Mar 09, 2021
9 mins read
All you need to know is that Nikki - our narrator - is doing a favour for a friend and it goes sideways from there.
I put the Rover in the space closest to the exit. I’ll have to evade Gav’s chatty doorman, the chap loves a mug of tea and a gossip with any passing tenants. I tuck my hair behind my ears, entering the reception area, out of sight of the desk and the first thing I hear, is an argument.
“No, I won’t give you the keys,” the doorman’s voice rises in outrage, ”You promised me a warrant. No warrant, no keys.”
Another voice, rough and ready gives a heavy sigh.
“Look, mate, we’re just doing our job. We’ve been told to search 306, and the warrant is coming, but if we could get started then I won’t be late for my daughter’s piano recital.”
“Should’ve got the warrant first then shouldn’t you. Your lot think you can turn up here on a Friday night...”
I don’t wait to hear anymore. I dart between the pillars, catching a brief glimpse of a broad back in a baggy suit before taking my boots off and haring up the staircase to the sixth floor. This is getting hairier by the minute.
In my socks, I unlock 306 and prop the door open, looking for something out of place. It should be easy to spot; Gav has hardly any storage space. I go through the kitchen cupboards first, nothing. From there it’s a straight shot to his study. The small desk is piled with files. For a man, Gavin is tidy to the point of obsession. When he stays over at my place he has bouts of ‘tidy fits,’ usually when he can’t find something or wants to sit down. He would never, ever, leave his desk this way.
I take the leather satchel he keeps close by and cram the entire pile inside. Through the open door, the lift whines as it rises. Praying I didn’t miss anything, I leg it out of the door, almost snapping the key off in the lock. Bolting for the stairs, I come close to sprawling full length as one foot catches in the strap of the satchel. The lift door dings open.
“De’s doe-ing do call da police,” the accent is cockney and nasal.
“Keep your hair on, I am the police,” says the same voice that I heard arguing with the doorman.
“Dever dawght Con,” Michael Caine-with-a-cold continues, ”would stick a pig od de payroll...Arrrrgghhh!”
I wince, that sounded like it hurt. My back presses so hard against the wall I may merge with it at any second.
“I told you no names! Do I have to hit you again?”
“Get your arse out of the way. I prefer your friend, he doesn’t say a word and hits things when I tell him to.”
Moments later there’s the unmistakable sound of foot splintering wood.
“Go and tell Mr. uncooperative downstairs that we found the place broken into. That should give him something to chew on.”
With the satchel in one hand and my boots in the other, I pelt downstairs; peeking around the pillar to check the doorman isn’t lying in a bloodied heap. He’s jabbering into the phone. My luck is holding and I don’t want to push it.
Dashing back to the Rover, I shove the satchel under the passenger seat and let the GPS guide me towards Stansted. The traffic is beginning to clog. Behind me I can hear a siren scything through the infant rush hour, the familiar blues and twos of a police car. My stomach lurches, but they scream past on their way somewhere else. What the hell am I carrying? The sooner I hand this off to Gavin the happier I’ll be. Evans told me to call him when I had ‘it’ but he can damn well wait.
I drive past the main terminal. Security on the private side scrutinizes my driver’s license, and in the rear view mirror a hearse appears behind me. I shudder as the Rover glides into the parking bay. Through the chain link fence that borders the runway, approaching lights resolve themselves into a small cargo plane. It seems to hang in the air before touching down with a brief squeal of rubber. Ahead of me, in the funeral party, is a woman all in black, a quiet dignity in her steps, the lower half of her face hidden by a hankie that could double as a doily. The blotched skin around her eyes is webbed with lines, smudges of blue eye shadow turning them into crevasses. Beside her a man, (her husband?) puts a steadying hand on her shoulder and the simple act shatters her control. Her sobs get louder until they turn into a ragged case of the hiccups. I realize I’m staring and look away, embarrassed to be fascinated by the poor woman on what must be one of the worst days of her life. The hearse draws level with them, stopping right at the entrance. They move to the side, waiting for the dog-collared priest who has only just arrived.
