Chapter 8 – Osiris Bitch
Isla waited all day in a café inside Temple Meads train station. She sat on her own, watching people come and go. By nightfall, when it was obvious Tom wasn’t coming, she used a payphone in the bustling concourse to ring his mobile. Nobody answered, so she tried his house and was told by one of his housemates that he hadn’t returned home from work yet. She passed on her pager number and set the receiver down with a sigh.
What the fuck is taking so long? Did Elixium catch him? If they’d apprehended him, the police would be after her too. Leaving was the best option until things died down.
She joined the queue for tickets, watching the trains rolling in and out of the station. The straps of her backpack, full of clothes and knickknacks, cut into her shoulders.
“Yes, dear?” asked the white-haired ticket lady in the ticket office, smiling at her. Let’s get the next train north. Off-season Blackpool or Morecambe. A far cry from Ibiza, but she was up for some seaside desolation.
Isla tried to speak, but no sound came out. She thought of her mum; she’d be in her easy chair with the cat on her lap, watching soaps. I bet she’s wondering where I am. She thought of Tom too. Maybe if she waited longer, tried his house again tonight, they could work something out.
The ticket lady smiled again. “Where are you going, dear?”
Nowhere fast. People flocked around her, running for trains. High above, pigeons with filthy wings fluttered between the rafters. She turned, left the station and grabbed a taxi home.
She gazed through the window at the tarmacked streets sliding by. Why didn’t she jump on a train? Tom and her mum would ring her pager. But she didn’t want to leave; this was home.
When she reached the house, she found her mother fast asleep in front of the TV. She looked sad—having lost one of her daughters and her savings on a failed lawsuit against Elixium Pharma. Upstairs, Roberta, their lodger, listened to the Fugees’ Killing Me Softly on the stereo. Roberta was a prostitute who lived with them. Isla earned very little from her artwork and they needed the money to pay the bills.
Isla knocked on Roberta’s door and entered. Roberta sat at the dressing-table mirror, carefully threading a satin weave into her hair. The scent of Turkish rose perfume suffused the room. Isla asked her to turn the music down—she worried the beats would wake her mum and the lyrics almost brought tears to her eyes.
Roberta lowered the music. “What’s up, sugar?”
“Nothing,” replied Isla. Denial was a flimsy armour, but it was all she could muster right now.
Roberta fixed her big brown eyes on her. “You sure?”
Isla nodded, a lump forming in her throat. “Are you going out?”
“Working,” said Roberta. She’d washed, sprayed and fragranced her body. One side of her blue satin dressing-gown had slipped, revealing a smooth, black, moisturised thigh.
“Again?” The thought filled Isla with sadness. She’d grown close to Roberta in the last few months. In her eyes tonight, Roberta was a buttercream icing flower, too delicate and sweet to consume.
“You want rent this month, don’tcha? I’m meeting Mr. Gucci.”
“The sugar daddy?”
“Didn’t he hit you last time?”
“No, that was just some kerb crawler. Mr. Gucci’s got a big heart and an even bigger wallet.” Roberta sloshed more gin in her glass, took a sip and then attended to her eyes; lifting and lengthening the lashes with a silver curler. “Tiny knob, though.”
“You heard from Dee?”
“Tell me again. Everything you can remember.”
“I already told you!” Roberta took a swig of gin. “Dee said some posh twat offered her ten grand to join a sex ring. High level clientele. They ferry the girls back and forth in limos.”
“Did she mention the name Venom Empire? Try and remember.”
Roberta shook her head. “I don’t think she said the name.”
A loud banging at the front door shook the house.
“That Mr Gucci?” asked Isla, her pulse quickening.
“I’m meeting him in town.”
“Open up!” shouted a man. She flinched as she recognised the voice, her heart racing.
“Fuck,” said Isla. “It’s Chad.”
Chad Scott was her Venom Empire contact. They met by chance last year on Threadneedle Street in London. He was returning home from an early morning gym session; she was stencilling a picture on a wall. The design featured the Governor of the Bank of England dressed in stockings and suspenders. She heard a cough. A stocky young man stood behind her. Talk about awkward.
