Wednesday, 20 March 2019

New short story! 6 years later... Sorry.

Thin Blue Line
or why polish people are awesome

  Now this little story took place some few years ago, back when I still worked for a certain multinational company. As their lawyers are quite a twitchy bunch of lovely people let’s call them Evil Inc.

  My job at the time was training and looking after a whole bunch of people with aspirations to become engineers, whose main daily grind was maintaining some twenty miles of conveyors and other industrial devices one might find in a warehouse. Honestly, on paper the job was great! I’d get to sit in my chair, surrounded by system monitors and whenever an issue flashed up – dispatch a loyal follower with a commanding wave of my hand, like a fatter plaid-wearing version of Captain Kirk. In practice however there was one teeny-tiny niggle with that setup. Being based in glorious Ol’ England none of my trainees, of course, spoke a lick of English.

  Although Evil Inc had required on paper for all employees to speak the language, in reality few to none Englishmen and Englishwomen were interested in working long, hard hours for  the amount that would allow one to just barely afford a McDonalds meal deal after an hour’s labour. As such some ninety percent of our workforce was some type of eastern Polish.  Now, despite being a filthy job-stealing immigrant myself, I’ve never really had time to learn the polish language so communication within the team turned out to be... colourful. But hey! If it wasn’t – this story wouldn’t have happened, so I call this one a win.

   This particular incident occurred right around Christmas, as most great stories do. With an influx of new temp hires the lines were absolutely swamped, so I was begrudgingly forced to get off my command chair and man the “front line”, issuing swift commands to the team using an incendiary combination of Russian, Lithuanian and German swearing. To the team’s credit – we were keeping up. The immediate issue at hand was that every time a customer’s order got stuck somewhere and got cleared out by us, it then could only be fed back into the system using a 16-inch long infeed conveyor. That’s singular; as in we only had one. To make this worse it had an overage throughput of 2 packages per minute, so by the end of the first period we had accrued a mountain of some eight hundred orders piled on the floor.
   This wouldn’t have been much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that we did not work on the shop floor, instead all out systems and stations were on a mezzanine made out of metal mesh, suspended some 10 feet above hard concrete. So, you know, tripping on a box would lead to a lot more than an “ow” and involve a whole lot of mopping.  

   Seeing the inevitability of a loud “kuuurrrwaaa” followed by a splat in my immediate future, I quickly arranged for a big wheeled package container (called a York) to be brought in from shipping, and for my tireless menagerie to start chucking the excess packages into it from above. LeBron James they weren’t, but thankfully only a handful of orders missed the soft cardboard catcher and needed to be replaced. By Jove it was working! Within minutes the floor was cleared out and I was feeling full of smug self satisfaction at having avoided dealing with a polish man-meteor that night.   And as a cherry on top – workers slowly peeled off to their quarterly breaks and the lines started clearing up, easing our workload.

I could practically taste victory.

  Parking my overfed arse back in the Kirk-chair I turned to one of my more reliable trainees, (whom we shall call Marcin for the purposes of this story, as his real name would be unpronounceable) and asked him to take the now-filled York back to shipping.
After all Marcin has been there for almost a month, and as a very diligent feller doing a quick 100m run there and back would be no problem for him.

…You see where this is going right?

   With a burst of enthusiasm fairly typical of someone who only understands every fifth word but really needs the work, Marcin flew down the ladder grabbed the York and wheeled it away. Now, to paint the scene for ya’ll the operator station is only about fifty meters away from the gate into shipping, and we have bright blue walk lines painted on the floor leading to it. So you will understand why I did not suspect anything awry when Marcin popped back up asking for directions, and I told him to “follow the line”.

  Somewhere around the 55 minute mark of Marcin being gone I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. And as Evil Inc’s corporate size was only matched by how cheap they were on basic necessities, we didn’t have enough walkie-talkies so Marcin left without one. As result  I had no idea where he was or what happened, and the clock has just struck an hour of him gone.

Well, shit.

