There was a certain amount of risk to his plan, but he was prepared to take it since he had not come up with a better idea. The arches that he had visited stopped at a railway station. He had found out which trains used that track and was heading for another station, some miles away. In his bag he had provisions that he knew he could live on for a week. Water might be a problem and he was gambling that he could find some where he was going. Nathan carried one large bottle with him. The last train left his station at five minutes to midnight, and Nathan hoped that the hour was late enough. He boarded the train to travel the few short miles. When the train reached the station at the arches, only three people were in his carriage and only he got out. The moment he did so, Nathan ran along the side of the train to the end, and then back onto the tracks. Nobody saw him. There was very little light and the night was murky. He only needed to cover a hundred yards to reach the arches, and looking down he could see that all was in darkness. There were not even any street lights shining. Nathan climbed a low wire fence that ran beside the railway line, then used a drainpipe to shin down the side of one of the arches to the road below.
He studied the boarded up houses, the boards covered in spray paint graffiti, and made his choice. Going around to the back of the slum dwelling he forced the back door easily, taking care so that he could fix it shut again from the inside. The interior of the abandoned house had a musty damp smell. It was a smell of rot and decay, of cats and dogs, and rats too. An evil nasty place with what wallpaper was left, peeling from walls alive with black fungi. Lumps of crumbling plaster had fallen to the floor and at some time somebody, kids more than likely, had made determined attacks upon the walls and ceilings. The glass from all the shattered windows lay on the floor, crunching when he stepped on it. The rotten wooden floor squelched with wet rot where his feet fell, and the ceilings dripped damp. None of that mattered. From the upstairs front room, peering through a knot-hole in the sheet of play that covered the window, Nathan had a perfect viewpoint on the arches across the road, the second one where Mason and Leroy worked.
Nathan began to explore the disgusting place that he was going to call home for the next five nights at least. It was as if he had stepped out of The Dorchester and landed on another planet. Using a small torch, his hand cupped over the beam to reduce it so a soft glow, he went carefully back down the rotting stairway. He was not sure how long they would last if he used them too much. In what was left of the kitchen, a room with its own sickening smell from decades of accumulated grease, he found a cracked sink, hanging from the wall by its plumbing. The sink drainage was smashed and it drained onto what was left of a linoleum covered floor. After a wrestle, the cold tap turned. There was a rush of evil looking brown coloured water which then cleared. Nathan tested it very nervously and found that it tasted quite fresh and clean. He followed the corroded lead pipe which soon disappeared into the ground, and concluded that it must be a main water feed and not from some stagnant tank waiting to pass typhoid or worse into his system. Water - it was all he needed to survive. He climbed back up the stairs to his observation post and curled himself up in the corner. It was going to be a long week, but he had only to think of that night on the island for his resolve to be as sharp as it had been when he left the island, burning in his wake.
Through the night he dozed, falling in and out of a fitful sleep. When the sun came up the next day its rays managed to inch through the gaps in the plywood sheets, warm light rays in which dust motes twinkled as they floated in the foul air. Nathan heard a noise, and pressed his face to the plywood, watching the arches. He mad a mental note of the time, committing to memory as surely as if he had written it down. Mason Well and Leroy Quillan arrived together in a black BMW which they parked at on the road, below the window of the house he was hidden inside. Mason unlocked at 9.05. They had both the doors open and were working on the Mercedes that he saw before, only now it had a registration plate. Nathan was fairly sure that the car was a ringer, that this was the business they were engaged upon in this back end of nowhere. Why else would such a new and expensive car be hidden away in a place like this ? Later that day a younger coloured youth came by. Mason seemed to give the boy some instructions, and then he drove the car away. The boy returned two hours later at the wheel of a top of the range BMW. He drove it into the crude garage, and both doors were shut behind it. The next one to be processed then ?
Nathan was pleased to see a pattern emerge over the next few days. Both men usually opened up by 9.30, and they closed up at any time between five and seven in the evening. Sometimes one left before the other, but Nathan was not interested in that as much as the fact that they always came together, to start work. To all intents and purposes, they acted as if they were running a legitimate garage. When both doors had been open, Nathan saw a number of gas canisters stacked at the back of the arch, but had no idea if they were empty or full. Since he had seen Leroy welding on one occasion, he knew that at least one cylinder contained gas. An idea formed in Nathan's mind, but it depended upon how much gas they had.
