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Chapter 8

February 5, 2012

“That was number twenty two?”  I pointed at the charred mess of timbers.  I couldn’t believe it had been a house.  The ground around was charred and burned, and there didn’t seem to be enough left for a whole house to have been there.

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  Not much left eh?  Well, ashes don’t make up to a great deal I guess.”

“Was Mr Marshall… was anyone home?”

The man shook his head.

“Nah, the police said that the place was empty.  At least, they didn’t find any bodies.  There wouldn’t be much left after that, but they seem to be pretty good at finding bodies.  Are you OK mate?”

The man gave me a look of bored concern.  No, I wasn’t alright.  It wasn’t the end of the line but it was another huge frustration.  I had steeled myself to do whatever was necessary to get answers, but where did I go from here?  Back to Ben’s place, slowly mouldering away waiting for a false passport that would – hopefully – get me to Vienna?  I felt hopeless, frustrated, and angry.

“Say, you’re not a relative are ya?” asked the man.

I shook my head.

“No, no relation.”

“It’s just, you kind of look a bit like him.  Remind me of him for some reason.”

“I thought you’d never met him?”

The man shook his head.

“No, never met him.  Seen him a few times though.  He’d been living there about a year, not that we saw a lot of him during that time.  Kept strange hours, heading out and coming back during the night, and was often away for weeks at a time.  Never said hello, never came round to introduce himself.  The police interviewed us after the fire and we couldn’t tell ‘em much more than I’ve told you just now.  Only ever seen him from a distance, but you do look a bit like him to me though, same build and that.  You could be his cousin, thought you might be a relative.”

I was about as reassured to know that I looked like the mysterious Marshall as I was thrilled to find his house burned to the ground.  It seemed likely he wasn’t dead though, so there was some hope in that.  A tiny bit, how I was going to find him I had no idea.

I thanked Marshall’s neighbour and walked back to the charred remains of number twenty two.  The house must have been wooden, the majority of the structure reduced to blackened timbers and ash.  Near the back of the scorched area of earth I could see a straggly pile of soot covered bricks that must have been a collapsed chimney.  It must have gone up quickly, either that or the fire service had taken an age to get there.  Everything was making me suspicious, and I wondered if the house had been torched to through me off the scent?  I knew that even with the strangeness of my situation that was irrational, it had happened long before I escaped the facility.  But what about when it had happened?  It would have been roughly around the time of my accident, the time when the flash scoured away all my memories.  They said I had been incoherent most of the time since then, but that could have just been another lie.  More questions, no answers.

I picked my way through the ash and burnt timber, not caring how the soot clung to my feet and blackened my trousers.  I looked a mess already, I might as well complete the appearance.  Here are there something had incongruously escaped the inferno.  A foot-long chunk of what looked like a table leg, the blonde wood standing out against the black, both ends seared away but the remaining wood unblemished.  Further on a small wooden carving of a hippo had mostly escaped the fire, nestled on top of a half burned strip of fabric.  It could have been a t-shirt, a table cloth, a curtain, there was no way to tell amidst the destruction.

For an hour I wandered among the ruins, poking at anything that looked intact, turning over timbers to search under them, my hands and arms getting covered in the clinging soot.  There was nothing.  Nothing to tell me who Marshall was, what his involvement with Mnemosyne was, how he had tried to recruit me.  Nothing to tell me who I was.

Despondent, I started one last circuit of the ruins.  Reaching the small wooden hippo I stopped to pick the creature from the ashes.  As I did so I brushed my hand against the fabric, dislodging it slightly.  From underneath there came the dull gleam of metal.  I pulled the fabric away – it looked like it had been wrapped around the object at some point – and revealed a small metal box with a metal handle on top.  The surface was blackened in places but seems otherwise undamaged.  On the front of the box was a keyhole, and when I shook the box it rattled.  Eagerly I dug around in the area trying to find the key, but if it had been left near the box it was not there now.