“You got the knickers all wrong, darlin’,” the man said with a cockney accent. “The guv likes frilly ones.” He was six foot three with an impressive physique, but ugly as sin. He sported a hook nose and cauliflower ear, no doubt trophies from boxing or rugby. His eyes were lifeless and dull. He wore a New York Yankees cap, jeans and a sleeveless basketball top. She glanced at his tattoo, a white dragon beginning at his shoulder and sloping down over his defined, horseshoe-shaped triceps.
She dropped the spray can and hid the stencil behind her back.
“Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna call the pigs.” His smile made her skin crawl, both his front teeth were missing. He introduced himself as Chadwick and asked her name.
“Cordelia,” she replied.
“You from Bristol, Cord?”
“Gloucester.” She’d tried to disguise the West Country burr, but obviously she’d failed. “Sound like the farmer’s wife, I know.”
“Or a pirate. I’m an East end boy. Whitechapel.”
Wasn’t that where the ripper sliced and diced all those slappers?
“You hungry, Cord?”
“Nah, I’m good.” She grabbed her backpack, the spray cans inside rattling together. She was famished but desperate to get away from him.
“Get some breakfast with me,” said Chad. “Don’t want me to change my mind about callin’ the old bill, do yer? I reckon you’d turn a few heads in the slammer. Lesbos will think it’s Christmas.”
She stared at him, wishing lasers would shoot out of her eyes and melt his fat head.
“I’m kidding. Seriously, let me buy you breakfast.”
She sighed. “Okay.” She’d murder a warm drink, and hopefully the café would have a bathroom with a large enough window so she could escape this knob jockey.
He took her to a busy café in Clapham where she ate pancakes with lashings of maple syrup and drank coffee—the best breakfast she’d ever had.
“Got to admire your guts, Cord, spraying up the financial district.”
“It’s the first and last time. I lost a bet.” Don’t want him figuring out I’m Osiris Bitch.
“Still, I reckon you got a rebellious streak. Adventurous. I like that in a woman.” His wink made her nauseous, but unfortunately not enough to spew half-digested pancakes over him.
“Yeah, I’m rebellious. Expelled aged seven. A boy was picking on me, so I pulled his pants down and shoved a stickle brick up his bum hole. Big green one too.” She showed him her fork. “Imagine what I can do with this.”
That shut him up, for a while at least. Actually, she was timid and bookish at school, devouring the shelves of Nailsea Library in her teens. The big change happened when Emily died. She started drinking, smoking, swearing and spraying. She wanted to explode with rage.
While she finished her pancakes, he rambled on about bodybuilding and the optimum number of reps per set, trying to impress her, and sure, he had an amazing body, but he was far too wet behind the ears for anything serious. Besides, she had more important things on her agenda than procreating with some steroid-guzzling freak.
“You travelled, Cord?”
She shook her head.
“I ’av. Malawi last year. Shit that goes on there’ll make your toes curl. The inequality, I mean. You got poor kids dying of thirst while some rich cunt runs sprinklers on his private golf course.”
“Damn right, darlin’, and I’m gonna do something about it.”
“You gonna join the army?” She imagined him in uniform, nuking the shit out of some third world country to satisfy his machismo, probably thinking he’s serving Queen and country.
“Better,” boasted Chad. “I’m part of a secret organisation.” His lips curled into a smile.
“Like the freemasons or something?” Please tell me he’s not a bloody Jehovah’s witness.
“No, nothing like that. Venom Empire. We’re anti-globalisation activists. We’re gonna eradicate all private wealth.”
A Marxist spunk trumpet who’s done too many squats? Even worse than a bible basher.
He eyed her empty coffee mug. “Refill?”
“I best be going. Thanks for the breakfast.”
“Don’t you wanna hear some more about the organisation? Thought you might be interested… Isla. Or do you prefer Osiris Bitch?” He gave her a wink and the blood in her veins almost froze.
“How do you… Leave me the fuck alone.” She rose from the table, but he snatched her arm and forced her to sit down. The plates clattered and people—mostly fat fucks and labourers—looked around at them.
“Listen,” Chad murmured. “You’ll like what’s going down and there’s money involved. Our first target is Elixium Pharmaceuticals. We’re going to destroy them.”