  Knowing that any minute the Ops manager would come around for his Midnight rounds and question why one of my people is missing I did the only thing I could think of – switched my radio to a secure channel and dialled one of my mates that worked in security. Bob the security guy, as we shall call him, promptly called me a wanker for “somehow losing an entire polish bloke” and told me he’ll look through the CCTV to find out where he went. As soon as he was done laughing, of course.
  Roughly twenty minutes went by, Ops came around, was told Marcin is in the toilet, and left; when I finally get a buzz on the secure line from Bob. With the voice and tembre of a constipated narwhal he managed to squeeze out that I need to come to security room. Furious giggling in the background by what I could only assume were his security mates did nothing to alleviate my mood.
  Oh well. Cue a 10 minute trek to security room, where I find a gaggle of burly security dudes, gathered up around a monitor and giggling like prepubescent schoolgirls.  Bob waved me over, rewound the video and proceeded to show me the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all year.

   “Follow the line”. When I said that to Marcin it completely slipped my mind that right next to the blue footpath line on the floor there was also a green one – leading to the nearest fire exit. And as you might imagine… all green lines across the entire 11-football-stadium-sized building were linked; leading from one fire exit to another. What I witnessed for the next 10 minutes was a sped up video of Marcin heading in the exact opposite direction of shipping, diligently following the green line to his first fire exit, pausing to study it for a few seconds, then shaking his head and heading off further down the line with the precision of a train on rails.  From one exit to another we watched Marcin repeat the same routine 28 times, as he circled the entire building from fire exit to fire exit, stopping to study the door on each one, as if contemplating if it was going to Narnia him straight to shipping.

   Eventually he finally circled his way all the way around, ending just 50 meters away from where he started…finally in shipping. By which point he evidently cussed out his polish friend that came to take the York away, threw his hands up in frustration and went on his lunch. We didn’t get audio on CCTV but it wasn’t really necessary, his expression alone was enough to floor everyone in the room. We didn’t stop laughing for at least five minutes.

   Now, I do not rightly know what his reasoning was or what excuses he made after security showed the tapes to his manager, as I never got the chance to ask. Marcin never returned upstairs, and from what we heard – he quit Evil Inc just two weeks later. Now while time would show that being a smart move on his part, as he undoubtedly found a much happier place of employment than that den of evil, it did not preclude our entire team from having a hearty laugh about this for the following few months. And for the rest of my professional career at Evil Inc and beyond, this still remains one of my favourite stories to tell my students – a real life example of why it’s important to work smarter, not harder.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Humble Devil - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Melo looked around to make sure there was nobody in the corridor and quickly snuck into his room, quietly closing the door behind him.  There was no need for any of the staff to see him carry an assault rifle around. He shuddered at the idea of having to deal with police on top of all their existing problems.  But now that nobody could see him, Melo carefully placed the weapon on the table and reached into the small bag he had thrown over his shoulder. Inside were all the cleaning utensils for maintenance, and a half-empty bottle of rum that he took from Cree. Lord knows he deserved the damned drink. Throwing the cleaning kit on the table, Melo proceeded to search the cupboard for a glass – drinking a thousand dollar rum out of the bottle seemed a tad juvenile. Having only managed to find a cup he finally sat down at the table with a sigh. It’d have to do.

The soft light of the small lamp that stood on the table, even mixed with the erratic blinking of the half-muted TV was not enough to illuminate the table properly. Drunk and drowned in twilight Melo picked up the gun. Quickly, with a steady, almost surgical precision he removed the studs and took off the stock. Next came off the handle. One by one every piece took its own place on the table. The removed mechanism unit and mobile assembly were carefully placed next to a clean ashtray, where Melo had stored all the removed studs.  He took a sip of the rum, and involuntarily smiled. Say what you will about the ungodly price, but the rum was good. The kind of rabid bitterness he usually got from most hard drinks was not present, instead it went down smoothly. Too smoothly perhaps. He took the bolt, twisted the amp lever – removing it, and pulled out the firing pin. The drumming of the rain, heard even through the quiet murmur of the telly, was getting on his nerves. The details of the case just weren’t sitting right with him. The entire thing – the town, the people, the killings, the guns… it was all making him a bit paranoid. He quickly dismantled the head and with a strong jerk twisted off the bipod. Melo shook his head and refilled the cup.

