Read Ben Bracken: Origins (Ben Bracken Books 1 - 5) Online

Authors: Robert Parker

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Ben Bracken: Origins (Ben Bracken Books 1 - 5) (2 page)

BOOK: Ben Bracken: Origins (Ben Bracken Books 1 - 5)
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As he previews the documents, he sees names, dates of birth, locations and vital statistics. At first it seems like the worlds most basic dating website, no pictures, just text. Then he sees each one has a price, with three currencies listed - pounds, euros, dollars. Now it resembles a seedy escort agency’s online menu. Then he twigs the dates of birth, which rocks him to the core. The dates of birth are staggeringly recent. Really, jaw-droppingly recent. There are girls as young as three listed, and none older than twelve. The notebook represents a vile catalogue of paedophile sickness, a stomach-churning morass of the most immoral and base taboo. What Trev holds in his hand, appears to be the central nerve centre of a nationwide child sex ring.

Trev can’t believe simple text could hit so hard. He yanks his mobile out of his pocket, and now knows there’s only one number he can call. He thumbs through the contacts and stops on Ben Bracken.

 

2

The Campanile Hotel walls are peeling. A pastel lemon wallpaper that once might have been considered classy now looks worn and a bit sickly - it could well be the colour swatch for nausea. From his bed, Ben Bracken has to turn onto his stomach to avoid the sight of it. He is wide awake, but he shouldn’t be. He drank enough to fell a silverback last night, but no amount of alcohol will send him to sleep. The drink is a big problem, but what makes it worse is surely the lack of sleep. He can’t sleep off the epic hangovers he surely gives himself, so the following day is just another gross battle through a hangover until he gets to that next pint. But in this spiral he is in, it only starts the process again.

Alongside the bubbling hangover rests a deep bitterness, which has nestled in and buried itself deep down rather happily. It nags, tugs and pulls, but it never seems to make any effort to get out. And Ben doesn’t do anything to rid the infestation either. He feeds it with the booze, and he knows it - but he also knows he isn’t done wallowing yet. Plenty more where that came from.

He’s only been back in the country 3 weeks (and 2 days), but he’s already had enough. He saw more in the combat-torn dustbowl of Helmland Province to last a lifetime, and his perspective took a jarring he will never shake. He has seen things no man should ever see, felt things no man should ever feel and done things any man would wish he could take back. He knows the past is the past. Nothing can change who he is now.

He will never get over his exit from the armed forces, and the sense of betrayal is so palpable it burns with every breath. He will never understand the society he had given everything to protect - such sacrifice for a people and way of life he just doesn’t get. He must have known it at the time, but it now simply doesn’t compute. He sees persecution for the people that return from combat even when they left the army on the right terms - God knows what they make of Ben and his dishonourable discharge. Just another thing he must live with, that he can’t do anything about.

The hate begins to well in him, that familiar swell of a hot red tide against the corners of his skull, and the vomit begins to rise with it. He reaches for the bin by the bed, strategically placed there the night before, when the phone rings. The sudden noise jars his combat-taut senses and prompts immediate action - he has answered the phone before he has even recognized it is ringing.

‘Yes’ he says.

‘Ben, it’s Trev here, are you up?’ The familiar voice of his old schoolfriend Trevor Houghton should ease his state, but it doesn’t - not at this hour.

‘What’s happening, Trev?’

‘I have a big problem’ Trev responds, his voice ragged.

‘Go - all the details’ Ben instructs.

‘Freya has been kidnapped by some... really bad guys. I can’t go to the police, they’ll kill her.’

Ben is in the zone, hangover forgotten. The memory of problem-solving in violent situations pulls focus into clarity and it’s a familiar one. It’s something he is good at, and at this stage, it is welcome. Adrenaline hits his hangover for six - it’ll come back later, but this crisis needs immediate attention.

‘Do you have a location?’ Ben asks.

‘3298 Beetham Tower.’

‘What do they want?’

‘A laptop. It’s filled with details of a child sex ring that the leader seems to operate.’

Ben is silent for a second in revulsion, but then he can only shake his head as two questions rattle angrily inside him - what society have I really come back to!? This is the society I gave everything to protect!?

‘You have the laptop?’

‘Yes’

‘You have a deadline for its return?’

‘8am.’

‘You have a contact number for them?’

