Gatekeeper | "Brixton Bound"
When dealing with one of the greatest contract killers of the last quarter century, watching your tone should go without saying, but privilege. While traveling to London for a new assignment, Diam makes an impromptu stop upon landing, to recalibrate things with an out of touch client.
"Where the fuck are you?"
"In London," I replied, looking down at my phone incredulously.
"In London where!?" The voice of the man on the other end yelled into my Bluetooth earbuds.
"At the airport."
"And just where are you on the way to you jackass?"
"Eventually, I'll be headed down to baggage claim and then to the taxi and rideshare stand. Is there anything I can help you with Spooner?" I asked. Overly bored with whatever this was supposed to be.
"Mr... Spooner. Don't forget who is paying you, Diamante. I want a little more respect out of you from this point forward. A lot more actually, got it?"
"It's Diam, Spooner. Again, what may I help you with?"
"Diamante!!! Do not make me regret hiring you. What the fuck are you doing at the airport? You are under contract to be here. The package is here. Here! You know what I'm sending a car to pick you up. Stay right there until you hear from me again, that is a direct order! You will remain at Heathrow until the car arrives. Do not move!"
"Got it," I pressed [end] on the call.
"Wife," asked an older American businessman seated near me at the gate.
"No. Just a client that thinks he's my employer, suffering from a false sense of control. He's sending a car to Heathrow to pick me up."
"Wait, well that's a hell of a problem there isn't it? We're at Gatwick," the man replied with a surprised grin.
"False, sense of control," I replied. Excusing myself to head to the loo.
On my flight to London, I reviewed one of two carefully crafted dossiers, four times. An old guard, cinema producer from the States, long since retired, had been blackmailing actresses left and right to keep them quiet. Entanglements and indiscretions to the 99th power.
This file made it clear, however, that the wrong person's name had finally been included in his nefarious dealings of late. Arnold Stephenson was set to die by my hand in two days' time while on holiday in London. Now this impromptu trip to Brixton, about twenty minutes outside of the city, was another story.
Frederick Spooner, my wannabe boss, was a financier of shady business dealings in the United Kingdom, primarily in London, Southampton, Coventry, and Leicester. Of late, Wales, Isle of Man, and Belgium were new locations where he had begun to plant roots, however, there was one obstacle slowing his expansion. A man by the name of Harry Sylvester, the founding partner at Sylvester, Wiggins & Co. Sylvester had been the head of the general crime offering for the most powerful criminal defense firm in the UK for the past thirty years.
The air that Harry breathed, kept Spooner's competition on the wrong side of a jail cell.
After changing clothes I walked past the gate where I had been seated for the past hour plus, making arrangements. Upon my return the American businessman never blinked in my direction.
Gone was the dark denim and pink & blue plaid collared shirt I wore on the flight. In its place I now wore a lighter washed pair of jeans, with a hard-pressed decorative wrinkle pattern in the crotch area. The fit was tighter, more restrictive than preferred, but necessary. Above the waist, I wore a thin black hoodie over top of a green fatigued tee with 1981 in black graffiti lettering across the chest. A black, red, and green beaded necklace held together with graphene piano wire hung around my neck, and there was a pair of black Nike hi-tops with steel toe inserts in the instep. My two primary weapons for this brief excursion.
Spooner's desired power play was to take place in Brixton, home of the storied riots fueled by racial injustice in 1981. From then to now, Brixton like most cities across the world with riotous pasts, were prone to more...colorful activity, than others. Something Spooner clearly planned to use to his advantage in holding this tête-à-tête here as a scare tactic.
The man was pissing me off, which was quite the feat to put it mildly. There was no greater proof of this than the mere fact I was headed to meet the man, though on my own terms. After triangulating his location earlier I got to work in making the proper conversations happen to secure free passage both in and out of an area near Little Tivoli, for the meet.
