Then he saw me. The Assault team policeman was facing towards me, and was higher up on the stairs. While the others had had their backs to me and from their position, couldn’t see down the stairway to where I was,
But Officer Ansell could.
Before I could do anything he cried out,
“There he is!”
Then he half crouched, readying his weapon in one fluid movement. He gave just the slightest of foresight aim. Then he pulled the trigger.
* * *
Ch 28 – Way down we go.
I ran hard along the side of a wall. Using it shield me from at least one side.
I had no overcoat to slow me as I dashed through the cool night. Just my suit jacket and tie. I took them both off. Slung the jacket over an arm and put the tie into a pocket. I rolled up my sleeves as I ran. Trying as best as I could to change the visual image that the cops had had of me.
The top of my ear was still bleeding. The blood had soaked the shirt collar and shoulder on the right side. I could feel the wetness as much as I could feel the bullet sting. My ears were still ringing from the shots and the fighting. Eyes still had light stars. Bad ones. Like snow blindness. From the gun flashes. And the terror.
At least I was alive. Which was quite miraculous. Since just a half hour ago a policeman had fired a sub-machine gun into my face.
* * *
Officer Ansell had yelled out,
“There he is!”
Then half aimed and pulled the trigger of his Heckler and Koch.
I’d seen the muzzle flash but not heard the bullets whine.
Instinctively I had hunkered down. I felt a sting on right side of my head and heard a bullet thud into the brick of the stairwell beside my face. I turned quickly to run back down to the basement..
As I headed down I saw two bullet holes in the brick. That was all. Officer Ansell had either jammed his weapon or he’d already sprayed the other rounds into my expensive Vid’Screen in the office upstairs.
I wasn’t hanging around for him to reload.
The other three police had had their backs to me. They too had leapt for cover when the first one opened fire. I had a few seconds head start and had already had a look at the layout of the basement. I might have a chance.
I jumped the lower flight of steps. Falling in a sprawl at the half-landing of the stairwell. Without looking back I recovered enough to dash straight down into the basement.
The lights were off. I’d turned them off when the police had first come into the building. I couldn’t hear if they were pursuing me. My ears were still ringing and the building alarm was still going off. It hadn’t been that loud upstairs, or they would have turned it off. But it was loud down here for some reason. Must be wired up wrongly.
I didn’t wait to see if anyone was coming. Just ran straight across the floor. Thinking if I tripped now, I was doomed.
I was heading for that dimly illuminated, wrongly coloured, out of date, fire exit sign, at the top of the iron staircase. The one I had seen just a few minutes ago when I’d first gone down to find Bixby.
As I ran my left foot hit something in the blackness. It skittered away and didn’t slow me. It was probably Bixby’s tiny shoe. I took a step to the side as I ran. Not wanting to slip over in Lord Bixby’s black blood.
I kept going. Hands outstretched. Palms up. To ward off anything I might crash into.
I could hear some feet now. Even above the electronic and physical ringing in my ears. Beginning to come down. But much slower than mine.
I realised they were cautious. Not knowing if I was armed. And even though they had body armour and, Officer Ansell at least, would have seen that I hadn’t, they were being careful.
No one likes getting shot.
My hands touched the wall and I scrabbled along, towards the other stairs. Until I grabbed the railing of the iron staircase. I tripped up on something at the bottom. Nearly falling over. Only my hand on the rail keeping me upright. As I pushed at the obstruction something whacked me hard in the face. Hard enough to bring tears to the eyes. I kicked at it once more and some object flailed around wildly and whacked me in the face again.
An unmuffled voice, who must be Ansell as the other three had had their helmets on, called out, “Stop. Put your hands up. This is the police!”
Bit late for that, mate! He’d already fired without a warning. Without even a reason to shoot.
A more muffled and higher pitched voice, was screaming for backup on her helmet microphone. None of them had activated torches yet. Maybe not wanting to show their position and become a target.
I suddenly understood what was in my way and what was hitting me in the face. It was just a large, commercial sized, mop and bucket. The mop handle was spinning around every time I kicked against the big metal bucket, and was smacking into me.
I calmed myself. Seized the heavy duty metal bucket rim and hauled it out of the way. Giving it a powerful shove that sent it rattling across the concrete of the basement on its little wheels. It went a good dozen feet before it clattered into something and one of the police opened fire with a loud burst in the general direction of the noise. Bullets zinged and whined and a pain went through my left wrist. It numbed immediately and I lost my grip on the rail and slumped down to the concrete floor.
One of the other police was now also yelling for urgent backup. I heard another shot. Like a pistol shot. But it sounded far away. I couldn’t see hardly anything in the darkness. I might be blacking out. And I wouldn’t even know it. The gunfire that had been aimed at the bucket had taken out my night vision. Hopefully, it would have done the same for theirs.
I crouched down at the bottom of the steps. I couldn’t lift my left arm to hold onto the rail. I twisted so I could use my right. I was concealed by shadow and not much else. I would have to move. I tried to will myself back into consciousness.
