A bit rougher a draft than the first chapter, because that was something I’d been thinking about for a while. This one is a bit more made up as I go along.
Jack had never visited Manchester. He watched the red brick buildings go past, trying to memorise land marks so he might find his way around later. He tried not to look at the back seat, but knew the ghost was still there. The fat man was quiet, concentrating on driving. For someone who had moved so fast bottling a gunman in the restaurant he seemed to labour over every turn of the steering wheel now.
It was probable that he was supposed to be scared, but Jack couldn’t summon the emotion. Few things since being told he would never walk again had been able to scare him. When every walking moment was a miracle he would treat them as such. He was intrigued more than anything else. Where was the fat man taking him? He would know soon enough. Why? Again, the answer would be clear soon. It might take a while to work out how had he found his way to Manchester. The only thing he was finding disconcerting was the indistinct figure in the back of the car. But even that would be explained in time, he was sure.
They stopped before a shutter that was already rising. “You’ll probably find this outside your pay grade, but one does have to maintain a cover.” the fat man announced as they headed down the steep ramp. He parked right beside the elevator doors. “Take these and call the lift would you. It does take a while for me to get out.”
There was an electronic tag attached to the keyring. Jack held it against the domed plastic circle beside the lift doors and there was the clunk of machinery coming to life. “Most impressive.” said the ghost beside him. “We had this sort of equipment in our more secure facilities.”
Jack glanced across at the Mercedes. The fat man was still struggling out of the car. “Who are you?” Jack whispered.
“Marty Roberts, old chap.” He extended a shadowy hand, Jack just stared at it. “Pleased to make you acquaintance.”
“Are you real?”
“I honestly don’t know, old chap. I was escaping from some prison, the last thing I remember. And then I found myself here. Awfully odd prison, it was made up of shifting shapes and numbers. I had to keep trying a combination lock over and over.”
The fat man had waddled over. Jack turned to him, “Charley, do you know a Marty Roberts?”
The fat man’s expression was, for a moment, priceless. Then the confusion was gone as fast as it had appeared. “Two things, young fellow. How do you know my name? You should have been briefed in with my alias. And what do you know about Marty? The man was dead about the time you were born.”
The lift arrived with a ping. They looked in as the doors opened, to make sure there was no-one to hear the conversation. “Marty Roberts told me your name, and his. Right now he’s standing about here,” Jack waved a hand through Roberts’ chest. He held back an urge to apologise, “giving me advice, talking about a prison break and generally freaking me out.”
“That sounds like Marty. Calm as you like, whatever the situation. He could tell you to risk your life as if he were asking ‘one lump or two’.”
The fat man was taking this far too well. “He’s sizing you up for the take down.” Marty informed Jack, “He thinks you’re a mad man.”
“Can’t really blame him.” Jack realised he had spoken out loud. He looked at Charley, who had raised his eyebrows in as non-threatening a way as he could manage.
“I’ll tell you what,” the ghost offered, “you just need to say the one word to him.”
Charley’s mask slipped as his jaw dropped. “What?”
Marty spoke and Jack repeated him. “It was your last mission together. You took a bullet and were bedridden for months. That’s when you started eating and stopped exercising and became the man you are today.”
“You could have found any of that in the archives.”
“It’s true. In fact, that’s where he thinks he did get it. Marty Roberts is fast coming to the conclusion that he’s not really Marty Roberts and he’s neither alive nor a ghost.” This was when it fell into place for Jack, and he hated that he’d been beaten to the answer by a piece of code. “I can try to explain…..”
“Upstairs. It’s bloody cold down here, and I always need to get myself around a good single malt after someone has saved my life.”
* * * * *
It had been a nice enough day, the sun was obscured by cloud, but it wasn’t heavy. There was plenty of light, but no blinding glare. Jack had dawdled at the lights, tightening straps on his backpack even after the change from red to green. He set off gently into the junction, and was halfway across when the car ran a red light and hit him squarely on his right side. He was lifted into the air and thrown twenty metres to crack against the side of a building. His crash helmet absorbed most of the blow, but there was still some force expended on the skull and brain beneath. Enough to mash bits of grey matter and destroy his ability to walk.
The offer had come along within a month, when the broken bones were beginning to heal. An experimental technique, the chip would go in the dead space and emulate the brain cells it replaced. It was great in theory, but it would be the first time it had been done to a human. He hadn’t thought to ask where the funding, and the technology, was coming from. Perhaps that had been a bad idea.
* * * * *
“So you think they were testing military technology on you?”
“I think the AI, Marty, is military. He keeps trying to tell me about your escapades off duty. Something about a woman in Munich called Helga.” Jack swirled the whisky in his glass and watched Charlie’s reaction. The fat man smiled.
“I didn’t know she was double until far too late. Such a waste. Lips like those would have made a fortune in California.”
The ghost sat next to Charlie on the leather sofa shook his head. “Is he suggesting that she should have become a prostitute?”
“Or a porn star.”
“I’m just talking to Marty.” Jack indicated the spot on the sofa. Charlie shrugged.