It didn’t matter, the lock looked fragile.  Making my way back to the fallen chimney I placed the box on its end on a chunk of masonry.  One strike with a brick was enough to smash the lid open.

Inside there was a key, the plastic cover around its head melted and deformed.  It was an unusual design, with a long shaft and twin wings at the end.

“Find what you’re looking for?”

The voice made me jump.  The neighbour from next door, still in the white vest, was leaning out of an upstairs window.  I had no idea how long he had been watching, but he clearly knew I had found something.  I gave the man a surly wave and turned my back.  I wasn’t going to find anything else among the ashes, I was pretty certain of that.  I tucked the key into my pocket and left.

A low murmur came from the table opposite.  The two old ladies had their heads close together and were clearly discussing something of considerable importance.  To them anyway.  The only other customer in the café was a man in a suit, sat in the corner reading a paper and nursing a mug of tea.  The walls of the café were yellow, more nicotine than primrose, the counter in the service area matching the colour but flecked with green.  Black and white sketches adorned the walls, line drawings of cows, dogs, birds, cats, rabbits and all manner of domesticated creatures.  The low hung light fittings, shaded with yellow paper shades, added to the overall yellow ambience of the place.

Every table had a lacy tablecloth, with a small vase of flowers, a salt and pepper shaker and a plastic sign with a number.  It was a café that would never be described as stylish, but it had the feeling of a place that was cared for, and that wasn’t pretending to be anything that it wasn’t.

“Top up?” asked the serving girl.  She looked about sixteen, spotty and slightly nervous, her eyes staring out from behind thick glasses.  Another good thing about this place: they made tea in a pot and gave top ups.  I smiled.

“Thank you.”

I looked down at the two items on the table, the two things I had taken from Marshall’s.  The first was the wooden hippo carving.  I hadn’t intended to take this, it didn’t look in anyway useful, but somehow it had ended up in my pocket.  The second was the strange key, its unusual design giving no idea to its purpose.

On one side of the melted cover there looked like some printed wording, but it had been melted beyond recognition.  I could make out that whatever it was ended in a ‘k’, but that was it.  On impulse I held the key up to the serving girl.

“Any idea what this could be for?”

The girl almost jumped at the unexpected question, her eyes darting between my eyes and the key.

“No idea mister, sorry, but if its advice on keys you want Dave across the road is your man.”

She pointed through the window of the shop.  The bottom half of the glass was entirely covered in adverts for local events.  There was a poster for a circus, one offering baby-sitting services, another describing a missing cat.  Through the upper portion of the window I could just make out what she was pointing too.  Opposite the café was a narrow shop marked ‘D. Shane – Locksmith’.

“Thanks,” I called, getting up straight away and abandoning my refilled mug of tea.

“You’ll need to hurry though, he closes at five!” she replied unnecessarily, given I was already leaving at top speed.

I reached the outside of the door to ‘D. Shane Locksmith’ at exactly the same time as man reached the inside, his hand darting for the lock.  My hand grasped the handle and for a second or two there was a ridiculous stand-off.  For me to open the door I would have to knock the old guy backwards.  For him to lock the door with my hand on the handle would seem far too rude.  It looked like he was considering it though.

“It’ll only take five minutes, it’s just a quick question,” I pleaded.

The old man had a straggly bushy white mane of hair, exploding out from his skull at all angles and flowing down the sides of his face, the lower portion of which was covered in a bright white beard.  His nose was pinched and thin and watery blue eyes gazed back at me through the glass.  The hand resting next to the lock looked old and weathered, the skin like grey parchment, the dark blue of veins visible through the skin.  The watery blue eyes narrowed and then the man gave an exhausted sigh.  He released the lock and shuffled back from the door.