By the time he had spent five days in the stinking hovel that had once been somebody's home, Nathan was feeling a bit ill from his damp and dismal surroundings. It was November in London and the winter nights were long and cold, but never as cold as that swim he had made in Maine. He used most of the gas he had brought with him, just trying to keep warm, or boiling water to make instant soup drinks. He decided that the pattern of activity across the street that he had seen was good enough to go with and that he would get out that night. On that last day he had a stroke of luck. A truck arrived onto which Mason and Leroy loaded eight gas cylinders, and lifted off the same number. The truck had the logo BOC along its side, and in small writing, ‘British Oxygen Company', and Nathan surmised that BOC ran the refill service. He was right. The BMW had already gone and there was a Jaguar inside at the moment. Nathan had no way of knowing when they might just close up for a while and spend some of the money they must be making, so he needed to strike now, when they had a job on and the gas tanks full. That night, or rather in the early hours of the next morning, Nathan slipped out of the back door. He navigated his way through the maze of streets, having memorised his route from a London A-Z street map. He moved through the streets quickly, with his head down. Before he left the house Nathan had smeared some foul smelling mud on his face and hands to tone down his clearly white, but well tanned, skin. Moving quickly, avoiding eye contact and clutching his bag he was soon away from the more dangerous areas of the back streets, although he would be returning to them one last time.
In another couple of weeks or so, Christmas would come to London and Nathan expected the arches to be shut, as would most other businesses. That suited him very well indeed. Another detail that he had noted was that the padlock on the doors - he had chanced a quick inspection late one night, was almost useless. When Mason had unlocked the doors, he and Leroy had got to work almost straight away - there did not seem to be any evidence of a burglar alarm system, nor was there an alarm box anywhere to be seen on the arches. Nathan wondered if the token gesture of a cheap padlock was all that was required, that Mason and Leroy had some sort of local reputation such that nobody in their right mind would dare to break into the place. It certainly seemed that way, and the few people he had watched visiting did seem to somewhat in awe, fear maybe, of the two men. ‘It couldn't really be much better, thought Nathan', who decided to test his plan over Christmas, so that he could start the new year with a bang, in a manner of speaking.
Part of Nathan's Christmas was very uncomfortable indeed. He had purchased a stone chisel and a heavy hammer from a builder's merchants. Spending a few days in the derelict house, he spent long nights carefully working on the crumbling mortar at the back of the empty arch. He had arranged the junk that had been dumped there so that there was a sort of barrier to help contain the noise and to hide himself behind if, against all reason, somebody did happen by. The mattress was sodden and stinking and Nathan gagged deep in the back of his throat when he moved it, but it was done now, and he could set to work. It took him three long nights of tapping his chisel as softly as he could, although even if the sound did carry across a street or more it would be lost in a cacophony of sound that seemed to seep from every pore of the buildings when night set in. Eventually he had a hole just big enough to squeeze through, which he did so that he could clear away any telltale debris from the other side. The far corner that he had chosen seemed to be where Mason and Leroy dumped old tires and cans of used engine oil, and so it was easy to disguise the work he had done. No alarm sounded when Nathan inspected the workshop, confirming his first suspicions. He left the workshop by the same way that he had entered, fitting the bricks back into the small hole and hoping it would not be noticed.
The rest of his Christmas would be spent in the cheap hotel where he now lodged. The Dorchester had been all very well, but he had to live among the people he was targeting to begin to understand them. It was something of a shock to Nathan when he realised that he was getting rather good at what he was doing. Was his need for vengeance changing him ? Undoubtedly it was. Did it matter, these changes that were taking him over ? At the moment, not one bit. Did he feel remorse, regret, guilt ? No, he felt nothing.
Nathan had a few more purchases to make. He bought a mousetrap, a tube of household adhesive - the kind that sets like a hard brown glass bead, a reel of twine, and some boxes of red tipped matches - the kind that will strike on any rough surface. With great care and equal patience, Nathan crushed each match, breaking the brittle red tip compound away from the match. One slip and the chemical would ignite, ruining all his work. After a few hours, and he had time enough to spare for the task, he had accumulated a good sized pile of red match coating. He mixed this with a little of the glue into a very thick paste which he then spread on the mousetrap, across the bar that is designed to catch the neck of the rodent. Once he had shaped the glue into a bulge about a quarter of an inch wide, he left it for a day or two to set completely hard. This first effort was to test his idea. There was a working TV in his room, although it only showed four free TV channels. Nathan selected a noisy war movie and turned up the volume. He levered back the trap and let it slam shut. The result was much more impressive than he had expected. When the metal bar slammed down on his crude impact explosive there was a very loud bang as it burst into a bright ball of flames. Luckily it did not trigger the smoke detector in his ceiling, but he had to open a window to let out the sulphurous air. The wooden mousetrap looked a bit blackened but serviceable, so much encouraged, Nathan set to work on the remaining boxes of matches.