Officer Ansell, who had removed his helmet before he came to the lobby, had fastened it to his belt. I could hear the barked radio chatter coming from it. It was the leader. The Captain. She was asking them for some situation clarity. She would want to know what was happening before she sent any of the top cover squad down here.
Wanted to avoid friendly fire.
I now realised that I could hear his radio. Which meant the ringing was less. I also realised that the office intruder alarm was no longer sounding. That single pistol shot must have been an exasperated Captain. She must have told one of her team to shoot it. Awareness was coming back to me. This was good. I needed my wits and senses to stay alive.
The policewoman down here, was now yelling out, “Cease fire! Cease fire!” To her companions.
One of the others was calling out, somewhat hopefully, for me to put my hands up and to kneel on the floor.
I saw a figure move in front of me. Silhouetted by the lights from the upstairs building as they passed briefly in front of the main stairwell.
So, I thought, the arrest team was still clinging for comfort near the stairs we’d come down from. That was also good. Gave me some hope. They didn’t know where I was.
I carried on up the staircase. Pulling myself along, one handed.
The boxes I had noted earlier as a fire risk, when I’d come down here to find Bixby, were heavy, but yielding. I crashed into the first one. They were boxes of something papery. Magazines or print run papers. The cardboard top would have collapsed if they hadn’t been full to the top. I clambered over the lower two, then fell into a big, puffed out, full bag. The bag was both hard and soft. But it had broken my fall and smothered any sound.
I could smell the garbage as soon as my hand touched the plastic bag. Recyclable plastic I’m sure. Wouldn’t want to be breaking the law in this building now, would we?
The building supervisor must bring the rubbish we tenants left in the little room on the ground floor, down here to the basement. To store them out of the way. Then piled them up on the staircase here the night before rubbish and recycling collection day.
Funny how you never wonder about these things in normal times. Funnier how I was wondering about them now, in abnormal times. As if it even mattered. I was definitely losing concentration. The head wound.
I thought carefully again. Hard.
The bags and boxes piled here, must mean, if I was right in my guess, that the fire exit at the top would open, and not be sealed up permanently. Like many a landlord did to keep the London thieving community out of their property.
It could be there were police stationed outside that door though. There should be. I would have had a team on exterior and another waiting in a vehicle for pursuit if I was planning this. Plus the command team.
But they had come in with a single purpose. Gone straight to my office. And come in as on a raid, not an arrest. They just hadn’t wanted to give me any warning. So I couldn’t flee or have any time to destroy anything they were after.
They hadn’t known Bixby was down in the basement. All folded up like a GAP sweater. If they had known in advance, then at least one team would have come straight down here. But they hadn’t come down here until they’d seen me, and seen me run down here. So perhaps they hadn’t anyone out there. Not that I could do much about it if they did.
I clambered over the boxes and bags. My arm sank through the thin plastic of one of them, right up to the armpit. I could feel something mushy and some hard cylinders. Could be tins. Glass cracked in the bag as I drew my arm back out of it.
The arm was stinging. I must have cut it.
“This is the Police!” The female office was calling to me.
“Stay where you are and do not move. Or we will be forced to open fire.”
She had heard me squelching along the bin bags.
I regained my balance and took a jump to get me over the lower bags, and the bottom of the staircase. I scrambled over the last line of them, and saw from the badly illuminated Fire Exit sign, the other half of the stairwell was mercifully clear of obstruction. I sunk my arm into the bag again. Pulled out the heaviest thing in there.
It was too dark to see what it was. Felt a little like a photo frame. Whatever it was, I threw it as hard as I could with my good arm, over to the furthest side wall. It banged off the wall and although it didn’t shatter, it did make a good solid sounding thump as it landed on something over there. Loud enough for the woman to call out a halt order again.
I jumped to my feet and ran hard at the ten or so steps in front of me, and reached the top of the fire exit. I’d made a lot of noise but no ore shouts or shots came. I took a two step run at the exit bar on the door and again prayed it wasn’t locked up tight.
It wasn’t. It burst open easily and I fell through the door, into the outside night air.
Just as the police in the basement were finally putting their torches on and swinging the beams around the basement.
I kicked the door closed behind me and heard the push bar lock. Drawing big breaths from the night air, that was beautifully cool. On my hands and knees, looking around, I saw there were no other police squads stationed out here.
I did see a huge, industrial, four wheeled roll-top waste bin. Just to the side and right by the fire exit door. The bin that ordinarily, on rubbish collection day, those boxes stacked up the fire escape, would be emptied into. Thankfully the big bin was not a fixed metal, skip type, container. It was on wheels.
I removed the brake and dragged the large rubbish bin in front of the fire exit. Even as I heard the police inside begin to clamber up the same steps I’d just come through.
It blocked the doors and would prevent them from opening. I put the brake back on and ran. Stumbling, as fast and as far away from the Swarbrick building as I could possibly get.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file