“Thanks,” I said, opening the door and stepping into the shop.  The lights were off and the windows let in little natural daylight.  One wall was entirely covered, floor to ceiling, in key blanks.  Every variety imaginable was represented, from standard chub locks through to latch keys, novelty designs to car keys.  The other wall of the shop was display space, with safes and coded key pads littered around on the floor.  The locksmith had now retreated back behind the long wooden counter that ran from one side of the shop to the other.  He slammed the hatch to the counter down ostentatiously and shuffled to behind the till.  Behind him where a number of key cutting machines, the wall above festooned with files of varying sizes and big red emergency shut off buttons.

“What is it, locked out of your car, your house?  I don’t do call outs you know, not at my age.  But if you make it worth my while I might,” he said slyly.

I shook my head.

“No, nothing like that.  It’s just advice I want.”  I took the strange key from my pocket and placed it on the counter.

“Do you know what that might be to?”

The locksmith picked the key up and held it to the light.  With a grunt he reached behind and flicked a switch, the lights in the shop flickering back into life.  The pulsing fluorescents made me momentarily dizzy and I put a hand onto the counter to steady myself.  The locksmith didn’t seem to notice, intent as he was at studying the key.  He now had a small eyeglass in front of his right eye, locked into place by his cheek and brow.

“Seen better days this key, you chuck it in the fire?” he asked.

“Something like that.”

The locksmith grunted, took the eyeglass from his eye and handed me back the key.

“Well, I thought that might have been interesting, but apart from the melted cover it’s all fairly standard.  I can’t copy it for you though, not one like that.”

He shuffled a few steps backward and flicked the lights off again.

“I don’t want it copied, just to know what it might be from.”

The locksmith eyed me suspiciously.

“Not your key then aye, if you don’t know what it’s from?”

I could feel the frustration boiling up inside of me.  My hand twitched as if to reach across the counter and grab the man, but I held it back at my side.  I couldn’t go around doing that all the time, it had been bad enough on the bus, and that had been an emergency.  It was understandable.  This guy looked like he might snap in two if I looked at him the wrong way.

I pulled a five pound note from my pocket and placed it on the counter.

“Look, I just want to know what it might be for, it’s as simple as that.  Can you tell me?”  My hand held the note to the surface of the counter and the locksmith eyed it hungrily.

“Well, that’s simple enough, surprised you need me to say.  It’s a safety deposit box, good quality, eight barrels.  Probably a bank.  Although you could have got that from the cover, if it weren’t obliterated all the way up to the ‘k’.”

A safety deposit box?  This sounded hopeful.  If Marshall had felt the need to store something, and to keep it out of his house, it might be about Mnemosyne, about me.  Or it might not.

“Do you know what bank?” I asked, my hand still pressing the note to the counter.

The old man shrugged.

“If it’s local it could be one of three or four.  Lloyds have boxes, so does Barclays, Natwest and the building society.”

I thanked the locksmith.  My hand went to sweep the five pound note back into my pocket and I stopped myself.  That wouldn’t have been right, he’d answered my questions, and after closing time.  Releasing the note I made my way back to the door.

“You won’t get anywhere with it now though,” called the locksmith.  “They all close at five, just like I am supposed to.”

The locksmith had been right, the banks were all closed.  I had worked out where all the ones he had mentioned were and visited each one in turn.  They would all be open again in the morning at nine am, but for now I could do nothing.

Near the edge of town I found a pub that offered rooms to rent by the night.  They were cheap, only twenty pounds a night, a fact that was all too obvious in the room itself.  My room was positioned right above the bar area and the music from below could be heard quite clearly through the floor, along with the odd peal of laughter and the occasional electronic outburst from the fruit machine.  The room was just wide enough to fit a single bed with space to walk down one side.  Next to the bed, under the narrow window, was a bedside cabinet.  The lamp resting on top had no bulb and a persistent draught blew in through a gap in the window casing.  The carpet on the floor was brown and black in a swirl pattern, nauseating to the eye.  The room smelt slightly musty, but the sheets on the bed looked clean and it was a place to stay.  At least I wasn’t there with a lot of luggage, I thought, as I stowed my pack in the bedside cabinet and made my way back down to the bar.

