Mike Shevdon: Strangeness and Charm

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Mike Shevdon Strangeness and Charm
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    Strangeness and Charm
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
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Mike Shevdon

Strangeness and Charm


"Hey Roland, how's it going?" Sandeep pushed the door to the control room closed behind him, feeling the lock click shut under his hand. The shopping centre was closed; there would be no shoppers nosing around where they weren't supposed to be, but security was a good habit to cultivate for a professional.

Roland stretched in his chair. "Evenin' Sunny." Roland didn't even look away from the monitors, but then he'd have watched Sandeep on the screens, walking through the shopping centre from the back entrance.

"Any excitement?" Sandeep took the plastic box and a bottle of water from his rucksack and tucked them into the small fridge in the corner. "It's about time we cleaned this fridge out again. What's this?" He poked a foil package at the back.

"I think it's a kebab. Marky had to leave early — he must've left it."

"Shall I chuck it away?"

"Better not. You know Marky. He'd eat it even if it was furry."

"That boy will poison us all."

"Reckons he's immune to it. He's built up a resistance, he says."

Sandeep closed the fridge just as it whirred into life. It buzzed for a moment and then settled down. He put his rucksack on top of it and then turned to stand behind Roland.

"Is number four not working?" he asked Roland, glancing at the monitors.

"Been playin' up all day, hasn't it? It comes back periodically, so it's not the camera. Must be a fault on the circuit. I'll have to get the electrician to check it out tomorrow. It might be the booster box gone again. Crappy things — they always buy the cheap ones and then they have to replace 'em every three months."

Sandeep turned away and went to the log book, running his finger along the spiky handwriting to decipher it. "What's this in the log?"

"Oh, unit thirty called us down for some kid an hour before closing. You know, the console games shop? He was swearin' at the staff, started pushing the other customers around — threatening people. Marky and me was gonna chuck 'im out."

"Did you call in the police?"

"Nah, he slipped past us. Sneaky little sod must'a been quick on his feet."

"Isn't that where screen four is?"

"Yeah. We didn't have any pictures for the plod, so we left it. He'll be back — they always are. We'll get him next time."

"Didn't you get him on any of the other cameras?"

"Couldn't find him. If you get chance tonight you could go back through the tapes, see if you can get an ID shot."

"I've told you, they don't have tapes any more. It's all on disk now. What did he look like?"

"Tall skinny kid, spiky hair, looked like he hadn't seen daylight in weeks. Could'a been one of them gothics. The time's in the log. The plod'll probably already be acquainted with 'im. They usually are with that sort."

"Goths, Roland. They're called goths."

"Yeah, them. What the…?"

Screen four suddenly cleared, showing a pallid face right in front of the camera, leering up into it.

"Bugger me, that's him. That's the little sod there!"

"How did he get inside at this time?"

"He's been 'ere all the time, hasn't he? The little sod's probably been hiding in one of the store cupboards. Quick, ring the plod. I'll go and catch hold of 'im." Roland stood up, pulling down his sleeves.

"Wait for me, Roland. You shouldn't apprehend alone. It's against the rules."

"Sod that!"

Sandeep was on the phone, speaking to the police control centre when Roland marched out. He watched on the monitor as Roland's back retreated down the corridor outside and flicked to screen twelve to catch him as he came out onto the main concourse. Sandeep finished reporting the intruder and put the phone down.

"Bloody hothead," mumbled Sandeep to himself. "You're not in the bloody army now, Roland."

Pulling the control room door behind him until it clicked shut, he ran after his colleague. By the time he reached the main concourse he was breathless. He leaned against one of the advertising hoardings. A photo of a youth smiled back at him, holding one of the new smart-phones that Sandeep coveted but couldn't afford.

He pulled a hand-held radio from his belt. "Roland, I'm right behind you. Wait for me, OK?"

The radio crackled. There was no reply.

He jogged through the empty shopping centre, glimpsing lurid offers under the bright lights of the stores behind the security grills, massive discounts on artificially inflated prices. It occurred to Sandeep then that the kid hadn't triggered the alarm. If he'd been hiding in the shop, why hadn't the alarm gone off?

As he turned the corner onto the main strip, he could see Roland up ahead, standing next to the palm trees. The kid was a dark outline beyond him, dressed in a long coat. Maybe Roland was right and the kid was a goth. Sandeep slowed to a walk, relieved to have reached them before Roland got heavy with the kid. The last thing they needed were charges for assault.

Roland's voice sounded hollow. "Come on, son. You can't escape. Give yourself up and we'll go easy on you."

Sandeep smiled between wheezes. Roland watched far too many cop movies.

The boy laughed at him. That was bad. Roland wasn't going to like that.

Roland started walking forward again and Sandeep picked up his pace to a trot.

"You don't want to get funny with me, son," called Roland. "I ain't got no sense of humour."

The laughter petered out and the kid lifted his arms as if he were holding something to his chest. Then his left hand jerked back and forth. Sandeep recognised the gesture; he was pumping a round into a pretend shotgun. A sudden breeze stirred the leaves on the palm trees. Sandeep looked up. Where did the breeze come from? They were inside the shopping centre.

He slowed to a halt, turning back to find the source of the cool air when a massive thud punched into him from behind. A wave of heat like the draft from an oven door hit him in the back, lifting him off his feet and hurling him back down the tiled walkway. He tumbled in the air and landed rolling and sliding on the hard tiled floor. As his hearing came back, fragments of glass tinkled onto the tiles around him in a bizarrely musical way over the screeching of the bomb alarms.

He shook his head, trying to clear the ringing in his ears. Pushing himself up, he could see stripes of blood rising on his hands where the glass had slashed him. He turned to look back for Roland, just as the smell of smoke and burning plastic hit him, catching in the back of his throat and making him cough and retch.

Down the concourse, the kid was walking calmly through the debris under the rain from the sprinklers, black smoke billowing from the shops to either side, their security gratings gaping where the blast had burst them open. He stopped in front of another shop, pumped the pretend shotgun and pointed it at a shop. Sandeep squinted through the smoke — there was nothing there. The kid wasn't holding anything. Sandeep watched in disbelief as the kid's hands jerked, as if in recoil, and the shop windows burst outwards to a dull thud, erupting in fire and smoke.

The kid smiled a long lazy smile and began strolling towards Sandeep, pointing to one side, then the other. As he passed each shop he would pump his hand and aim into the shop. At the gesture, the shops would explode in rolling gouts of flame, erupting in a hail of flying fragments, yet he never flinched or turned away. He walked though each explosion untouched, the detonations timed with his steps. It was like he was playing an instrument, waiting for the beat — a pyrotechnic conductor.

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