. It’s something artistic, or at least creative, and while it might not make much sense, it at least causes the viewer to consider the statement that’s been made on that wall. Alex could remember seeing some graffiti at the south bank in London, written along the top of a wooden bench, which plainly stated “I’m not resting.” He felt for a while that it begged the question of what they in fact were doing on the bench, but came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter, and the writer was probably just being intentionally obscure.

The truck ground to a halt, and Alex pushed the heavy door of the cab open.

Charles Bridge wasn’t a bad place to be dropped off. While there were vantage points everywhere for someone to spot Alex as he climbed out of the truck and shook Petri’s hand to say thanks, it was busy enough to merge into the crowd quite easily.

With twenty minutes to spare, Alex had a bottle of water to purchase and some time to kill. Unfortunate turn of phrase, he thought. Taking the tourist route through town was the safest bet, not the tiny little back streets that littered Prague’s old town; Alex could remember all too clearly the night in Marrakesh, when he, through a combination of haste and inexperience, walked down the tiny, rutted and dark alleyways to get to the rendezvous. Some nasty little kid had jumped him, trying for his wallet and clearly under the impression he was a tourist who had wandered off the beaten track. Alex had dealt with him quickly, thoroughly, and not without some degree of satisfaction. The wiry little bastard had friends nearby, evidently, and not only were they numerous, but they’d seen him break the skinny runt’s right leg in two places. In the ensuing scuffle, Alex had supplied the gang with a number of broken wrists, a cracked skull, and almost definitely prevented one of them from spawning any more little criminals. Unfortunately, he’d also obtained two broken ribs and a ruptured (well, stabbed) kidney for his troubles. He’d nearly bled to death, but made it to the rendezvous, where his contact was able to take him to a surgeon for what Alex still likes to term a hatchet-job.

The scar goes much of the way across his lower back, and he still misses his right kidney, along with a small but not insignificant part of the left. You probably always miss an organ when it’s gone, apart from the appendix. Unfortunately for Alex, the reduced kidney function meant that he had to keep his hydration levels up, for when he became dehydrated, his crappy left kidney was less able to remove waste from his bloodstream. This wasn’t really a problem, and never had been in the past, but it was something he had to be constantly aware of, which is why he compelled himself to buy and drink bottled water whenever he could.

The bell on the shop door rang as he entered the liquor store/crystal shop/newsagent, and initially it was difficult to spot the bottled drinks in the rather haphazard arrangement of goods, though Alex found the ubiquitous branded bottled water in the cooler, took one, and placed a Euro on the counter for the shopkeeper.

Thriller – Part six


2010
03.30

Entry by Mike Day (May 2008)

Alex reached the door and turned the brass handle, it had a high polish in places and a dark patina in others. Used a lot but never cleaned, he reasoned. Inside, the room smelt of stale sweat, harsh Russian cigarettes and even cheaper spirits.

The Garish coloured walls downstairs should have given it away but he had been too distracted by his recent escape; this was a… he searched his memory for that quaint English term, a house of ill repute.

The wallpaper was peeling from the walls like the skin of a sunburnt whale, revealing grey concrete beneath. The bed was covered in a big red faux satin duvet, stains and cigarette burns littered its surface giving it a foul appearance to match the stench.

He slipped the latch on the door behind him and glanced around, there might well be eyes on him from peep holes but he didn’t care. All he wanted was a place to change his clothes and rake a comb through his hair. If the old woman wanted a cheep thrill she was welcome.

He was down to his underwear when a knock came at the door. Alex slipped the stolen pistol under the pair of dress trousers he held in his left hand, with his right he flicked back the catch.

If the door had burst open he would have squeezed the trigger and slotted whoever came through. Fortunately for the young girl sent to enquire if he wanted any “Extras” she had pushed the door open slowly enough to avoid alarm.

She was somewhere between fifteen and twenty five, thin to the point that her elbows stood out like carbuncles on her reed like arms. Her hair was something close to blond, or it would be if she washed it. But what Alex found the most repellent was the vacant calculation in her eyes. She reached up and tugged at the shoulder strap of her loose fitting slip, tilting her head to ask a question with out words.