In the back of the cab I continued altering my appearance, inserting a custom double-tooth titanium cap grill, with razor-sharp edges-- bringing my weapon count to three. The hairpiece I added finished off the desired look. After touching up the edges with a straight razor, an extra ten years melted away from my appearance. My new rounded high-top fade had a part that started in the front and ran along the side, disappearing in the back of my head.
"How much further?" I asked.
"A minute out from the corner store on Brixton & Robstart St. Three from the address to the building you asked about."
The driver feigned a glance over his shoulder when he spoke, but didn't look back. When I first gave him my destination at the airport, he started to roll the window back up to turn down the fare before I offered him three times the rate.
During the hour-long ride from Gatwick, he had mostly kept his eyes forward and the conversation to a minimum. When he finally looked up into the rearview mirror, however, he ended up driving onto the curb as he approached the corner store, drawing far more attention to us than I would have liked from the few men milling about outside.
"Sorry. I'm so sorry sir, you just...how?"
His eyes were the size of two silver dollars as he gawked at my altered reflection. In addition to my hair, there was a new scar running through my left eyebrow. The gray hair on my chin was gone and I thinned out the hair on my face in spots, making it a little patchy.
I'll take that response as a favorable one.
"Do yourself a favor and get out of here before you get hurt bruv," I offered over the seat.
After transferring the funds through the card reader I grabbed my travel bag and exited the back of the hackney. With an arbitrary head nod to one of the men outside, I walked into the store, purchased a 32 oz. blue Gatorade, and exited without my bag. Rounding the corner, I headed down the street toward the flat, pass in hand.
Less than a minute later a melodic whistle went up from behind me, followed by the revving of a dirt bike that could be heard but not seen. Just like that, my safe passage on this particular street had just been announced to everyone that needed to know.
Always check-in, I thought to myself as I walked on. My gait, slightly slower than normal.
The last building at the end of the block before the street angled off was dilapidated but not vacant. A ventured guess from the way certain windows were boarded up, would put occupancy at maybe twenty percent, all of whom were likely squatters. Outside, two large men that stood on either side of the entrance stuck out like sore thumbs this deep into the annals of the area. Both appeared to be ex-military from their physiques, stiff posture, and style of dress. The lack of melanin in their skin is what clearly gave them away, however. Sloppy.
"Gents, would one of you be so kind as to let Mr. Spooner know he has a visitor," I said from street level.
When no response was given, I asked again, but nicer.
"My apologies. Would either of you lot, who are clearly working for a man who has left you standing outside of an obvious honeypot, with only one clean exit in a place surrounded by hungry grizzlies...alert him to the presence of a visitor?"
Regardless of skin color or vernacular, the term honeypot and noting only one clean exit, resonated with the pair. The larger of the two men with the bald head flinched first. He looked to his left, then the right, before locking in on a small gathering of people in the direction I had come from.
All of those men looked like variations of myself and their attention was gradually growing toward this end of the street.
"Tell him the longer I wait, the greater the tax. He'll understand."
A quick call, caused me to be motioned up the steps hastily, where I was wanded by the other doorman before being pat-down by a wiry man with vapid eyes on the other side of the entrance. Four flights of stairs later, the stench of mildew comingled with old urine to usher me inside of apartment 407.
Frederick Spooner looked out of the window opposite the seat I was directed to in the dimly lit space and took his time communicating his instruction as well as his displeasure. Against my better judgment, I agreed to meet up with this client at this location. I had regularly found myself in far more precarious environments, so the location didn't bother me. No, I had allowed too much engagement with the client, something I had not done in twenty years and for what, double the fee?
More important than anything, in Spooner I had finally come across a client who irritated me to no end. The man singlehandedly showed me why I always tended to keep at least one layer of separation between myself and the orchestrator of any contract. Spooner served as point person and the benefactor of this arrangement. My second mistake. This motherfucker had pushed enough buttons to force me to expedite this job, something I also never do. Never mind the fact that the change in expiration date, was to regain control over this entire situation.
Derivations from routine and protocol can have dire consequences. Mistake three.
