Authors: Robert Parker
Tags: #Ben Bracken: Origins - Ben Bracken Books 1-5
Trev looks up the stairway, and sees what looks like hundreds of floors stacked up above of them. Ben starts the walking the stairs steadily.
‘Walk, don’t run.’ instructs Ben. ’30 second breaks every five floors. Don’t want to risk burnout.’
‘Of course.’ Trev responds, and falls into place at Ben’s side like an obedient dog.
They traverse the stairs at a steady pace. As they climb, Ben’s thoughts rattle to possibilities and planning, while counting the floors. ‘Assess number of hostiles...13... Locate hostiles... Find best exit... 14... Locate Freya... Get hands on firearm... 15... Keep Trev safe... Find the main man... 16...’
His thoughts pop in at random, but they meld onto each other to form a cogent map in his head with a plan of detailed instructions alongside it. He always adhered to the notion that a good plan is better than any weapon you may be carrying... but he also firmly believes that it’s better to have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it. And at this present moment he is very short of firepower. He knows, that if they are packing up there, he has to get his hands on a firearm to even the odds.
It’s different in England. A lot different to Afghanistan, and before that, Iraq. He knows that nobody is supposed to have a gun here, and the penalty for carrying illegally is severe. That has always been somewhat of an under-rated deterrent, but he doesn’t quite know what he is dealing with here. They may be armed to the teeth, but they may only be armed with bad intentions and nothing else. Who knows. If he prepares for the worst, however, anything better is a pleasant bonus.
They edge ever closer to 32, and like a marathon pacesetter, Ben has to mentally drag Trev up the last few flights. As they get to 32, they stop. Ben takes a moment to let Trev catch his breath, while inching open the door to take a look. It’s a deserted hallway, with colorful carpets and smart looking mood-lighting. Ben creaks the door open a touch more, to see the number on the nearest front door. 3267. They are close. He closes the door.
He hunches to Trev’s level, while Trev struggles to take his head from between his knees.
‘Trev, you wait here. Doesn’t matter what you hear. Stay here. When I step outside the next person who uses that door will be Freya. Take Freya and go down. Do not wait. As soon as you see her, you grab her and go. No excuses. You go.’
‘There’s nothing I can say about this is there?’ Trev wheezes.
‘Nothing at all’ Ben responds. ‘You won’t see me again till it’s over. I’ll find you on the outside sometime.’
‘Thank you’ Trev looks at him earnestly.
Ben stares back. It’s the first time anyone has thanked him for any sacrifice he has made, for any effort he has put under the most extreme pressure. It catches him cold, and he can only nod back. Without a word, he turns back to the door.
He cracks it open again, just a touch, and sees the hallway is still empty. He checks his watch - 7.07. Pretty good timing, thinks Ben. Close enough to jitter the enemy, but with plenty of time to assess and make a cooler approach. He opens the door fully and enters the hallway. As he slowly eases the door shut behind him, he catches Trev lowering himself onto the step. Ben was once like that - subservient to the situation around him. He turns to the hall and begins to move.
He checks the door numbers and watches them tick upwards as he passes them. The place really is quiet, but it can only be expected. But they must know that someone is coming. They are not expecting him though - that’s why Trev is firmly hidden, way out of sight.
The hallway ends at a T-junction, and as Ben approaches it, he gravitates to the left hand wall. He doesn’t know whether to go left or right, but as he edges his head around the corner to see, he knows he has to go left straight away - because the third door on the left has a tall man standing next to it. The welcoming committee, thinks Ben.
Immediately Ben has him pegged from his posture - about 210 pounds, pretty well-built, but that 210 is spread across a 6’4” frame. And it’s spread pretty thin. He is about 40, with a completely skewed nose that suggests he’s not scared of a scrap or two. He hunches, and his back looks a little arched. He’s been standing there a while. He wears jeans, a white shirt and a blazer, he looks like an awkward uncle desperately trying to fit in at your 18th birthday party.
Ben turns and faces just where he came from, cups his hands around his mouth and begins to whistle. He can’t think of particular song to whistle, so he starts with ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. He slowly turns round to the corner, throwing the whistle from further down the corridor back to where he was stood, mimicking an approach. As he comes to face the corner, he lowers his hands and starts to walk briskly around the corner. He sticks his left hand in his pocket and feigns a good rummage.