“Morning’s always wiser…” He said quietly under his breath and, taking a piece of special cloth, started cleaning the barrel. Once that was done with, it took him a bit of effort to locate the brush in the bag. His vision was slowly getting blurrier as he found himself amidst a warm, soothing haze. All of his worries slowly became insignificant, as he steadily and carefully cleaned the firing mechanism and the chamber with a brush. All other metal parts he worked over with a piece of clean cloth. The rum was taking effect all the more quickly, as it made friends with the scotch he drank earlier. Melo could no longer hear the TV, his mind completely, blissfully blank, as he pushed the firing pin back into the head and installed it back into the assembly.  Next the mechanism unit was returned back to its place. Then the handle… then the stock… Finally the bipod found its way back. Barely conscious, Melo staggered to his bed, falling asleep before his head could touch the pillow. Only the drumming of the rain and the quiet murmur of the telly remained, along with an empty bottle of rum.

The morning was murky and just as unwelcoming as the evening before it. Liene stretched in her bed and got up. Looking out the window she shivered a little. She was feeling cold just by looking at the weather. If anything it seemed to have gotten a bit worse than yesterday.  The wet brown leaves were spun around the street by strong wind, giving it a dirty look. Liene sighed and, quickly throwing on her jeans and shirt, disappeared in the bathroom. Rain or no rain – teeth gots to be brushed, eh?
The bathroom was small but tidy, as usual with most ensuite rooms. A tiny bar of soap was sitting on the sink, next to three tubes of toothpaste. Liene shot her eyebrows up in surprise. That was quite unusual, but she wasn’t about to let anything free go to waste. She quickly popped one of the tubes open, and pocketed the other two. As Liene began brushing her teeth she could feel her mouth going slightly numb, much to her surprise.  She grabbed the tube again and read the English description carefully.
   “Lavendik-Straub toothpaste. New Innovative Formula! Say NO to bleeding gums!” Followed by a long list of chemicals and other ingredients and warning: “May cause a slight feeling of numbness.” Liene shrugged and continued brushing, if anything it really was better than most other things she normally used. Unless it was all a ploy by their enemies!? Maybe they planted this toothpaste here for her to use! And the mouth feels numb because of the poison they put in it?! Could it be that she was being sneakily assassinated at this very moment-

“Heeey, Liene, are you up yet?” Rami’s voice, followed by a hard knock on the door snapped her out of it. She quickly washed out her mouth and rushed out of the bathroom.
“Yes yes, I’m coming” She swung the door open, nearly tackling Rami in the process. “Crap, sorry gramps!”
“Never mind,” Rami waved his hand dismissively, purposely ignoring the nickname. “Cree is waiting already. And I don’t want to hear his sarcastic remarks this early in this shitty morning, so let’s go.”
“Well, somebody’s grumpy…”
“I’m always grumpy.”

The door to Cree’s suite was slightly creaked open in an inviting way. Music could be heard from the inside. It felt a bit nostalgic to Liene – he was listening to Die Toten Hosen. Hearing German again, for the first time in weeks was refreshing.  The room itself looked very different from yesterday. The excerpts from local newspapers and pages from the case file covered the walls. The glass table that used to stand in the centre of the room was gone and the glass from it was mounted on the wall, making an impromptu whiteboard. The photos from four specific victims were pinned to it with writing done in a red marker listing key similarities between them. Before Liene had a chance to express he legitimate feelings of “what the flying fuck” Cree himself entered the room from the kitchen. He looked surprisingly energetic. His suit’s jacket was gone, leaving him in a white shirt and black vest. Rolled up sleeves added to the dishevelled look, created by messy hair and faint black circles under his eyes. He placed the jug full of coffee that he had in his hand on the cupboard and waved at them.