"Diam, my ability to contact you when necessary is extremely troubling. I am used to having a finger on the pulse of my employees at all times. Never mind the fact that you disobeyed a direct order in not waiting at the airport as instructed. So I ask you, how do we go about addressing this concern?"
"Mr. Spooner, need I remind you, that I am not one of your employees. We have a contracted business arrangement due to your actual employees' inability to address a concern of yours. Secondly, we have one piece of business and at no time was it discussed, that regular communication was a part of that."
"Well, I would like to activate that now."
"Would you like to discuss the timeline of our business Spooner?"
"Diam, you will address me as Mr. Spooner and nothing else, do I make myself clear!"
A subtle vibration from my cellular pulled my attention from thoughts I was having of the different ways I could maim the man. After punching in a few buttons, a file popped up that I opened and swiped thru quickly as though I were alone in the room.
"Diam, answer me!" Spooner roared.
"Are we done here, Spooner?" I asked, putting the device to sleep and pushing up from the chair I was seated in.
Two large men appeared on either side of me from out of the shadows, grabbed me by the shoulders, and squeezed as if to try and intimidate me. Spooner, still facing the window, peered over his shoulder in my direction.
"This is a joke, no?" I asked, but the overly pompous businessman's response was far too slow for my liking.
I could tell by the echo of the room that it was essentially empty aside from the chair I was sitting in and the table closer to where Spooner was standing. The two men behind me either didn't have weapons or assumed their size would suffice.
All I would need to incapacitate them both in this space is twenty-one seconds. Twenty-seven if death made more sense, I thought.
The continued lack of a response was easing me closer to provide a demonstration of what he was paying for. In a last ditched attempt to slow my mounting rage, I recalled a segment of an aria from Giacomo Puccini's La bohème and ran it on a ten second loop in my mind three times. With my breathing slowed and my eyes closed I re-centered...
"Se si desidera di morire, resta dove sei."
Gone was the flawless British accent I had been using since I arrived at Gatwick Airport. My native Italian tongue had forced its way to the surface in an eerily calm tone that seemed to grab the rich man's attention, regardless of if he understood my promise of death to the two men behind me.
Without knowing what was said, Spooner called off his dogs.
"I will be fast-tracking our business, Spooner. Upon confirmation of completion, I will be expecting an extra quarter to be added to the till. That is two commas, not one. There will be no further communication. We are done here."
There was no response to my statement, which was optimal for everyone involved.
Stepping away from the men, I moved towards the metal door to the landing. With the edge of my ring, I dragged my hand from the left to right at about three inches above eye level.
"The door," I said aloud.
A latch was heard sliding and the door opened inward.
Without looking back, I stepped through and headed down the hallway to the short stairwell. The guard with the soulless eyes scowled in my direction with a hand pressed against his ear. The piercing metal on metal reverberation that forcibly intruded his ear canal from eavesdropping, the culprit.
"Bloody bastard," he drew out.
Outside I walked methodically, my senses on high alert as always, as I made my way through the area where this terrible idea for a meeting took place. Brixton was not unlike L.A. or Madrid or any other city around the world that had its pockets of dangerous locales leftover from periods of civil unrest.
Little Tivoli, named after Tivoli Gardens in Jamaica, due to its being home for many a violent and criminally entrepreneurial West Indies transplant would make many an outsider uneasy-- as it did for many a commoner who dwelled outside of the South London area. Yet due to the richness of my skin tone, altered appearance, and proper pre-planning in contacting the major players among the yardies' in the area, I never met with the lack of discomfort Spooner had intended to instill.
Reaching a side street just off the A23, I eased in the back of a tinted matte black Audi A8 and the driver peeled away from the curb on his way into London. Reaching inside my waiting bag, I pulled out my tablet, looked at the file I was sent once more, but with a much more careful eye. After sending a message of inquiry to the Switchboard, I began running through the possibilities for completing this contract in the next twenty-four hours.