A Pair of Munchkins.
By Mad Dan
Part Two: Kiran’s Account
The women who’d left us trussed up in a compact parcel, blind and gagged almost into complete silence, must have been discreetly reconnoitring the street and ourselves for weeks. Their operation so far had been faultless. They evidently knew our work and leave schedules a few days in advance, and had managed to impersonate us well enough not to alert the neighbours - not that people take much notice of each other in the average London suburb, in any case.
My saffron yellow 1970 Triumph Vitesse convertible is better known in Staines than I am. I’ve spent years restoring the car, using many parts bought in India, and now she looks quite the business. Getting all the shut lines straight and level was a major exercise in Hindi and Cornish profanity (Chloë helped me, for her sins), but well worth it once the black trim was applied. I still get grief from the landlord about the patches of black and yellow overspray on the pillars in the underground garage!
I’ll get round to cleaning it off some day, but for now, a doe-eyed smile from just about level with his collar bone seems to defuse him pretty well, even since the business with the hit girls wrecked part of his investment. The uniform, or occasionally one of my saris, helps, too. Guys are much the same everywhere. Women, though, you can’t fool that easily.
What evidently appealed to this hit team was that the car was identified with me; get their hands on it at the right time, when everyone was out at work, and they could bring their gear into our flat unnoticed. I knew the cops were keeping a low-key eye on the big detached house across the road, but they were too stretched to watch it all the time, and my controller hadn’t mentioned anything about the owner coming to stay. Not that I’m an officer or anything like that – just a casual agent who gets the occasional few quid for reporting anything of interest on our patch, or sometimes doing a bit of circumspect digging. I’m sure quite a few cabin crew supplement their income that way, and it’s all in a good cause – I hope!
I understood the owner of the house, known locally as Karl Krefft, was a highly suspect arms dealer, of interest to police and intelligence services in many countries. I’d seen him a few times, even flown with him once, and he was always very polite and affable. However, he was said not to care who bought his nasties, or what was offered in payment. The Drug Squad and Inland Revenue were interested in him, too. The target just had to be our neighbour; terrorists aiming to bring down an airliner would simply have dropped a homing missile with a timer somewhere in the open and legged it.
Krefft hadn’t been back to this one of his several homes in weeks. Our visitors seemed to know more about his movements than Five and the plod. I had to assume they were either from a foreign secret service, perhaps DGSE (though the French spiel may have been a red herring), or Mossad, or freelancers working for some Mr Big the guy had cheated. Perhaps he had armed their enemies or criminal rivals. While I hate guns and certainly wouldn’t miss a scumbag like that, I’d rather see him have a fair trial and do time than get murdered. Call me old-fashioned (a lot of people do), but I believe in due process of law. No doubt Special Branch, MI5 and 6, the FBI and various other outfits wouldn’t want to lose him prematurely, either.
I’d come home on the bus as usual after an uneventful flight from Delhi. The first few drops of a heavy shower were falling as I walked up the drive. I always used to go in through the garage, to make sure my pride and joy was okay. Some MI 5 agent, setting up a predictable pattern, I hear you say. Guilty…
Tataya (Wasp) was fine. I looked forward to taking her for a spin tomorrow in the autumn sunshine. I haven’t had her converted to burn unleaded, but the extra expense of LRP is offset by the tax-free classic status, and my job means she doesn’t run up much mileage anyway. Driving in shades and Grace Kelly headscarf with the top down, the pose factor is great fun. When I take her on family visits to Bradford, we look like something out of Heartbeat cruising around on the moors. Plus, with two long-stroke litres in a light chassis/ body combination, she takes off like a startled gazelle from a gear higher than most cars.
I walked over to the door and got my key out. Footsteps came running up behind me, and a hand was clamped immovably over my mouth. Long nails – a woman! A whiff of Chanel. My hat fell off. An arm grabbed me tightly around the waist, trapping my arms and squeezing the breath out of me. I struggled and kicked, but landed no good hits; my assailant anticipated every move. She pushed the edge of her palm up under my nose, sealing my nostrils, and squeezed with her thumb. A horrible vacuum feeling in my chest, my diaphragm sucking on nothing, supernovas before my eyes…. I started to black out, and went all limp. I hadn’t got any kind of look at the woman. Damn that skinflint for not having CCTV fitted!