“Good morning ye lazy bastards! Grab some coffee and freshen up, we have a lot of work to do!” He opened the cupboard and pulled out several cups, gesturing the due to grab them.
“W-what the hell have you done to this place?” Rami finally managed to squeeze out the lingering question.
“Huh? I turned it into a proper workplace, obviously.” Cree raised an eyebrow. “Stop asking retarded questions bro.”
Rami opened his mouth to say something, but failed to come up with a decent enough comeback. Liene in the meantime gladly poured herself a cup of hot coffee. If anything she was glad to drink some proper brew, and not the dissolving instant shit-drink they served back at her work.  Taking a nice savoury sip, she turned to Cree.
“When did you get the time to do all this?”
“Mmm? Ah, tonight. I did it tonight.”
“Really? Did you even get any sleep?” Liene raised her eyebrows in disbelief.
“Please,” Cree smirked. “Sleep is for weaklings! Hahahahah!”

“Kill me… kill me now….” With a loud moan Melo stumbled into the room. “Seriously, just shoot me… ughhh…” He had sizeable black bags under his eyes. Arms trembling and with a breath that could rival a dragon’s, Melo was a positive wreck. A massive splitting headache signalled the mother of all hangovers. Liene jumped up and helped him down into a chair while Rami reasonably turned down the music.
“The hell happened to you, Melon?” Liene scurried about trying to find something that would make him more comfortable.
“Good half a litre of a 45% high quality Rum on top of a litre of cheap 55% scotch, that’s what.” Cree replied with a smirk. “Told ya to be careful with Appleton’s - it hits heavy if you’re not careful.”
Melo only groaned in response.
Cree sighed at the glare Liene and Rami gave him and disappeared into the kitchen. A minute later he returned with a cold can of Duvel in his hand.
“Here, have this then top it off with coffee, should bring you back to life.” He threw the can to Melo. “Nothing better to beat a hangover than a can of Belgian lager, eh, bro?”
Melo caught the can and quickly popping it open, began drinking greedily. Less than a minute later he leaned back into the chair with a sigh of relief.
“Thanks that helped.” He gratefully nodded to Liene and picked up the cup of coffee she brought for him. “So, where are Wolf and Hema?”
Cree shrugged. “Late as usual, I suppose. We’ll wait for them, and then go over the plan for today.”
Rami and Liene nodded in agreement.

It was some good twenty more minutes before Wolf and Hema finally showed up. Cree was about to chew them out for being late, but it turned out the duo had good reason. They came in carrying several plates filled with food: several burgers, chips, salad and jugs of sauce. Suddenly everyone, Cree included, realised that they didn’t have a single bite since they got off the plane. The hunger hit them like a truck – hard and quick. In seconds the food was divided between everyone, and for a few minutes, everyone just ate in silence. The much needed breakfast charged everyone up, giving the gang back the energy they didn’t even realize they had run out of. Even Melo seemed to get the colour of life to come back to his face.
Finally once everyone was done with their plates and coffee, Cree clapped his hands and jumped up from his chair and approached the makeshift whiteboard. Picking up a marker he drew a vertical line and marked each side “Recon” and “Info” respectively.
“Alright guys, the plan for today is simple. We’ll be splitting into two teams - Reconnaissance and Information Gathering. The recon team will go with me,” He wrote his name into the recon column. “And survey the known crime scenes. Get a feel for the area, so to speak. The info group, in the meantime will be in charge of gathering as much intel on this little town as possible. Should prove to be quite challenging, since this town has no digital footprint at all. Any volunteers?”
Rami raised his hand. “Info. And I want Liene with me.” Liene moaned in disdain while Cree turned to Rami in surprise.
“Really? I thought she’d be more useful with the recon.”
Rami shook his head. “Since we can’t use internet we’d have to go to the council building to check their physical records manually. And I really bloody doubt that they will let us go through everything. Soo… we might have to gain access to restricted files in a more… direct way. Catch my drift?”
“Hehe, I see.” Cree smirked and turned to Liene. “Any objections?”
“None at all.” Liene seemed a lot more enthusiastic, now that a prospect of breaking and entering was introduced. Cree nodded and wrote their names into the info column.
“But!” Liene raised her finger. “If we’re talking about stealing records from a protected building, we’ll need at least one more person as a lookout. Somebody inconspicuous, somebody young, with an honest face… “A pause hung in the air as everyone turned to Hema at the same time. He blinked a few times before realizing what was going on.
“But-but-but, we don’t know if you’ll have to break into anything, do we? Aren’t we getting a little bit ahead of ourselves? Maybe you won’t need me at all!” His voice was filled with notes of desperation.
Rami shrugged. “While you do have a point, it’s better to be prepared, rather than to be caught shorthanded.”
Liene, Melo and Wolf all nodded at the same time. Cree then clapped his hands with an evil smile, “It’s decided then!” and wrote Hema in under info.
Hema fell back into his chair and hung his head. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa……”