The bar of the pub could have been from almost any town or village in England.  The walls were clad in a heavy dark wood and the ceiling was low and crossed with beams.  The bar was of a similar dark wood with a polished brass foot rail.  Metal rails above the bar held wineglasses by their stems, the back wall behind the bar holding an array of shelves stacked with glasses of various types, from pint mugs to shot glasses.

The stairs from the rooms above came down just to the left of the bar.  The fruit machine that I could hear from my room was stationed on the opposite side, just next to the double doors out onto the street.  A couple of spotty youths stood at the machine, jabbering away to one another and pressing the brightly flashing keys, before feeding two more pound coins into the hungry slot at the top of the machine.

At the bar sat three old timers, their heads close together in conversation.  As I entered the bar it seemed that one of them had made a funny joke, as one the old guys leant back and roared with laughter.  I recognised that sound from my room as well.

Had it not been too small and noisy in my room I might well have stayed there.  Since escaping the facility I still wasn’t good being around other people.  Everyone and everything made me suspicious, and being around people seemed to put me massively on edge.  I could feel my pulse rise just stepping into the bar, and I schooled myself to calm.  I needed something to eat after all.

As I emergedfrom the gloom of the stairs the three guys at the bar turned to look at me.  Seeing nothing that seemed to interest them they went back to their conversation.  The barman, who I’d negotiated with earlier about the room, gave me a cold nod as I entered the bar and watched as I made my way over to one of the tables near the window.

It was dark outside now, the street lights shedding a muddy yellow glow over a damp streetscape.  Both sides of the street were lined with parked vehicles.  Opposite the pub was a large block of flats, Henningdon Court said the sign.  It had been drizzling persistently for most of the afternoon and everything in the street reflected the available light, pools of shimmering yellow opening up along the street’s length.  A man in a heavy beige mack walked passed the bar, a large white dog pulling impatiently at the lead he held in his hand.

I settled into a table in the corner of the room, my back to the walls, facing the bar and the window.  Sat here I could see there was one other person in the bar.  An old man swathed in a bulky coat sat at the far end from me, a newspaper in his hands and a half finished pint by his elbow.

“Something to eat?” asked the barman, approaching the table and offering me a menu.  It was handwritten and coated in plastic.  I said thanks.

Scanning down the right hand side I picked the cheapest thing that sounded half way decent.  I needed to conserve my cash, I had no idea how to get more.

“Sausage and mash thanks, and a pint of IPA.”

The barman nodded and took the menu from my hands.  Walking back around the bar he pulled the pint and brought it back to my table.

“What do you think of the room?” he asked.

“I think it’s a shit hole,” I replied.

He nodded slowly.

“Yup, that’d be it,” he agreed, before returning behind the bar.

The guys on the fruit machine had given up on gambling, finishing off the dregs of their drinks and leaving the pub in a noisy cloud of nonsense.  I took a long swig of beer and tried to relax.

Tomorrow I would try and use the key, get whatever Marshall had stashed away.  If that failed it was back to Ben’s place, the false passport and Vienna.  I didn’t want to think about what came after that, what I’d do if I was no closer to finding out who I was, what I could do to get my memories back, stop the blackouts and the random self harm.

The door to the pub swung open and a man walked in, his heavy boots making deep clonking sounds on the bare floorboards.  The barman looked up from his newspaper and gulped, a nervous caste coming over his features.

“Evening KP, what can I get you?”

The newcomer was dressed in leather, head to toe.  A biker jacket wrapped around his broad shoulders, the sleeves on his forearms rolled up to reveal a large number of tattoos snaking their way down his arms.  His head was shaved, and on the back of his head was a red tattoo in the shape of a dice, its corner pointing down and every side showing a six.

He walked up to the bar, slow and confident, the old timers shuffling away from him nervously.