While No.1 still held me, her accomplice ripped tape from a roll. Everything went black as the stuff was slapped over my eyes. More r-r-r-ripping sounds as my mouth was momentarily released, only to be covered by the end of what proved to be a couple of yards wrapped tightly round and round my head. Not an unpleasant smell, gaffer tape, but I can do without it. The slip-knotted cord was on my wrists within seconds. My keys were appropriated, and I heard the door open. I was pushed inside. I didn’t expect to meet anyone on the way up, and so it was. The janitor was based in the next block, and the other residents were either out or asleep, working shifts. I heard our door being opened, and I was shoved inside the flat.
Like Chloë, I was allowed to go to the toilet and given a drink before the serious restraining began. They took my shoes and jacket off. All the tape was removed, tearing some of my hair in the painful process, before the rubber gloves and other paraphernalia came out. The aristocratic-sounding Frenchwoman explained that tape left over my eyes might cause injury if compressed into the sockets by the rubber. My make-up was carefully removed so that everything would stick. The first blindfold mask they put on me split and ripped around the nose hole, but the efficient pair had brought at least a couple of spares. Dead cheap, and so common as to be completely untraceable. I had to admire their ingenuity. It puzzled me that they were treating me so considerately in the circumstances, and this led me to think they must be spooks rather than crooks.
Hardened criminals would probably have killed me and Chlo to avoid any chance of identification, but these girls, bless ’em, had some sort of code of honour. Actually, the Mafia allegedly works like that, too, only whacking other crooks. Perhaps these were Mob molls. I’d probably never know.
One of the intruders went out again, leaving the posh one to keep an eye on me. I heard my car keys jingling. I bet she was wearing my scarf and shades, too. Cheek! Surely they hadn’t gone to all this trouble just to steal my car. I sat there on that rug, listening to the interminable corny jokes of an afternoon cookery show that made me feel hungry, followed by The Weakest Link. How symptomatic of our times, to combine a quiz with bitching abuse and humiliation. I knew nearly all the answers, too. D’oh! My minder spent some time down the hall, busying herself in my room, lugging furniture around. She came back to check on me every few minutes. Once she said, “Oh, tiens, t’es mignonne comme ça!” I looked cute? Uh-ohhhh….
Number 2, who was probably the leader, returned just in time, and the pair carried something heavy down the hall. To the casual observer, I’d come home, gone shopping in my distinctive car, and returned with a few bulky items. Neat piece of deception.
I could just hear them above the braying of the idiot box, starting to set up some sort of apparatus. I recited mantras in my head to keep calm and focused. I was keenly aware of the bones in my wrists and ankles, the creepy grublike feel of the object filling my mouth, the almost unbearable tightness of the rubber across my aching jaw and eyebrows. My lips were completely sealed and squashed against my teeth. If I tried to blow into the gag, my cheeks puffed out until the inexorable tension of the rubber snapped them back, to the accompaniment of a sort of reverse cough as the air flowed back into my throat, assisted by the bulging of the water-filled balloon. I could make faint sounds, but the effort involved made it hardly worthwhile. The mask fitted closely around my nose, sealing out all light and chafing as my nostrils flared, stimulating nerves familiar to yogis. Blind, limited of hearing and breathing, suspended in time and looking mignonne, I must not start getting off on this! Stay sharp, Kiran.
Chloë was late. She’d expected to be back around 4.30, but had probably been held up on the M 4. She would walk straight into this mess, and then there’d be two of us prisoners. I just hoped she’d spot something amiss and hang back, but it wasn’t at all likely.
The Fresh Prince came on. Posh must be a bit of a sadist as well as finding bound girls cute! What’s wrong with the 6 o’clock news, I ask you? Finally, Chloë arrived and was duly ensnared. The duo made their last adjustments to their equipment and our bondage, switched the TV off (bliss!) and left, no doubt in my car to maintain the deception.
We wriggled and jiggled on the slipping rug, gasping through our noses and groaning, sweating under the rubber and nylon that encased our heads. I had an idea; my feet and legs, clad only in tights, would slide on the rug, whereas Chloë was wearing jeans and trainers, and could grip a bit.
