Conflict of Interest


A small sample from Conflict of Interest:

Climbing out of the small window was harder than climbing in had been, but then I had the cash box under my fleece. Watching carefully through the small gap, I checked the alley was empty as best I could. Once the security camera was pointed the other way I slid my legs out, breathing in and forcing myself through the gap. The cash box dug painfully into my ribs, then went through. As my feet hit the tarmac I looked up at the back of the camera and grinned. Quickly I headed towards it, planning to wait while it panned passed the side of the alley and walk out in the blind spot. Then I just needed to turn the corner, walk to the little cash-let office I was working from and drop off the proceeds of my second break-in of the night. Simple.

"Gimme your money." OK, it should have been simple, but things so rarely go as planned. I stopped and looked at them. One of the risks of a job like mine - wandering around at night in dark alleys - was running into idiots like this. There were two this time, all designer clothes and attitude, waving these pathetic little penknives like they thought I'd faint. Usually I'd either have gone along with it or thrown a empty wallet in the street and given them a thumping for their trouble. Right now I wasn't just carrying my money and, after all the fun this evening, I wasn't handing my haul off to anyone.

"Make me." I grinned, curling my hands into fists. Any excuse for a rumble. They actually took me up on it, I'll give them that. Too bad they weren't very good.

They both attacked together, but a step to the side put them in each others' way. As the first turned, waving the short blade at arm's length in front of him like a sword, I grabbed his wrist in one hand and punched him. His mate tried to push past him, but a hefty shove sent my attacker reeling into him and they went down in a tangle of limbs. As they pulled apart, scrabbling to their feet, I sniggered. The first to his feet didn't run; he charged, leaving the other guy still trying to get up.

This time he tried to close, and I let him. Grabbing the knife arm, I swung two punches into his gut, grabbed his belt and, as he reeled, my knee came upwards hard enough to lift him off the ground. Between bar brawls and prison, I don't believe in fighting fair. He folded, eyes rolling upwards, whimpering faintly. There was a pitiful clatter as he dropped his knife. I let go, stepping back as he collapsed. His mate was on his feet, looking sick. As he turned to run, I yelled.

"Hey! He knows where you live." I kicked the whimpering lump on the ground. His friend stopped running, and looked back, the light dawning. "Now. You're going to come back here and we'll all wait for the cops. 'K?"

As he reluctantly walked back, I wondered where the security guards were. A brawl this close to the side entrance and they should either have sealed the building and called the cops or investigated and moved the problem on. Instead there was no sign of them. The penknife was by my boot. Carefully I bent down, picked it up by the blade, and stepped away, just in case either of them decided to be stupid. The entrance was behind me and I backed slowly towards it, feeling for the edge of the steps as I put each foot down. Contact would let me know I was safe, but the steps could also trip me, and two on one with their victim sprawling even this pair couldn't mess it up. "Are you alright?" The girl's voice came from behind me, and she sounded terrified. I edged round until I could see both muggers and the door. The night receptionist was clutching her phone, the heavy entry door ajar.

"Yes, thanks." I replied. "Could you get help?"

"I've called the police!" Her voice was shrill and scared. As I stepped towards her she darted inside and shut the door. Locks clicked. Smart bird.

"Can you call Mr. Wyatt as well?" I raised my voice, hoping to be heard through the letterbox. Inside, visible through the glass, she paused at the owner's name.

"Why?" I grinned at her.

"I've got your Accounts Department's cash box in my bag." She obviously hadn't expected that, and I could see her gaping. I tried again, with small words.

"Call your security office. I'm doing an authorised security check. I have a release on file." She might be dithering, but I wasn't going to move. Standing by the doors, I was covered by the cameras and had a convenient witness just in case they tried again. The cash box was a heavy weight under my jacket, and I'd have bruises where it had hit my side during the fight, but I didn't dare put it down. It was far too tempting a target for two teenage muggers.

I wasn't happy stuck in the alley with these two, and gave them a glare. The one who'd come back was kneeling by his whimpering friend, who was slowly uncurling. The police could be here in five minutes, but the muggers would be on their feet long before then. Two of them, one of me. If they went for the cash box, I wasn't sure I could fight them both and keep hold of it. Where the hell was security?

Behind me there was a click. I glanced round in case the door had opened, only to see the flap of the night deposit box slide forward.

"Security's on the way, but can you drop the cash box in there?" A really smart girl. I stepped back carefully, keeping my eye on the two thieves, who were both watching me. Reaching under my jacket, I pulled the cash box out and placed it quickly into the night box. I pushed the flap back up, hearing it lock into place and the clink of the heavy coinage as the box slid down into the holding safe. Until someone opened the box in the inside it was safely sealed away from the alley. Better yet, that holding safe was pretty much bombproof, just in case I'd been lying.

Behind me, I heard the sound of a metal door open, and risked glancing back. There was a security officer coming out of the thick security door by the warehouse at the end of the alley. The effect of a uniform was instant, even if it wasn't the police, and I swung back at the sound of running. The two teenagers had taken off, pelting down the alley at full speed. With the police called, no real money in the picture and a victim who was more trouble than he was worth, it was the sensible option. I hadn't expected my threat to hold them for long, but if the police were nearby, they might still get picked up.