Cree turned to Melo and Wolf with a silent question in his eyes. Wolf shook his copy of the case file he picked up from Cree yesterday and stood up.
“Recon, I want to examine the crime scenes myself. Something in the forensic reports just keeps on nagging me.”  Cree nodded and put his name on the board.
Melo stood up with a grunt, checked the Beretta he had holstered on his back, and then slapped himself on the face twice to wake up completely.
“Not much of a choice really. Only fresh air, only recon, only hardcore!”  Having said that he cocked his gun and holstered it back.
 Cree’s smile turned vicious. “Everything is decided then. Now…” He walked to the cupboard and pulled out a plastic bag. He emptied the contents onto the now vacant chair, where Melo had been sitting – inside were five cheap phones. “Burners, pre-paid. We contact each other in three hours or once we discover something. As usual, ditch if compromised. All understood?”
Wolf picked up his phone and handed the rest to the others.
“Business as usual then?”
“Indeed.”  Cree smirked and then threw Rami a car key. “The one on the left is yours. Drive carefully.”
“Wait, didn’t your friends drive off in the second car?”
“Don’t think too much about it,” Cree frowned. “They returned it yesterday night.”
Rami nodded and headed out. Liene and Hema quickly followed suite. Cree casually straightened out the sleeves of his shirt, grabbed the jacket and winked to Melo. “Roll out?”
Melo nodded. “Damn straight.”
“Wolf, you got your gun?”
“Yeah,” Wolf patted his side. “Safe and sound under the sweater.”
“Good!” Cree then reached behind the chair and pulled out his over the shoulder holster. He put it on, tightened it with Melo’s help, and put on the jacket - concealing the weapon completely. He then paused for a second sniffing the air.
“Hmm… looks like I’m driving.”
Melo snorted. “Get going, smartass.”


Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Humble Devil - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Liene and Hema barely had the time to close the car door, when they saw the second Land Rover pull around the corner. Even through the wind shield it was clearly visible how excited Cree was. Henrik and Neo, on the other hand, were looking as gloomy as always.  All three men jumped out of the car, not bothering to switch off the engine and unloaded two big cases and a backpack from the trunk, dropping them onto the pavement with a deep thud. Neo then headed back to the first car, throwing a passing glance at Liene who tried to look as inconspicuous as humanly possible; while Henrik jumped back into the other. A few moments later both vehicles took off, letting out an ear piercing tire squeal.  Cree sarcastically saluted them as a farewell, and then turned to the duo.
“Well, well, well,” He spoke with a sarcastic grin; then picked up the backpack and threw it to Liene. “Someone’s been naughty! Glad ya made it back in time.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Schwachkopp” Liene winked and scurried off towards the hotel – the cold wind was getting to her.
Cree snorted and turned back to the two cases on the ground.
“Wait a sec, I’ll help you out.” Hema hurried over and grabbed the handle of one of them; yanking it upward with all his strength. However his knees ended up buckling instead, as the surprisingly heavy case refused to leave the ground.
“Woah woah,” Cree immediately waved his hand towards him. “Let’s not touch that, shall we bro? I’ll take care of this; just hold the damn door open for me for a sec, ‘kay?”
Hema flushed and let go of the bag, obediently heading for the main entrance. He was growing increasingly frustrated with himself and others, however. ‘Tis true that he was never the “muscle” of their group, but he didn’t appreciate them treating him like some fragile child either. As he held the door in open position and turned towards Cree, somewhere deep inside he couldn’t help but malevolently hope that Cree will fail to pick up the bags as well.
“Oh ‘cmon, at least buy me dinner before ya start undressing me with yer eyes bro!” Cree grinned nastily as he approached. Hema flushed once again and moved out of the way, letting him pass.