I rocked forward. As Chlo is taller than me, and our torsos were bound tightly together, she was now almost lying on my back. Enough weight was taken off her feet and bum to let her scoot her part of the rug back towards me. I grunted as loudly as I could, and after a couple of interrogative mmmphs in reply, she got the message. I felt the rug start to ruck up between us. Chloë then rocked forward in turn, lifting me almost clear, and with a good wriggle the mat flattened out. Two more cycles and Chloë’s feet were on the tiles, while I sat in the middle of the rug. What a team!
Now we could move. With Chloë pushing, we started pinballing around the room. Mr Skinflint wasn’t keen on fitted carpets except in the bedrooms, so we could slide along the hall if we could just get out of the lounge. First we hit the TV. Okay, door to my right. I knew there was nothing we could rub against or use to cut our bonds in here. I was able to signal directions to Chloë by tilting my head the way I wanted to go, and she had enough sideways movement in her legs to push in the opposite direction. We hit a chair and the coffee table, which the visitors had moved, on the way.
The door was closed, and we docked alongside it. Our hair, trapped between our bodies, made head movement difficult at first, but it eased up after a couple of vigorous, painful nods. Chloë was able to reach the door handle and operate it with her chin, but first she wriggled until the end of the handle snagged under the crotch of the tights over our heads. With me leaning forward and Chlo back, it took a few tries to get it hooked. Chloë then scooted forward and slowly dragged the tights off us. They didn’t go without a struggle; we had to shuffle half way back across the room, and our long-suffering noses got pulled all shapes as the taut nylon slid up our faces at an angle. Finally, the tights were off, and we could get to work on our gags and blindfolds. I reached the door first this time, and started trying to hook the handle under the bottom edge of my mask. I had to twist my head at a really awkward angle and push until it hurt before the tip finally slipped between the two sheets of rubber. I expected to have to tug and worry at it a lot before anything shifted, but suddenly, with a loud spak, the bottom half of the mask tore and the loose ends flailed back. There was a pained “Mmp!” as they slapped Chloë on the ears, then the top of the mask rolled up off the top of my head. I heard it hit the ceiling and flop on the floor a few feet away. I could see! A bit blurred at first, and it was pretty dark with just the street light coming through the curtains, but that was a whole lot better than no light at all.
Now for the gag. No point in trying to hook it from below my chin, as it was really digging into my flesh down there. So I tried higher up, behind my ear. Again, the strap hooked and snapped under the ferocious tension, for the slightest nick in a tight, thin rubber band will start a catastrophic tear. With my chin buried in my chest, guess where it slapped me… Once the sting subsided, the relief was great and immediate, but I was still gagged. The double-sided tape gluing my lips together was even stickier after being compressed for so long at body temperature, and the water balloon stayed in my mouth. I wore the remains of the glove like a droopy yellow and white Mandarin moustache bizarrely sprouting from between my lips.
Chloë hummed something I liberally interpreted as “Are you okay?” My answer, still no more than a muffled hum, showed her there was no point in her trying to remove her own rubber accessories. She shrugged. At least she had sussed that I could now see, and there was urgent work to be done. I depressed the handle with my chin and managed to pull the door ajar. Chloë pushed on the floor, and the rug with its mmmphing cargo slid in a curve as the door opened between us, wedged between our fists. Reverse and turn through 90 degrees, then full scoot ahead out into the hallway. I thought of heading for the kitchen, to look for a knife or other sharp implement, but being confined to the floor and with our hands taped into useless fists, I doubt we could have opened a drawer or got anything out of it. All phones would have been hidden well out of reach, too. Better to head for my room and see what those two creeps had done in there.
The walrus beast with four knees scooted mmmphily along the corridor, propelled by Chloë’s trusty trainers. It must have been all of three yards, but it seemed like a mile. Another analogy struck me, and I almost choked trying to laugh. We were like one of those compound Medusa jellyfish, limited individual organisms bound into a whole, but doing separate jobs. I was the eyes and sensory-motor centre, Chloë the propulsion system. Jellyfish are mute, too.
The curtains in my room were open, for sodium street lighting shone through the keyhole. By now I was getting quite good at opening doors with my chin, and this one opened away from us.
