Chapter 6 – Vincent & Lolita
The address turned out to be a 24-hour video rental store near Richmond Terrace. As he entered, a thugged-up skinhead in a hoodie skulked in behind him.
Isla browsed the horror section. He didn’t recognise her at first. Gone was the raving clobber. Instead, she wore a pink, midriff-baring tube top and low slung white baggy pants with teddy bears over the knees. Pigtails in her hair completed the transformation from ladette to nymphet.
“Hey Tom,” she said, picking up a VHS box from the shelf and showing him the cover: Brain Damage, a body horror flick from the late 80s. “I remember this film! So cheesy, but I kinda liked it.”
“Look at the state of you,” he said, eyeing up her furry Hello Kitty handbag. “Is this your usual get up?”
Isla grimaced. “Fuck no! It’s a long story.”
Despite the ridiculous clothing, Tom flooded with warmth as he approached her. He wanted to kiss her again, yet she also filled him with foreboding—she came from a world of machine guns, spray cans and fast limos. He recalled the humiliating way the guards at Venom Empire treated him. “You could’ve told me everything at the club. Why didn’t you?”
“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings,” said Isla, biting her lip and turning away to look at the display of horror films. “Couldn’t ask you straightaway to fuck up the world with us, now could I?”
“You didn’t hurt my feelings,” he replied, but his voice quivered.
Her eyes met his. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise. So are you gonna help us steal this chemical formula from Elixium?”
“Yes, but can I ask you something?”
“Are you Osiris Bitch?”
Her wide eyes and open mouth told him everything he needed to know.
He gasped. “You are, aren’t you?”
“Shush! People are listening.”
Tom glanced around the store. It was quiet, save for a couple of stoners discussing Babylon Five in the science fiction section and a dirty old man in a trench coat surreptitiously pulling an adult film from the top shelf. The skinhead who followed him into the store quickly grabbed the nearest tape from the shelf—what appeared to be a soppy romantic comedy. I’m sure I’ve seen him before, at the club where I met Isla. Is he watching us? He thought about confronting him, but the obvious size differential, on the order of 23%, put him off.
“Who’s that guy?”
“Come on,” said Isla, pulling him forward. They meandered through the aisles, like a regular couple browsing for a decent flick to watch, and settled in an alcove of foreign films for more privacy. Out of the corner of his eye, Tom saw the skinhead leave.
“Yes, I’m Osiris Bitch,” confessed Isla. “But you can’t tell anyone.”
“Wow,” said Tom. “And you look so innocent!” Her face had turned pallid. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul. But I’m curious. How does a West Country girl become a notorious guerrilla street artist?”
“I spent years tagging and doing juvenile stuff—spraying dicks on the side of trains. Then I got together with a crew and started learning the craft. Things spiralled from there.”
“Venom Empire. They want to destroy all private wealth. Is that true?”
“Yes, and we’ve got to do it, Tom. The year 2000 is supposed to be a new chapter in human history, but the people are asleep while the corporations make a killing. Well, I’m not sitting around like a dolly bird, obsessing over hair and makeup. I’m gonna fight.”
“There’s more to it than that. Why are you getting involved?”
“I was reluctant at first. Until they told me Elixium was their first target.”
Ah yes, he thought. She’d mentioned her mother suing them when they first met. “What did they do to your family? You can tell me.”
“My little sister Emily was the world to me growing up. Elixium killed her.”
“She committed suicide aged fifteen after being on one of their antidepressants. A couple of years later, an investigator discovered the drug increases suicide risk. Elixium withheld that information from the regulators.”
“I’m sorry,” said Tom.
“We tried to sue. Mum spent everything she had trying to get a good lawyer, but Elixium hired this Oxbridge cunt-in-a-suit and we lost. They used a loophole in the law to wriggle free of all charges. Apparently, prescribing the drug to children was ‘off label’. Elixium had no legal obligation to tell anyone about the side-effects.” Isla’s eyes glazed with tears.
“It’s okay to be upset.” Was this the real Isla? Freed from the badass persona she hid behind? “You can’t be Osiris Bitch all the time, you know.”
She smiled, revealing the little gap between her front teeth. “What about you? What made you wanna do this?”
“My dad died tonight.”
Isla took his hand and squeezed it. “I’m sorry.”
“Without Elixium he would have lived longer. Plus Reuben Fenwick is a class A prick who needs to learn a lesson.” The thought of Reuben’s smug face and nasally voice enraged him. The bastard had been keeping him down for years—he’d been idly typing numbers in a computer while Elixium made a killing. Instead of healing the sick, Elixium parasitically fed off the them. Isla was right. Sociopaths like Reuben had no place in the new millennium and he had a chance to wipe him out.
