Monday, August 13, 2018

The Man From LOVE #13: Metaphysical manipulation for fun and profit

    'It wasn’t her,' said Amanda Snark with a discreet shake of her head.

    N'buli had finally reported into the local LOVE headquarters. While many units based their operations out of offices, hotel rooms and mansions, there were some genuine secret bunkers dotted around the world.

    The Sydney office was one of those, situated inside the Harbour Bridge, in rooms built by a mad architect with a fetish for vampire women. After clearing things up with the hospital authorities, N'buli caught a taxi out to Luna Park and entered through the secret door behind the giant face of a clown.

    Amanda was impatiently waiting inside, holding a thick file of papers. He had barely closed the door before she was answering questions he hadn’t asked.

    'It wasn’t who?'

    'Agent Smith didn’t shoot Dave.'

    N'buli was actually surprised. Smith had attacked him 45 minutes ago, and Amanda already seemed to know everything.

    'Come on,' she said, stalking off towards the operations centre. 'Derek is waiting.'

    As he caught up, she start shovelling photos and transcripts back over her shoulder. N'buli grabbed them, but only had time to glance at one before she handed him another.

    Amanda was talking even faster than her pace. 'Agent Jane Smith spent all of last night in a bar in Osaka, buying rounds for everybody. We’ve got sixty people who swore she was there, and three who said they slept with her. Two of them are lying, and the other one only got some light rubbing.

    'We’re not sure how she got through our induction checks, but she’s obviously a psycho case. Her back-story is a lie, we’ve already figured that out. Give us another two hours and we’ll have her real story.'

    'What about the HATE thing?' asked N'buli.

    That stopped Amanda. She turned back and looked at Nbuli over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses. 'What HATE thing? I didn’t know anything about that.'

    'That’s because I haven’t told anybody. She said she was the Girl from HATE.'

    Amanda looked un-nerved, but spun around on her heel and continued walking. 'I don’t know anything about HATE.'

    N'buli knew she was lying, but they were already in the operations centre, where Detective Inspector Derek Jaded was gazing intensely at CCTV footage of central Sydney, while two techs who could have been brother and sister typed furiously away at keyboards. Jaded ignored N'buli, but spared a moment to give Amanda a quick and affectionate peck of the cheek. The couple had joined LOVE the week before N'buli, a fact they regularly repeated in his company.

    Derek and Amanda were painful to deal with, with a deep affection for each other that had built up over a century, combining with a ruthless work ethic to exclude everyone else in the room. N'buli had been involved in several cases with the two detectives and they only had eyes for each other. Fortunately, they were damned good at their job.

    Detective Inspector Jaded handed N'buli a file without making eye contact. 'Prime suspect is Dick Fassbender, the guy Stevie and Dave were keeping an eye on. We think he has a line on the Utah kid-smuggling problem, and were making some initial surveillance observations.'

    He picked up a remote and pointed at a TV screen in the corner of the room. Turning it on, N'buli saw CCTV footage of a man running down a darkened alleyway.

    Jaded paused the footage. 'Three minutes and twenty-seven seconds before our boys were shot, Mr Fassbender gets a phone call. We have a camera set up out back that shows him running for it at about the same time the shot was fired. He’s got to be our man.'

    'Okay,' said N'buli. 'So who called him?'

    'We don’t know.'

    N'buli was genuinely confused. 'But we’ve got actual alien technology which lets us trace anybody in the world. They showed me that the last time I visited the Black House in Baltimore. Nobody can hide.'

    Derek Jaded looked him right in the eyes for the first time. 'This caller did. But hold on a moment. We think we’ve tracked Fassbender down. Give us a few minutes.'

    He went back to work. N'buli was left to wait, as the few minutes turned into an hour, and then two. N'buli just hung about, flirted uselessly with Amanda, and was about to head off to the nearest pub when something finally happened.

    'Sir!' said the female technician, snapping her fingers.

    'Don’t snap your fingers at me, girl,' said Jaded in a dark and grumpy voice.

    The tech must have been used to working with Jaded, because she easily ignored his rudeness. She gestured at her screen, which showed a busy city travel agency.

    'Look, we’ve got Fassbender buying a ticket to New Zealand. He had a false passport, so we had trouble finding him and travel between the two countries is almost a commute for some people.'

    N'buli pointed at the screen. 'When was this? How long ago was this?'

    The technician checked her screen. 'Yesterday. His flight was this morning and landed 90 minutes ago.'

    N'buli ran out the door without another word. Derek Jaded shrugged at the technician and started searching through his jacket for a cell phone. 'He does that.'

    Jaded found his phone just as it started ringing. 'Hello N'buli.'

    N'buli was obviously running as fast as he could, but he wasn’t out of breath at all as his voice crackled down the line. 'If he just bought that ticket yesterday, he should still be in the city he flew into. He could disappear into the countryside and we’ll never find him. We know where he is right now, so I’m taking a flight over there and getting this bastard before he rabbits.'

    Jaded started snapping his fingers at techs and pointing at a screen showing surveillance shots of the Sydney city centre. 'Change that shit to Auckland. Check every piece of CCTV we can get, eavesdrop on every conservation coming in and out of the country and find this rabbit.'

    The techs went to work, and Jaded went back to the phone. 'You didn’t have to run out like that. It was pretty rude.'
    'You’re calling me rude? That’s a first. But I’m on a deadline.'

    N'buli ran out of the clown’s mouth and looked for a crazy taxi driver who wouldn’t mind driving well above the speed limit. 'Val only gave me three days!'


    Max’s transport had just landed in Sydney when N'buli arrived at the airport, after the pilot flew it halfway around the world, so he could bring Dave back to London. After assuring Max that Dave wasn’t ready to move yet, N'buli convinced him to fly him to Auckland.

    By hitting the afterburners, it was less than an hour before N'buli found himself riding with another insane taxi driver into the centre of New Zealand’s biggest city.
    Jaded and Amanda had used the hour to full effect, and had come up with the goods. Fassbender had arrived in town a couple of hours ago and, instead of checking into a hotel, had gone to a central city movie theatre. It was some big dumb 3D movie that lasted two and a half hours, and was due to finish in 13 minutes.

    N'buli only had Australian money, but the taxi driver understood a good deal when he saw one, and pocketed seven hundred Aussie dollars and a promise to pay any speed fines before he floored it. They ran red lights and cut off other drivers who were obeying the law. N'buli had caught taxis in every major city in the world, and knew he could always count on them to drive like a complete maniac when he paid them enough. Uber drivers were useless.

    By N'buli’s watch, the movie was just finishing as the taxi pulled up outside the central city movie theatre. He dashed inside the multi-level building and instantly started scanning the crowds entering and leaving the cinema complex.

    There were two exits, so N'buli took to the high ground, climbing an escalator and reaching a level where he could see both exits clearly. He kept scanning every face, looking for one particular one.

    On the trip over, he had memorised Fassbender’s face. He wouldn’t miss him.

    It was late in the afternoon in local time, and the cinema complex wasn’t huge. There were still a few people around, but no real crowd. A small group walked out of a cinema on the level below N'buli, and he spotted his target instantly.

    Fassbender looked nervous and was fumbling with a backpack. He was looking around for something, and suddenly looked up to see N'buli staring down at him.

    They locked eyes for an instant, and then Fassbender was off.

    N'buli didn't hesitate.


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