This sort of lost child made Alex’s blood boil, behind her somewhere there would be a gang of men getting rich off of these girls. He shook his head and gestured with his free hand for her to get out.

She turned as she headed back towards the corridor and looked at him quizzically.

Had she seen the gun, he wondered or was it simply that a man who came here usually only wanted one thing? He didn’t intend finding out, he finished dressing quickly and threw his things into the bag, covering the painting.

At the foot of the stairs the diminutive madam was waiting for him. “You have best girl. You pay me now!” She folded her arms and placed her feet wide apart, daring him to argue.

“I didn’t touch her. Now get out of my way.” Alex said pushing passed her.

“Ay Yah!” she cried out, wailing at her unfair treatment.

From a room near the door a heavy set man with a shaven head stepped into the hallway.

“Are you trying to leave without paying?” growled the thug.

“Paying for what? I just used the room to get changed in. I’m happy to pay for that but I didn’t touch the girl.” Alex spat.

“They both say otherwise.” He said without asking either woman.

Alex let the tension slip from his shoulders, the last thing he needed now was more bodies and the police back on his tail. “Ok, how much?”

The madam looked him up and down, noting the smart evening suit and silk tie. “One hundred US” she said as if this was quiet reasonable.

Alex reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet. He pulled out twenty Euros and placed it on the occasional table next to him. As the woman began to protest he held open his jacket and displayed the gun tucked into his waistband.

The thug showed a glimmer of intelligence by nodding and stepping out of Alex’s way.

“No Taxi?” Alex asked as he headed for the door. He didn’t need a translator to guess what the little woman said in reply.

Out on the street the bitter wind cut through the thin jacket and shirt. He braced his shoulders against its chill and began walking along the road towards the centre of town.

A passing Soviet era truck, more cast iron than carbon fibre, mounted the curb in front of him and pulled to a wheezing stop. As he approached, its passenger side door swung open.

“Do you want a lift?” asked the driver, a great bear of a man, wrapped in bark blue overalls.

“You’re a life saver” Alex said clambering up into the fug of the cabin.

“Petri” he said sticking a paw out towards Alex.

“Alex”

“So where are you heading” Petri asked.

“The town centre”

“Hot date?”

“More like a cold shoulder” Alex grinned as he pulled the heavy steel door shut.

Thriller – Part five


2010
03.30

Entry by Judy Goh

It was not much of a situation, for in Alex’s line of work, he was used to the hysteria and destruction. But getting out of a public display of murder had never been an easy task, especially where there were property and people to be compensated, and coupled with his jet lag, Alex just didn’t feel like dealing with the curious crowd of onlookers. Sometimes he just wished he had a normal, completely risk-free office job with medical insurance you never had to actually use. A still-bouncing Russian doll came to a halt at his weary feet as he regained his balance. Her beautifully painted arched eyebrows and deep blue eyes reminded him of Katka, and jerked him out of his wishful thinking and back to reality.

First, Alex had to get out of there in order to make his meeting at the restaurant and find out what was really going on. And without a ride, it could take hours to reach his destination from this part of the suburbs. Looking around, he noticed the crowd of people thinning, to his relief. But on the downside, Czech police had arrived to join the party in the form of two squad cars. Alex’s heart sank. He knew enough to understand that if he tried to escape, his face could end up on a WANTED poster, his cover would be completely blown, and he would be off the case- no questions asked. If he went quietly with the police and let himself be arrested, the entire process of explaining his identity could take weeks, and the meeting at the Seven Angels would be a no-show. Either way, Brocuek had gotten him into serious hot soup.

Luckily, distraction arrived in the form of one celebrity- Anastazie. She was more than just the local soap opera drama queen, now that she had released her own platinum-status album and landed herself a role in a Hollywood film. Nevertheless, she was famous enough to have her own entourage of fans, and plenty of the people were big fans. The shopkeeper of Russian Dolls Galore! and the toddler were no exceptions, both of which got to their feet earnestly and started clamouring for signed autographs along with everyone else. Alex seized this opportunity to slip away from the police, making like a bat out of hell. Anastazie’s mall tour was probably the best thing that had happened to Alex since his plane had touched down at the airport, and he made a mental reminder to himself to send her some flowers, even though he was not quite a fan of chick flicks.