The guard looks up immediately, but Ben keeps his head down. As he walks, he keeps the whistle up. He pulls out his old house keys - he still carries them, a memento of his past and a reminder that he once had a place to call home in the twisted society he has returned to. As he gets the keys out, he thumbs through them, ever closer to the guard. The guard watches, and turns a touch to face Ben, folding his arms.
Ben pretends to find the key he’s looking for and stops whistling. He takes the big bronze Yale house key in his right hand between thumb and forefinger, as if ready to open the door. He walks past the guard without even addressing him - and bursts into action with a sickening speed and ferocity.
He launches at the guard, leaping and coiling, and buries both knees into the guards chest, exploding him backward into the door he was supposed to be protecting. With his right hand, he drives the key into the guards neck, and out again - it is an ugly blunt instrument for such a job, but the force of the hit drives the key into it’s target fairly easily. Not a nice way to go. The guard crashes into the door and the sudden impact forces it to open. The guard falls backwards into the apartment, choking messily as he thuds onto the bare floorboards of the hall. The man writhes on the floor but only for a brief moment, as the skirting boards take a grim spattering of crimson spray from his neck.
Ben stands at the door and looks inside. Sunlight blazes and Manchester is presented in all it’s glory through high floor to ceiling windows opposite the door. Freya sits with masking tape across her mouth on the floor by the window, and looks up at the commotion from the door. She appears to only be wearing a nighty. Even though she can’t speak, her eyes tell all: how horrible what she just saw was, how relieved she is to see Ben and, on balance, given her desperate predicament, what an entrance that was.
The guard is barely on his back when Ben bends over him and opens his jacket, checking the inside breast pockets and under-arms for a firearm. The prone guard cackles softly, but Ben barely registers the horrors of the guards last moments. He finds nothing - this may suggest that the man did not have a military background, but Ben can’t be sure. Ex-military opposition would ramp up the difficulty of this situation considerably, and Ben hopes that this is a good sign.
He checks the guard’s waistband, front and back. Nothing. He yanks up the guard’s trouser-legs and checks. Still nothing. He knows he can’t keep looking - the noise will have alerted Freya’s kidnappers. Freya has been watching, and Ben looks up and catches her eye. His expression doesn’t change a bit as he brings his finger up across his pursed mouth, gesturing a firm ‘shhh’. She immediately looks down at the floor. Ben feels for her - in her nighty, on the floor, tear-speckled cheeks and the threat of oncoming demise. He has met Freya twice - she always seemed a nice girl. A safe bet for Trev - Trev’s easy humour had always been attractive to the girls when he and Ben were in their teens. He had done well for himself, but he got the feeling Freya felt that she had done well in return. They were, in short, a nice deserving pair.
Hate swells in Ben, and he lets it roll out but not too far. He knows hate gives you an unbending steel when it comes to completing an unpleasant objective, but blind rage is exactly the opposite. He lowers himself to a crouch and peeks around the corner into the flat. First thing to strike Ben is that it’s not very big - the open living room and kitchen space is perhaps only 200 square feet. There is a bedroom door off opposite the entrance hallway, and the kitchen is sparse, white modern and, oddly, free of people.
He breaks across to the kitchen, ducking as he goes, fully expecting the bedroom door to open at any time. It doesn’t - he get’s to the kitchen and dread begins to set in. Where is everybody? Are they all in the bedroom? What is happening? He reaches up to the kitchen draws to see what he can find. First one is just so chock-full of pans he can barely get it open. Second, is empty take-out boxes, about fifty of them. The third draw is a cutlery draw - bingo. He reaches his hand in - when the bedroom door blasts open. Ben’s hand closes on whatever he can grasp, feeling something metallic and pulls it out quickly. He crouches again, just as two men barrel into the room. He looks down at his hand - to see he is brandishing a soup spoon. Great, he thinks.
The two men are both crossing the room now, towards the entrance hallway. One of them is a squat powerhouse, a cube of human muscle. In this confined space, Ben knows he will be a nightmare to stop. A steroidal bull in a tiny China shop. It’s a miracle that they could find a suit to fit him, let alone the sharp navy number he is wedged into. The other man is of average height but is so sprightly on his feet Ben almost misses him completely. He has crossed the room before Ben knows it. Two very different adversaries that, in the outside world, Ben would have no trouble taking on. But together, at the same time, in this tiny space, with Freya in the middle of it all? No way, he thinks - a different approach is needed.