Not far from his hotel, Nathan had found a public library and he spent a lot of time inside, just reading at first and trying to make the days go by. His idle curiosity turned into serious research and the more he dug into the past, the more disturbing secrets he uncovered. The more he learned the more he became certain of who had orchestrated the death of those people he had loved, and what he unearthed shocked him as almost much as it confirmed his innermost suspicions. He had no idea that such facts were so easy to obtain, a matter of public record, and yet here they were, in an obscure reference book in a library in London, for all the world to see - if the world knew where to look. Nathan was sorely tempted to move back to an expensive hotel, but he resisted the temptation because he had achieved the anonymity that he wanted - where he was now, nobody took any notice of him. He paid his room on time, kept himself to himself, and let the world go by. A few weeks of luxury would be very nice, but as a high roller he was bound to attract curiosity at the very least. Sometimes he would go to a cinema to watch a movie, sometimes he never left his room. It was depressing to watch Christmas go by, alone in a foreign city, but he would not be there for much longer. On new year's eve he found his way to Trafalgar Square and joined the masses of people that were partying to welcome the new year, 1994. On new year's day he was back inside the derelict house, watching the arches.
He was not surprised that nobody turned up on the 3rd, a Monday, to start work again, but on the next day, Mason and Leroy were back. This time there was a new looking Range Rover inside, being given a new identity. Nathan waited all day for them to finish and go back to wherever they came from. It was one of the longest days he had ever spent because this was the day he was going to take care of them. At last they went, locking the doors as usual. Nathan dozed for a while but at four am he was awake again, a bit earlier than he needed to be. Inside the empty archway, Nathan removed the bricks again, and crawled though the hole. He expected to find reels of masking tape that was used when painting the stolen cars and was not disappointed. Mason and Leroy's overalls had been left on the bonnet of the Range Rover. Nathan cut them into useable lengths and then was surprised to find a new clean roll of towelling in the toilet which was also neat and clean. Hygienic mechanics ? Now there was a first!
Using the rags which he had wetted, and the tape, Nathan spent some time blocking every air gap he could find around the wooden front of the railway arch. He blocked every single chink, even running tape around the single window frame, just in case. At last he thought he had sealed it up as best he could. He placed the mousetrap on the roof of the Range Rover and tied one end of the twine to the trigger which he had bent slightly to make it just a fraction less sensitive. The other end of the twine he tied to the back of the door. Now he was at the most dangerous point, and to some degree, the unknown part. His research in the library had confirmed his thoughts, and he was no slouch at mathematics. All the same, the volume of the arch was not precise and nor was the calculated rate of gas released from the cylinders, whose valves he now opened, one by one. As soon as he had opened the last valve, Nathan climbed back through the hole and replaced all the bricks. He had taken the tape with him and used it to tape over the mortar lines he had cut away, and then leaned the foul mattress over his work. Outside the dark had changed to grey as dawn was breaking, and Nathan made his way quickly back to the house opposite, to wait and to watch.
It was eight ‘o' clock. Inside the arch eight cylinders of acetylene and oxygen gas together with two bonus canisters Nathan found filled with Calor gas, were leaking highly combustible gasses, steadily into the workshop. Nine ‘o' clock came and went. Nathan began to sweat now. Nine fifteen. Where were they ? Nine thirty. Oh Jesus! Not today of all days. Nine forty...Nathan heard the pulsating bass beat of the car stereo before the BMW itself arrived. Mason parked in the usual place and he went over to the lock-up with Delroy. What happened next was nothing short of spectacular. The entire wooden frontage was blown outwards, smashed by the fearsome force of the explosion into a hundred wickedly sharp splinters of burning timber. Flaming planks were thrown high into the air and out across the street where they battered the parked BMW. A number of the smaller splinters had stabbed Mason and Leroy, who threw his hands to his face, blood streaming between his fingers from his lacerating, bleeding eyes. Somehow, the two men were still standing despite the many wounds they had received and Mason, who could still see, opened his mouth to scream at what he could see next, but before a sound could escape from his lips a huge fireball erupted from the archway as if fired from some mediaeval mortar. The orange-red fireball rolled over the two men, its awesome heat incinerating them both where they stood, then flattened out into a wide angry sheet of flame as it carried on across the street, setting what was left of the tarmac alight before it reached the BMW, which burst into flames.