Now that Alex had gotten out of the legal complications due to Brocuek and the unnamed driver’s murders, he had to hitch a ride to the Seven Angels restaurant in time, with the prized painting in tow and looking presentable. Running away from the crime scene was something he had to do often, and for once, he was glad that he had packed light. All he had to do was grab the bag containing the Matisse and just take off. His watch read eight-fifteen, while his reflection in the windows of nearby shops told him that his clothes needed changing. Forty-five minutes was hardly enough time to look as polished as James Bond would, especially in a posh restaurant. Alex picked up his pace and ducked into a family-run bed and breakfast, within a kilometre radius of the crime scene where the car had crashed.

The bed and breakfast was definitely not what Alex had expected. The walls were painted a garish fire engine-red. Chinese lanterns hung from the ceilings, and there seemed to be lingering scent of incense on the traditional rosewood furniture, which was an unnerving shade of auburn. Dragon designs were carved onto the mantelpiece. Alex stared in awe at the horrible decor as a stooped old Eurasian lady wearing a crimson qipao and her greying hair in a bun appeared at the doorway towards the kitchen. She shuffled towards him, all the while yelling at someone in some Chinese dialect that sounded like gibberish to Alex. Her expression seemed rather amused at the shellshocked Englishman standing on the bamboo flooring.

“Do you want room? All free, no customers today,” she spoke in a broken English.

‘I can see why,’ he thought grimly to himself. Naturally the appearance of the bed and breakfast itself was no more appealing than the smell. However, given the circumstances, he had no other choice. Time was a-ticking away and he needed a room to change into his disguise before meeting his new contact. More importantly, he had to find out what

“Yes, one room for just the one night. I’ll be leaving shortly, could you call me a cab? Thank you very much.” Alex hastened up the staircase, two at a time. He almost hated to see how his room would look like.

Thriller – Part four


2010
03.29

Entry no.2 by Marie Peach

In professional silence behind smoked glass, Broucek’s driver took them smoothly along the highway, where snow was piled high against the central reservation, and then past the bleak, graffitied apartment blocks of the suburbs. They emerged onto one of the many bridges across the Vltava, and the depravity of the high rises was all but forgotten as they were faced with the grandeur ahead. It had been four years since Alex had seen that view – the red-tiled roofs; the palace and government buildings; the winding river that sliced the city in two like a lazy cheese wire – and the last time he had seen it, he had been running for his life. Alex took a deep breath and breathed out hard to try and dismiss the memory. He did not have time for this now.

Whoever this guy, Broucek was, thankfully he was not a talker, and Alex was free to stare out of the window and appear to take in the sights whilst weighing up his options. The combination of three plastic cups of bourbon on the plane and the proximity of a man who almost certainly did not have his best interests at heart, made seeming relaxed an almost titanic effort. His knee jigged up and down involuntarily for a few seconds before he got it together and looked round briefly at Broucek, an amenable smile on his face.

The meeting was planned for nine pm at the Seven Angels restaurant, but that was when Katka had been his contact, when she’d been in charge – had things changed? He looked at his watch; seven thirty pm and counting. He had to assume that meeting was still on. He would make it to the restaurant and work out what to do from there if the client didn’t turn up.

Time to cut loose.

He kept his eyes front, kept it casual. “I don’t suppose there would be time to show you the painting now? I mean, it seems the safest place to do it, on the move. Don’t you think?” Alex’s eyes met keen interest and he saw how eager the man was to see it. Good.

“If you wish, of course. I won’t stop you,” Broucek managed to say calmly, although his eyes showed he was anything but. A tight shirt collar cut unpleasantly into his neck, and emphasised uncomfortable warmth. Alex was close enough to see the sweat on the man’s upper lip. Whether its source was excitement or edginess from playing an unfamiliar role in the proceedings Alex didn’t know. Whichever, it was definitely not the climate, as the car’s interior struggled against fifteen-below temperatures outside.