“Amen to that,” said Isla. “So, you wanna hear the plan?”
“I’ll give you a box with all the tools you need and a map—you better study it. Oh, hang on—” She fished out a Polaroid camera from her bag and took a photo of him. “You’re gonna need photo ID. Your name for this operation is Vincent Vega.”
“Relax, no stuffy scientist is going to get the reference. Elixium keep all their records in a vault. You need to get inside.”
“But that’s under the pyramid building. I don’t have security clearance.”
“There’s a secret entrance.”
He grimaced, not liking the sound of this plan. “Go on.”
“There’s a separate building for the laboratories and offices for academics.”
Tom scoffed. “They’re not real academics.” Elixium regularly used commercial writers to promote their drugs; ghost-writers who produced puff pieces and advertisements thinly veiled as scientific journal articles. To add credibility, Elixium paid senior consultants and opinion leaders in medicine to put their name to the “paper”.
“Whatever, dude. You can access the vault via a tunnel under that building.”
“A secret tunnel? How did you find out about that?”
Isla looked around, wary of prying ears. “There’s a source. Someone high up. They also told us there’s a red book at the back of the vault with the information we need inside.”
“So why doesn’t this source steal the book?” Because Venom Empire doesn’t want to risk them getting caught. They’d rather send a low level grunt like me to do the dirty work.
“We all have to play our part, Tom. Besides, you might need to crack a code. Shouldn’t be too much trouble for a master number cruncher like you.”
He sighed. “So how do I get to the tunnel?”
“It’s simple. We’ll give you a uniform for URC, the shipping company Elixium uses, and a small package which you’ll pretend to deliver to Dr Frost, one of their writers. Now, the receptionist at the Maple Building is a stone-cold bitch. She’s probably gonna want to take the package herself, but you can’t let that happen. Tell her you need to take it yourself, right away. Tell her you have discs with legal documents from Elixium’s New York office. I’m also giving you a forged letter requesting you deliver them to Dr Frost personally. If she’s difficult, just stand your ground. Open the package and show her the discs if you have to, just make bloody sure she lets you in.”
“There’s a toilet in the west wing, go there. Then you’re going to need to crawl through a ventilation shaft.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Hey, I’ve got the horrendous job here, mister! I’ve got to get an access code from some sleazy creep that works in your security department. He served time for assaulting a young girl, hence the Lolita outfit. Elixium didn’t check his background, but I did.”
Tom frowned. “You’re going to screw him for the code?”
“As if,” she scoffed, her hands on her hips. “He’s currently handcuffed to a bedpost in a cheap hotel, sleeping off the Rohypnol I slipped in his drink earlier. I’ll make him talk.”
“Jesus. Are you some kind of international assassin?”
“I’m a pussy cat once you get to know me.” She grinned infectiously and Tom broke into a smile himself. The hair-brained plan was risky, but she inspired him to take action against the elitist scum running Elixium. “Now back to business. You’ll use the ventilation shaft to break into one of the writer’s offices. I’ve marked it on your map. It’ll be empty; he’s holidaying in Barbados, but you’ll need his ID badge to access the tunnel.”
“I thought you said this was simple!”
“It is. The writer locks his ID badge in his desk drawers but leaves the key behind a plant. What a bellend! You’ll probably find his lab coat in the office too, which you might want to borrow. I’ll prepare you a visitor’s ID in case someone stops you.” She grinned. “You’re going to be Dr Julius Winnfield, Consultant Gynaecologist.”
“This won’t work.”
“You’ll be fine.” From her bag, she pulled out a Sagem mobile phone and passed it to him. “Can you use one of these?”
“I’m not stupid.” He pulled out the retractable antenna and put the phone to his ear, but he couldn’t hear a dial tone.
“You need to press the green button, hun.”
“Listen, I’ll ring you with the access code once I’ve finished torturing Humbert Fuckface.”
“If he’s a good boy, I might let him keep his todger.” She picked up another body horror film and licked her lips. She’s a sadistic gore hound, Tom thought and shivered.
Isla threw her head back and laughed. “The look on your face! I’m just kidding.” She put the film box back.
“Suppose I pull all this off. Then what?”
“I’ll give you a camera and plenty of films. Take as many pictures as you can. Once you’re out, drop the films off with Damien.” The video store clerk, who looked like Nosferatu, gave him a salute. “If you need help at any point, ring my pager. I’ll call you straight back.” She grabbed his hand. “Please don’t fuck this up, Tom. We’re counting on you.”
“Wait here. My art studio is around the corner. I’ll sort out the fake ID for you.”
“Around the corner? Maybe I could... join you?”
