If someone was going to be waiting behind the door, they’d have been a bit more subtle than to bust their way in with a crowbar. I pushed the mangled door with the barrel of my revolver and surveyed the damage.
It could have been worse. The kitchenette and lounge area looked like a hurricane had been through, but to be fair, they’d looked like that when I went out. My lone filing cabinet had been forced open and the contents strewn across the floor along with the paperwork that had been on my desk. The biggest casualty, though, was my machine. Now it was a collection of parts that used to be a machine. Instinctively I patted down my pockets and breathed a sigh of relief as I found the datastick still in my jacket. At least I wasn’t here when it happened. I thought.
Then I suddenly realised that someone had been here.
I started looking around and then headed for the sofa. I peered down behind it and I saw something flinch.
“Hey - it’s me.” I said in my best cat-reassuring voice, but no dice. She was staying put. Everytime I tried to move the sofa she retreated further. However, the sound of a tin opener on a can of tuna seemed to convince her that things were ok again, and she slowly crept out, looking wary and jumping at every sound. While she ate, I looked at the remains of the machine. It was nothing more than scrap now. The screen was face down among the mess, and as I turned it over, I could see that something had been written across it in thick marker pen.
It looked like my friends from the school of dangerous driving were back.
I cleared up the mess, put it with the other mess, shoved the whole mess in a corner and threw a sheet over it. It looked like the phone had survived - it was still in one piece anyway. I picked it up, got a tone and started dialling. After a couple of rings, someone picked up.
“Who is this?”
“For crying out loud, English, it’s me!”
“English, I really don’t have time for this crap. Somebody’s tried to kill me once today, and now my office has just been Hiroshima’d.”
I sighed. I should have known it was foolish to try and deviate from the routine.
“The password is silicon.”
“With an uppercase l and the o is a zero...”
“Hello Able, what can I do for you?”
In an ideal world, or a work of fiction, English would be some uber-tech-head, who just happens to be the greatest hacker in the underground, who can build amazing gadgets from scrap and has backdoors into every secret government database there is. Sadly, that’s not the case in reality. English is an anal-retentive, OCD-suffering pain in the proverbial. He’s not world class anything, but to be fair to the guy, he’s pretty good at the aforementioned stuff. He won’t hack into the Pentagon in five minutes from a moving car, but give him a few hours and he’ll find his way into some mid-level manager’s machine who’s got just enough authorisation to get most of what you need.
He ain’t l33t, but he’s better than most.
“English, I need a new machine, and I need it yesterday.”
“Yesterday? Well, as you know, the government have developed time travel capability, which they refuse to confirm. I’ve no doubt that they’re using it to secretly rewrite history. Chances are they’ve already done it. We wouldn’t realise, you see, because...”
“You know what - today will be fine.”
English loves conspiracy theories. Believes the vast majority. Probably started a few of ‘em.
“Depends... right now, something in the region of zero. But if I solve this case, then, pretty much unlimited.”
In my mind, when the hero comes through in the final reel, Ms Chastity Lillywhite is going to be extremely pleased, with all the financial gratitude that goes with it.
And I don’t doubt my abilities for a second.
I thought about how my old machine had struggled to process the few terabytes of data that I’d given it earlier.
“I need a killer rig, and I need it by midnight.”
“Then I shall proceed.”
I had a sudden thought. “Oh, and English?”
“I need security on the office upgraded.”
“Upgraded? The last time I was there, security consisted of a mortice lock and a cat.”
“Yeah, well now it’s just the cat.”
I could feel disdain emanating from the phone.
“I shall bring a few things.”
He hung up.
o o o o o
I passed the time by clearing the place up a bit, which in practice meant shoving some more stuff under the sheet in the corner, and then cooked up some sausages and beans. I was washing the plate up when I heard the duct tape, which was the only thing keeping the door closed, rip off the door jamb.
“How do you live like this?” said a voice behind me.
I turned to see English standing in the middle of my office, studiously trying to avoid touching anthing. He had a large cardboard box in his hands. I smiled to myself when I realised he was wearing disposable plastic gloves.
“The screen’s down in the car. I’ve just carried this up three flights of stairs,” he said, indicating the box. “The least you can do is get the rest. The screen, and the two bags with it.”
He put the box down on the desk and threw me the car keys.
“Don’t forget to disarm the car before you unlock it.” he called after me as I headed down the corridor.
By the time I got to the street, a small crowd was gathering. It’s not every day you see a lovingly restored 1972 Jaguar XJ6 in the best parts of town. Round here, dented with a fine patina of rust was more the order of the day.
One of the local hoodlums and his crew arrived. I went to say something, and then stopped. It wasn’t going to be my funeral.
“Sweet wheels!” said our criminally-inclined friend. “I’ll look the mutts, ridin’ in this.”
He bent down and cupped his hands against the glass to look at the interior of his new car.
“Please step away from this vehicle. Thank you.” said the car.
The thug straightened up. Maybe he was about to turn to one of his co-horts and admire the work that had gone into synthesising the dulcet tones of Joanna Lumley for the security system.
“Why’s the car talking like some freakin’ posh english tart?’
Ok. Maybe not.
“That’ll be coming straight out.” he announced to his gang, “Don’t need no fancy crap on my car.” and kicked the hubcap to emphasise the point.
Joanna piped up again.
“This vehicle is armed with a security system. Please step away. Now. You will not be warned again.” I made a note to congratulate English on managing to make Lumley sound menacing while still retaining a stately air.
“Damn. No piece of junk telling me what to do!” said the thug. “Gonna rip that right out.” So saying, he fished in his pocket and produced a lockpick. As he bent down to the door handle, the small crowd edged forward. I, on the other hand, took a step back.
I’m not sure how many volts the car put through its attacker, but he sailed quite a good distance - his hair may have been smoking slightly too.
“What are you looking at?” he yelled to no-one in particular. The crowd dispersed. “Didn’t want that limey crap anyway,” he said to his gang. “Gonna find me some American muscle.”
With a faint smell of singed hair trailing behind him, he stomped off with as much dignity as he could muster.
When they were round the corner I pulled the keys from my pocket and made very sure that I’d blipped the green button before pulling open the rear door.
“Hello, Ralph.” said Joanna, all trace of menace gone. I chuckled. Joanna pronounced it ‘Rafe’. English had always been ‘English’ as long as I’d known him, but his name was actually Ralph Carter. However, he insisted on pronouncing it ‘Rafe’ for reasons best known to himself.
I grabbed the screen and the two bags that were on the back seat, and arming the car with the blip, headed back upstairs.