“Usual,” he grunted, his voice low and pitched for menace.  The barman nodded and took a glass down from behind the bar, filling it with an amber liquid and handing it to the man called KP.  I didn’t notice any money changing hands, the big man taking a seat on a stool and downing half the pint in a single swig.

A hazy set of memories bubbled to the surface.  I’d seen a lot of men like KP, I realised.  The barman was clearly intimidated by him.  Everyone else in the bar seemed to be for that matter.  KP looked like he could handle himself, but his bulk looked like it was more to do with fat than muscle.  And his voice was an affectation, low and gravelly and designed to intimidate.  If he felt the need to do that he wasn’t really a tough guy.  He wanted to be one, and probably had mates who were, but this guy was small fry.

A small bell sounded somewhere behind the bar area and the barman hurried back through a small door.  When he returned he was carrying my sausage and mash, which he dropped on the table in front of me without ceremony.

The food tasted great, the mash creamy and the gravy flavoursome.  Half way through the meal and I was feeling better about things in general.  With a good meal under my belt, and a night’s sleep in a real bed –my first outside the facility – and I was feeling hopeful about the next day.

As I ate I watched the people in the bar.  The old guy on his own seemed to pay little attention to anything, but his glass never seemed to get any emptier.  The guys at the bar carried on their conversation, but I had noticed that since the arrival of KP their laughter was more restrained.  The barman looked nervous the whole time, and while I ate my meal he dished out two more free pints to the hulking KP.  For his part KP just sat there and drank, communicating solely by slamming his empty pint glass down on the bar.

With a full stomach I was beginning to feel sleepy.  Pushing back my chair I approached the bar.

“Do you want me to pay now, or settle up later?” I asked the barman.  He waved away my question, which I took to mean later.  KP swivelled slowly in his chair, an arrogant smirk on his ugly features.  As he turned to face me though his face fell, shock registering in his eyes.  Turning hurriedly away he downed his pint, stood up and hurried from the bar, the barman and I looking confusedly after him.  The barman gave a sigh of relief.

“God, he’s a strange one, thank goodness he’s gone,” he breathed.  I shrugged.  I wasn’t interested in a conversation, although KP’s reaction had been strange.  The barman carried on talking regardless.

“I mean, he’s not all that bad, but that brother of his, and the rest of them.  Bad news, bad for business, bad for the neighbourhood,” he muttered, almost to himself.

I shrugged again, making my way towards the stairs.  The barman called out to stop me.

“Actually, if you don’t mind, could you settle now.  Makes it all easier in the morning.”

I bet, I thought, especially if I skip out just before dawn, an idea that had occurred to me.

I fell asleep on top of the covers, fully clothed, my body sliding into unconsciousness moments after lying down.  I wanted rest, but I tumbled through confusing dreams of past lovers and enemies, significant moments and heartbreaks.  Nothing seemed to stick, more fleeting feelings than memories.  My graduation from university and my parents pride, my first boxing match and my own shame as I was knocked out in the second round.  Scientific breakthroughs and personal setbacks, and vice versa.  The last dream almost snuck up on me, but I knew it was real, that it was a memory.  A finger peeled back my eyelid, a light shone in my eye.

“No response, pupils static, it’s now or never,” said a voice.  It was Richter’s.

“Starting the sequence now.”  I didn’t recognise this voice.

“Transferring, the buffers are filling up.  God there’s a lot, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Will there be room, without the Adstringo?”

“We’ve no idea.  I guess we’ll find out!”

The world exploded into the flash, then nothing.

I sat up bolt upright in bed, sweat pouring from my body.  My heart was hammering and my breathing was ragged.  I swung my feet from the bed and got gingerly to my feet.

The pale light of a false dawn shone through the wafer thin curtains as I pushed them back.  The sky was clear and indigo dark.  It looked like it was going to be a nice day.  Weather wise that is.

