Where Seagulls Dare

Chapter Six: A Nasty Development

“I don’t understand!” Tim exclaimed. “Why didn’t you say yes?”

I stared at him. “Are you serious?” I replied. “You really wanted to join in Mr Waverly’s suicide mission?”

“There’s nothing wrong with a suicide mission, provided you don’t get killed…”

“Tim…” I had to take a deep breath. “Try to get this into your head. The only reason he asked us to go to Hare Island was because he wanted to use us. Exactly the same thing happened last time. He turned us into bait. He wanted Charon to kill us because it would help him find out who Charon was. Don’t you remember? He didn’t care if we lived or died.”

“But he said we were the only ones who could recognize Jane Fairytale!”

“Recognize her? You can’t even remember her name!” I shook my head. “This case has already become too dangerous. The White Crusaders have tried to kill us twice and someone dropped a steel girder on us.”

“That may have been an accident.”

“Well, we’ve had enough accidents. From now on, I think you should only take on easy cases. Like finding a missing dog, for example.”

Tim sighed. “The last time I found a missing dog, it bit me.” He thought for a moment. “So did the owner!”

We were back at the flat in Camden Town. It would have been about tea-time if we’d had any tea. After I’d told Waverly that – thank you very much – I’d prefer not to take a canoe ride across the North Sea to storm an island full of neo-Nazis and rescue a genius computer hacker I’d never met, he’d been surprisingly pleasant, even offering us a lift home. I’d thanked him but declined. The trouble with Waverly was that, when he sent a car for you, you couldn’t be sure if it would pick you up or run you over. We’d taken a bus.

Tim wasn’t happy. Maybe it was the knowledge that Jane Nightingale had lied to him. He’d fallen for her the moment she walked into the room but she’d used him. I almost felt sorry for him. Tim had never been very lucky in love. His first girlfriend was a trapeze artist but she dropped him. Since then, there had hardly been any girls in his life…not until Jane Nightingale had walked into the room and she’d walked straight back out again. Was Jane even her name? I had no idea who she really was or why she’d contacted us. I remembered how quickly she had abandoned us at Grannies.

Tim had left this laptop open on the desk and suddenly it pinged as a message popped up on the screen. It was from Jane.

Hi Tim. I was sorry to run out on you at that restaurant. I was going to tell you the truth about me. There are lots of things you need to know. Meet me tonight. I’ll be at The Battersea Tower on Battersea Bridge Road at 8.00pm. It’s a new office development and we can meet there safely. Come to the 29th floor. Jane xxx

I read it quickly. The message was only a few lines long but none of it made any sense. First of all, how come she knew Tim’s email address? He hadn’t given it to her. How could she be so sure that we had escaped from Grannies? We could have been captured or shot but she hadn’t even asked where we were. And here was the biggest question of all. Why did she want to meet us at an office development in south London? That was crazy. We’d be just as safe in a café or a pub round the corner. I didn’t like anything about Jane Nightingale. I’d only met her twice but she’d been nothing but trouble.

Tim didn’t agree. He pointed at the screen. “Oh look! She’s sent me three kisses!”

“It’s probably a typing error,” I growled. “I think there are some questions we need to ask about this message.”

“Yeah.” Tim nodded. “The Battersea Tower on Battersea Park Road. Where do you think that is?”

“It could be in Battersea,” I suggested.

“You might be right. Do you think she works there?”

“I don’t know. But I don’t think we should go.”

“Why not?”

“Because it might be a trap.”

“We won’t know until we walk into it.”

“Which is exactly why we shouldn’t go.”

Tim gave me a crooked smile. “Don’t worry, kid. I’ll look after you.”

“That’s what worries me.”

There was no arguing with Tim. We went.

*

There’s so much new building in Battersea that even the pigeons wear hard hats. Everywhere you look, there are cranes and scaffolding, cement mixers, diggers and mountains of bricks that go down as fast as the flats and offices go up. Walk from one end to the other and by the time you get there you won’t be able to find your way back.

Battersea Tower was in the middle of it all. It was about thirty storeys high and somehow managed to be completely different and exactly the same as all the buildings around it. There was a courtyard with a fountain. A curving entrance with doors that were five times as big as they needed to be. Great glass windows like oversized playing cards had been piled up on one another, held together in a steel and concrete frame that could have come out of Star Wars. There were very few lights on inside. And although I could see a reception desk that seemed to stretch on for ever in each direction, there was nobody sitting behind it. In fact, the whole place felt empty. It was eight o’clock and everyone would have gone home from work but I got the feeling that nobody worked here yet. It was a brand new development and it didn’t have any sense of life. Even the fountain was dry.

