Silently, I cursed. ‘Stupid stupid, stupid!’ All that nonsense with trying to disguise myself. Why would they be wandering around the hotel looking for me? Of course they’d just sit and wait here for me to show up.
I turned round.
“Now now, nice and slowly, Mr Able.” said Smith. “And hands up please, fingers linked behind your head. Thank you. Now please, take a seat.”
He waggled the gun towards the bed.
“I can’t help getting the feeling we’ve been here before,” sighed Smith. “Now. At the danger of repeating myself, any messing about will result in unpleasantness, which I’m sure we’d both like to avoid.”
I sat on the bed, hands still behind my head, and looked around.
“On your own?” I asked. “No Big Bird?”
Smith smiled weakly and said nothing. Without taking his eyes of me, he reached for the phone. He dialled slowly, his eyes flicking between me and the phone with each digit. I took some pleasure from the fact that he wouldn’t dare take his eyes of me for the time it took to dial a whole phone number.
“Floyd? Would you be so good as to join us in Mr Able’s room? Our guest has arrived.”
He put the phone down.
“You, Mr Able, have all the qualities of a bad penny. You keep reappearing when it has been made perfectly clear that you are not welcome. What should we do with you I wonder?”
I muffled a snort.
“Something amusing you, Mr Able?”
I looked at him.
“You gotta admit,” I said with a shrug. “you sound like you’re auditioning for the part of a Bond villain. Should I call you Blofeld?
Smith’s smile slipped a few notches.
“Laugh all you like, Mr Able, but your part in this affair is over.”
Even when he tried not to, he sounded like a hammy villain.
“So what exactly is this affair?” I asked. “Clearly you’re working for Barclay and... his accomplice. You switch the wills... Chastity gets swindled...”
“Mr Able. Do you really think I’m going to explain all the details to you? All you need to know is that you lost this particular hand. Behave yourself and you may get to play another day. Mess around...” He waggled the gun for emphasis - I could see where Lloyd had picked it up from. “...and your flush will be permanently busted.”
At that point there was a sharp knock on the door and Floyd entered.
“Floyd!” I said. “How you doin’? Excuse me if I don’t get up.”
Floyd looked at me briefly, but didn’t speak. He crossed over to Smith.
“Cover him.” said Smith, handing over the gun. Then Smith picked up the receiver, dialled a number and stretched the phone into the bathroom, where he pushed the door almost closed. It had the desired effect - I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I turned my attention back to Floyd.
“Hey! Sorry about that business this morning. No hard feelings, right?” I smiled brightly. Then I lowered my voice.
“How much is he paying you?” I nodded towards the bathroom door.
“How much? Cash. Money. Moolah! My client can double it like that!” I snapped my fingers, but quietly, so it didn’t attract Smith’s attention. “Whaddaya say? When he comes out, we tie him up, you leave town and drop him somewhere, and in a couple days, you collect big!”
Hey! If it were the other way round, I’d go for it. Sounded like a great idea. From the fact that the gun was still pointed squarely at me, and not the bathroom door, I was getting the feeling it wasn’t going down so well with Floyd.
“Three times the money?” I said. “And a car!”
“I don’t drive.” said Floyd, the first words he’d uttered since he entered the room.
“A car with a chauffeur?” I suggested. My brain was increasing the budget for my freedom by the second. I could almost hear the cogs in Floyd’s brain turning. He reminded me a lot of Lloyd.
“I think you’ll find that Floyd can’t be bought.” said Smith, emerging from the bathroom. I wasn’t so sure - I just figured I hadn’t found his price.
Smith leaned in and he and Floyd had a brief conversation that I struggled to hear.
“That’ll be splendid.” he said. “Now, Mr Able, we’re just going for a short walk. Hands by your sides and everything will be fine.”
He crossed the room, opened the door and glanced each way along the corridor, then nodded to Floyd. The by-now-familiar waggle of the revolver instructed me to put my hands down and follow Smith.
I hadn’t taken two steps when I felt a sickening thud on the back of my head and everything went black.
o o o o o
When I came to, I had a pain on the back of my head, it was dark, my wrists and ankles seemed to be tied and breathing was difficult. I also seemed to be moving.
I tried to make sense of my surroundings, and eventually, with a bit of wriggling, realised where I was. I was tied up, and I’d been dumped in the same laundry basket that I’d left outside my room.
Talk about make it easy for ‘em.
I’d been covered in some sheets, hence the breathing problems, and when I tried to spit out the cloth that had got stuck in my mouth, I realised I’d been gagged too. I had no idea how long I’d been unconscious. Listening, it seemed fairly quiet, so I guessed I was still in the hotel. Suddenly there was a jolt that made my stomach lurch, and the sound of a metal grille. I took a punt that we’d just rode down in the service elevator.
We took off again, moving this way and that, until I heard what sounded like another large metal shutter being pulled back. Moments later we stopped. There were footsteps, a car door... suddenly the lid of the basket opened, and the sheets were pulled back to reveal Floyd looming over me. He lifted me out like I was a ragdoll, and I was unceremoniously dumped in the trunk of a black sedan.
Why do these guys always drive black sedans?
The trunk lid was slammed shut and I was plunged into darkness. A few moments later the car dipped as Smith got in, and then dipped alarmingly as Floyd got in the other side. That boy should really eat more salad.