The small digital alarm clock next to the bed told me it would be hours until the banks opened.  I felt wide awake now, and the last thing I wanted to do was go back to sleep.  Too much sleep could kill me.  I scratched at the half healed slices across my wrists.  They itched with a fury.  For some reason so did the ‘M3’ scratched into my left forearm.  Rolling up my sleeve I gave the raised skin an experimental prod.  It felt warm and puffy.  I hoped it wasn’t infected.

Deciding to get some fresh air I made my way out into the narrow corridor and down the steps to the bar.  Near the back entrance to the pub there was a large key hanging from a hook.  A large metal key fob dangled from it, the words ‘After Hours Access’ scrawled on a scrap of paper that was taped to the metal.  I grabbed the key from the hook stepped out into the cool morning.

I took a big lungful of air.  I truly did feel better this morning.  It was basic stuff, a decent meal and a good night’s sleep, but get that wrong and it’s difficult for your day to recover.  The back entrance of the pub came out in a narrow alley that ran up the side of the building.  To my right was the barrel hatch where the empty kegs of beer would be lifted out of the basement, filled ones taking their place.  Beyond the hatch were three large dumpster style bins, the green lids swept forward and hiding the rubbish beneath.  The publican was clearly a fastidious man, the alley itself was free of litter and looked freshly swept.  Too often these sorts of places were fetid.

I made my way along the alley and to the high street  As I exited the alley I noticed a dark figure shrink back into a doorway on the other side of the road.  It seemed odd that someone else would be up so early, but for once I didn’t get a surge of paranoia.  Whoever it was must be up to their own business, I would get on with my own.  In hindsight, paranoia would have been more healthy.

I did a couple of laps of the block before making my way back.  The sun had half cleared the horizon when I returned to the pub.  Pulling the large key from my pocket I made for the door, and nearly walked smack into a small man with a pinched face.

He couldn’t have been more than five foot five, and he looked hollow and washed out and nasty.  An evil man, you could tell at first sight.  He had the casual bearing of a man used to brutality, someone who has a keen understanding of their own wants and desires and absolutely no concept of yours.  He has what the man called KP from the bar wanted to be, and despite his best efforts could never hope to become.  Some people were just born that way.  As if summoned the hulking form of KP emerged from behind the dumpsters and strode out into the alley way behind the little man, along with two other thugs.  I recognised one of them as the person I had seen hiding in the shadows earlier that morning, and in that instant I knew that this merry little group had been waiting for me.

The little man, without question their leader, pulled a knife from his pocket and flicked out the blade, before ostentatiously picking at his nails with the gleaming point.  If I was supposed to be impressed I wasn’t.

“You’re kind of in my way,” I said calmly.  It was important to stay calm, to appear calm.  After all, it wasn’t necessary that anyone was going to get hurt here.  OK, it certainly looked that way, but I’d avoid it if I could.

The little man laughed and shook his head.

“You got some nerve, you certainly have,” he drawled.

This wasn’t going well.  Adrenaline leaked into my blood stream, my heart kicked up a notch and I could feel myself tense.

“You should’ve stayed away, you know that don’t you,” said the little man.  It wasn’t a question, but his statement startled me.  Did he think he knew me?  I was excited at the possibility, despite the situation.

“I’m sorry, do you know me?  Do we know each other?”

The little man took this the wrong way, his face flushing red with rage.  Swearing he looked around at his comrades.

“Can you hear this fucker?  Un-fucking-believable!  Do we know each other?  Do we know each other!  Shit, I’ve waited over three months to have this out with you, looked up and down the country, and now you ask if we know each other.  Do you remember Brick, or Jamie?  Or have you killed so many people it just gets hazy?”

The words rocked me.  Killed people?  This had to be a case of mistaken identity.  And a dangerous one.  The little man was shaking with rage, and just moments from using the knife.

“Easy, easy,” I soothed.  “Seriously, I think you’ve got me confused with someone else.”