Alex retrieved a small key from his breast pocket, and liberated his hand from the handcuffs, which were attached to the bag. He passed them over to Broucek, absently, saying, “hold these,” without looking at him. Obediently, and almost incredibly, he took them with both hands, allowing Alex to turn and casually slip them over both of his wrists at the last minute. Broucek had time to stare at him incredulously, and say one Czeck swear word before Alex slipped his arm around his shoulders, like the bold teenager in the back row, and yanked his head around sharply. The crack his neck made told Alex all he needed to know and he reached under the jacket for the dead man’s gun.

This development took maybe ten seconds from start to finish, and he hoped that maybe he would still had another few seconds before the driver would notice something was wrong through the inch thick smoked glass. This gave Alex time to attach the silencer he’d found in Broucek’s pocket, which presumably had been meant for him, and get ready for the chaos that his next move was going to cause. He picked up the bag with his left hand, and put the same hand on the door handle leaving his gun hand free. Knowing that he had had better ideas in his life, and also knowing that with Broucek dead this was the only option, he fired the gun, four times at the wooden panel behind the driver.

Things began to happen next in quick succession. The first was that instead of slumping and letting go of the wheel as he met his maker, the driver actually tightened his grip and heaved the wheel over to the left, steering them off the road and directly into the short corridor-like shopping centre next to the Charles Bridge. The car miraculously missed shops on either side, and a young woman with a child, his face painted like a tiger, jumped out of the way screaming. The second thing that happened was that Alex opened the car door and did a kind of rolling leap, landing on the woman and inadvertently dragging her and the tiger to the ground, just in time to see a dead man drive into the glass fronting of a shop that sold nothing but Russian dolls.

For a few seconds following the BANG of the crash, there was silence except for the ping-pong bounce of hundreds of wooden Russian dolls as they made their way down the shopping centre slope towards the river.

Then the shouting began, and all fingers were pointing to him.

Thriller – Part three


2010
03.29

(Following submission by Joe Prentis)

Alex tried not to react to Milo Broucek’s unexpected appearance, but he realized that he had hesitated too long before making his denial. The small silver pen clipped to the lapel pocket of this man’s suit had once adorned the cap of a Nazi SS officer during World War II. This was to identify him as his contact, but it was obvious that there was something wrong. Was this man drunk? Why had he approached him so openly? He could smell alcohol and the odor of cheap tobacco, and could see a bulge that was probably a pistol underneath his coat. He took a careful look around the restaurant, seeing an elderly woman with a child occupying a table in the corner. The child was playing with a pack of cigarettes, tapping them against the top of the table. The woman was watching indulgently, a half-smile playing around the corners of her lips. Four young adults at a nearby table were leaned forward, engaged in an animated conversation. They did not seem to be aware of anything going on around them. One of the men said something and the blonde one threw back her head and laughed. He decided that they were probably what they appeared to be, college students on a weekend outing. Through the double doors on his left, the concourse was almost empty with only a few stragglers making their weary way toward the exit. A soldier with an AK47 was strolling slowly past. He glanced through the open doorway, but did not see anything that aroused his curiosity.

“Where is Katka?” Alex demanded when the soldier moved along without stopping.

Broucek’s eyes shifted slightly to the left and downward, the betraying action of a practiced liar. “I am afraid that Miss Katka has suffered an unfortunate accident.”

“What kind of accident?” Alex was watching carefully for his reaction.

He made a sighing sound, but did not look like he was sorry. “Her car left the road. She was not seriously injured, but she will be under medical supervision for the next few weeks. Some of our roads are terrible, not what you are accustomed to in England.”

“Then I will need to see her immediately.”

“I am afraid that is impossible. It will be my pleasure, however, to escort you to your hotel. I will be completely at your disposal while you are here. If you will let me have your bag, I have a car waiting outside.”

Alex had no intention of surrendering the bag or the canvas it contained to this stranger. When he grabbed at the handle, he turned quickly away, blocking the movement with his hip. Broucek took a step backward but continued to stare down at Alex’s wrist where the handcuffs were hidden underneath the cuff of his jacket. He had evidently seen the glint of metal as he turned. When he looked up, Broucek’s face was flushed, the anger glittering in his eyes.