The car started up and pulled away. I wriggled around and only succeeded in banging the back of my head again which made me yelp like a kitten. Although the way I did it, it was more of a manly roar. My hands were behind my back, and I struggled in the confines of the trunk to pull them under my feet. The guys in the movies made it look easy. I guess that’s why I’m not an actor. Eventually I managed it, and was able to untie the gag, and then I worked on my feet. They’d done a pretty good number on my wrists though, and I couldn’t get them untied.
As I rolled around in the trunk, I tried feeling for some way to pop the lid. There didn’t seem to be any kind of handle on the inside though. I remembered that a lot of cars had a lever up front to open the trunk lid which pulled on a cable that ran the length of the car, through the trunk and up to the lid release. I felt around. Guess this wasn’t one of those sorts of cars.
I tried leaning as far back as I could to try and push the lid open with my feet, but there wasn’t enough room to get any leverage. Eventually, panting, I figured I may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.
We must have driven for another 30 minutes or so - it was difficult to keep track of time, particularly as my head still felt like somebody was working it over with a jackhammer. A couple of times we stopped and I thought that was it, but it must have been a stop sign or something, because we soon took off again. After a while though, we slowed down, came to a halt and Smith killed the engine. The doors slammed and there was a metallic tap on the trunk lid.
“I’m opening the trunk, Mr Able. You don’t want to take another little nap, do you?”
The lid opened and Floyd face loomed over me while Smith kept me covered. He spotted that I’d got rid of all my bindings apart from my hands.
“Well you have been busy. Check his hands.” he directed this last command to Floyd who grabbed hold of my wrists and made sure they were still tied tied. When he was satisfied, he lifted me out of the trunk. I blinked in the sunlight and looked around. I kept my face neutral and didn’t let on that I recognised my surroundings.
We were back at Goldstar studios.
Smith had parked at the back of the smaller sets that had been locked when I was here earlier. We were out of sight of Smithers’ trailer, but I could see the top of the main building over the lower roofs. Floyd went over and checked the doors. I could have told him they were all padlocked, but I figured I’d let him find out for himself. After he’d checked a couple of doors, he went back to the car, opened the rear door and came back out with a pair of boltcutters. Suddenly, the door wasn’t as locked as it had been a moment ago.
Floyd headed in first, then emerged a minute later.
“No lights.” he said. You couldn’t fault his accuracy and brevity.
“See what you can do.” said Smith, who hadn’t taken his eyes of me since I’d been hauled out of the car.
I made a show of looking around. “Where are we?” I said. “Is this some kind of warehouse? Don’t suppose there’s a cafeteria is there? I’m getting peckish.”
“You’re becoming tiresome, Mr Able. Your silence would be appreciated.”
Floyd suddenly reappeared and nodded to Smith.
“In.” said Smith, with the now customary waggle. I followed Floyd into the gloom.
The light from the door only penetrated a short way and soon I was just listening to the sound of his footsteps ahead of me. Suddenly he stopped and I bumped into him. He turned round and grabbed hold of me. He’d found a scaffold upright that probably supported the roof, and producing some rope, proceeded to tie me to it.
I heard Smith hand the gun to Floyd and mutter something to him about not screwing up like Lloyd.
“Now, Mr Able.” said Smith, his voice coming out of the dark to my left. “It’s very simple. Your going to stand there, tied to this scaffold until tomorrow. You don’t get to eat. You don’t get to drink, and you don’t get to use the bathroom. If you're not stupid, then at eight o’clock tomorrow morning you get untied. Goodbye, Mr Able”
Without waiting for one of my famed witty retorts, he left.
Time passed. I assumed Floyd was still in front of me, but if he was, he wasn’t in the mood for chatting. I tried to guess the time, and reckoned it was probably somewhere between three and four in the afternoon. I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be ringing Flint at six. Unless the situation turned around pretty radically, pretty fast, I wasn’t going to be calling him, and I wasn’t going to be saving the dame.
“Hey Floyd!” I called. “Where were we? Triple pay and a car with a chauffeur, right? Had a chance to think about that yet?”
I was suddenly aware of Floyd standing right in front of me.
“Zip it.” he said. “It’s bad enough that I’ve got to sit here in the dark for the next sixteen hours, without listening to you spouting nonsense.”
Well at least I knew what the time was. Two hours to get to a phone.
Another thirty minutes passed in silence, when suddenly a keening noise sounded in the darkness.
“Shut it.” said Floyd.
“Ain’t me.” I said.
“Quit foolin’” said Floyd.
“Hey! I”m telling you, it ain’t me.”
The fact that the noise had started up again while I was still speaking, went some way to backing up my story.
“What is that?” demanded Floyd. Suddenly the keening turned into a cackle. “Jesus! What the hell is that? Who’s there?” he yelled.
My mind went back to the laughter that I’d heard in the studio earlier, and the figure in white that I thought I’d seen.
“You know this place is supposed to be haunted, right, Floyd?” I said.
“Shut up!” he yelled. Though I couldn’t help but notice his voice was getting shaky.
“Ghouls, ghosts, people vanishing... all sorts of weird stories about this place.” I added.
“WHO’S THERE?” Floyd roared into the darkness. “I’LL SHOOT!”
In response, there was more cackling laughter, much closer this time.
Floyd panicked, and fired blindly into the dark. For a split second, the muzzle flash lit a wild looking figure dressed in white.
Floyd let out a scream and ran for the pale square of light that marked the door in the distance. From the thump, yell and silence that followed, I guessed that there was as much junk lying on the floor in here as there was in the other building. Sounded like Floyd had tripped over something and laid himself out.
I held my breath and strained to hear anything in the darkness.
Then without warning, from no more than two feet away, I heard a low, gurgling chuckle.