Nine-thirty five pm, and it had been raining for the best part of two hours. Through the windshield, the rain had stripped everything of its identity, rendering it all indistinct, reducing it to outlines and shadows. El and I sat in the car park of a Travel Lodge, watching the entrance so that we could see whoever left and entered. El tapped his fingers gently against the steering wheel, as Dave the perpetually bored receptionist stood huddled in the doorway, smoking a cigarette, a talisman against the ennui of working nights. I envied him, and fancied lighting one up myself but El was cautious so I held off, tamping down the cravings with deep breaths and whatever distractions were to hand. Plus it made the car stink.
This was the first piece of work El and I had done in the UK for over three years, and it wasn’t taken lightly, the familiarity of hearing English accents and driving on roads that didn’t rape your suspension was offset by knowing that if things went wrong, law enforcement could throw a ring of steel even El and I couldn’t punch through, and being so close to home lost an edge you came to rely on, we couldn’t work cleanly or efficiently as we liked to.
But the money was too good, and the job came complete with enough detail and planning to make it worthwhile. The kit provided was clean and untraceable enough to dump if things got hot, and the money was too good to pass up on. We did questionable things for money all the time, and the questionable the act, the more money we tended to get. That this job wasn’t a shift in a slaughterhouse and was paying so much should have raised concerns. We should have gotten a second opinion, given voice to our concerns but we trusted ourselves.
We should have done any number of things, but we didn’t.
To distract myself, I booted up my netbook and plugged in the memory stick, scanning through the PDF files that told us about the job and the target. We were retrieving a novelist, no one you would find in the books section of a supermarket but with a cachet that made me wonder why I hadn’t read his work. The last ten years were unaccounted for, which is probably what prompted our involvement. El guessed drugs or merchandising rights, and he was probably right. It didn’t really matter.
El looked straight ahead, calm as a Hindu cow. He had read through everything, memorised the salient details and spent the rest of the time rehearsing it all in his head. In the moment, he walked as though he knew what was coming, and it kept his hand steady, and the both of us alive more than once.
“I almost feel sorry for him.”
El stated, his voice soft and low, the years travelling and working had softened the glottal estuary accent into something more reflective and thoughtful.
“Dave’s just doing what he needs to, same as us”
“Same as us”
We had scouted the location over three weeks, I had been an infrequent guest and El started drinking in the chain pub down the road where Dave had a pint and a full English before heading home. Between us, we knew Dave better than he knew himself, enough to know that if it came to it, he would hide and wait it out rather than play the hero for one of the guests. El still owed me twenty quid for the guess I made at the outset, but I never called him on it.
Dave finished his cigarette and flicked it out into the dark, which meant someone was coming through reception. El undid his jacket and slipped his hand across to the inside as I replaced the netbook under the seat. We looked at one another, as I reached inside my own jacket and we opened our doors.
From the entrance, we saw three figures, two tall and fuller figures flanking a third, the light behind them and the rain obscuring any details. As the rain beat down, we walked forward, matching in pace and stride.
El had rigged suppressors to the guns, and between that and the rain, we knew we would have to get in closer than normal. Even so, we had our weapons up and firing the moment we saw that the figure in the middle was our Mr Garrow.
El caught the guard on the left with a double tap as he reached for something on his left hip, his head snapping back with the impact as he fell away, skidding down the steps in an ungainly sprawl down the steps…
…I drew down, aiming centre mass and squeezed off two shots before I adjusted and took him in the throat. Even through the rain, I heard the gelid choke of someone trying to force their last breath through a ruin of shredded cartilage and blood, wet chunks spattering his shirt as he collapsed, his gun still in the holster.
Garrow looked up at us, his spectacles teeming with raindrops, clutching his midsection and beginning to fall to his knees. El was watching Dave, trusting to his apathy as I stepped forward, gun facing away.
“We’ve come to take you home, Mr Garrow.”
I was always the voice in the field not that El lacked social skills, but it became an unspoken habit of ours, El worked on an instinctive and internal level, which came across as rude to some, and could be misinterpreted, which was laughable to anyone who knew him, but it saved time for me to do the talking.