The security guard yelled after them, but they were round the corner and out of sight in a moment. He stopped on the steps by the night safe, and took a quick breath.

"You alright?" He looked me up and down, apparently surprised I wasn't perforated.

"Yeah. They legged it."

"The cash box?"

"Night safe." I tapped the metal door for emphasis and he looked relieved. With his priorities taken care of, he relaxed.

"The police will be here shortly," he informed me, as if I didn't know. I nodded, and sat down on the steps, stretching my legs out in front of me. Tilting my head slightly, I listened and heard the faint sound of sirens.

"We can go inside to wait," he suggested. I didn't see the point - we'd only be in there for five minutes.

"It's a nice night," I replied, not moving. He paused, thought about it, and leaned back against the wall. Obviously he agreed.

"You're taking this very calmly."

"Risks of the job." I didn't see the need to say more. I'd faced down guns before. Two punks with penknives just weren't that scary - unless they knew how to use them.

"You seen service then?" I choked. Unless he meant serving time, no, but that wasn't a wise thing to say right now.

"No. Just school of hard knocks." The sirens in the distance were getting louder, but right on the edge of hearing I thought I heard a squeal of breaks and shouting. As the security guard tilted his head, also listening, I focused. Sure enough it sounded as though the police were taking someone down. Hopefully it might even be the right people.

Beside us the door clicked open, and a nervous face looked out.

"Is everything OK now?"

"The police will be here soon." The guard assured her. "Can you go back inside?"

"My dad's supposed to be picking me up here in five." That caught my attention.

"I thought you were on reception for nights?"

"Oh no, I'm not a receptionist. I was just in early to pick up my laptop." I must have looked confused as she explained. "I'm going on holiday. My flight's at seven." My watch was saying 04:30. It would take at least an hour to get to their airport from here. Her story checked out, which left one problem.

"Then isn't there meant to be a guard on this door?"

"Yeah." She looked as baffled as I felt, and the security guard frowned. He opened his mouth, but was drowned out by the siren. A police car turned the corner at the end of the alley and came to a stop. It was too much to hope for that there would be two sullen faces glaring out from the back. Instead, as the officers got out, I stood up and braced myself for what was going to be an awkward conversation.

Usually I don't talk to police without my solicitor present. This time the security guard began talking immediately, while the officer got his notepad ready. As the girl filled in a few details I nodded along, contributing as little as possible and sticking to the facts: I was a security assessor, I'd permission to remove property during the test, and I'd been mugged. That was where we ran into problems.

"They mugged you?" The officer's tone was disbelieving. He looked me up, then down, and up again. His mate stared, then started studiously examining the night safe.

"Yes." Just for once I agreed with a police officer. I didn't look like someone to hassle, but then no one said that teenage muggers were smart.

"They must've seen him coming out with the cash box," the girl supplied.

"So you walked out of the front door -" the policeman said slowly and I shook my head.

"No. I climbed out of the gents' window." I pointed to the window I'd pushed shut behind me.

"So you climbed out of the gents' window with the cash box. And then they mugged you."

"Yes. They probably thought I'd just robbed the place." He gave me a stare and I kept my face straight, remembering the first rule of these encounters: Thou shalt not get snarky with the police.

"What happened then?"

"They demanded money." I wasn't giving details unless he pressed for them.

"And what did you do?"

"Told them to sling their hook."

"And then?"

"They jumped me."

"And you?" I was getting sick of this.

"Flattened them." He blinked a bit. Apparently that wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. I smiled helpfully and held the knife up, still by the tip.

"Think you might want this. They dropped it." The police officer looked even more bemused, but his mate shuffled something around in the car and produced an evidence bag which I dropped the penknife into. As they sealed and labelled it, I flexed my fingers to shift the cramp from holding the thing.

The two officers exchanged a quick glance, and then one of them spoke up.

"Anything else we should be aware of?" I shook my head, but the security guard cut in.

"Yeah. If you come with me, I can pull the security tapes and get them signed over to you."

"Thanks. That would be useful." Locking the car, the two officers vanished inside with the security guard. I looked at the girl and shrugged.

"All over bar the shouting."

"Yeah. Might even make my flight." As a car pulled up at the end of the alley she waved and ran off, leaving me on my own with a police car. I restrained my immediate impulse to key it, and headed back into reception which was still unlocked.

After paging security to secure the entry, I used the reception phone to call my solicitor. She wasn't around at four in the morning, but I left a message with a few details for when she got in. Somehow I thought I'd need her services soon, and not just for the police.

Ignoring doubts because I wanted things to work out was always a bad idea. There were a lot better people to hire than me, and with my background I shouldn't even have this job. They might be hoping I'd miss things or overlook them, but one thing was painfully obvious. The offices with tax and customs paperwork, the warehouses behind it, the dock front only a little way behind that, all were supposed to be patrolled and secure. The alley had a barrier and ticket booth at the entrance I'd had to dodge on the way in. The fight was caught on camera, shown live to a manned monitoring room. So, if it was all so secure, where was security while I was being mugged?

-- End of Chapter One --

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