We walked up to the entrance, our footsteps rapping on the concrete. The sun had set but the evening air was still warm. I was quite sure that the journey across London had been a waste of time. For some reason, Jane Nightingale had lured us to an office building that hadn’t opened yet and there was no way we were going to get in. But there was some movement. As we got closer to the doors, I noticed a CCTV camera blink with a single red eye and twist round to follow us. It unnerved me. It reminded me of the cameras at Nightingale’s house in Bath Crescent. Why did I get the feeling that it was the same person watching me? Worse still, I had no idea who they were.

We reached the doors and they slid open immediately, making no sound at all.

“Hello?” Tim called out.

Nobody answered. There was nobody there.

We stepped inside the reception area. For a moment we stood in front of the empty desk, staring at a blank wall with no pictures, no company names. It confirmed my suspicion that the building was unoccupied.

“I don’t like it…” I muttered.

“I think it’s quite nice,” Tim disagreed. “It just needs a bit of decoration…”

“I’m not talking about the décor, Tim. I just mean…it’s too quiet.”

The doors closed behind us, again without a sound. There was just a faint click of glass meeting glass and I wondered if they would open again to let us leave. I decided to find out. I retraced my steps, holding out a hand to trigger the infrared beam or whatever sensor would activate them.

Nothing happened.

We were stuck. We’d just walked into the trap that I’d been fearing all along.

“What now?” I muttered.

I was talking to myself but Tim answered. “The email said she’d meet us on the nineteenth floor,” he said.

“The twenty-ninth,” I corrected him.

Either way, it was a lot of stairs.

I’d noticed five gleaming silver lift doors on the far side of the lobby and had wondered if they were working. But even as I spoke, the one in the middle slid open. It was almost as if it had overheard me. I was getting more and more spooked out with every minute that passed. As we walked towards the lifts I heard a soft whirring and noticed another camera swivel in our direction. It was weird. I had the feeling that the building itself was watching us. It was almost as if it had invited us in and now it was telling us where to go. Given a choice, I’d have headed right back out again. But I didn’t have a choice. The front doors wouldn’t let me.

We went into the lift. There were buttons numbered one to thirty-three but I didn’t press any of them. I didn’t need to. The doors closed and with incredible speed the lift whisked us upwards. Like the glass entrance doors, it made no sound. I only knew we were moving because of the flickering numbers in the display panel and the strange feeling in my stomach as it sank towards the ground.

We arrived at the twenty-ninth floor. The doors slid open.

Somehow, the lift had known where we wanted to go.

We stepped into a modern office space that looked almost the size of a football pitch with desks, computers, sofas, lights, filing cabinets, telephones, potted plants, coffee machines… everything you’d expect except people eating crisps and dozing in their seats. There was no sign of Jane Nightingale but I was fairly certain she wasn’t going to show up. We were on our own.

“This is a bad idea, Tim,” I whispered. In this building, even the fire extinguishers could have been listening in on us. “We shouldn’t have come.”

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone here,” Tim agreed.

I went over to the nearest desk and picked up a telephone, held it against my ear. “It’s dead,” I muttered. I took out my own phone and glanced at the screen. “No signal.”

“There’s no need to panic.” Tim said. It was what he always said when he was about to panic.

“Let’s just get out of here.”

I hit the lift button. There might be a staircase out of here but I didn’t fancy walking twenty-nine floors. We watched the light blink on the display panel as another of the lifts made its way up and all the time I knew that it wasn’t going to be as easy as this, that we weren’t out of trouble yet. The lift doors slid open.

Tim looked at me. “You see?” he said. “Nothing to worry about.”

He took a step forward and at the same moment I threw myself at him and pulled him to one side.

“What are you doing?” Tim shrieked. “I thought you wanted to leave.”

“The lift isn’t here, Tim,” I said.

It was true. Somehow the whole system had been reprogrammed. We’d called the lift. The display had shown it was coming. But the doors had opened to reveal an empty lift shaft with a dark tunnel of death between us and the ground twenty-nine storeys below.