Once inside I stand with the rest of the passengers watching through the massive windows as four guys wearing oil smeared mechanics overalls carry a coffin out of the cargo hold and across the tarmac. I bow my head, a mark of respect for whoever lays inside the pine box.
I’m about to walk over to the information desk when a fight breaks out. The front two ‘pall bearers’ bringing the coffin inside, are trading kicks and punches, causing the coffin to tilt at a crazy angle.
“It’s not bloody funny,” one mechanic yells, his foot connecting with the other one’s stomach. They dump the coffin on the floor so they can attend to their beef.
“Ooooofff. It wasn’t me! Why would I knock on the bloody coffin?” The priest rushes in and pushes himself between the two men, and now we can all hear the knocking and muffled yelling.
“Bloody Nora! Get a crowbar.”
One of the crew runs to the plane and back. As fast as he can he levers off the lid. The guy inside, sits up, his hair wild, face distorted by a mask fastened around his head. One hand clutches a small canister with O2 stenciled on the side. He claws off the mask. I can’t help noticing the way the beautiful suit hugs him like a second skin. He could be modeling the coffin.
The woman’s hankie falls away from her face as she screams. Her husband manages to catch her before she hits the ground. The whole thing is in danger of turning into a farce.
“Medic! We need a medic!” a tall scrawny man in a long coat with a plum stuck firmly in his mouth calls.
“Medic? Which side of the pond are you on?” grouses the uniformed man who was at the information desk, “I’ll call the St John’s Ambulance volunteer, she’ll be here in a jiff.”
The volunteer whose name is DAISY according to her nameplate, elbows her way through the small crowd of commuters.
“Let her through,” plummy voice tells the room.
“You’re not in charge ‘ere.”
“Stop squabbling like a pair of old ladies,” I tell them. To the plummy voiced guy, “You’d better move, he looks like he’s about to...”
Daisy takes a giant step back and I don’t get as far as saying ‘throw up’ before he does, all over the floor and plummy’s shoes.
“Ugh,” says plummy.
Daisy shoves a bottle of disinfectant at him, “It’s only a bit of sick. It’ll wash off. Loos are over there.”
She points and plummy squelches away.
“What’s your name love?” Daisy gently wipes her patient’s mouth.
“Miller. Sebastian Miller.”
She pulls out a penlight, shines it into each eye.
“Do you still feel sick?”
“Very.” Miller replies.
“You, blondie,” Daisy points at me, “I need a bucket and a pitcher of water, fast as you can.”
The bucket is easy, I empty the cigarette butts and half of the sand out and hand it to Daisy. The water problem has solved itself; the mechanics carry the water cooler right to Daisy and Mr. Miller.
“As much water as he can drink,” she says to me, “he’s dehydrated.”
“Sebastian, did you have a few drinks last night?” Daisy asks.
“Only one, er I think only one.”
“Seeing two of everything? Can’t remember anything?”
He nods, gulping down more water.
“What’s the matter with him?” I ask, refilling the paper cup.
“He’s showing all the symptoms of having been roofied.”
“He’s a bloke, who’d want to roofie a bloke?”
“I’ve been what-ted?” asks Miller.
“Drugged, somebody micked your drink.”
“Micked? Aw shite.”
“Keep watering him.” Daisy says and goes to attend to her next patient, Miller’s mother.
He blocks the next cup full and dips into his jacket pockets, his clothes stink of funereal mothballs.
“Damn, my wallet’s gone.” He pulls out a crumpled packet of cigarettes, and a lighter. His fingers shake so hard that there is no danger of him lighting up.
“Nice lighter,” I say, fingering the polished silver and engraved crest before handing it back to him. Each member of Gavin’s unit has one of these but theirs are all gold. Gavin has the only silver one, so how did it end up in Sebastian Miller’s pocket?
He shoves it and the right-angled cigarettes (which also ended up on the floor) back into his pocket. Before I can think of a way to get the lighter off him the ambulance arrives. Miller and his mother are loaded into the back. Daisy vanishes through the door marked ‘staff only’ and the only evidence of Miller’s stunning entrance is a smashed coffin.
Thunderball publishes in April
Rollover is out now.