‘Yes, it’s-’

Ben interrupts. ‘Save the rest for when I see you. Bring the laptop and the number to Castlefield, Canal Side opposite Dukes. I’m down at the Campanile, only 400 metres from Beetham Tower. As you come down, come through the side streets and through Spinningfields. They’ll have eyes on Deansgate.’

‘Will do. I’ll set off now.’

‘No, we have time. Get a black coffee, four spoons of the instant stuff you have. Take a second, compose yourself. The closer we leave it to deadline, the more things are in our favour. They are sex-traffickers, not killers - they’ll be bricking it about maybe having to kill someone.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘Yes.’ Ben wasn’t.

‘OK.’

‘It’s 5.20 now. Meet me at 6.00 where we discussed.’

Ben hangs up, and immediately gets out of bed. He is still dressed in the black combats (once you get used to pockets everywhere, it seems stupid not to have them anymore) and the frayed red shirt (10 years old, one of the only ‘going out‘ shirts he has) he wore the night before. He grabs his pack, army issue, camouflage covered, and opens it. His mind is so fixed on the objective, that he forgets to worry for his friend and the safety of Freya. It would be wasted energy - right now, it’s fixing time.

 

3

A light mist hangs over the Manchester Ship Canal, as a couple of Greylag geese saunter around the bows of a moored barge. The scene would be idyllic, if it weren’t for the grim tide raging inside Ben’s mind. Nothing looks pretty when you feel like this. He looks up, to his left. Beetham Tower looks perilously close now, and stares down at him almost screaming ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!’. 3298, Ben thinks, over and over again.

He can hear footsteps from the bridge to his right, echoing through the stillness. Ben checks his watch - a reliable old school Casio - and thinks ‘Right on time’.

Trev appears through the tunnel, walking briskly, with a backpack. He notices Ben, and marches straight to him, breaking into a slight jog as he approaches.

‘Save it, save it,’ Ben instructs, gesturing a slowing down motion with his hands.

‘It’s taken every part of me not to sprint all the way here’ Trev replies.

‘You alert?’ Ben asks. He scrutinizes him carefully.

‘Yes - wired to high hell.’

Ben eyes him. ‘I’ll tell you all sorts of sorry’s about what’s happened as soon as we get out of there,’ he points over his shoulder to the hulking tower leaning over them. ‘But now is certainly not the time’.

‘What’s the plan?’ Trev asks.

‘The laptop.’ Ben holds his hand out.

Trev unshoulders the pack and a quick rummage brings out the notebook, he hands it over. Ben shuts his eyes on receipt.

‘The girls’ Ben states grimly. ‘Are they... young?’

Trev sighs. ‘Yes, very.’

In one motion, Ben drops the laptop across his now-rising knee and splits the machine into fractures of plastic, metal, circuitry and motherboard.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’

‘Two things. One: I’m making them address us. How are they going to bargain with us if we don’t have anything to bargain with? Two: I’m shutting down one sick kiddy sex ring. Step one is done.’

‘How do you do step two?’ Trev asks.

Ben points midway up Beetham Tower. ‘By ripping the head off the serpent.’

‘You boys are out early!’ A voice cuts through the crystal air. It’s female with a playful air that doesn’t really fit the scene.

Both Ben and Trev snap around to the source, and standing near the tunnel entrance are two women, all leather, straps, PVC and heavy make up. Textbook prostitutes, Ben thinks.

‘Not now, thank you.’ Calls Ben, preempting the come on.

‘Oh, look at you, wandering about at this time, you’re still dressed like you’re looking for some action’ the taller of the two shouts. In heels (massive ones) she is just over six feet, but six and a half with the beehive that sits merrily and messily up top. She takes a big stride over.

‘We do look a little overdressed for jogging’ suggests Trev.

‘One each, how convenient! We can do you a special!’ shouts the smaller one, who by normal standards, is not that small. Her eyelashes look like they could whip someone else’s eye out, never mind her own. They are approaching, in an awkward mix of attempted sexiness while trying to cover the ground quickly to get to them. It doesn’t look so bad on the smaller one, but the tall one looks like a horny giraffe at pub closing time.

‘Did you see them as you arrived?’ Ben murmurs softly to Trev.

‘No.’

‘You recognize them at all?’

‘Never seen them.’

