‘That’s five bodies now.’
‘Or is it?’ The voice replied.
‘There are more?’
‘Perhaps. But, Kit, I’m not going to do your job for you.’
‘Isn’t it rude that you know my name and-’
‘Oh, I know a lot more than that. Kit Kat. Your wife’s nickname? Very original.’ It replied. John, the leader of the team listening in, slipped off his headphones and mouthed a message across the room escalating others into action.
‘You did your research.’
‘Well, some of us aren’t amateurs.’
‘We know how you killed them. The syringe punctures left traces.’
A solitary round of applause echoed down the phone line and Kit’s hands balled into fists, nails turning from pink to white and reddening at their base. I scribbled down a prompt and flicked it over to him; he scanned it and continued to push.
‘You said there were more?’
‘No. I said perhaps,’ the voice paused and chuckled, ‘you should listen, Kitty. Time’s running out.’
‘I said listen. Did I not?’
I checked the stopwatch as the call began to close on the three minute mark. A smile crept across the techies’ faces. John mimed ‘thirty seconds’ at me. I signalled to Kit by tapping at my wrist and holding up three fingers.
He nodded, ‘So why then?’
‘Don’t you feel anything for those you’ve killed?’
‘I had my reasons…and I could ask you the same.’
‘What?’ Kit replied. The line crackled, punctuated by a few breaths, he pulled the phone closer, ‘Now. Listen, here-’
‘I think not. Time’s up.’
The phone fell dead. Kit shouted out, ‘Tell me we got a trace.’ Nobody disturbed the silence. Ripping off his headphones, he drove his fist straight into the plasterboard and stormed out the room, shouting ‘Sarah!’ behind him.
I’d left number six in a gutter, number seven semi-submerged in his bath and number eight had washed up next to the pier. Now, a flat pack office set-up faced me, complete with plastic potted plant, MDF desk and a filing cabinet that wouldn’t prove a challenge to the most amateur of criminals. I strode around number nine lying motionless, face-down on the floor. I’d expected he’d be harder work than the others, but his lifeless form spoke as did his mismatched attire of stains and scuff next to my three-piece. The flip clock panel fell down to read 12:52, the click reminding me classes finished at one. Crouching down next to the body, I picked up the empty syringe and pocketed it, then ran one finger under the gum line. Latex navigated my way from squishy solidity to rows of gone off white and the join between. Using my digit I pushed the mandible apart to give myself room to work as nicotine, stale and congealed wafted out. I wrinkled my nose at the intrusion and forced my finger between metal and the flesh of the roof of the mouth; there was a slight click as it came away and I dragged the casing out of his jaw. I turned the crescent of molars in my hand and counted the sixteen semi squares. Laying it on plastic wrap, I crushed it under my boot, paying special attention to the wisdom teeth until each broke and crumbled away from the denture base. A square of black poked out against the white, its underside covered in a gold scrawl and its sides edged with anchor teeth. Standing at less than four millimetres in all directions I plucked the microchip out with tweezers, slowly so as not to damage it. I dropped it lightly into a ziplock bag, pushing the seam along the top until it sealed shut and concealed it in my pocket.
The clunk from the clock signalled 12:58 as I gathered up my things and ripped off my gloves. I left him in a heap on the floor, his mouth lolling open in a toothless smile; pausing only to dig my elbow into the fire alarm. The new-fangled American system screamed into action and I joined the crowds fleeing the sprinklers as the drops washed away any possible trace of my presence. I pulled my hat down low to shield my face as the whole building emptied in just under three minutes and people gathered into their lines. My watch beeped once. I was still on time, two more to go before him.
The phone rang out across the bullring and heads jerked until every eye in the office was focused upon it. Kit took it to his ear cutting the chime mid-note. He said nothing but shook his head several times, before replacing the receiver. The masses sat in their wheelie chairs, nibbling the edges of polystyrene cups as he announced ‘Booth’s gone,’ and I watched the colour drain from a roomful of cheeks. Kit about-turned, sweeping the phone to the floor and marched into his office. I followed him in, slamming the door shut on the delayed uproar of ‘Booth?’ and the monotone drag of a dialling tone.
‘How many now Sarah?’
‘Officially nine,’ I replied as he dumped himself down, ‘but, unofficially eleven.’
‘We lost contact with two in the last week, no check-ins or activity reported.’
‘Physical proof of termination?’
