The Brick Building
I could not have been prepared for the sight which greeted me as the door swung open. Remaining in the doorway, I shone my torch inside, the light hitting the wall opposite and reflecting around the room. The grey metal of electrical machinery caught my eye for a moment, before the presence of a far more alarming sight registered with me. To my right, on the floor beneath the broken window, lay the body of a man.
I admit I froze. Countless thoughts ran through my mind in an instant, and I fought an immediate and overwhelming urge to turn tail and run. Contrary to the evidence of a thousand Hollywood films and adventure novels, the fearless heroism expected in situations such as these was conspicuous by its absence. Though perhaps not a masculine trait to which one should readily confess, the fact remained that this was real life, not fiction, and I was scared.
Unable to move, I stood for a period of seconds which passed as hours, the light from my torch trained almost involuntarily on the body. It did not appear to move. My attempts to focus on any signs of breathing were hampered by an inability to keep the torch from wavering a little in my hand.
After perhaps a minute, I gathered my thoughts into some semblance of order and took a step forward. To my left was a light switch. My hand still shaking, I reached across and flicked it down. Nothing. Optimistically I flipped it back and forth for a moment, but it was a futile act: the switch, or perhaps the light itself, was clearly defective. I paused again, and briefly allowed the torchlight to explore the room. In front of me stood the locked metal casing of an electrical point of isolation. This aside, the room was bare, and offered nothing in the way of hiding places for any would-be attacker.
I returned my attention to the body. The man lay on his side facing the wall, his head positioned at the furthest point from where I stood. He was dressed in jeans and a grey sports top. Still he did not move. I approached hesitantly, inching forward, prepared to make a swift exit at the merest suggestion of a threat. I prodded his foot with mine. Nothing. I was fast becoming convinced that to expect any signs of life from this individual would be a false hope. Drawing on all my meagre resources of courage, I took a further two paces and stood over the body. Slowly I reached down.
I pushed the man's arm gingerly with one hand and recoiled in preparation for a response. None was forthcoming. I paused once again, then, with a little more confidence this time, leaned forward, placed my hand on his shoulder, and rolled the man onto his back, the light from my torch aimed squarely at his face. I recoiled once more - not at any movement from the body, but from an instant and unequivocal recognition.
It was Vic. Five weeks to the day since I had met him at the Victoria Pub in Ipswich, he was lying ten miles away in a remote outbuilding in Shotley Gate. And he was dead.
His eyes open and rolled upwards, I was left in no doubt about the man's mortality, but I nevertheless reached down and placed two fingers against his neck. There was no indication of a pulse. His skin was cold. Standing up once more, I ran the torch the length of Vic's body. There was no immediate sign of injury, and no blood visible. Considering the site on which I stood, it struck me as a possibility that Vic had been electrocuted. Thick electrical cables ran alongside his lifeless body, disappearing into the floor below, a stark reminder of the danger inherent in such a location. This led to the further thought that perhaps Vic was Peter Marlin himself, and had arrived at this place with the intention of meeting me, only to fall victim to this ignominious and ironic fate.
It was a far-fetched notion, even amidst the fog of an extraordinary situation, and not one I entertained for long. Reluctant to examine the body further, I remained rooted to the spot for a moment, before common sense began to reassert itself, and I reached for my mobile phone.
No sooner had this decision been made, than my actions were halted by a sudden awareness of a noise coming from outside the building. I froze once again, straining to determine the source of the sound above the pounding of my heart. An audible, if indistinct, scratching seemed to be coming from the other side of the open door. In one movement I turned and shone my torch out into the darkness. I saw nothing but undergrowth and the fence of HMS Ganges beyond. Still the noise persisted.
Slowly and silently I approached the door, the closer I came, the more certain I felt that whatever - or whoever - was creating the sound lay directly on the opposite side. Cautiously I sidestepped out through the doorway and stood perpendicular to the entrance, facing the opened door. Instantly the noise ceased. Motionless for a moment, I gripped my torch tightly in my left hand, aiming it straight ahead, then with a single swift movement, took hold of the edge of the door, stepped back into the undergrowth, and slammed it shut in front of me with some force.
The beam of my torch shone directly into the eyes of a man, the remainder of his face hidden behind a black motorcycle crash helmet. In his right hand he clutched a thick marker pen, the exterior of the door now clearly displaying his handiwork: 20PM, 21PM, and the symbol of a fish.
Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved