He’d never in his wildest dreams, or deepest darkest nightmares, have thought this would be the way he’d check out of the world.
His disease had threatened to take him. Several times he’d been told the chemo might not be doing its thing – it might be time to accept defeat, but his body had fought it – refused to be taken in that way. He felt the sting of tears in his eyes, robbed of the chance to part on his terms, in his home, with his family at his side. His own damn fault for not accepting the reality of his situation – refusing to come to terms with the fact that his hand had been dealt – continuing to remain on the job.
The warehouse floor was stone cold, his backside and legs numbed in the time he’d been sat there.
He gave his arms another pointless tug, the steel cable ties binding his wrists, tightening into the flesh there each time he attempted movement.
He’d come alone, desperate to find the truth for himself and, in part, not wanting to put at risk anyone else from his team or to waste their time. He had little or no time himself – just a burning desire to close as many cases as he could before his cancer finally forced him to hand in his warrant card and spend his final days at home – waiting. But now, final days had quickly become final hours and, very suddenly, final minutes.
He stared at the red LED numeral with utter hatred. Hatred usually reserved for people not for inanimate objects. But that single number, its bright red finality as it stayed displayed, awaiting its replacement by the next in line, was the most terrifying, most hated object that Detective Inspector George Haven had ever seen. And then it changed once more.
Was he imagining it, or were the spaces between the numeral changes becoming smaller? Their progression speeding up as the countdown continued unabated?
It was a very creative piece of kit, he supposed that he should feel honoured in some way that he’d been awarded with such craftsmanship. Bombs were, by their very nature, a disposable art form, but a lot of care had been taken to manufacture this one specifically to remove Haven from the world. The large LED display only had two digit modules, so could only have been set to a maximum countdown of ‘99’. He’d been drifting in and out of a dreamlike state since being brought to the warehouse and chained to the floor, waking again when the display had read ‘10’. It clearly wasn’t, as the old quiz show stated ‘his starter for ten’ – this was a cruel descent he’d been set up for.
Haven took a quick scan around the room. Boxes and crates stacked everywhere, against each of the walls, but all of them unsealed, broken into and hurriedly emptied of anything of value. He smiled wryly. He had at least been correct in his thinking, he had discovered the lair in which his prey had hidden away for so many months, the place where the drugs were moved, where the weapons were stored. It was also the place where people were brought to be made to disappear – but usually by knife or by a single gunshot. Haven doubted that anyone else had commanded such a spectacular exit as had been planned for him. He wished for a different ending, the one he’d always wished for, the one where he, along with his team, discovered this place with all of its hidden secrets and dark past, and lay in wait for the man around whom all of the badness of the city seemed to revolve. James Bishop. His name seemed to fit the man perfectly, like his chess piece namesake he was seemingly able to simply slide diagonally away from approaching heat, leaving others to be jailed. He had his fingers in everything that was going on in the underbelly of the city, and yet no blood ever stained his hands. Like a ghost he drifted into people’s nightmares and then was gone again if they dared to blink, but he never visited without leaving damage or the threat of more to come via his disciple-like followers.
It started at that point, just like everyone always said it did. Haven saw his family standing across the room, against the wall of the warehouse, their figures shimmering and shifting like vapour on the air, he saw them at different ages, morphing into different outfits. This was it, then – his life displayed before him as precious seconds ticked by. He could only stare. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he watched them, savouring every moment.
He continued to watch, no longer caring about the display on the screen mounted above the explosives. Everything he had lived for was right there playing out before him. He’d have to be content in the knowledge that he was leaving behind some fine officers and, in the case of DS Sandy King, the perfect prodigy to continue his work, to run with the cases he’d be leaving behind.
Haven forced himself to close his eyes on the vision of his loved ones. If he didn’t watch them as he passed, then maybe, just maybe it would be less painful for them too when they were told the news. He lowered his head to his chest, breathed slowly and waited for the eternal nothing that was about to implode around him.
‘That was to get you used to the idea, Haven.’
Haven snapped his eyes open at the voice, looking quickly at the zero displayed on the bomb display and then around the room to seek out the man who had spoken.
From behind a stack of wooden crates a figure emerged, dressed immaculately in a dark suit, white open neck shirt and long black coat. James Bishop walked over to the bomb, bent down and clicked off the display.
‘You put my brother away for a ten stretch. You’ve damaged me and those around me for a long time, Mr Policeman, but my brother? That was really the last straw – I can’t let that go unpunished. Then I hear that you’ve learnt about this place.’ He raised his arms and gestured about him. ‘Caused me a lot of bother having to clear all of my stuff out and upset a lot of my clients. I just can’t have it. You understand, right? No, course you don’t – you’re just a dumb copper.’
He leant in close, his face becoming a snarl. ‘So, Haven. I’m stepping back over there now and I’m resetting that clock, only this time I’m taking the safety cut off switch out with me, so it’ll be for real. You know – like BOOM!’ He laughed and stepped back over towards the device.
‘You’re putting my little brother through ten years of hell – so let’s see you cope again with those last ten minutes of your life!’
He reset the timer, pulled a key from the rear of the device and the display clicked on once again, illuminating a bright red ‘10’. Then, after pushing the key deep into his coat pocket, Bishop marched over to the main warehouse door and opened it. He reached beside the doorframe and began to hit all of the switches there, taking out bank after bank of the overhead fluorescent lighting until all the lights were out. The only illumination in the room that remained was a strip of reflected moonlight coming through the doorway behind him and the red glow of the bomb display.
‘That’s it, then.’ Bishop called out. ‘All the lights are out now, Detective Inspector. All but one, anyway.’
He turned, stepped outside, slammed the door shut, plunged the room into darkness.