A gas cylinder was launched like a rocket, hitting the curved ceiling of the workshop and then ricocheting back down onto the roof of the burning Range Rover. It bounced from the car roof, out of the archway and slid across the street like a torpedo, punching its way through the back door of the BMW. Another cylinder was propelled sideways, where it smashed right though the wall, coming to rest in the empty arch at the end where is burned a powerful jet of flame like a fallen giant firework. Suddenly, the Range Rover exploded throwing chunks of burning wreckage out of the inferno, some of which hit the rotten roof of the house that Nathan was watching from, to fall burning into the roof-space, setting the timbers on fire. A second later the BMW exploded, the force blowing in the plywood covering of the lower windows of Nathan's hide. Despite the wet and rot of the wrecked house, the fire took a hold and soon was spreading to the next house, and then the next, through the roof space. It seemed as if the entire street was in flames, like some kind of living vision of the flames of hell. Nathan fought his way downstairs, through the flames, slipping twice where his foot went through the floorboards.
Outside, but out of reach of the flames, people were already gathering. Some came simply to watch in morbid awe, while other more brave people were trying to get closer to see if they could help, to see if there was anybody impossibly alive in the raging inferno. A train had passed overhead and by some miracle, the iron and cement of the Victorian engineers had held and the arch had not yet collapsed. Passengers from the train ran back as Nathan had done, back along the tracks to look down onto the scene of devastation. Some of them managed to find a way down and were only a few arches away from the centre of the blaze. As the sound of fire engines carried through the air, Nathan joined those people attempting to look as shocked and stunned as they were - although he did not have to act too much. The air was hot with the flames and there was a smell of burning rubber, wood and toxic plastic too, and blanketing all these smells there was another nastier smell that was strangely out of place here, a smell something like roasting pork, sickly and sweeter though - that unique smell of burning human flesh.
The Police arrived at the same time as the Fire engines, their sirens battling each other for supremacy. While the Police were moving the growing crowds back, the firemen began to tackle the fires, the chief officer already calling in more appliances. The street looked like something out of the Blitz as it burned out of control. The last of the gas cylinders exploded violently, the force of the explosions borne by the weakening brick walls. The brickwork of the arches was showing huge cracks, ripped open by the intense heat, but so far it was holding up, although the railway line above was now closed. As great jets of high pressure water were aimed into the heart of the blaze, Nathan walked away with some of the crowd of onlookers who had seen enough to satisfy their macabre curiosity. He was no longer an unusual white face in a predominately black area - there were all kinds of people who had been drawn like moths to a light, sick thrill seekers who now returned to their everyday boring lives.
Nathan felt nothing. He had killed five men now and it made no difference at all. Would he ever lose the burden of guilt that he carried? He had no idea, but he knew that he missed his mother and father and Lauren every day, and as long as their killers lived, he would go on. The next day he called Tony.
"Fuck me yank, you've got some bleedin' front", were the first words that Tony said.
"Pardon me ?", Nathan replied, baffled.
"Come of it mate, it was you weren't it what topped them two spades ? It was all over the telly, and the papers too."
Nathan had still not grasped the strange version of English, if it was English, that some of the Londoner's spoke, "excuse me ?"
"Excuse me ? I'll fuckin' excuse you my son alright! It was you what torched that gaff in Brixton, weren't it ?" Tony sounded angry, "you took me for a right plonker!"
"Brixton ?", Nathan knew what he meant now, "I saw the fire", he said without emotion.
"I'll bet you fucking did, I'll bet you saw the fire! Well you've got some balls mate, I'll say that for yer."
"I need your help again".
"Look mate, I don't care what your ruck was with them spades, but I ain't helping you top nobody else. No chance. What d'you fink I am ?"