                Ten minutes later everyone gathered in one of the bigger VIP rooms that Cree took for himself. The faint smell of alcohol hung in the air, as Melo and Wolf dragged in chairs for themselves from the unused rooms.  Rami was sitting on the bed, beside the two cases that the sarcastic bastard had just recently brought in with himself. Hema and Liene seated themselves on the spacious sofa; Liene popping open a bottle of cider that she picked up on her way. Cree on the other hand relaxed in a comfortable velvet recliner with a glass of rum in his hand. He was still breathing heavily from pulling his cases up four flights of stairs. Melo couldn’t help but notice the label on the bottle, carefully placed on a small glass table beside Cree. “Appleton Estate 30.” Good lord… so much for not being wasteful. Cree didn’t seem to mind however, as he nonchalantly sipped the obscenely expensive drink. The rich, warm taste of the exquisite liquor seemed to give him his strength back.  As soon as everyone was properly settled in, he carefully placed the lead glass tumbler on the table, and dug himself deeper into the recliner with an ominous smile.
“Alrighty now, five idiots, two hours,” As he was speaking, Cree threw his hands outward, accentuation each number in a flashy manner. “What did ya’ll manage to cobble together?”
This came as no surprise to the group; Cree used to do this little ritual all the time.  
Rami spoke out first, setting the tone.
“Adersund, about nine hundred miles north of Stockholm. No digital news or media available on the web that would encourage tourism.” Rami spoke in a calm, static manner, listing every discrepancy as to the point as possible. “There are traces of the information being hastily removed. Whatever caused this city to be taken off the grid – it’s recent.”
That said; Rami tapped twice on the panel of his laptop. Melo spoke out next, answering the signal.
“Well, we took an eight hour long drive in inconspicuous cars from the biggest airport in Sweden, instead of using our private jet to land in a local airport. Also upon arrival we were being spied on by a guy in the lobby. Professional. Blond hair, blue denim jacket. I’d say about… six feet tall; maybe less. Wouldn’t be able to pick him out of the crowd, to be honest.”
A moment of silence hung in the air.  Nobody else seemed to have noticed the man. Satisfied with the reaction, and himself, Melo continued.
“Throw in the fact that Cree has taken precautions to protect us against assassination, and I would guess that we’re under government surv. Am I right, you bastard?”
Cree snorted.
Melo smiled and leaned back into his chair, tapping twice on his armrest. 

This time it was Wolf’s turn to speak. He stood up from his chair, and started pacing about the room impatiently.
“Interesting…  I spoke to the bartender. There seems to be some kind of event coming up in two weeks’ time. It was marked on the calendar. But the moment I asked about it he got defensive, said that it is a reminder for an upcoming storm. A load of bull, if you ask me.” Wolf took off his glasses and began nervously cleaning them, before tapping twice on the wall.  