‘Not technically Sir, but two bodies have been found. No finger prints. No teeth. Puncture to the neck. Just like the others.’ He sat eyes closed, face screwed up and set, the only motion about him emanating from his fingers drumming the arm of the chair. I played with the edge of my manicure pulling the little thread of flesh down until I felt the sharp indicator and ripped it off. ‘What shall I inform them?’ He continued to repeat his fingertip tune, but offered me no solution. ‘The public are talking. It’s already on the news.’ Slamming my papers down on his desk, I broke his chorus. ‘The agents are dead Kit! Deal with it-’
‘Deal with it?’ He said pulling himself up level with me, ‘You didn’t even know them.’
‘I’m sorry. But, it’s happened. We can’t change-’
‘I’m next,’ he said looking me straight in the eye, ‘I’m the only one left.’
I swallowed, ‘Then we need to catch him. But, you have to do something.’
He leapt into action; tearing open the door and startling the crowd, ‘Listen! You have twenty-four hours to get me something. A scrap of DNA; anything or, better still, him. I’m declaring this Situation Red.’ The faces stared back, ‘Well what are you waiting for?’ he commanded, and slammed the door on the rising commotion. He turned to me, ‘Get everyone in. No holidays, no sick days, no nothing, until I have him dead or better. Got that?’
‘It’s a start.’
‘Now, what’s next?’ He said, stretching his hands out in front of him and placing them on the window overlooking the South Bank. His outline against the glass blocked out the dying light filtering in through the window. Across the river, to the left of his thumb sat Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament, all at such a distance you could squash them between your fingertips.
I snapped on a pair at my desk; I’d gone for green this time. The latex recoiled slightly and sucked against my palms in that bittersweet sensation, not clammy as others found, but secure. Pulling the letter towards me I toyed with the corner of the paper, feeling its edge against my nail before placing the eleven chips in the centre with a ziplock bag of my own, then folded the letter evenly and slid it into an envelope. I replaced the chair and made my way along the white taped walkway of my flat to the 1950s wireless radio. The smooth solidity of its exterior slid under my glove and I traced a finger down the grooves of beech against mahogany that ran on the casing. It shone out a dull light, vintage and soft, unlike the surrounding electronics that flickered with LED artificiality. Reaching just below my ribs it was substantial in stature and refurbished to my requirements. I turned it on, filling the air with electrical emptiness, pushing up hairs on the back of my neck. Twisting the dials on the front, I faded in and out of speech and song for the right frequency. The hour hand twitched towards the six and the pips sounded on the airwaves as I settled myself down to wait for today’s body count; if I was lucky it’d be into double figures by now.
I checked my phone: three missed calls and a voicemail from Kit, but it was too early; the birds hadn’t yet bothered to make themselves heard and I sat in my suit, impatient for the coffee machine to finish. The week’s post sat on the chair next to me. I rifled through an assortment of bills, junk mail and takeaway menus to discover one envelope with ‘Do not bend’ stamped clearly across the front. I dug my finger into the seal; ripped along leaving a jagged line of paper on the kitchen table, pulled out the letter inside and opened it. Things pattered down into my lap as I scanned from ‘Dear Sarah,’ to ‘The one they left behind,’ and the final ‘P.S – It was goose fat.’ I looked down to see a shower of microchips covering my skirt and a small ziplock bag of chunky dust. Trying not to displace anything, I speed-dialled Kit who picked up after three rings. ‘Get here now.’
‘I have a feeling you’ll know why I’m covered in microchips,’ I replied.
‘Don’t touch a thing.’
He arrived ten minutes later with a team, all dressed in white plastic. Within seconds, two had plucked all eleven chips off me. Kit engrossed, darted between the typed fonts of the letter and envelope, eyes reading and re-reading it. The forensic techie took the ziplock bag to the window and studied its contents against the light.
‘What is it?’ I asked him.
‘Another microchip, just crushed I reckon, making twelve-’
‘Everybody out.’ Kit said, getting up from his chair.
‘Out. You won’t find anything,’ he paused turning the letter over in his hands, ‘I know who it is.’ The team filed out clicking the door shut behind them.
‘Remember that explosion off the coast of Italy in the late 1980’s?’
‘Yes, the rebels blew up a battleship.’
‘No, we did,’ said Kit. Putting his hand into his mouth, he wrenched sharply down. There was a click and he produced a set of dentures. Counting his way round the teeth, he took a knife from the rack and prised two wisdom teeth away from the rest. With one hand, he, crushed them on the worktop beneath his palm and slipped the dentures back into his mouth with the other. ‘Thirteen of us were sent as part of Operation Marianelli. They removed any trace of identity from us in case we were caught - no teeth, no fingerprints and DNA testing was less than useless back then - but we all had these for internal identification.’ He lifted his hand up and amongst the crush sat a microchip identical to the others.
‘But, it was terrorist activity. How could you?’
Seizing my hand he pulled me towards him, ‘Drastic action had to be taken, the threat was eradicated, the peace process pushed through and a treaty established. Thousands were saved.’
