‘Lost in Thought’ Chapter Four – The Man in the Black Balaclava
Bernard Dubois called his lawyer. “This man Trescerrick, he’s on the board, he’s a shareholder, but he’s still an employee. Draws a salary like the rest of us. He has to tell us the algorithm. It belongs to the company.”
He was in his rights, the lawyer told him. But how to enforce those right? “You may need to take legal action. If he holds out.”
“That could get messy.”
“It would be expensive. It could take years.”
Court action would stir things up. There were commercial secrets that needed protection, arrangements Dubois didn’t want revealed to the world. That was the natural way of things. It was business.
And Dubois didn’t have the time for all this. He’d made promises to Adam. The thing was in motion. He needed the Brainscape safe, before the challenge for the leadership. “Could you just threaten the man a bit?”
“With legal action. That sort of thing.”
“If he goes to the rest of the board, talks to the shareholders, are you sure of your own position, if it comes to a fight? The company is nothing without the invention. For that, you need the inventor.”
He might lose control, lose it all. He needed to put his house in order, deal with it behind closed doors. Dubois thanked the lawyer, hung up, and stared at the door. The formula must be written down somewhere, in a notebook, on a laptop. Trescerrick would have it with him. He would take it home.
Dubois realised his hands were shaking. Was he thinking this? He could go there, take it. It was madness. But it had to be done.
Should he pay someone? Get a thug to do the dirty work? That was more danger. Who could you trust? He could call on contacts, people who specialised, but then he would be in their debt. And Bernard Dubois hated debt.
He would deal with it himself. He strode towards the door, his jaw clenched, a muscle in his left eyelid flickering with tension. Get home. In the tool-shed, in the wardrobe, were the things he needed.
The man in the black balaclava slipped out of the underbrush at the bottom of the garden and stalked toward the farmhouse with nonchalant menace.
The house stood on the edge of the village of East Nagbone, tucked out of sight behind high hedges. The man produced a head-torch from a side pocket and a nail bar from the black bag hung over his shoulder. He attached the light to his forehead, then jemmied open a window, groaning under the weight as he lifted the window frame and lowered it onto the lawn.
Had he been heard? He waited, listened intently. Still no lights inside. No shouts. No sounds of movement. The night air was chill and fresh, and he breathed deeply, holding the air in his lungs to calm himself.
He climbed through the hole and felt his way across the living room, cursed under his breath as he brushed a piano and crept into the hallway. He took a risk, turned on his torch for an instant and looked for signs of a leather briefcase. Nothing. He moved towards the kitchen, scanned the room briefly with his torch then made for the office near the front door.
The man eased the door open, winced as the hinge squealed. He paused once more, listening for any sound audible above the clattering of thoughts in his mind.
He slunk inside the office, fumbled in the dark, reached for the briefcase, hoping to stumble on it with his gloved fingers. Find it soon, so he could get out of here, before his hammering heart thumped its way through his chest.
Richard Trescerrick’s eyes popped wide, his mind torn from sleep to red-alert. He’d lived in this house for thirty years, knew every inch, every sound. He lived alone, since Elisabeth died. No one visited in the night.
A door squeaked. He knew the sound, a noise unnoticed at the edge of consciousness all these years. Someone was in the house, in his office. A burglar, someone who had picked this house at random? No, this wasn’t some common thief. It was someone he knew, here for a reason.
He crept out of bed, stepped over the creaky floorboard and fumbled in the dark on the back of the door. At first his hand touched Elisabeth’s old dressing gown, still hanging there, after all this time. He had never thought to move it. Never had the heart. He found his own gown and pulled it on. He pulled the bedroom door open enough to slip through, and paused on the landing, listening intently for any clue, any sign that whoever was lurking down there had heard him.
The man in the black balaclava pressed an ear to the gap in the door. There was movement upstairs but he couldn’t leave empty handed. There was no time left.
He groped for the desk, found a laptop, slipped it into his bag, then his hands searched the desk for notebooks, pads, anything useful. He pressed against the desk and his foot kicked something underneath. Briefcase. He bent down quickly, grabbed it, and tucked it under one arm.
A stair creaked. The old man was coming down. What kind of an idiot was he? The kind who didn’t have a phone by his bed, no doubt. He was coming down the stairs, to confront the invader. What a fool. It was time to get out of here. Time to go.
Richard froze on the stairs. The phone was in the hall. Get to it, call the police, scare the man off. Or stop him? Probably some thug, hired muscle, unwilling to risk a fight if it meant more police involvement, the danger of a longer sentence.
If he shouted out, would the man run? He was too old to be fighting off thieves in the night. Once the call was made, once the police were on their way, the man would have to run. Richard kept moving down the stairs. He was three steps from the bottom when the office door squeaked again. He could hear someone breathing, feel their presence looming in the dark.