This was clearly the wrong thing to say.  With a snarl of rage the little man launched himself at me, the blade pointed at my throat.  I stepped to one side and grabbed his wrist as he flew past.  Twisting I felt something snap and the knife dropped to the floor.  The little man gave a short yelp of pain before I completed the grapple, twisting my hips and using his momentum to slam him face first into the wall of the alley.  With a wet crunch he went limp and slid to the floor, motionless.

The other three hadn’t moved an inch.

“Look, I really don’t want any trouble.”

KP looked from me to the guy at my feet.  Maybe the small guy was his brother that the barman had mentioned?  He certainly looked like ‘bad news’.

“What are you waiting for, get him!” said KP to the two thugs.  They looked at me nervously.


Together they rushed me, one to the left, one to the right.  The one on the right swung his fist in a great arc towards my head, his whole body off balance.  I stepped inside the arc and smashed my elbow into his cheek.  Unable to stop his momentum he tripped over my leg and went sprawling into the path of his friend, sending both men tumbling to the floor.  KP came next, bawling in rage, a gun in his hand.  Crouching down I thrust forward and caught him just below the waist.  With a grunt of exertion I surged upwards, tipping the bald biker head over heels onto the pavement.  One of the thugs was struggling unsteadily to his feet.  Quickly I reached down and picked the KP’s gun from the floor.

“Listen, I don’t want any trouble, seriously, but if you carry on you are going to get badly hurt.”  I knew it was true.  The worry in the thug’s eye must have matched my own.  I had no idea how I knew to how do this sort of thing, but it all came naturally.  It was instinctive, completely instinctive, but also incredibly confusing.  It was like being possessed, like something had control of my body.

The thug considered my words.  KP groaned and sat up on the floor.

“Look, take your buddy,” I said, gesturing at their unconscious leader, “and get the hell out of here.  Now!”

KP looked groggy, the two thugs unsure of themselves.  Spitting blood onto the pavement KP nodded, the look in his eye one of barely repressed rage.  He was definitely stupid, but not so stupid enough to have another go.  Nodding to the other two he shuffled over to the little man and draped his limp arm over his shoulder.  Between the three of them they manhandled the body out of the alley, a sorry looking group.

Hurriedly I scooped the pub key from the floor where I had left it and opened the door.  Rushing to my room I grabbed my bag and was out of the pub within a minute.  The evil little man clearly thought he had a big score to settle.  If he had been waiting for three months to do it he wasn’t likely to give up easily.  He would be back, with more guys no doubt, and I had no intention of being at the pub when he did.

The clock in the town square said eight forty five.  The bench underneath me was damp and cold, but I had needed somewhere to sit.  I’d made it all the way back to the centre of town before the adrenaline wore off.  It had left me feeling numb, exhausted, and more confused than ever.  The men had thought they had known me.  Could they?  What could a neuroscientist have to do with small town thugs?  Was it really a case of mistaken identity, or had I missed out on a chance to piece together more of my past?  It was too much of a coincidence to believe.  That said, I wasn’t sure how I could have handled it differently.  They didn’t seem to be big on talking.

How I had handled it freaked me out as well.  My angry outbursts, my response in the bus when the Menmosyne goons had appeared, and now this.  I was beginning to realise that when I found out more about my past I might not like what I found.

It had all left me shaken, but I needed to focus on the key.  I had it in the palm of my hand, the edges cutting into my skin as I held it tightly.  As the sky had promised the day was warming up nicely, and as I sat on the bench office and shop workers hurried past me on the way to work.  A buss puffed to a halt on the high street and disgorged a knot of passengers into the pedestrianised town centre.  A group of scabby looking pigeons roamed around, pecking at anything and everything, pausing to conduct an exacting study of a polystyrene container lying in the gutter.

I was roused from my thoughts by the chiming of the clock.  Nine am, time to begin.

The bank in front of me was my last shot.  The building society had no deposit boxes and both Natwest and Barclays didn’t recognise the key.  The branch of Lloyds, a two storey red brick building, was the last one on the list.