Liene didn’t bother to stand up.
“We… walked about for a bit,” She winked at Hema. “And found out that a lot of the houses on the outskirts are abandoned.”
“You walked all the way to the outskirts?” Melo raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“Yes.” Liene lied without as much as batting an eyelid. “The whole city has a bit of a ghost town feeling to it. I don’t like it.”
“Couldn’t be worse than the water caves though,” Hema snorted. “However I do see where you’re coming from. The few people that we’ve seen exhibit signs of stress and paranoia. All of them are spooked by something.”
“So…” Melo took a nice long sip of his scotch before rounding everything up. “As of late, something happens in this town, regularly enough to be put on calendar and freak out the citizens. The government does not want it to get out and removes every bit of info about the city from the web; however it does not stop the people from moving out. We are brought in as a last resort and are under constant surveillance to make sure we don’t leak anything out. Sounds about right?”
Cree smiled so wide it looked like his face was about to snap and jumped up from his chair. “BINGO!”
“Alright, bear with me for a moment…” Cree picked up his backpack and pulled out a thick folder. Same folder that they’ve seen three days ago back at the lounge. He handed it to Wolf and took a deep breath, getting ready for a long winded monologue.

“You are indeed quite correct about almost everything, my friends. Here’s the short version of the story. It all began some good three years ago, on a windy April afternoon. A senior citizen by the name of Agneta Olsson was on her way to buy some milk, when she spotted somebody lying on the asphalt, in the middle of the road. Being a compassionate good citizen she hurried over to see if the person needed some help. Ironically enough, she was the one that needed help afterwards, poor thing nearly scored a heart attack. The body was sadly beyond helping. Its head and both of its hands were missing. The forensic team were unable to locate the missing parts, or identify the exact way in which the injuries were inflicted – by all means it seemed like they were quite simply ripped off. In fact even identifying the body was impossible. The male victim was wearing naught but his underpants at the time. The specialists were able to tell that he was undressed before he was killed, as identified by the bruises on legs and torso, from when the body fell over.  

“Now here’s where it starts to get weird. At first the police figured that the victim was one of the citizens.  However no people had gone missing from the city in months.  Also the forensic team was able to determine a disturbing detail – the hands of the victim were removed before he died. They could tell from the blood splatter that he wandered a few meters between getting them ripped off and his head removed as well. Also from the blood patterns they could tell that the cause of death was decapitation, and not something else. He remained alive and conscious all the way until his head got ripped off. The gruesome murder shook the little city to the bone and yet, as if to mock everyone, there were no clues left behind on the scene. And without the identity of the victim the investigation stumbled, fell and was forever placed on the shelf along with other dead cases. It was to be forgotten and disappear into obscurity.

“Or so they thought, anyway. Right up until another windy morning on exactly the same day next month; when they found the second body. It lay in the middle of the road, much like the previous victim. Head and hands removed and all clothes gone save for underpants. This time investigative teams were called in from the capital. The official theory was that of a serial killer. However after three weeks of combing the scene with a fine toothed brush, even the Stockholm big shots came up with nothing. The teams were pulled out and the case shelved. …Until a week later, on the same day as before, a third body was found. By this point the government officials were having none of it and hushed the entire deal. Nobody was willing to risk such shameful failings of the police force to get out to the media. The city was flooded with officers and a curfew was instated for the three days around the projected murders. They were going to stand awake for three days, hoping to catch the bastard that was committing these horrible murders.

“…The fourth body was found on the same day as before, in an alleyway only five meters away from the nearest police patrol stand. Many officers lost their jobs that night, but it did little to stop the mysterious killings. Fifth body was found a month later, as if on schedule. And then the sixth… The seventh… Since then, for three years, on the third of every month a handless, headless body was found in the little rural city of Adersund. For a grand total of forty-one victims. We are contracted by a certain individual in the Swedish government to make sure there are no forty-second, forty-third and et cetera. We have three weeks to solve this case and neutralize the killer, before the elections take place.”
Cree finished speaking and sat back down into his recliner. The atmosphere in the room was so thick – one could cut it with a knife. Everyone was slowly processing the information, trying to comprehend the horror of what was facing them. Hema shivered at the irony of the situation: this was definitely worse than the water caves.

