I waited some more for the machine to do something, but it did nothing pressed the touchscreen again. Nothing happened.
I couldn’t just go on standing here in the concourse of the bridge ticket area. I could sense someone coming behind me.
Another person wanting a single toll ticket. This wasn’t a patient city. I’d have to leave the queue if this machine didn’t do anything in a few seconds. Or I’d be drawing attention to myself.
In the reflection of the touchscreen I could make out that it was a young woman behind me.
Shuffling a little with annoyance at the time I was taking.
I turned my head away slightly away from the person behind me to shield my ear from her view. As I did so, a woman’s hand came into my vision. Belonging to that stranger behind me.
Ch 32 – Finding Safety.
I was about to grab the hand with the pistol. Going to grab her wrist and break the Radius over my knee. Size the gun when it dropped. Shoot my way out. But just in time I realised the woman’s hand was empty. There was no gun. It was just a woman’s hand All she was doing was pointing a finger.
She moved her hand passed me to the display screen. And used her pointed index finger to press on to one of the touch-screen buttons that said YES.
The machine whirred. And my paper ticket was dispensed. Along with a receipt. I turned around and the woman smiled at me. She pointed to the ticket. “You take this! And GO…UP THERE.” she indicated the steps to the bridge crossing.
She had mistaken me for a non English speaking tourist. And in all fairness I’d been acting like one. Standing in front of the machine and not realising I needed to press a button when the screen had asked if I wanted a receipt. YES or NO?
I took the ticket and receipt. Said ‘Danke,’ to the woman, and moved to the stairs.
My nerves were taut. I had been sure she had been holding a gun, when all it had been was her index finger. That’s what no sleep does to you. Especially on top of almost being killed.
I’d been partying hard with the guys the night before last. Slept in my office only a few hours. Then Vanessa had found me dozing in there. I’d been up to her place.
Back to London, for the Reform Club. Then to my office again to do some work.
Where I’d still been awake at three A.M. when I’d discovered a dead Lord Bixby and then been raided and shot at.
The rest of the night and early morning I’d spent hiding in doorways and in the park with a homeless guy. Sharing his bench. I was so tired I might be hallucinating. I really needed to get some sleep.
I went up the stairs to the bridge entrance. Put in my toll ticket, which the machine swallowed, and then I went down onto the tracks, which were deactivated. I’d lost my city boy group of commuters, so I tagged behind two Asian women. They had J.P. Morgan passes around their necks. Heading off to work.
I got on my fake phone again. Pretending to order myself a whole menu of Deliveroo imaginary food and some medical supplies. And a big fluffy pillow. Just like the ones Lady Vanessa had had on her bed.
Suddenly there was a click, then a buzz, as the loudspeakers of TFL came on for an announcement. I braced myself.
If this was a:
“Halt! Halt. You with the soft cheese and sun dried tomato, cardboard wedge at your ear. Pretending to talk on a fake phone! Halt!”
announcement, I’d need to try and make a run for it.
I was in the middle of the bridge now. It was far too high to jump off without serious injury or death. Even if I got to the end, the barriers were manned. Unless it was the usual old retired cops from other police departments, now working not so hard for what was TFL, I couldn’t fight my way through many of them. My left arm still hardly moved at all below the elbow. I couldn’t block, or punch with it. And when I ran, its unbalanced movement slowed me.
So I’d have to try and bluff it. But if they were seeking a man who might have recently received a facial wound, I wouldn’t be able to bluff very far.
There was a cough down a microphone. Then a heavily Jamaican accented London voice said,
I half bent down, ready to make a sprint back the way I had come. Bundling people into and out of my path as I went.
“..Harlt! All of you peoples. Halrt at de bar-ree-her, for some free cup of coffee, from Java Joe’s. Tank you.”
And I straightened back up. Pretending I had just scooped up a coin from the floor, dropping it into my trouser pocket, and continuing on with my imaginary phone call.
While trying to control my pounding heart.
I needed to get hidden, quickly.
I hoped Dacia had got moving and gone to ground. She would only be an afterthought for any investigation into me. But any decent detective team would want to question her. And she had been my secretary, tech support, researcher, Personal Assistant and friend, for many years. She knew loads.
But she had survived on the streets long before I ever met her. So she should be fine. She was a tough, capable girl. Knew how to hide. And knew considerably more about digital surveillance and tracking than even I did. She was a good kid.
I should worry about myself.
The guard at the barriers didn’t even look up from his monitor, as the gates opened automatically to let us all off the toll bridge. The crowd thickened around the stairs, which was good cover for me.
I wished I had a hat and sunglasses. But that might have been overkill. It was September. So it wasn’t cold enough for a beanie or a fake fur hat. Nor really sunny enough for sunglasses.
Though I had seen a real trendy guy walking with the crowd as I crossed the bridge. He wore bright blue lensed, John Lennon style framed, round sunglasses But he was so folk-festively dressed he must have been a musician going to play at one of the good hotels up ahead here. The Crowne. Or maybe the Premier Inn?
I peeled off from the larger crowd and turned down a small side street, not much more than an alley, that ran alongside The Mermaid conference centre. This was a big building, and all along its roof where wind turbines, mobile masts and security cameras.
But I was very nearly at my destination now, so not so worried. I dropped my sandwich box and the unicorn design tablet case onto the top of a junction box and turned into an even smaller alley. Little more than a garbage bin access road, and went down a flight of concrete steps, that led to an unmarked brown wooden door.
I pressed a bell, that was almost unseen. It being the same grey slate colour as the concrete wall. You kind of have to already know where these things are if you want to get into these places.
I waited, leaning against the wall. Feeling the tiredness rise up through my legs. I’d been running and walking for a few hours. I’d like a good sleep.
There was the sound of keys turning and a bolt being drawn. But the door didn’t open. So I looked up to where a camera was concealed in the brickwork. Showing my face, full frontal. I even raised a hand to wave. Along with a tired smile.
The door opened and a big man in a bad suit came out.
“Hello Leo,” I said to him, quietly.
“Well, well,” he said back. A gruff trace of New York in his accent “Joe Malone.” He rolled the name around his mouth. Tasting the words. Finding them not to his liking, he spat my name out.
“Joe Malone. I thought I told youse not to come round here no more! Beat it, you, lowlife, Department pig!”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file