Tim stared. “You’re right!” he exclaimed. He thought for a moment. “It’s been stolen!”

“No, it hasn’t, Tim. Someone is trying to kill us.”

“You think this happened on purpose?”

“Of course it did. They wanted us to step into the lift shaft.”

“Who’d be stupid enough to do that?”

I didn’t want to remind him that if I hadn’t grabbed hold of him he’d be on the bottom floor by now. In fifty pieces.

“So what are we going to do?” Tim asked. His eyes brightened. “Maybe we should try a different lift.”

“I’m not getting in any lift, Tim. There must be a set of emergency stairs.”

I looked around.

From where I was standing I could see the entire twenty-ninth floor with grey carpet and neon lights stretching into the distance. It wasn’t exactly open plan. There were corridors, different sized offices, meeting areas and kitchens but they were mainly separated by glass panels so that you could see through them. from one to another. Everything was hi-tech. The lights and air conditioning must have been controlled by some central computer as I couldn’t see any switches. You know those old mirror mazes you get at funfairs? It was a bit like that but without the fun.

There was an emergency exit sign on the far side, about two hundred meters away. That was the way out of the maze.

We began to move towards it, one step at a time. If a lift door could open without a lift, who else could say what Battersea Tower might throw at us? We were following a central corridor with offices on both sides but we’d hardly gone any distance before a glass door suddenly slid in front of us, blocking the way.

“A glass door has slid in front of us, blocking the way,” Tim said.

“Yes, Tim,” I said. “I know.”

A single corridor ran left and right. What difference would it make which way we went? I turned right. We’d only taken two more steps before another door slid shut behind us.

“Hey, Nick, another…”

“I know, Tim. Don’t tell me.”

There was no going back.

It was a cat and mouse game except that we were the mice and there was no sign of the cat. I looked up and saw a TV camera trained on us and wondered who it was watching us on the monitor, flicking the switches. Jane Nightingale? That was the obvious answer. She was the one who had summoned us here. But it suddenly occurred to me that we had no proof that she’d sent us the email in the first place. Anyone could have hacked into Tim’s computer – and we were, after all, dealing with zEbra who, according to Waverley, was the greatest computer hacker in the world.

All the lights went out.

I hadn’t realized how late it was but now I found myself pinned there by the darkness. The sun had sunk out of sight and there was no moon. If I say that Tim had turned into a shadow of himself, I mean it literally. I could hardly see him. Even the emergency exit sign had gone out and I was beginning to think that we were going to have to stumble around in the dark when suddenly a single light came on in an office down the end of another corridor. Without really thinking, we made our way towards it. What else could we do? But at the same time it occurred to me that this was no longer cat and mouse. It was moth and candle.

We arrived in a cubicle with three glass walls and one solid one. It was empty apart from a desk and a chair, with a single light fitting mounted on the brickwork and a smoke alarm in the middle of the ceiling. There was another door which I thought might lead somewhere but it led only into an empty cupboard.

“What now?” Tim asked.

“We’re going to have to go back the way we came.”

But there was no way back. As we’d entered the room, yet another glass door had slid across the opening, locking us in. We were in a small, square office. Maybe it had been designed for a junior secretary; someone who wouldn’t complain that they were being treated like a hamster. I still had no idea what was going on. We had been led here deliberately. Now we were stuck. But why? What was the big idea?

That was when the sprinkler system came to life, showering us with cold water from the ceiling. Every office in the world has a sprinkler system in case of fire but this one had only been activated in the space in which we found ourselves. Looking through the glass partitions, I could see that the rest of the floor was dry.

The water was coming down in a rush and in seconds we were drenched. My first thought was that this was all some insane practical joke. We’d been brought here to be soaked and that was the end of it. Tim was staring at the ceiling as if he still hadn’t quite worked out what was going on. I got there first. The office was completely watertight. With nowhere to go, the water was rising. Already it was lapping at my ankles. Remorselessly, it moved up to my calves.

It was completely insane but in about ten minutes time it would reach the ceiling. Tim and I were about to be drowned, indoors, on the twenty-ninth floor of a brand new office development…a nasty development in every sense. Actually, there was a good chance that we wouldn’t drown. We might be electrocuted first. If the water reached the light fitting and it short-circuited, we’d be in for a nasty shock – and it wasn’t one we’d be likely to survive.

