The Exchange

I should edit this before uploading it but cut me some slack because I cba. 

 

_____

 

 

A rancid smell hovered over Swingway Alley. Communal bins overflowed and rubbish spewed onto the pavement, obstructing his way. Mould clung onto the walls of the dilapidated buildings that flanked him. The stench of urine and drugs overpowered his nostrils and burrowed its way into the very folds of his jacket. It was as if the air itself was rotting, poisoned by a poverty of generations.

Swingway Alley was a whole world apart from the type of area Chancellor Raymin would normally frequent. His meetings were usually held in Greenwich, in one of the few turgid buildings large enough to reflect his inflated sense of worth.  In fact, Chancellor Raymin had had several meetings with the crème-de-la-crème of British Intelligence; MI5. Their headquarters were sophisticated, housing the highest forms of technology. One passed pillars inspired by Grecian design, walked up chiselled marble steps and along a plush velvet carpet. There, a high-security lift was taken to one of the many floors; a lift that only opened if your fingerprint existed on the database of legalised personnel.

But today was different. Today the meeting between the Chancellor and MI5 was so secret it was to be held in a completely different location. It was Raymin who had suggested it; nobody would expect to find the richest and most influential men in the piss-soaked, excretion-filled backstreets of Peckham.

“This is it Sir,” Martin Cassock, his assistant, gestured to a door to their right. Jagged glass jutted out the frame like stalagmites. Ducking his tall frame, Raymin followed Cassock inside, past a room filled with yet more rubbish and through another door into the next room.

This room was expertly furnished and brightly lit, a shocking contrast to the outside surroundings. Ten people sat around a table, seven men and three women, waiting in silence for his arrival. A man seated near the head of the table – who Raymin knew to be Arthur Millcot, head of MI5 – nodded at Cassock. This was less of an acknowledgement than a dismissal and Cassock left the room, closing the door behind him.

A seat for the Chancellor was reserved at the head of the table beside Arthur.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Raymin nodded, as he lowered himself into the chair.

“We’re glad you could join us,” Arthur said. He spoke as if his throat was blocked with gravel. Every word sounded forced, painful even. “A pleasant journey, I trust?”

Raymin surveyed those sitting before him. Although the government and MI5 worked together, he felt like a piece of meat tossed into wolfhound territory. The tension in the air was palpable.

“As I’m sure you are aware, I am a busy man.” Raymin rolled up his sleeve and made a great show of checking the time on his gold-plated, personally inscribed watch. “So why don’t we cut the crap? You are no more interested in how my journey was, than I am in your wellbeing. We all know why we’re here. Why don’t we get down to business?”

Raymin noted the ice melt in the eyes before him. Raymin was a cold, plain-talking bastard. He was one of them. They could progress.

Arthur laughed, although it had a fake, colourless quality to it. The man was like a dummy with a block of wood shoved up his arse, Raymin thought. But, like a wooden dummy, he would dance to Raymin’s tune.

“Well put, Mr. Chancellor. We’ve long been waiting to discuss this…displeasing turn of events.”

“Displeasing….” Raymin muttered darkly. That was putting it kindly. The government always had dirt to shovel, bodies to hide, asses to cover, but never on such a wide scale as now. Now there wasn’t even enough dirt to hide the bodies. “Is it true? Have we found our man?”

A woman on Raymin’s left responded, looking at him as if for approval.

“Yes, Lunham was found in Paris this morning. He’s been flown over and is being kept in a cell not far from here. We await your instructions.”

“Who has he has spoken to?”

“He swears nobody, Sir.”

“Why should we trust him?”

“Because he was beaten to within an inch of his life and threatened with the death of his mother.” The words came from the man sitting opposite Raymin. A greying man with deadened eyes and a wavering voice.

“Where is she now? The mother?”

“Dead. Hunter was a little over zealous.”

Hunter was the code name for the man MI5 employed to do most of their dirty business. Raymin had never had the displeasure of meeting him before, but he sounded like a frightening if not somewhat brilliant, piece of work. He specialised in torture and contracted killings and it was common knowledge that MI5 had paid him enough money to retire, yet he willingly offered his services.

“You’re not tying up loose ends very well,” Raymin spat. “Need I remind you that a higher body count is not on our Christmas wish list.”

The table seemed to sober at that thought.

One month ago, a bomb had detonated in London, killing hundreds of innocent commuters. The bomb had been placed by MI5 in order to kill an international criminal named Al Gafur. Gafur had eluded the British government too many times, damaging their political profile and, more importantly – their egos. Rumours had suggested Gafur was planning an attack on London which would massacre civilians on a level ten times more devastating than the bomb. The bombing was therefore considered the lesser of two evils. Still, if the information leaked, they’d have a civil war on their hands. Lunham, a former MI5 agent, had fled the country soon after the travesty. Lunham had been deeply involved in the incident now referred to as the ‘7’10 bombings.’ He could provide evidence to sink the government faster than the Titanic.