I snatched my hand back, ‘The UN called it an abomination. That casualty on the ship, he was burned so badly, nothing but an outline left. How-’
‘We thought it was Marcus.’
‘You left him behind?’
‘He was seeing to the wiring and I tried to get him to leave, but he wouldn’t. It was about to explode. But, it wasn’t him. It was goose fat!’
‘It burns like human fat. He must have drawn an outline. I had to get my team off there, we couldn’t wait,’ he said, eyes searching for mine, ‘but, why does it matter? He’s alive!’
‘And now the rest of your friends aren’t.’
He tried to sputter some more explanation, but I didn’t want to hear. Leaving him at the breakfast bar, I went to the coffee machine throwing the lukewarm batch down the sink and began the process again until the aroma filled the room. He was still there in his suit, not sharply cut like normal, but slept in and wrinkled. Dark circles etched his face as he deliberated over the letter. Pouring myself a mug, I took a sip of the bittersweet liquid, feeling it warm my insides and took a step towards him, ‘How can we find him?’
Kit smiled, ‘He was brilliant but, never good enough. The postmark. South London.’
‘But, thousands live there?’
‘Give Marcus a computer and he’s away. But he’s predictable, ham and cheese on Rye for lunch and Angus Steak only from St Andrews for dinner with a glass of Papstleiten Malojer, he had it every day. Same outfit, from Saville’s same cut just in different colours and everything in its place. Somewhere there’s an address with those deliveries and a truck load of medical grade latex gloves.’
‘How do you know all that?’
‘I was his commanding officer; it was my job to know any weaknesses.’
‘He might have changed.’
‘No, he had that routine for the ten years I worked with him. He’d have it shipped out on missions; it’s why I could never clear him for Solo missions.’
‘Okay, you write down the brand names, shops and anything else you remember and we’ll send them ahead to John. I’ll call the office and get a car.’
They fell into the flat in some form of organized chaos, each carrying an HK G3k. Black on black uniforms with lace-up boots edged along the walls before swinging round the door frame calling ‘CLEAR’, until each corner had been visually scraped clean. They pooled in the centre of the living room, pulling up the visors of their helmets.
‘I’ll call it in,’ their leader said, before grappling with the radio on his shoulder, ‘Break-Break. Suspect not present. Repeat. Suspect not present. Location clear. Over.’
‘Roger that. 10-4. Sending in support. Over,’ his radio crackled back.
There was more talk from the costumed crew as I opened my laptop and pushed the button prompting it to whirr into action. Today, I’d coated my palms in a lilac shade of latex and I flexed them in the small amount of space available in front of me inside the wooden casing. Through the fabric mesh, the heavies shifted from foot to foot and scratched at themselves; making monosyllabic conversation as I looked on. Smiling, I double clicked the short cut and sat back to watch.
Each and every item in the flat was encircled in a white outline, except for one empty rectangle on the left of Marcus’ desk. A line of hard drives on the top of the bookcase sat near a large free-standing computer screen which featured a countdown ticking its way towards 00:00. I strode over to the desk. Pens lay regimented side by side, colour by colour, the same brand label facing upwards. Wrapping my hand in my coat, I pulled a drawer open. Inside lay the same paper and envelope he had sent the microchips in.
‘Can someone bag this and check for a match?’ I called out and one of the plastic-coated party advanced towards me with dark blue gloved hands, then bagged, tagged and sealed the item in an evidence bag to be scrutinised back at the lab. I left him to check on Kit’s progress with the leader of the advanced unit; they stood by the timer watching the seconds fall away.
‘Sir, it appeared, while we were waiting on support.’
‘How long were we given?’ Kit asked.
‘Ten minutes,’ the leader replied, ‘I radioed it in when it started and then all the drives on the shelves kicked into life.’
Kit nodded, dismissed the man and turned to me. I ran over procedures taken so far to evacuate the building, setting John and his team in charge of the computer analysis and digital evidence, while the forensic team would search for DNA and physical evidence as the clock ticked from eight to seven minutes. John’s techies buffeted around us, photographing and setting up computer equipment.
‘You’re sure this is his place?’
‘Definitely, just looking in the fridge confirmed it. However, the white outlines are a new quirk; his OCD must have progressed.’ Kit replied.
I nodded and cast an eye around. The lights on the drives at first shimmered white, before a permanent red began to spread from one end of them to the other. At the bottom of the computer screen ‘SENDING’ flashed on and off as underneath, lists of e-mail addresses scrolled by.
‘What’s happening?’ Kit called.
‘He’s forwarding documents to all news and media stations, but wiping everything afterwards, Sir.’ John replied.