The water was still being sprayed all around us, splashing down and rising up the walls. It was like standing in a swimming pool in the rain. I’d thought it would take ten minutes to fill the office space but at this rate it was going to be a lot less.

I looked for something – anything – that I could use to break the glass. I waded across the carpet and picked up the office chair, then smashed it into the nearest wall. It didn’t work. The glass was inches thick and reinforced. I couldn’t even scratch it. Maybe it would be possible to use the desk as a battering ram. I tried moving it but it was too heavy. I pulled open the drawers. I don’t know what I hoped to find inside – a fire axe seemed unlikely, but you never know. In fact there was nothing that could help. Some pencils, plastic files, paper, an A-Z of London, a half-eaten Mars bar.

The water climbed over my knees and began its journey up my thighs.

“What are we going to do?” Tim shouted.

“I don’t know!” I shouted back.

“We could call the police.”

“I don’t have a signal!”

The water was coming down even harder. I felt its grip, cold, around my waist. A wastepaper basket that I hadn’t noticed bobbed up and floated past. The water was sloshing against the glass walls. The rest of the office, still dark, had disappeared.

But just for once Tim had given me an idea. We couldn’t call the police – but what about the fire brigade? I glanced at the light fitting, then the smoke alarm, finally the desk. Maybe there was something inside that I could use after all. I pulled open the drawer and grabbed the file and two sheets of paper.

“Help me with the desk!” I shouted.

“What do you want to do with it?”

“I want to move it.”

“I think it’s nice where it is…”

I scowled at Tim and he came over and helped. Between us, we were just able to drag the desk so that one end was under the light and the other under the smoke alarm. I climbed on top. The light fitting was modern, steel and plastic jutting out of the wall. I was nervous about electrocuting myself but I couldn’t see any other way. I grabbed hold of the metal base and, with all my strength, wrenched the whole thing out of the wall. The light flickered and went out.

“What did you do that for?” Tim’s voice came out of the darkness.

“You’ll see, Tim.”

“I can’t see anything! You’ve broken the light!”

The desk moved under my feet. The water had risen so far up that even a piece of furniture weighing half a ton was about to float away. “Hold the desk for me, Tim!” I called out. At the same time, I felt with my fingers, separating the two electric wires that had been left dangling. The water was rising faster than ever. It had begun creeping over my ankles again even though I was standing on the desk. I heard Tim splashing around beneath me. Carefully, I extracted one of the sheets of paper I’d found, using the plastic file as an umbrella to keep it dry. Then I pressed it against the two ends of wire, at the same time thanking Mr Gerald Perkins, my physics teacher, who had assured me only a few weeks before that paper does not conduct electricity. Aren’t teachers wonderful? The two wires came into contact with each other and sparked. Exactly as I hoped, the spark set fire to the paper. I waited until it was well alight, then lifted it up and pressed it against the smoke detector.

The water hammered against the flame and a few seconds later it went out – but not before it had done the trick. The smoke alarm activated and a siren went off off all over the building. Curiously, the entire sprinkler system came into operation at the same time and water began to shower down all over the twenty-ninth floor. That was helpful too. All the pressure had been on the one little room. That was why it had filled up so quickly. But with twenty more sprinklers in operation, the downpour turned into something closer to a drizzle.

And as I climbed down I saw something else. Like many modern developments, there was a safety feature built into the computer system. In the event of a fire, every exit automatically unlocked. The glass door that had locked us in slid back and the water poured out into the corridor. We were soaked. We’d had a bad scare. But unless there were any more surprises in store, we were no longer in danger.

Obviously, we weren’t going to take the lifts. With water spraying all around us, we made our way to the emergency stairs and began the long climb down. I was beginning to wonder how we’d make it back to Camden Town. It was unlikely that a taxi would stop for us, not when we both looked like we’d just been for a swim in the river Thames.

In fact, I needn’t have worried. We’d made it to the bottom, crossed the reception area and walked through the open doors when two fire engines and a police car pulled up. We stood there, dripping, with the blue lights flashing around us. A bunch of firefighters ran past us. Then two police officers arrived.

One was Chief Inspector Snape. The other, direct from Jurassic Park, was his assistant, Detective Constable Boyle. They were almost certainly the last two people in London that I wanted to see.

“Well, well, well,” Snape said. “This is a nice surprise.” He looked from me to Tim and back again. “Tim Diamond. Nick Diamond. You’re under arrest!”