                “So what do ya say, my friends? Are ya in, or out?” Cree asked with a serious look on his face.
Rami slowly closed the lid of his laptop.
“I’m guessing this is why you didn’t tell us back at the lounge?”
Cree nodded. “Indeed. I was afraid the temptation to just say no would be too much.”
Rami frowned and stood up from the bed.
“I don’t know what infuriates me more; that you still don’t trust us with these things, or that you used such a tactic to force our hand. Either way every deal has a business side that we must cover first. How much are we getting?”
Everyone turned to Cree, who stood up and approached one of the cases on the bed. He opened it up and one-by-one pulled out five brown envelopes of considerable thickness. He threw one of them to Rami, who caught it with ease.
“Ten grand each. Plus another forty if we succeed. Fifty grand each in total. You get it cash in hand, no declarations or taxes.”
The room fell silent once again, as everyone picked up and examined their envelopes. Fifty thousand pounds in three weeks was an overwhelming amount of money. Easily more than most of them made in a year. Granted the risk was most likely high as well, but even if they failed – they still got to keep the ten thousand. Finally this gig started to come together.
“By the way, where’s yours, Schwachkopp?” Liene raised her eyes towards Cree, tapping twice on her envelope.
“Oh,” he shrugged in response. “I got paid my considerably bigger share back in Dresden. How d’ya think I paid for all of this?”
Liene examined him musingly. How did he really? However much Cree got paid, she really doubted it would be enough to pay for a personal jet, of all things.
“Well then, since you have apparently already spent your share on all these luxuries, how could I say no? I’m in.” She replied with a cheerful tone and raised her slim bottle of cider in the air as a salute.
Rami muttered under his breath, then stuffed the envelope into his pocket.
“You’ll be the death of me, bastard. I’m in.”
Wolf and Hema shared a look then stood up as well.
“Ain’t gonna pass up a ten thousand cash trip. We’re in.” Hema spoke out with a grim smirk on his face.

All eyes the turned to Melo, who was still sitting in his chair, silent. He didn’t even touch his envelope; it still lay on his armrest as if nothing happened.
“Well bro, what’ya say?” Cree asked, picking up his tumbler with rum from the table.

Melo studied him with a bemused looks for a second, then calmly took another sip of his scotch and raised the glass in the air.

“Bitch please. You had me at hello.”

                Some good half an hour later, Cree told the guys to get back to their rooms and get some rest. Their real challenge was going to start the next day, and he needed them all well-rested and level-headed. Melo was the last one to leave the room, when Cree stopped him, and asked to close the door.
“There’s one more thing, Stef.” It’s been a very long time since Melo heard his friend call him by that name. A very long time indeed. Melo tensed up; most of his inebriation gone.

“What is it? Please tell me it’s good.”

Cree smiled faintly, then flung both of the cases open and signalled Melo to come closer. He quickly removed a few protective layers of clothing and electronics, leaving Melo to gawk at the sight. And what a sight it was! Both cases were filled with weapons. All of them were very familiar, if a bit unsettlingly nostalgic. Two FAMAS assault rifles lay at the centre the case, six 9mm Berettas were stowed in a neat little line. Three silenced UMP.45’s completed the picture. The other case contained body armour, ammunition and a Benelli M4 semi-automatic shotgun. While he personally never fired one before, it was still familiar to Melo. M4’s were quite popular back in Afghanistan, due to how essential they were for breaching.
He shook his head to avoid another flashback then turned to Cree, whispering.
“How in the hell did you get all this?” His voice was a little raspy from surprise.

“I have my ways,” Cree smirked with a grim expression, then pulled out one Beretta, reloaded with a slight of hand and handed it to Melo. “I am not kidding when I say that we’re in deep shit, brother. Whether we succeed or fail, this gun will fire. And when it does, I’d rather you be holding it, than a blond haired swede in a denim jacket.”