“Sure,” said Isla, smiling. “I’d like that.”
In the studio, Tom found beautiful paintings leaning against the walls—abstracts in rich, vibrant colours, bristling with life. Although no art buff, he sensed Isla’s work and passion emblazoned into every canvas.
“Did you paint these?”
“They’re amazing. You should hang them in a gallery.”
She poked a finger down her throat as if to make herself sick. “They’re shit.”
Tom shook his head. “You’re talented.”
She squirmed, and he chuckled. “You don’t like compliments, do you?”
“I don’t deserve them.”
He moved towards her. He intended to caress her shoulders, gaze into her blue eyes and tell her she deserved all the praise in the world, but she ducked his advances.
“What’s the matter?” While he’d been rifling through her artwork, she’d undone her pigtails, changed out of the ridiculous clothes and removed the heavy make-up. Her shoulders were tight and her face was pallid.
“Tom, I’ve heard rumours about Venom Empire. I couldn’t tell you in the video store with people listening.”
“What kind of rumours?”
“Nothing specific. But enough to make me wonder if we can trust them.” She sparked up a doobie, took a few tokes and passed it to him.
“Isla, who was that guy in the video store and why was he watching us?”
“Chad. He’s one of Venom Empire’s security guards. And he’s a complete tool.”
“He knows you’re Osiris Bitch, doesn’t he?”
“Is he threatening you?”
“No nothing like that. He wants to take down Elixium too. Everyone I’ve met at Venom Empire is on the same wavelength. But they know my big secret and that makes me nervous. Listen, don’t deliver the camera to the video store tomorrow, bring it here to me. It’s a powerful thing we’re stealing, Tom. We should only hand it over to Venom Empire if we’re sure we can trust them.”
He thought the thuggish skinhead from Venom Empire stalking Isla. Did this rave crew really want to change the world for the better or did they have more sinister motives? Should he walk away? I could go to Reuben and tell him everything. He’d protect me, and surely promote me, too. But the idea of becoming Reuben’s poodle made his stomach churn. And what of Isla? Memories of the armed guards he’d seen at the rave made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. What if her survival depended upon him seizing whatever Elixium concealed in their vault and using it as leverage against Venom Empire? He couldn’t live with himself if he failed her. I’m not doing this to avenge my father, destroy big pharma, or take Reuben down a peg or two. I’m doing this for her. “Ok,” he said.
She set to work on a computer. She placed the photo she’d taken of him in a flatbed scanner and cropped the image in Paintbrush. Soon she’d created a fairly convincing mock-up of an Elixium Pharmaceuticals employee ID card.
“Here’s your uniform,” she said, passing him a bland red polo shirt. With a mischievous gleam in her eye, she placed two fingers on her lips. “Hmm. Something’s missing.” She wandered over to a large chest and rifled through it. The chest contained fancy dress—clown costumes, superhero suits, vampire fangs, even a space helmet. “Here,” she said, passing him something brown, small and furry. “Put this on.”
A fake handlebar moustache. He unpeeled the label and pressed it into his upper lip, imagining how ridiculous it made him look. Isla clapped her hands and laughed. Not content with raiding Elixium, she wanted to make fun of them too. She passed him a ten-gallon hat, and he put it on.
“Suits you,” she said, smiling gleefully.
“It’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
“You can never go too far.” She smiled.
He moved close and kissed her lips, the oversize hat awkwardly bumping into her forehead. They both laughed, and he tossed the cowboy hat to the floor, held her arms and kissed her, long and slow. He caressed her slender neck and slid his fingers down her body. They made love on a sofa in the art studio and curled up together, drifting to sleep in each other’s arms.
“Why don’t we get out of here?” asked Tom.
“There’s no parties tonight, dude.”
“No, I mean run away. There’s nothing keeping me here anymore. Not now that dad… And I don’t want to work at Elixium.”
“What about your mates?”
“Nobody understands me like you. I like Dave, but he drags me down. Let’s go to Ibiza or something.”
“Yeah, to celebrate our takedown of Elixium. I can see us on the beach, drinking Piña Coladas and listening to some cheesy trance.”
“I’m serious. I want to be with you.”
They kissed. “Let’s do it,” whispered Isla.
“I’ll meet you at the train station, midday tomorrow. We can post the information to Venom Empire. Maybe we’ll scrawl down the formula for a cancer cure on the back of a postcard.”
At dawn, Isla left to torture Humbert Fuckface, promising she’d be in touch with the access code. Tom took a detour by the waterfront on the way home, the rising sun shrouding the harbour with blazing colours. Traces of Isla’s skin, scent and taste lingered on his fingertips and his lips—an afterglow which kept him warm as the biting wind swept through the city.