Harry had never expected that it would be so easy to get into Peoplefind.
He’d walked up to the front door and, even dressed as he was, no one had looked twice as he’d tapped in the key-code and entered. Once inside, all he’d had to do was deactivate the alarm, and that was it. On first setting out from home he’d expected that he’d have to climb over the rear wall, or something, hence the rope and grapple. He’d been working on the basis that the entry codes would both have been changed by now, and it astonished him that neither had been.
The red eyes of the alarm censors watched him harmlessly as he moved from room to room, but without CCTV backup what use were they? His basic plan, once inside, had been to start smashing computer terminals, though he didn’t like the idea of doing that. Besides, he’d have to think things through a little more carefully now. If it was apparent to the investigating officers who came in the morning that the offender had come in through the front door, they’d know it was an inside job. And it wouldn’t take them long to focus on a former security guard disgruntled because he’d been sacked. So, before he did anything else, he’d have to set up a fake point of entry, probably somewhere at the rear, to make this look like the work of an opportunistic vandal.
The yard at the rear was about fifty metres by forty, the encircling wall almost four metres high. That would take some climbing, even with a rope and grapple – however, there was also a double-gate by which vehicles were allowed access. This was only two and a half metres high and, though there were barbed-wire coils along its top, Harry could pull some down and make it look as if he’d gained entry that way. He slid out through the offices’ rear door. There was a motion-sensitive arc-light high in the southeast corner. He had a vague idea where its field of vision started and ended. If he first edged his way along the south wall and after that along the west, he should reach the gate without activating it.
But then he received a shock. During the time he’d spent here, he’d never known a vehicle be parked in the yard at night. Yet now there were two of them. By their size they were lorries, though it was difficult to tell as they were covered by tarpaulins.
Harry tried to recompose himself. This wouldn’t make any difference. In fact, maybe it would help. He could damage the vehicles as well, so it would really look like wanton vandalism. He was edging along the wall when he heard the first muffled cry for help. Harry froze, wondering if he’d imagined it.
When the second cry came, he realised that it was close – whoever it was, they were on the premises with him, though again the voice had been muffled as if it was indoors. He peered across the yard at the depot garage. It was closed. The windows in its office were in darkness. He hardly dared walk out into the centre of the yard to look, because that would trigger the arc-light. But then he heard a third cry. Incredulous, Harry regarded the two shrouded vehicles.
Someone was inside one of the wagons.
A different voice now shouted. Suddenly there was a hubbub, as if the captives had realised there was somebody outside.
‘No wonder you don’t want a security guard, Pangborne,’ Harry said as he ventured forward. ‘No wonder you don’t want CCTV.’
He was no longer concerned about the light. He doubted it was even operational – and he was right. He entered its field of vision, and it didn’t activate. He hurried to the rear end of the nearest vehicle. Was this what Peoplefind was really about? The irony of that name! Pangborne was smuggling in illegal workers, maybe illegal migrants.
Harry dumped his bag and took out his bolt-croppers. He’d still have to play this cutely. Uncovering a racket like this would stand him in good stead, but he’d have to explain why he’d been on private property at the time. No matter. First he had to release these poor wretches. Heaven knew what conditions they’d been transported in. He lifted the tarpaulin. It was no surprise to see a registration plate originating from eastern Europe. Above this was a timber door-ramp fastened with chains.
‘Hey!’ he shouted. ‘Can you hear me?’
There was a renewed gabble of voices.
Harry fitted the bolt-cropper blades around a link in the first chain – only for a hand to grab the back of his neck with crushing force.
Harry Mossop was a big, heavy man, but now was lifted bodily into the air.
And then he was flung.
He somersaulted across the yard, landing on the tarmac with pile-driving force. He lay face down for several seconds, before looking groggily up. The tarpaulin at the back of the second vehicle had also been lifted, revealing another door-ramp – though this was lowered and of very different design from the first. It was made of smooth steel and oval in shape. The entrance behind it gave off a shimmering blue glow.
A massive silhouette stepped in front of it.
Harry tried to wriggle away as the figure came forward with echoing footfalls. It was a man wearing heavy-duty clothing – some kind of shiny body-armour, but he was at least two metres tall.
Once again Harry was grabbed and swung up into the air. His protests became meaningless blather on sight of the face that regarded him.
Firstly, it was so oddly angled that it seemed to have been stretched over an artificial skull. Secondly, it was in two sections, neither of which looked as if they’d been their owner’s original property. The left side of the face was that of a younger man who’d suffered illness and injury; its skin silver-grey in colour, but wrinkled and pockmarked. The right side might once have belonged to a woman; it was smoother in tone, its features more refined, yet it was pallid, in fact dead-white, as if it had never quite adhered to the tissue below. The two halves were joined in the centre by a line of lumpy scar-tissue – the remnant of crude sutures – which ran up across the chin, through the mouth, bisected the nose and passed between the eyes, before continuing across the top of the hairless cranium, where tiny gaps showed glints of metal beneath.
Two eyes bored into Harry from different shaped sockets; they were like steel points, swivelling in unison as if attached to a machine.
‘Do you like my face?’ a bass, bell-like voice asked.
Harry could only stutter.
‘When it was blown off, they didn’t have a complete spare they could replace it with, so they had to cannibalise dismembered corpses. I could have had it replaced at a later date, more professionally. But I don’t know… I think battlefield repairs have a kind of romance about them.’ The two-faced horror snickered. ‘And they’re more than you’ll be getting.’
Harry was flung through the air again, but this time ripped at his assailant’s sleeve as he went, stripping it loose – revealing a limb composed of what looked like rods and springs. Harry never really had time to absorb this. He hit the perimeter wall with sledgehammer force, the blow to the back of his head jolting him out of consciousness. The last thing he remembered was a pair of giant boots stumping forward with enough weight and power to pulverise his flesh.