What greeted my eyes in there was not encouraging. From the corner, in the shadow of a tree, a big tube on a stout tripod pointed out through the big picture window. From the brief weapons recognition training I’d received when Five recruited me, I guessed it was a modified portable anti-tank missile in its launcher. Nearer the window, a pair of small, elongated rectangular boxes had been clamped to the footboard of my bed, pointing in the same direction as the rocket. Wires led from a bigger box on the bed to the small boxes, the rocket and the frame of the window. An oscilloscope trace flickered on a small screen set into this box. One of the small boxes must be a laser mike, pointing an invisible beam at a distant window and reading the vibrations in the pane produced by sounds inside the building. The other was a different kind of laser, pointing at the same window in Krefft’s house, but not yet activated. That would be a guidance laser for the missile. I had to admit, these kids played with tasty and expensive toys.
Cars were arriving in the driveway of the house, and men were going inside. A meeting! Our friends intended to kill several birds with one stone. A second trace appeared on the screen, then a third. Individual voices? That box must contain a chip and a powerful voice print recognition program. The rocket would fire when all parties expected were present, and the second laser would guide it through the bay window, straight into the meeting room. The warhead would probably be anti-personnel shrapnel, perhaps with incendiary phosphorus for good measure. However evil the targets might be, this was going to be carnage. I couldn’t let it happen.
I mmphed to Chloë and nodded for thrust. We advanced into the room. The rug hit the fitted carpet and rolled under, giving my knees and feet a proper grip for the first time. Soaked in perspiration, our breath shrieking and snuffling in our strained nostrils, we shuffled along the side of my bed. I had to get the remains of my gag off, to tell Chloë what was happening. I dug my knees in, and she stopped pushing. Leaning sideways, I could just reach the top edge. It was wet! Come to that, where was the mattress? I soon found it – propped vertically against the wall behind the missile, alongside Chloë’s. Hence the furniture moving noises we’d heard. Both mattresses were wet, and so was the carpet. Our visitors didn’t want their rocket blast to burn the place down. Bless! They must have expected it all to kick off before the bedding dried out.
I rubbed my lips against the top edge of the bed, and persuaded the torn glove with its white flock lining to come away, bringing with it enough of the sticky stuff to allow air to escape from the right side of my mouth. Working my jaw and pushing the bladder with my tongue, I enlarged the hole until the thing burst out and flopped onto the floor with a sound like someone dropping a piece of offal. The air that rushed into my mouth was the sweetest stuff I’ve ever tasted. Mumbling through numb, tacky lips that bore perfect impressions of my teeth, I quickly explained the set-up to Chloë, and told her what I intended to try. She nodded and hummed - not that she had any choice.
We had somehow to disconnect the leads from the main box, starting with the firing cable to the missile. Getting closer, my heart sank. All the leads had screw connections rather than simple jack or pin plugs. This was military kit, built to withstand a lot of vibration and blast. If we managed to get enough of a grip on the main cable to try to break the connection, we’d probably only succeed in pulling the tripod over, and the rocket would burn its full charge in my room. Not nice, and probably fatal, especially if it exploded.
I wondered about the cable to the window. I couldn’t see a gadget there, but it had to serve some purpose. Rocket… double glazing… window shut to avoid arousing suspicion… Cordtex! Just before the rocket fired, the window would be shattered by an explosive charge. Peering at the silhouetted aperture, I could now make out a border of white thread like clothesline, clear taped to the glass all the way round. It was made of tough plastic explosive, very powerful. Most of the glass would go out, but the blast would come in. I didn’t know much about the stuff, except that it was used to blow canopies on military aircraft, and as a very high-speed fuse. How powerful would its overall blast be? Best to get out of there as fast as possible.
If I couldn’t disconnect the cables, the only thing left was to try to interfere with the lasers. I thought of just sitting in front of the laser mike, interrupting its beam, but what if it was booby-trapped to fire or explode when the input was cut off? Not worth the risk. The guidance laser, the nearer gadget to the edge, seemed a safer bet. I shuffled to the end of the bed and leaned right over. The device was on a tilting and swivelling mount with friction screws. With a bit of pressure, it should shift enough. I butted it on the butt, while Chloë set to work rubbing her blindfold against the edge of the bed. The familiar spak! made me jump, and my chin came down on the butt of the laser. I felt it shift down and towards me. That meant the beam would go up and to the right. I hoped I hadn’t shifted it enough to indicate the edge of our window. That would have been a very short flight, and curtains for us.