By the way the men have trotted across the room, Ben has surmised that neither of these guys is the boss. On hearing Ben’s entrance, the main man was never going to just poke his head around the door for Ben to have a crack at. He assumes the man must be in the bedroom. He leaps over the counter top, and motors straight for the bedroom door, opening it and flinging it shut behind him. He is not keen on leaving Freya alone, but considering their desire for the laptop, he is banking on them not touching her until they know where their prized possession is.
Inside the room a man in his sixties is quickly pulling his trousers up. The man turns to Ben, and his expression is indeed that of a man caught with his pants down. The expression turns to venom-fueled spite, as he clanks his belt clasp closed. He is tanned, grey, wrinkled, with sparkling blue daggers for eyes. Ben shudders at the thought of how many girls have been seduced, betrayed and abused by those eyes over the years.
‘Who the fuck are you?’ the man spits. Ben answers with a forearm to the throat, hard and spiked, right into the man’s adams apple. The man bends, but doesn’t crumple, and Ben holds him upright to face the door. Ben shifts right behind him and plunges his hand into the man’s jacket pocket. He had noticed it as soon as he saw the man bending to pull his pants up - that heavy sag across the left breast-piece of the jacket. An unmistakable gun. As Ben’s fingers touch it there is a horrid moment of reconnection within Ben’s mind, as if he and the gun have a love-hate relationship borne out of experiences both good and bad, but predominantly awful -‘There you are, you bitch’, ‘Oh it’s you again, couldn’t stay away for long could you...’
Gun in hand he holds it to the man’s head and thumbs off the safety. He pushes the man towards the door.
‘Name’ Ben states.
‘Fuck off’ the man offers, and Ben roughly pushes him towards the door and into the living room - where the other two men are now waiting. Steroid squat man holds Freya up by her hair, who writhes uncomfortably like a fish on the line. Ben can see dark bruises forming on her legs. The other man holds a gun against her chest. At the sight of their master with a gun to his head, they flinch slightly but maintain form.
Ben begins to speak slowly and clearly.
‘You are to let her go or I end this man’s life. Nothing can be gained from this situation anymore - the laptop is destroyed.’
This seems to stop everyone a little cold - apart from Freya, who still tries to stay upright despite being held out by her hair.
‘If you want to take issue with anyone, it’s me. The lady has no purpose or part of this anymore’ Ben continues.
‘Like hell she doesn’t. She’s our leverage now. You’ve done me quite the favour. Destroying the laptop destroys any evidence of our lovely little cash cow - I could thank you,’ growls the man Ben holds. Ben pulls the man closer so his right ear is tight to Ben’s mouth. He whispers.
‘You are as low as anything I’ve come across. You are low-rent shit in a modest apartment. Nothing more. But I’ve got a big problem with you. You fucked with my friends. You are part of the plague this country finds itself swallowed in. I know exactly what you are: you are the vile central cog of an obscene child sex ring. You are as low as low gets - profiting from the gross sickness that is paedophilia. Your precious laptop is gone, and with it that empire. But I’m not sure. The only way to be sure, is to kill you and your friends here and now, and I’m here to wipe the dog shit off Manchester’s heel.’
‘Don’t let her go, boys’ says the man.
‘Is that how you want to play this? You two - you want to play this too?’ Ben asks.
‘Fuck you. Kill her,’ barks the man. Freya screams on hearing the words she has been dreading since the ordeal began.
‘Finally, Keith,’ replies steroid squat man.
Keith. The name resonates with Ben - every now and then, a name brings something to mind. Often it’s to do with relationships or celebrity. For Ben, the name Keith will always be synonymous with evil.
Ben shoves Keith sharply into the kitchen, and drops to one knee. He calls to mind an occasion in Basra when he was hidden beneath a broken-down lorry on a roadside, and a member of his team had been captured by Taliban forces. As they were passing his position, he had to choose between letting them get away and probably execute his colleague, or shoot up their legs, knowing that that would not kill anyone, that the wounds would be severe, but if his colleague took a bullet or two, he would survive. That time, he fired his automatic weapon into the passing group of captors and captive. He managed to get his man out of there alive - just. His colleague took a bullet in the thigh (from Ben) and one in the shoulder (from the enemy). But he got him out of there. Now, Ben was holding a semi-automatic 9mm, a much more controlled weapon in an environment where there is only one other gun. The odds seemed pretty good to him.