Taking the Fifth
Ba da ba daa. Sandy whistled Beethoven’s Fifth to himself as he walked purposefully through the market. It was early morning, the grey light of an autumnal dawn spread itself tentatively across the narrow streets surrounding the open market place. The traders were already here, tying tarpaulin covers to metal structures that formed their stalls or unloading large crates of fresh fruit from haulage trucks. Their breath hung in the air in brief mists and goose bumps ran up their bare forearms as they worked. Sandy adjusted his suit jacket and strode through the middle of the activity, ignoring the market traders as fully as he ignored the empty beer bottles, cabbage leaves, and other accumulated detritus that passed under his polished shoes.
The shouts of the traders and the clang of their metal poles receded as he turned away from the Market Place into Crawford Street. Victorian factories lined the narrow street, most now turned into office spaces and luxury apartments, their looms silenced and their industrial fires quenched. Behind their austere façades, people were sleeping, showering, eating; preparing themselves for the day ahead. Cleaners were busying themselves to vacuum floors and change bin liners before the clerical workers arrived to log on to row upon row of computers. Security guards would be casting glances at clocks on the wall, waiting for the next shift to arrive so they could clock off, make their way home to sleep another day, whilst their replacements took up their position monitoring the cameras. Screens, everywhere screens, at which people stared all day.
Sandy was glad that he was not one of those people. He looked like one, he supposed. He wore a dark suit, white shirt, and a pale blue tie. His shoes were shined to mirrors and his hair was smartly combed. He looked like any other office worker, except that he walked purposefully, back straight rather than hunched, and he whistled Beethoven’s Fifth happily as he walked along. Ba da ba daa.
At the end of Crawford Street he paused to allow a solitary car to pass along the road. As it approached he could hear the radio blaring, a rapid jangling cacophony that masked the simple purity of the whistled Beethoven. The car’s occupants seemed unmoved by the din, neither stirred by it nor repulsed, content to let it continue untroubled. Sandy watched the car out of view and then crossed the street, passing through a short alleyway and emerging in a tiny square, invisible from the road. There was a small patch of yellowing grass in the centre of the square, from which a plinth arose. Atop it there was a bronze statue; a woman seated, Corinthian helm tipped back from her head, shield by her side, and spear in her hand. Someone had defaced the plinth with a spray paint slogan in large red letters: “BRITTANIA RULES THE SLAVES!” He chuckled to himself at the words and the confusion of the Roman goddess Minerva – for that’s who the statue represented – with Britannia. An easy mistake to make, he thought, excepting that the plinth stood directly in front of the old cinema, The Minerva.
The cinema was a grand building; Doric columns rose to support a triangular frontage, making the building seem more a Roman temple than a cinema. Small steps led up to the front doors, which were heavy and made of wood. Once blue, the paint had peeled and cracked and little of the colour now remained, not unlike the faded film posters that hung in display cases either side of the doors. The cinema’s name was spelled out in large bronze letters across the frontage, the only part of the building which seemed untouched by the ravages of the elements, defiant against the cinema’s demise. It had closed ten years ago for refurbishment, but had never reopened. Now its windows were replete with dust and cobwebs and the once white building was stained and grimy. Sandy gave it no more than a cursory glance as he passed down the side of the dilapidated building, whistling to himself as he went.
At the back of the cinema was a small alley, which allowed access to a few small warehouses that stood at the side of the canal. These buildings too had an air of neglect, but there was nothing sad about their run down state. The warehouses had never been grand buildings, never been intended to last. Sandy was content for them to rot. At the door to the last of the warehouses behind The Minerva, he stopped. A rusty number 5 hung on the door from a solitary screw. Ba da ba daa. Number five – how appropriate, Sandy thought. He knocked three times, good, solid raps, and then waited. There was no answer, but he had been expecting that. He tried the door, but it was locked. He had expected that too. He reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a set of lock picks and set to work on the lock. In a short time the old lock disengaged and Sandy opened the door. The hinges gave an anguished creak.
Inside, the warehouse was unremarkable. Pallets of large cardboard boxes lined the room, with pathways between them, though here and there were spaces created by empty pallets. Dust cloths covered what might have been a desk and computer in one corner, and halfway down an aisle a forklift stood, rusting and leaking oil. A little light oozed in from the panes in the ceiling, but the shadows were deep. Sandy returned the lock picks to his pocket, adjusted his suit, and strode through the warehouse, making his way towards a flight of metal stairs at the rear of the building. They led up to an office, which overlooked the main floor.
He walked calmly up the stairs, stopping his whistling, and opened the office door. The room was bare save for a filing cabinet, a desk, and a chair behind it, which had been turned to face out of the windows overlooking the canal. The windows were dirty, streaked with grime, and, in all probability, rusted shut. A cassette player sat on the desk, a wire protruding from it ran to the chair. Sandy could see a mess of blonde hair and a headphone strap above the chair’s back, as well as a pair of trainers pressed against the dirty glass. Faint, tinny sounds came from the headphones. Sandy crossed the room and pressed the button to eject the tape, examining the label. It read “90s Greatest Dance Hits”. The person in the chair tutted and turned to see what had happened to the music.
“You should listen to something better than this rubbish, Henry,” Sandy advised.
Henry jumped out of his skin at the words, ripped the headphones, from his ears and turned to face Sandy.
“Sandy!” he said in an overly jovial fashion, “long time no see.”
“Mr MacPherson would like his money back,” Sandy said, placing the cassette down on the desk.
“Not even a hello for an old acquaintance?”
“Mr MacPherson would like his money back.”
“Straight to business then. I can’t tempt you to coffee or tea?”
“Mr MacPherson would like his money back.”
“Well, Mr MacPherson can take a running jump. I don’t have the money.”
Sandy raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t been expecting that.
“Mr MacPherson is a reasonable man. He’s generously offering to waive half of the final amount if you help him to locate this girl.”
Sandy withdrew a picture from his breast pocket; it showed a young girl, wearing a red coat and white scarf, clutching a blue umbrella and smiling. Behind her the trees were delicate shades of bronze, brown, and orange. Sandy placed the picture down on the desk and slid it across to Henry, who looked at it. The corners of his mouth turned up in a small smile, and then he frowned.
“I don’t know where Juliet is,” he said, quietly, “and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell an animal like you.”
Sandy reached across the desk, grabbed hold of Henry’s crumpled blue work shirt, and pulled him out of his chair, dragged him over the desk and flung him across the office floor. He came to rest with a thump against the office wall. Ba da ba daa, ba da ba daa. Sandy whistled as he kicked the man in the midriff and then punched him twice in the face. Blood rushed from the man’s broken nose and his howl of pain cut through Beethoven’s Fifth. Sandy adjusted his suit jacket.
“I will have that tea now, Henry,” he said, “and then you’re going to tell me where she is.”