"Its not like that", Nathan tried to reassure Tony, "I need some papers. I was wondering if you might be able to take me to some part of this city where I might be able to arrange that ?"
"You want a moody passport ?"
"Excuse me ?", Nathan said automatically.
"Yeah, and that's all I want. Can you help ?"
"Why don't I go to the old Bill and tell ‘em it was me what took you to Brixton in the first place ?"
"Because I figured you were the kind of guy who was inclined to like making a few bucks, and because I can pay you a lot for one more ride".
There was a long pause as Tony weighed this up because Nathan was dead right, he was no lover of the Police, kept himself to himself and minded his own business. A few quid tax-free on the side was always very welcome. "Alright", he said, "I do know of a place, as it ‘appens. One ride you say ? I drop you there and that's it ?"
"That's the deal."
"Five grand", said Tony deciding to go for it, and why not. He expected to do a deal at around a thousand, if he was lucky".
"Okay" said Nathan, "when ?"
‘Fuck me!', thought Tony, ‘Bingo!', "An ‘our from now. Find your way to Vauxhall bridge, it can't be far from wherever you are. Stand on the corner of the South side of the river, on the left and I'll pick you up." The phone went dead.
During his wandering around the centre of London - the city itself extends over twenty miles, Nathan had crossed a few of the bridges and knew that Vauxhall bridge was not very far his current hotel. He checked out, deciding it was a good idea to move on again, walked the mile or so to the bridge, and waited. Tony picked him up as he had promised, half an hour later. This time as Tony drove his cab, there was no light conversation and he seemed tense, nervous even. When at last he did speak it was to say, "you brought my money?"
"Yeah, I have it, no problem", said Nathan as casually as he could, trying to break the tension that was almost palpable.
"Pass it through", Tony replied, sliding open a panel in the Perspex that surrounded him. "It's all ‘ere innit ?", he said as he slipped the package into his pocket, "I'll have to trust ya ?"
"It's all there Tony", Nathan assured him as he pulled up outside a pub. Nathan had never ventured to this part of the city before. The houses were mainly oldish looking terraces, but very well maintained with sparkling windows and gleaming paint, and many had small gardens at the front with tiny patches of grass and empty flower beds that would soon be filled with vibrant colours. There were a few cars parked in the streets and although Nathan was no car buff, he could see that they were mostly new models. The sign outside the pub said ‘The Gael'. "In there, tell the Landlord you've come about the Jag he has for sale. Then you're on you're own. A word though Yank, don't mess with those geezers in there. You won't last five minutes if you fuck ‘em about. You got it ?"
"Yeah, ask the Landlord about his Jag ?...Jaguar right?"
"That's it mate. Good luck, you're on yer own now", said Tony and Nathan got out of the cab. The moment he shut the door, the cab took off along the street like a scalded cat.
Despite the apparent ordinary and somewhat middle class look to the area, the pub sounded like a lively and pulsating place to go. Even from outside Nathan could hear the unmistakable sound of Irish music and a the hubbub of Irish voices. When he went inside the general din was much louder and it seemed to Nathan that nobody took a blind bit of notice of him as he threaded his way towards the bar. On one table a man slammed down his last triumphant domino, whilst at another an earnest game of cribbage was being pegged. Two men were playing pool at one end, and at the other, four more men and a woman played darts. A huge fellow turned away from the bar holding an impossible number of glasses that were filled with white foaming black Guinness. The noise was deafening and although Nathan did nor know it, a dozen pairs of eyes had registered his entrance and were watching his every move.
"Are you the landlord?", Nathan almost shouted at the giant of a man who was pulling pints of dark beer with an almost reverence to the creamy liquid. The man answered with a heavy accent, "who da fuck would loike t'know ?"
"I understand you have a Jaguar for sale?" Nathan replied, his voice strained above all the others who were competing for attention.
"Well now, Oi might, and oi might not. Who told yizz oi ‘ave ?"
"Tony did, he brought me here."
Before Nathan could do a thing about it, two burly arms grabbed each of his and he felt a third man standing right behind him, pushing him forwards. The noise of the pub carried on without change, and everybody ignored the minor distraction he had caused. Nathan could not move a muscle, he was hemmed in against the bar, trapped on all sides. Whatever was to happen next was beyond his control. If Tony had tricked him, Nathan may never be able to even the score, but he was powerless and could only hope that somehow, this was going to work out okay.