The inside of the bank was quiet.  At the back of the open space stood the tellers, the two open booths both vacant.  Down the left hand side there were a series of booths, each with a desk and computer, the screen mounted on a swivel arm so it could be shared between both the bank adviser and the customer.  Only one of these was occupied, the bank employee talking quietly to an old lady in a tartan overcoat.

“Can I help you?” said the young lady behind the circular information desk in the middle of the open space.  She had long blonde hair and a toothy smile, but her friendly expression didn’t stretch to her eyes, and the sheen of warmth on the words felt brittle.

“I’m here to access my box,” I said simply, offering her the key.

She looked at the key briefly.

“Oh my, that’s seen better days hasn’t it?” she said in identical tones to her greeting, handing me back the key.  “Just this way please.”

She led me to the rear right hand corner of the bank where there was a blue door.  She typed a six digit code into a key pad and ushered me through into the small room beyond, closing the door behind me.

The room felt claustrophobic after the space of the bank lobby.  Two booths shrouded by curtains were to my left.  To my right sat a very bored looking bank attendant behind a Plexiglas security screen.  I approached the screen.  At the bottom of the screen was a hatch with a sliding drawer.  I dropped the key into the drawer and pushed it across to the bored looking attendant.

The attendant looked from the key and up to my face, he expression one of confusion and, oddly, disgust.

“What am I supposed to do with that?” she said.

My heart sunk.  Clearly this wasn’t the right place either.  I had drawn a blank on the key.  Before I could reply the attendant carried on.

“You can’t just give me your key, that’s for you to keep.  You must know how it works, we will have mailed you the details, and it’s right there.”  She tapped on the glass to her left.  There, on the wall, was a large blue and white poster.

‘How to access your box’ was the title.  Step 1 was to visit the branch, from nine am to four thirty Monday to Friday.  Step 2 was to present valid photo ID and your box number to the attendant, who would retrieve your locked box.  Step 3 was to use your key to access your box.  Easy (claimed the poster).

“But I don’t have any ID.”

The lady tapped the glass again, a fraction lower this time.

‘No access will be granted without ID matching the box registration details,’ said the text at the bottom of the poster.  I wanted to howl with rage.

“But this is a key for this bank right, I’ve got the key, can’t you get me the box?”  My frustration thrummed through every syllable.  Safe behind the screen the attendant gave a laconic sigh.

“Sir, no ID, no box.  National policy.”

I swore.

“National policy,” repeated the attendant.

Outside the front of the bank I paced back and forth in agitation.  Where was I going to get photo ID for Marshall?  Assuming it was even his key?

I reached into my bag and pulled out the mobile phone.  Before I had left Norfolk I had bought two pay as you go mobiles, giving the other one to Jack.  I wanted to stay in touch, I needed that passport.  There was only one number in the address book.  I just hoped he picked up.

“Hello?” said the voice suspiciously.


“Who says?”

“It’s me, Adrian.”

Jack gave a short bitter chuckle.

“Yeah, I figured so.  Never had a call on this thing before.  How you doing?”

I wasn’t all that sure.  In the end it was too complicated, so I ignored the question entirely.

“Listen, Jack, can we pick the name for the passport?”

“Sure we can.  I told you that before, and you said you didn’t care.  You’re lucky I don’t have a sense of humour, or you’d be Mr Mickey Mouse.”

“Is it too late to choose?”

“Probably not, putting it all together is the last part of the job.  Why, who’d you want to be?”

“Adrian Marshall, can you do that?”

There was a long pause on the line, and for a second I thought I had lost signal.

“Ain’t that the bloke from your file?”

“Yes, it is.  Can you do it?”

I could tell that Jack wanted to ask more questions, but thankfully he didn’t.

“Yeah, I reckon we could do that.  It should be ready tomorrow.  You want to come and pick it up?  I’d rather not put it in the post, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I’ll be there later today.  Thanks Jack.”

“No problem.  See ya.”

I took one last glance at the bank and made my way to the bus station.


From → Story

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