“Don’t you trust us?” Broucek asked, trying to make it appear that he was offended but only managed to look evasive.

“It isn’t a matter of trust. Do I have to remind you what a Matisse is worth on today’s market?”

Alex saw the little flicker of his eyelids and realized that they had not told him what he was carrying. A masterpiece worth eight million pounds was enough to tempt anyone and it was obvious that this man would be tempted by far less. Alex realized that he was looking across his shoulder into the corner of the room. This meant that there were at least two of them, maybe more. He felt a moment of sadness, and a vague, undefined sense of regret. He would have to kill Broucek and the man working with him, and then he would have to find Katka.

Thriller – Part two


2010
03.29

Smoking in the stagnant bar area of the airport was a man who was tired of waiting. Three empty tumblers stood unchecked on the table, and the ashtray had been over-flowing when he had arrived. Nobody cared about the smokers; let ‘em rot, goddamn it…
“Let us stew,” he said aloud, and an old woman on the next table looked up and smiled. She was English, like this Lafrond guy, and just as stupid. Who takes her three year old grandkid into a bar for Christ sake? The little girl played with the cigarette pack and sang as she bounced it in time on the table.
The man watched her for a while until she reminded him of someone, then shifted uncomfortably and stared back into the middle distance. Conveniently for him, that was exactly where Lafrond was, walking with an over-confidence mixed with uncertainty that only the English can manage, straight towards the bar. He was easily recognisable by his photograph, which was a surprise – ordinary looking people so rarely are. This one was totally forgettable, or so the man had thought. But he knew him instantly, so much so that he stood up and walked towards him before he knew what he was doing.
“Mr Lafrond?” he said, not sure why he’d decided to approach him. He’d never done this before.
The Englishman looked surprised, then afraid, then covered both emotions with a practised smile. The man who had waited all day for this moment touched his gun in its holster, squeezed it, then pulled his hand from inside his jacket pocket and extended it.
“Milo Broucek. I’m your guide for today. There’s been a change of plan.”

Thriller – Part one


2010
03.29

It was snowing in Prague as the plane landed, the runway barely visible to Alex as he gazed out of his allotted square of vision. He thanked whatever god was responsible for the pilot knowing what he was doing, and uncurled his fingers from the ends of the armrests. These damned flights, he thought, bitterly. They were the worst thing about this job by a mile.
He and the other passengers obediently followed the usual instructions and even though he knew them backwards, they somehow always made him feel less safe. The thought that his being kept alive appeared to depend on his own small actions, like having a mobile phone switched on or forgetting a seatbelt, was not a comforting one. He would have been happier to leave all of the safety procedures to the capable manufacturers of planes and their staff, and not have any input into it whatsoever. Alex also very much suspected that in any event that resulted in the plane plummeting to earth, a seatbelt may just be a moot point. Or alternatively, it might be the thing that kills you.
The seat, now upright, was so close to the one in front he could have kissed it, but he always travelled economy class. The advantages of being largely ignored by the plane staff outweighed certain comfort sacrifices. The main reason – he didn’t want to be remembered, and unless you physically attacked the stewards in economy, you were invisible. Not exactly essential for the job but Alex just found it downright useful.
He waited until the majority of stag weekenders and young couples – the only two groups of people frequenting the city nowadays – had stepped off the plane and into the tunnel, then slid his briefcase out from the overhead compartment and followed them.
He was supposed to be meeting Katka this time, one he’d met before and was unlikely to forget. As he waited for his phone to welcome him to whatever network they used here, he weighed his options in case she was late, as they often were. Baggage first, of course, the dreaded carousel. Then perhaps some food.
Alex walked smartly to the offending conveyor belt and waited where the first cases would appear once the thing actually started moving. His watch told him it was three thirty, Czech time. If anything the plane had been ahead of schedule, he told himself lightly; she would be there as these people always were. Always would be, probably.
Freedom certainly did have its price.


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