Garrow opened his mouth to speak, but I put my hand on his right shoulder and looked him in the eyes, smiling as I spoke.
I lightly tapped him on the shoulder as I did this, anchoring the relief to something simple and tangible and when I did it again, he followed me back to the car with the faith of a small child.
I sat him in the back, buckling the seatbelt around him, keeping eye contact and my voice soft and low, unthreatening and pleasant. El was dropping capsules onto the bodies and when he got into the car, the smell of the chemicals even cut through the rain, the smoke visible as we drove off. Despite the rain, the bodies would be nothing but sludge by the time anyone got around to identifying them. If they had identities.
I turned around in my seat to look at Garrow, smiling and keeping eye contact.
“What was your favourite toy as a child?”
“I..I don’t know. My Transformers, I suppose.
I nodded to acknowledge him, not breaking eye contact.
“Which ones were your favourites?”
“Grimjaw, most of them were cars but he was a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
Actually it was Grimlock, but the details were irrelevant, only the associations they invoked.
“What it did look like?”
He removed his glasses, his eyes bloodshot and the skin around them sallow and dark, but I watched as his eyes went up and to the left, which meant he was accessing the memory.
“It was gold and silver..you had to tip the head forward, to make it into a..you know, a robot…and the tail..moved.
“It used to catch the light in a way none of the standard ones did, didn’t it? So, as you played with it, it used to catch the light and it almost seemed to glow in your hands, especially when you would play with them upstairs…in the front bedroom..they seemed bigger up there, didn’t they?
He nodded, not questioning my knowledge or any hints to the same, his mouth slightly agape as he relaxed into the memory.
“You would play up there for hours, on a pale carpet and I don’t know whether or not you are recalling playing with Grimjaw and you may or may not be feeling those feelings..
I lowered my voice even further, not breaking eye contact.
“..of relaxing and feeling relaxed, feeling those feelings as you made those worlds come alive on that bedroom carpet, moving them around, bringing them to life…”
On cue, El pressed play on the Ipod, hooked up to the stereo and the car filled with soft tones, singularly at first and then in synchronicity, reverberating as they mingled. Hemisynchronous sounds allied to a firmly controlled trance knocked him deep and he relaxed instantly, faster than any drug.
“…so you can relive that purest moment, if you wish to, and every muscle in your body is relaxing in that moment, deeply relaxing as you sit there on that carpet, playing with your toys…”
El was driving fast enough to deter a tail, but within the speed limit so I occupied Garrow with another twenty minutes of conversation, gauging my success with his responses and searching for any responses that might indicate hidden triggers or anchors. Eventually I left him, his consciousness imbedded in a medium of childhood memory and association, knowing he was, at least in our company, insulated against any post traumatic stress or any abreactions he might be hiding.
El found something more enervating on the Ipod, a track off ‘Significant Other’, but I frowned and he looked at me, raising a disdainful eyebrow.
“I like this album, but…
“And we always listen to it, so why not now?”
“I haven’t forgiven them…”
“For what, we had this conversation countless times, then you realise that you do like them and that they used to be a great band..”
“I saw the video for Golden Cobra, El. Shit like that is a turd in the punchbowl..”
“It’s an awful video, yeah, but…”
“It’s the same thing with the Chilli’s..”
He conceded and found Nouvelle Vague, because if you don’t find a sultry French chanteuse intoning ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ then you could never truly understand El and I.
From there, I browbeat him into a Prince bootleg of an aftershow and as I was nodding my head to a particularly funky version of ‘Eye Know’, El’s phone interrupted the reverie in a clash of drums and distorted guitar. He gave it to me to answer.
Our contact Lisa had only been a voice on a phone and an email address that went through black servers in a data haven, and here she was. I enjoyed her voice, cultured and smooth but here she was a sharply held breath.
“We have a situation..”
“There aren’t any triggers imbedded and he’s asleep in the back, we are within an hour of the drop, plus the hit went clean..”
“They’ve sent someone”
“That was fast, anyone we know?”
Lisa gulped, and I looked at El, who was looking concerned.
“Have you read any of Mr Garrow’s work?”