Chloë mmmphed what sounded like an apology. I replied, “No, I think you helped. Let’s get out of here!” Now that Chlo’s vision was returning, we could move faster.
A fourth trace appeared on the oscilloscope, and red lights stared to blink on the face of the box. Something was booting up. A row of ten lights came on, and started to go out from the left at one-second intervals. I screamed something quite unprintable. It also occurred to me that I could now yell “Help!” and that’s what I did, at the top of my limited lungs. Sounds of hurried movement came from upstairs.
We’d almost reached the doorway in what must have looked like a comical knee-borne gallop when all hell broke loose. The window blew out with a bright flash and a deafening bang. I felt the blast, and the shredded curtains billowed inwards, but no broken glass reached me. A second later, the red aiming beam came on and the rocket fired with a thump and a high-pitched roar. A wide streak of flame speared out through the window, the pitch of the roar dropping as the missile accelerated away from us towards the laser spot that was home. It shattered a chimney pot on Krefft’s house and ricocheted into the trees in the back garden. A flash, then a shower of sparks trailing white smoke flew up from the field beyond, followed by a dull thud. If it had reached the A 30 or the M 25, I’d have converted a murder into a disaster.
In fact, the missile spewed its razor shrapnel and ungodly lumps of white phosphorus harmlessly over the field where Trident Papa India had crashed back in ’72. I just had time to see all this before a roiling cloud of dust and steam from the mattresses hid everything. Acrid fumes filled the flat. We coughed and spluttered. Poor Chloë, still gagged, was really suffering.
From across the road came shouts in African-accented French and Jamaican patois. Then came bullets. Those maniacs were shooting at us! Gangsters, without a doubt.
We later learned that Krefft planned to supply arms to a Manchester Yardie gang to support a revolution in a former French colony clinging to democracy by its fingertips. If it succeeded, the Yardies would have a perfect base for drug trafficking and money laundering, from which the corrupt officials plotting the coup would profit. Krefft was to be paid in high-grade cocaine. The cops had learnt of the meeting minutes before it began, and had just started to get into surveillance positions. The assassins? Probably from a new Russian illegal mercenary outfit informally called Rent-a-Spook, hired by the legit government of the colony. The women may indeed have been French speakers, possibly former intelligence officers. Last I heard, investigations were continuing. Tataya was found undamaged in a wood near Farnborough, with a note on the dashboard. It said, “Thanks, Mignonette, for the loan of your lovely car. Grosses bises.” Two kisses at the bottom. Berk, as the French say.
Meanwhile, we scrabbled like crazy to get as far along the hallway as possible, away from the bullets smacking into what was left of my room. The angle was too steep to endanger us this far inside the building, but we were worried about Jane and Bill upstairs. We heard their front door slam, and footsteps hurrying down the stairs.
Sirens and two-note horns replaced the sounds of gunfire. Tyres screeched, and there was a lot of shouting as more sirens approached. The distinctive throb of an EC 135 coming full-throttle from the airport gave way to rotor slap and fenestron whistle as the chopper began to orbit overhead. A searchlight swept the area, throwing stark shadows on the hallway walls.
“You okay, Chlo?” I asked. No reply. My best friend was wheezing and coughing through her nose, chest heaving, suffocating in her own secretions, and I could do nothing to help her. Her struggles subsided as she passed out. Tears ran down my cheeks as I screamed for help, so near and yet so far.
With a crash, the front door flew open. Armed police burst in and began securing the place. One officer dashed to us and got to work on Chloë, stripping away the glove and tape from her mouth. “Mr Blobby” was yanked out and plopped disgustingly onto the floor. I felt Chloë’s breathing begin to return to normal. “Thank you!” I gasped to the copper. “We’re out there somewhere, Miss,” he quipped with a grin. He must have thought it was his birthday. The fire brigade arrived, stepping over us on their way to my room.
A weak but smiling voice slurred from behind me. “Kiran, our flat is full of dishy coppers and firemen, and here we are all tied up and helpless. We should do this more often!”