Another man spoke: “He’s been abroad for a month and not said a word. He’s no longer a threat.”

“Bollocks. He’s biding his time,” one of the women replied. “Don’t forget, Dean, if he sings, your arse is going down faster than all of us.”

“I suggest the usual method,” Raymin said. He had spoken quietly but now all eyes were on him. “Pay a judge and plant false evidence. Make it seem like he has committed a heinous crime and we can imprison him for…” He stopped. Arthur looked hesitant. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“This may be unfounded –”

“Remember I am a busy man, Arthur.”

“Mark says he’s collated evidence against us regarding the 7’10 bombings…and of other less-than-moral operations.”

Raymin leaned forward, balancing his chin on steeped fingers.

“He wants to strike a deal?” he murmured.

“Yes, he claims that if we kill him or even keep him imprisoned, all that information is going to leak.”

“To whom?”

“Does it matter? It’ll spread like a contagion. None of us will survive. It’ll mean political ruin! Severance from our allies! Uprising from our own country! He claims to have somebody who will leak it all if he doesn’t see them within the next two months.”

“Who is this person?”

“We don’t know. Hunter hasn’t managed to fully break him. Remember, we trained Lunham. He’s endured days – weeks even – of torture.”

Raymin considered. Of course, it made sense. Nobody ran from British Intelligence without a form of back-up. Lunham would’ve known he’d be found eventually.

“What’s to stop us from taking that information and recapturing him?”

“Nothing, but I think he’s getting a little desperate.”

It took less than five seconds for Raymin to reach his decision. He had, however, considered and discarded five alternate strategies in that time.

“Do it. Ensure he’s supervised at all times. If he’s telling the truth – I don’t need to tell you what to do with those files.”

For once the two men were on the same page of a file neither wanted to admit existed.

“They will be destroyed faster than you can say Mark Lunham,” Arthur nodded.

 

*

 

A bare light bulb hung from the ceiling, casting gruesome shadows around the room and illuminating a figure slumped over a single chair. Mark Lunham’s hands were shackled behind his back and his head lolled onto his chest, his body no longer having the energy to support it. Apart from the shallow and irregular heave of his chest, there was little to betray he was still alive. His eyes were tightly shut; partly because it hurt to keep the swollen lids open, partly to prevent blood from the gash in his forehead from trickling down and blinding him. Mark lay still, trying to focus on anything but the unbearable pain and the fear that clung to him like the thick layers of perspirant that soaked his t-shirt.

Mark heard the metal door to the room slide open. He forced himself to open his eyes. His heart raced beneath the soiled shirt but when he saw it wasn’t Hunter, he relaxed a little. This new guy seemed too high-brow for this sort of place; the type that didn’t like to get his hands dirty. Slowly, the man approached the place where Mark sat. His features were apathetic although marginally attractive; the sort that might have done some modelling in his youth before undergoing an unfortunate facelift.

As he drew nearer, Mark summoned his energy and spat. He smiled in satisfaction as a mixture of phlegm and blood dribbled down the expensive footwear.

The suited man gave a strained laugh, then pulled back his fist and released it like a spring, catching Mark in the face. The pain was instantaneous.

Suit Man knelt so that his face was just inches away from Mark’s.

“You want to try that again?” His voice dripped with patience, like a primary school teacher trying to coax one child to apologise to another.

“I want… a lawyer,” Mark spoke thickly through the pain.

There was an ugly silence before Suit Man straightened up, laughing.

“I’m here to tell you that you’re to be kept alive…provided you hand over the information.”

Mark tried to hide his relief, but a small smile broke on split lips. The information was in Paris with an acquaintance. The journey would give him some time to figure out a more long-term survival plan.

Suit Man clearly misunderstood his silence.

“It’s your choice –we can be out of here in a matter of minutes. With good behaviour maybe you’ll even earn yourself a meal. If not, I dare say Hunter wouldn’t object to completing your interrogation. I guess three broken ribs weren’t enough for him.”

“Deal.”

As if on cue, two guards marched through the door. One unchained him from the chair and dragged him to his feet, whilst the other blindfolded him. He could sense Suit Man’s sadistic approval of the situation. Drawing himself up as tall as he could and wincing with pain along the way, Mark called:

“Oh, if the meal could come in the form of a Big Mac and Coke…”

For his impertinence, he received another blow to the face. An anguished cry broke its way through his lips but Hunter had reduced him to a bleeding wretch with no control over bodily functions. He had pissed and shat himself countless times. There was no room for humiliation.

“You don’t call the shots here.”

“Just thought a little special treatment would be nice,” Mark gasped. “I am the key to the future of MI5, after all.”

“You were allowed to survive two sessions with Hunter….consider that your special treatment.”

Mark heard footsteps receding. His mouth opened before he could stop himself.

“Sorry about your shoes.”

The footsteps stopped short. Doubled back.

