Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Dagger of Saladin Chapter 3

Chapter 3:

Dirk Jones pulled his trench coat tighter around himself.  The gusting wind and rain ever trying to force its way through its thick fabric.  His fedora was pulled low over his brow, almost to the level of his eyes, making them appear even darker than usual.  As he walked down the street his eyes scanned in all directions, if Mickey the Rat was correct then tonight was when Granby was going to make his play.  Dirk knew he all the bases covered, but he also knew than he'd rather not fall back on them.  If he could take Granby down tonight then he could blow the cover off this whole syndicate. It was strange he mused, 3 high profile thefts and yet none of his usual contacts had any information on the motives behind them, hell, no one could even guess who was behind them.  And since Algiers with the rumours of the involvement of Granby the staked may have been raised higher than he ever expected.

With sunset he had been standing silently in the shadows, watching the shop front.  Gilberts Stamps and Coins was well known to Dirk, he himself had purchased some astounding Cuneiform just the last year, he'd turned it back over to the Iraqi authorities, after all, they had been paying his wages, but  that was not the point.  He had kept Gilberts involvement silent, sure, Gilbert was a fencer of stolen goods and had his fingers in many illicit deals, but he was a known quantity.  Dirk and Gilbert may work on different sides of the law, Gilbert dealt in stolen goods, Dirk made a living in recovering them, but there was mutual respect.  Gilbert provided Dirk with the rumours and sold him back the stolen goods cheaply, in return Dirk left Gilbert alone.

But this was different, the Ibn Batutta manuscript and, if Dirk's information about a hit on the British museum were correct, then Gilbert was entering a new league.  Fencing some artefacts stolen by British soldiers in a war was one thing, but getting involved in major thefts to order was something new.  It unsettled Dirk; something stank about the whole scenario.  The rain increased in intensity and Dirk pulled himself deeper into the shadows, he'd seen a well dressed figure enter the shop hours earlier, and he intended to catch the figure on the way out, but something was wrong.  Granby's business in the store, whatever it was should not have taken this long.  Dirk was getting ready to move from the shadows and investigate the shop closer when he saw a lithe figure cross the road in front of him and pause in front of the window, he could see little in the darkness, a tall woman, her hair plastered to her head, peering in the window before moving over and opening the front door.  She looked nervous, her movements hesitant and Dirk pondered who she could be.  A new player?  He hoped not, something about this situation was off already without further complications.

For a minute he stood silently, reaching into his pocket and checking his old service revolver was still there.  Wrapped in oilskin it should have survived the worst the weather could throw at it, pulling himself under the eaves of the building he was leaning against he unwrapped the gun, checked that it was dry and loaded and walked across the street.  Reaching Gilberts Stamps and Coins he slowly pushed open the front door and stepped in, pulling the door closed behind him.  He had only taken two steps into the store when he heard a muffled thump, followed by a scraping noise and he froze his gun in his hand, his body dropped to a crouch.  Slowly he counted to ten, his eyes scanning the room, as far as he could see nothing looked untoward, no signs of a struggle or looting, everything in its place as could be expected during the day.  Which was all wrong, Gilbert was notoriously paranoid, the moment 5:30 pm came the blinds should be down, the coins and stamps locked in the safe.

He could hear occasional furtive noises from the next room, which Dirk from experience knew provided Gilbert with an office / lounge hybrid, after a second they ceased, keeping the gun raised in his right hand Dirk crossed the room silently, before reaching with his left hand to push the door open.  He was not surprised to find it unlocked, and it swung silently open a foot before meeting resistance.  Again Dirk paused, before lowering himself to the floor, his head close to the ground and he peered around the door.  He found himself face to face with Gilbert, Gilbert's dead eyes staring straight into Dirk's.  He froze at the sight, his mind racing, so Gilbert had been a pawn as well?  What was happening?  Scanning the room he found it silent and still, again nothing appeared out of place in the gloom. 

Silently Dirk stood up again, and pushed the door open wider, allowing room for him to enter fully.  Reaching down he patted Gilbert’s body, as he had dreaded he found a single hole punched in Gilbert’s chest, a single stab wound above the heart.  A swift search of his pockets revealed nothing apart from a lighter, packet of Marlborough Red cigarettes and Gilbert's wallet.  The chain keyring that Dirk knew never left Gilbert's belt was nowhere to be found.  Dirk frowned and opened the wallet, a small amount of cash and some receipts appeared to be all within, Dirk pocketed it for a proper inspection later and walked over to the stairs, gazing up at the light before resuming his search of the room.

Another stumbling noise sounded and Dirk swung around, his gun raised and ready to fire.  This had come from the doorway under the stairs, the one always kept locked with the massive deadbolt and padlock.  Dirk had always assumed that was where Gilbert had his safe, it had never been unlocked that he had seen, Gilbert's paranoia had reached new heights whenever that doorway had been involved.  Dirk could see in the dim light that the bolt was drawn back and the padlock lay discarded on the floor.

In two steps he reached the doorway, crouching low he pulled the door open, blackness and silence were all that greeted him.  His hands explored the entry, his finger brushing against a small switch and a series of lights blossomed.  Dirk swore, any chance he had of surprise ruined by a careless movement of his hand.  Still, he thought, if he hadn't knocked the light me may have found himself at the bottom of what appeared to be a steep set of stairs with a broken neck.  Swiftly had started down the stairs, abandoning full stealth for speed, his feet pattering quietly on the steps, his gun held out in front of him.   Reaching the bottom he though he must be deep below London, he had descended much further than he would have expected a basement to be.  What secrets had Gilbert been hiding?  This tunnel looked old, and the larger one it opened into even more so. 

Dirk stepped into the larger tunnel, ahead of him he could see the same woman that he had seen enter the building ahead of him.  She stood favouring one foot; her left leg raised slightly, her head turning wildly scanning the room.  His own eyes took a second to gaze around and he was shocked at what he found.  He immediately recognised the bunk beds and the furnishings as World War 2 era, this must have been a bunker during the war.  And given it's location it could only be the lost British Museum bolt hole.  He had heard of it years ago, but any inquiries he had made were denied vehemently by everyone he spoke to.  Everyone knew that a secret bunker beneath the British Museum where some of the most prized artefacts had been stored during the blitz that doubled as a secret escape tunnel was just a story, yet here he was standing in the middle of it. 

There was much to think about here, but first he had to deal with the woman standing astounded in front of him.  Raising the revolver he pulled back the hammer, the click sounding loud and echoing in the tunnel.

"You have ten seconds to explain yourself."

The woman froze, turning she raised her hands, a look of absolute terror crossing her face.  Dirk half expected her to faint.  She was dressed in jeans and trainers, with a long winter overcoat pulled closed across her neck, her damp hair was plastered to her face, the entire image being one of a bedraggled drowned rabbit caught staring into the headlights of an approaching car.  Dirk stood, with his gun still pointed, "Well?"

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