‘Probably a pre-set programme. We can’t connect to any equipment in here; all the USB ports have been removed and he’s played with the internal wiring. The only option is wireless connection, but he’s encrypted it.’
‘Hack it or pull the plug.’
‘Pulling it won’t stop him. He’ll be accessing remotely and to have created such a system as this, he’ll have other means.’
‘There’s less than five minutes. We have to be realistic-’
‘Just do it!’
John ran back to his team’s laptop line up, fingers darting over keyboards. Their screens flicked through window after window, each filling itself to the brim with layers of 0s and 1s. I watched as a blur of binary digits in code strings flew across their pages, the sound of keys against seconds and my teeth destroyed the last indications of a manicure. ‘He’s used a variable-width, polynomial encryption.’ A techie shouted, sitting bolt upright.
‘It’s not solvable and we’ve got less than a minute.’ John said, eyes never deviating from the screen, ‘We need the password. Only one attempt allowed. Ideas?’
‘Search the place.’ Kit ordered and every set of hands began mauling through the flat, passing anything and everything under Kit’s gaze, until he snatched at a photo, ‘Where did you find this?’
‘It was taped to-’
‘He’s doing something,’ a techie shouted. On the main screen, thirty seconds flashed in red, then a series of ten short lines followed by a forward slash and then another series of nine appeared. Letters began to fall down starting with vowels, A, E I O and U and a hangman style figure began to erect itself at the rejection of U. More letters continued to fall until the two words Operation Marianeli sat side by side accompanied by a crudely drawn hung figure. The colour washed down Kit’s face as he studied the photo of the group of men, all but two of whom were dead. Kit featured amongst them, but in a much younger model. He flipped the photo over and on the back, there was a list of names and a date. Kit dashed forward, pushing John’s techies out the way and typed ‘13.8.1989’ into the password box hitting return, just as a cartoon laugh echoed through the air and
Operation Marianeli Sent
flashed on the screen, before the power cut out.
‘Did it really send?’ Kit asked.
‘Yes,’ one voice replied.
I pulled my torch out of my pocket as Kit barged his way towards the exit, shouting, ‘Rip it apart.’ over his shoulder.
I sat and watched as they brought in standing lights, shifting the wireless slightly as they crashed down a generator next to me to run them. Sarah oversaw the process and set them about their work, stripping my place bare of any hint of electronic equipment, while she tip-tapped about in her heels with notepad, advising technicians and answering calls from Kit. Her team photographed each section meticulously, switching between 50 and 80mm lenses and then removed each item individually, until all that remained was the furniture outline of the flat. Empty bookshelves sat next to drawer-less desks and filing cabinets. Sarah came and leaned against the Wireless. Her fingers lingered on its surface and I reached and placed my latex palm on the underside, less than two centimetres away.
With no personal effects remaining to hide its sparseness, I escorted the last techie out of the flat, sealed the door and walked down the stairs. The rest of the flats had been evacuated, but the residents lined the barriers around the site talking and pointing. Journalists had appeared in a chorus of ‘Operation Marianeli’ and ‘How could you leave him to die?’ My breath condensed around me in the night air as I started to seal the external door. One white plastic coated man tapped from the wrong side of the glass with his purple glove, grinning sheepishly. I wrenched open the door.
‘This scene is meant to be secure now.’
‘Sorry Maam, I was checking for letters downstairs and was directed to find you. Someone found something upstairs.’
‘I was the last to -’
‘It was urgent. Something to do with a laptop?’
I thanked him and raced back up the stairs, calling Kit on my radio. The door had been unsealed from the inside and I felt for my pepper spray located in my coat, nudging the door open with my boot. The flat was exactly as I’d left it, apart from the wireless that sat against the wall; the front of which hung open on a hinge. Inside was a cushion with the recent imprint of someone seated fading out of it, a laptop and a set of dentures, barring two teeth. Kit appeared beside me. I turned back towards the stairs but Kit grabbed hold of my arm and stopped me.
‘He’ll be long gone. Call a press conference.’
‘But, he was here!’
‘And now he’s not, make the call.’
‘There’s already one underway, back at the Southbank.’ I replied.
‘That won’t help. I left him. It was my decision. He knows this.’
‘So, why do you need a press conference?’
‘He wants an apology, and he wants the world to know about it.’
The screen suddenly lit up and across it crawled a series of words.
Sorry I could not stop and chat longer, Sarah.
Kit, it’s been a pleasure as always.
See you around.
The newly remembered.
The screen flickered then turned black as I turned to Kit, ‘He’s not going to stop is he?’ I asked.
‘No,’ Kit replied. ‘Not until he has me exactly where he wants me.’