‘OK.’ Ben steps forward, gaining a physical rebuff to their advancement. It always amazed Ben how animal human interaction can be, no matter the circumstances. It didn’t slow the oncoming women at all, but that gives Ben all the info he needs. There is another purpose to their being here, and it’s not to close the deal on one last trick for the night.

As they get to the men, there is a slight slowing, as they fork and each pick a man to approach. The tall one goes for Ben, the smaller one angles for Trev. Ben steps quickly centrally to block them both off.

‘Ladies, I did say, now is not the time.’

Ben feels the whistling knife before he even sees it. The tall one is bringing her right hand up from her side to Ben’s neck at slashing speed. Ben was expecting it, and takes an angled step forward to meet it, bobbing right to avoid the knife and blocking with his left arm. As he blocks the knife-arm, he dips low and lets rip a furious uppercut into the woman’s guts, damn near doubling her up over his fist.

He almost has to shake her off his hand, as the little one dives and claws at his head and shoulders. It reminds Ben of when he was a kid growing up in Yorkshire, when the family cat would get a bit rowdy and have a bit of a pop at you. He grabs hair, and yanks. Part of the hair comes away, a horrible cheap weave, but the hair that is firmly attached, he holds on to. He pulls the woman off him and holds her at arms length - and plants a vicious headbutt right on the bridge of her nose. Her caterwauling cuts instantly and she hits the cobbles like a sack of manure. The other woman gasps for breath, and Ben can only spit words at her.

‘If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up.’

The breathing softens. It all took place in about 4 seconds. Trev stands there amazed, unmoving.

‘You... hit a woman.’

‘No, I hit two women. Trev - if someone’s trying to chiv your throat out take them down by any means. If you really have to, check for meat and two veg afterwards.’

Trev has absolutely no comeback for that one. ‘Were they....?

‘Yes - they must have been following you. It’s when they saw that you weren’t alone they acted.’

‘Jesus’ Trev looks at the two women on the floor. ‘I haven’t seen anything like that before.’

‘I dare say it’ll get worse than that before we hit deadline. Now let’s go. Follow me. We are going through the hotel, but the flat number you gave me is up in residential.’

The two men start to jog towards the tower, leaving the two prone women on the floor. A goose honks solemnly in the distance - a foghorn for the stormy times ahead, Trev thinks.

 

4

The lobby is a cavern of marble, glass and titanium, but at this time, there is also silence. A lone receptionist sits at the check-in desks on the left, with an even lonelier security guard by the revolving doors. There would have been activity more earlier, but at 6.40am? The drunks have long gone home, and the day is getting started - or at least it would be, but it’s a Sunday, and therefore even quieter than normal.

Ben marches straight in, nodding an acknowledgement to the guard. Best way to gain acceptance somewhere is to act like you are supposed to be there, Ben thinks. He arrows to the desk, with the same sense of purpose that gives the guard no reason to worry or assume the worst, and approaches. Trev follows him closely, still carrying a very empty looking backpack.

Ben knows, from his life prior to the armed forces, that there are few things in life worse than a night shift, and there are few things in life better than a quick buck. As he walks he takes a fifty pound note out of his pocket, and as he gets to the receptionist, he drops it on the counter. The receptionist is a rather quiet looking bloke who looks like it is taking every ounce of energy not to slump off his chair with exhaustion.

‘I need to get up to residential, fast and quiet’, he states, matter-of-factly. His tone stinks of ‘don’t ask’. The receptionist doesn’t. A moment of indecision passes, before he reaches for the note. ‘We’re in’, thinks Ben. ‘How the hell is he doing this?’ thinks Trev.

The receptionist whisks the note into his blazer pocket and stands, and as he does so he simply utters ‘This way.’

He points to the lift block to the right of the desks, and Ben and Trev head towards the recess. The receptionist points into the back wall of the area that houses the lifts, to the wood panels that line the doors. One of the panels has a key hole. Taking a keyring from his trouser pocket, that appears to have a good 20 keys on it, the receptionist selects a key and opens the door. As it swings open, motion activated lights blink on beyond to reveal a cold grey concrete stairwell. Ben and Trev enter, and the receptionist immediately closes the door behind them.

Again, it has all happened so fast. Or it least, it had for Trev. Ben was actually a little disappointed they were in the lobby as long as they were, fearing anyone could have seen them. But still, he knows it hasn’t exactly gone badly.

BOOK: Ben Bracken: Origins (Ben Bracken Books 1 - 5)
2.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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