One hour later, the guards peeled Mark’s bloodied frame from the floor and dragged him outside to a waiting van.

 

*

Four hours later…

At night, numerous lights decorated Alexander Bridge, although barely enough to pierce the inky darkness. Elise stood on the bridge platform, scanning the surrounding area for any sign of movement. The Alexander Bridge, or Pont Alexandre III was widely recognised as one of the most beautifully ornate bridges in Paris, but Elise wasn’t here to admire the view. Twenty feet below her, the Seine rushed along.

Elise spotted something moving in the distance. As it drew nearer, she saw it was a grey Chrysler. The car door opened and a man stepped out. Quickly, he slid open the van’s back doors and dragged out another figure. Mark.

“Have you hurt him? I swear, if you’ve hurt him…” she started. Two years ago, Mark Lunham had saved her life and she planned on returning the favour.

“Please, let’s be civil. You can call me Thomas. So…have you got it?”

Elise raised her hand so he could see the electronic pad she carried.

“Hand him over,” she demanded.

“In your dreams, sweetheart.”

‘Thomas’ wore a black suit and dark glasses. Something suspicious coated his right shoe.

Now.” Her thumb hovered above the screen. “One tap and your precious secrets are leaked to everyone…”

The man hesitated, before laughing, as if Elise was a minor distraction from the real prize.

“We meet the middle.”

Mark, still blindfolded, was forced forward. Elise walked slowly, never removing her eyes from him. As far as she could tell, he was hurt but not critical. Soon, the two parties stood a metre apart.

“Hand it over.”

Elise placed the electronic pad into his hand at the same time as he released his grip on Mark. Instantly, Mark clawed at his blindfold.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” Thomas smiled.

Mark looked around him. Something wasn’t right. Something wasn’t…and that was when he saw it. Around them, the darkness of the night began to merge into countless heavyset figures, every single one of them wielding weapons.

“You didn’t think I came alone, did you?” Thomas said.

“You’ve got your information. What do you want from us?”

“We want you dead,” Thomas shrugged. “MI5 doesn’t like leaving loose ends. And you, Lunham, are one very frayed knot indeed. Of course, the lady will have to die too.” He raised his right arm and clicked. A figure on their right shifted, raising a pistol and training it on them both. “The man first,” Thomas ordered. Mark heard the trigger click into place and his body jerked back as two gunshots were fired in quick succession.

He looked down in disbelief. There was no blood, no gaping wound. He glanced up. Unbelievably, the man that had been about to shoot him was on the floor. The flickering lights from the gas lamps illuminated a pool of liquid seeping from a hole in his head.

Mark glanced at Elise in shock. A slight smile was etched upon her lips.

“I didn’t come alone either.”

There was a moment of hesitation before Thomas turned and began to run back to the Chrysler. The objectives had changed. Protection of the information that could sink the British government was paramount. One of the shooters doubled back, covering him. The rest stood their ground, returning fire on the hidden enemy. Bullets rained down from all sides. Mark stood perfectly still in the middle of the crossfire.

“Mark…move!” Elise was slinking back into the cover of the dark. “You’ll be killed!”

Mark shook his head.

““Too many people died and MI5 are going to get away with it.” he said, watching Thomas who was quickly approaching the Chrysler.

Just then, a shot was fired and the man covering Thomas yelped and dropped to the floor.

Immediately, Mark started running towards the Chrysler. A stray bullet narrowly missed the side of his head but he kept going, desperate.

He was almost there, but was it too late? Thomas had already reached the Chrysler and climbed in. Mark watched as he slipped the keys into the ignition and the car purred to life.

“No!” Leaping forward with a newfound strength, Mark’s outstretched hands grasped the handle and yanked the door open, dragging Thomas out of the vehicle. Before Thomas had a chance to gather his wits, Mark yanked the electronic device out of his hold.

Suddenly, the entire bridge was engulfed by a deadly silence. All eyes were on Mark.

“What are you doing?!” Elise screamed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve spent too much time running away from a mistake I helped create.” He moved to touch the large button on the screen that read: SEND.

   “You’re dead if you send that,” Thomas gasped, “I have five snipers at my disposal and each one of them is trained on you.”

Mark hesitated, and then began to back away from the Chrysler in the opposite direction, to the edge of the bridge’s parapet. He saw the barrels of five different guns turn and follow him.

“England needs to know that it can’t trust its government; that nobody is safe while they’re in charge.”

Raising the electronic pad for all to see, Mark tapped the SEND button on the screen. Instantly, the silence that had engulfed them was pierced with the manic eruption of gunfire.

Elise screamed as Mark’s bullet-ridden body teetered backwards and dropped into the depths of the Seine.

*

“We interrupt this programme to bring you breaking news. News that threatens to capsize the balance of the country as we know it. There is concrete evidence that the existing English government was behind the devastating 7’10” attacks. Chancellor Raymin has been arrested…”

   Around the country, revolutions rose from the ashes of an oppressed nation.

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