He reached towards the telephone table. His hand brushed against the phone. “Who’s there?” He could hear the man’s breathing. “I’m calling the police.” His throat was dry with fear, his voice cracked and shrill. He breathed deep to give his voice authority. “Show yourself.”
The man snapped on a light in the office. He stood in the doorway, his face covered by the balaclava, as though that would fool anyone. Richard knew the man in an instant, knew him from his height, his shape, the way he stood, his bearing, his body language. Even from his breathing.
Richard lunged for the telephone, grabbed the receiver. His fingers shook so badly they wouldn’t hit the right buttons. “You won’t get away with this.”
The man moved, keeping his back to the wall, facing him. Richard saw his briefcase in the man’s hands, the black bag over his shoulder. What had he taken? What had he found? “That won’t do you any good,” Richard said. The phone finally connected, and he heard a voice asking which service he wanted. For an instant his mind was blank. Then he opened his mouth to speak.
The man in the black balaclava stood with his back to the wall, paralysed by his fear. The old man had no proof, but he was calling the police. How long would it take them to get here? He would be the only car on the road for miles around. What if the police stopped him or logged his number plate? He hadn’t thought this through. Why had he used his own car? He should run, get moving.
The old fool was shaking so much he kept misdialling. Stop him calling the police. Delay things. Time to get away. The phone was connecting. He was getting through. Stop that.
The man in the black balaclava dropped the briefcase and the black bag and lunged for the phone, snatching it from Richard’s hand, shoulder-barging the old man into the telephone table as he did so. “Wrong number, sorry,” he said into the receiver, trying to disguise his voice as he spoke.
The man in the black balaclava held the phone above his shoulder, and smashed it onto the telephone table, pieces of plastic shattering around the hallway.
Richard groaned in pain as the man barged into him. His legs were forced against the table top, sending a jolt of sharp pain through his body. Instinctively his arms flew out in front of him as he tumbled onto the bottom of the stairs, banging his left ear on the newel post as he fell. His head throbbed with pain, and he struggled for a moment to right himself, trying to get back to his feet.
The pain, the shock and fear enraged him. In a surge of outrage and blood-red anger he lunged for his attacker, hands grasping for the man’s throat, and the chance to throttle the life out of the little bastard.
He felt his hands close around the man’s neck. Richard Trescerrick was sixty years old, but he was still a big man. He was six foot two, and broad shouldered, born of solid Somerset bone and brawn on his father’s side, wiry Cornish endurance on his mother’s. He had never been a fighter, never a man of aggression or action, always the quiet one, always a bit bookish, alone with his thoughts.
But his hands closed around the man’s neck and gripped tight, lost in rage, with no prospect of offering mercy.
The man in the black balaclava fought for his life. How strong was this old man? The hands at his throat were crushing the life from him. He thrashed with his fists but couldn’t land a blow on Richard’s head.
Off balance, weighed down by the mass of Trescerrick’s body, pinned against the front door, his hands flailed to either side, searching for a weapon or a way out of this death grip. His left hand felt something. Metal. In desperation, his fingers clasped the object. A boot scraper. His left hand grasped it and brought it down with a crack onto Richard’s head.
Instinctively, in the middle of the fight, Richard Trescerrick’s imagination whirled to London, to the bookshop, to the drop point. In case it was needed. Morley would know where to look.
Then he moaned, a deep, guttural, instinctive cry of pain and shock.
The man in the black balaclava broke free and gasped for air. The old man had meant to kill him. Richard was on his knees, holding his head but trying to stand. The man took a step back, but Richard came for him again. He lifted the boot scraper above his shoulder, and smashed it into the side of Richard’s skull.
The old man collapsed against the front door and slid to the floor. No movement. No groans. No twitch of the fingers. No shuffle of the legs. No sign of life.
Was he dead? He hadn’t meant to kill the idiot. What now? Get out of here. Make it look like a burglary, a robbery gone wrong. The man in the black balaclava grabbed his black bag and the briefcase, pulled open drawers in the kitchen and office, pushed over furniture in the living room, threw things around, turned over the television, and ran. He hurled himself through the hole in the wall where the window had been, sprinted across the garden and ran until he reached his car.
Get out of here, get home, act normal. There was no proof. DNA maybe? Should he go back, set fire to the house? No, he’d been to that house before. It wasn’t proof. But the wound, the boot scraper? Gloves, a shirt that covered his arms. It wasn’t that easy for the police to find DNA. They made you think it was, they made people fear you could never get away with it, but it wasn’t true, he knew.
He’d chance it. He was smarter than them. They would have no proof, and he’d get away with it. He had to. This wasn’t supposed to happen. How could he put it right?
He threw the black bag and the briefcase onto a passenger seat, and drove. He had to get somewhere safe, then look. Wait. Don’t do it now. But he had to know. Did he have the algorithm, did he have it, was it safe?