“It’s going to become awfully confusing if you keep chatting to someone who isn’t there, you know.”
“I’ll try to keep the mad sounding stuff in my head then.”
“Enough about your problems, as fascinating as they are. Let’s talk about me.”
Marty relaxed into the sofa, though the cushions didn’t yield. “This should be interesting.”
“Okay. Let’s talk about you. Who were the thugs back in the restaurant?”
“Lithuanian?” Jack was about to comment that he couldn’t find Lithuania on a map when one appeared in his vision, with the country highlighted. The view zoomed out to give him geographical context. Jack nodded knowingly. “Not Russian?”
“My boy, every country has its criminal groups- cartels, families, whatever you want to call them. Just because everyone’s been talking about the Russians for the last few years doesn’t mean they’re the only nationality in the game. Two of the larger Lithuanian mobs want to set up franchises over here, on the tail of their new Europe status. I’ve been trying to play them off against each other. A bit of a Yojimbo situation I hope will lead to mutually assured destruction.”
“I knew he’d turn out a maverick.” Marty muttered.
“Not a very safe thing to be doing.” was Jack’s observation. “Which side was trying to kill you today?”
“The crowd from Vilnius. The least evil of the two, but unfortunately also the smartest. They wanted to negotiate a little less subtly for the merchandise I’m offering.”
“And the merchandise is?”
“I know where a particular body
“An important body?”
“Only because of what’s in its stomach. He was supposed to carry some papers out of the country, wrapped in condoms and swallowed the way drugs mules do it. But the diet disagreed with him and he started getting cramps in a safe house. The gangs have got their own doctors, after a fashion. They pay their fees, get them over here from the old country then call on them when they’re residents to patch up gun shots and such. His minders called one of them, one I’d turned. By the time the kid had got there our man was dead. His compadres decide the body shouldn’t be found. Not knowing what he’s carrying, they go and bury him in the corner of a field somewhere. Meanwhile, the kid had called me and I’d followed them. I dug him up and move him.
“Soon enough, the goons got sent back to cut the body open and retrieve the documents. Now they’re in the hole they dug. I let things stew for a while before I hinted at double crosses and the like, getting both sides wound up to shooting point. I guess I’m not as good as I used to be, because the Vilnius guy earlier seemed to be on to me.”
“What’s in the stomach?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t even opened him up yet- I’m a bit squeamish. As far as I’m concerned it’s pure McGuffin. The important thing is to get them fighting amongst themselves and give us openings to exploit in bringing them down.”
“Ask him about his back up.” Marty suggested.
Charlie went red at the question, “Well, strictly, I don’t have any. My job was to turn the boy. This is all just ad-libbed.”
“You’re off the lead?”
“I’ve been on my own for months. They don’t really know where I am, who I’m being, and they don’t really care so long as I keep giving them info. I just haven’t told them about this yet. It did only come up three days ago, it takes them that long to find the right form to fill out.”
“Oh fucking wonderful. I’m going to call someone and hopefully he can get me out of this mess. I don’t know what he can do for you. Perhaps you should phone home too.”
* * * * *
Ted’s phone was sat in a cradle in another room. He couldn’t use any of the really fancy functions, but he could still see who was calling him and answer if he wished. He put Jack’s call on the conference speakers. “What happened to you? We lost the tracking signal for a while.”
“I think another program decided to block it for security.”
“What do you mean another program.”
“I’ll try to explain later. Do you know where I am? Can you come and get me?”
“I turned on the secondary and tertiary location routines. I’ve got you narrowed down to within a few buildings. We’re going to send someone to pick you up if you can find a building name, room number, that sort of thing.”
Charlie gave his address when prompted. “Did you get that?”
“Yeah. People are on their way right now.” After Jack had hung up, Ted turned to the military guy, “Perhaps they should pick up your man as well. If he’s still there when they arrive.”
* * * * *
Charlie went to get more whisky. Jack laid his phone on the table. Then he pulled the gun from his waistband, where it was beginning to get uncomfortable. He released the magazine and took the bullet out of the chamber then studied the inside, double checking that it was empty.
“A Glock.” Marty noted, “Time was the Eastern Europeans, the undercover ones at least, all carried useless stamped steel things from a factory in the Motherland. They only fired every third time you pulled the trigger. Now they’ve all got these plastic guns that are smooth and well machined and reliable. Capitalism seems to have made some things more dangerous don’t you think.”
“For better or worse it was the winning ideology.” Jack looked down and realised he had stripped the pistol without even looking at it. The parts were arrayed before him on the table. “Communism was a horrible disaster, but that doesn’t mean capitalism is perfect.”
Charlie returned with more malt. Seeing the deconstructed weapon he slid the drawer in front of Jack open to reveal cleaning gear. Jack didn’t recognise any of the implements, but somehow he knew how to use them. Within minutes the gun was clean and its action smooth. He reloaded it and put it back on the table. “What do we do now?”
“We wait to be picked up. Then I’ll see if I can salvage anything of my little sting.”
Ten minutes later someone with a shotgun blew the lock off the door.