Her eyes lit up. Chad gave her the creeps, but nothing would make her happier than seeing Elixium collapse. Her mum had been struggling with depression ever since Emily died and Elixium defeated the lawsuit. Her floristry business was failing, and bankruptcy seemed inevitable. If she could earn some cash, perhaps mum could keep the house. “Tell me more.”
“Elixium are hiding a super-drug and we’re gonna steal it,” said Chad.
“I’ve seen the headquarters. It’s a fortress.”
“There’s a guy called Tom Toombs who works at Elixium,” said Chad. “Our leader thinks he can flip him; convince him to steal the drug for us. We want you to befriend him and bring him to us. Shouldn’t be too hard. He’s about your age and likes clubbing.”
“OK,” said Isla. “I’m in.”
Isla kissed Roberta good night and left the safety of her bedroom. Chad’s fist continued to hammer on the door as she descended the stairs; he pounded so hard it rattled on the hinges, and she feared he might break the thing down.
“For fuck’s sake,” she shouted to make him stop.
She released the lock. Chad stood there glaring at her.
“Don’t be getting shirty with me, treacle. You’re gonna hurt my feelings.”
“Zero fucks given about your feelings.”
Chad looked her up and down, his eyes lingering on her chest. She jerked away, arms folded. “What the hell’s going on? Where’s Tom?”
“He’s at the video store. I’ll take you to him.”
He’d parked his pearlescent white Jaguar XK8 across the road, partially concealed in the darkness. The neighbourhood was lit dull ochre by the street lamps. She scanned the rows of tenements and settled on the deserted, shadowy park. It was a chilly night and rain clouds gathered above.
“What you waiting on?” His grimace unnerved her.
What was going on with Tom? She told him not to give Venom Empire the information. Something is not right.
Chad moved closer. His breath reeked of energy drinks. “Got your dosh in the car,” he murmured. “Let’s drive.”
“Maybe not,” said Isla.
Chad laughed, exposing frontal dentures which were too white compared to the rest of his teeth. “You don’t want five grand?!”
Sure she did, she was going to use the money to pay off her mum’s debts.
“It’s all good, treacle,” said Chad.
“Better be,” she replied. “Otherwise I’ll squeeze your nuts so tight you’ll be singing soprano.”
“You love me really.”
She gave him two fingers.
“Anyway, I reckon your bark is worse than your bite,” Chad scoffed.
“Is that an offer? Just get in the car.”
She followed him across the street and got in the passenger side. Looking back at the house, she saw Roberta close the curtains. She’d been watching the interaction. Chad jumped in the front, revved the engine a few times and drove off.
“What happened with Tom? Did you get what you needed?”
“The muppet came out empty-handed. Sounds like a right shit show, if you ask me.”
Fuck. Tom failed. Did he get caught? “What happened?”
“Changed his mind at the last minute.”
“No, he wouldn’t do that.”
Chad bit his lip and turned away from the road to glare at her. “Suppose you still want the dosh?”
“That was the deal, wasn’t it?”
“But you failed.”
“I did everything I could. Who got the access codes? Who had Tom evacuate the whole fucking building? Me.”
“You tried, I’ll give you that. So… Whatcha been doing this afternoon?”
“Scraping cheese off your dad’s knob.”
Chad chuckled. “You’re a fruity one, ain’t ya darlin’. Someone ought to wash that mouth of yours out with soap and water.”
She folded her arms and felt the vehicle slow as Chad pulled into a lay-by. “Hey, why are you stopping?”
“Mike,” Chad called and turned to the back seat. Suddenly a pair of hands grabbed her from behind. A knife pressed against her throat. The shock took her breath away, and she gasped for air, her windpipe struggling against the blade.
“A little birdie told me you were waiting at the train station. That true?”
“Answer the damn question, cunt.” Mike barked at her from the back seat.
“Yes” she gasped.
“Why were you there?”
“Waiting for Tom.”
“Aww, that’s sweet. Were you going to sail off into the sunset together?”
“You’re jealous,” said Isla.
Chad’s face scrunched up. “I ain’t jealous of nobody. Venom Empire is everything to me… Osiris bitch.” He hissed out the words like a viper, then he moved in close and sniffed her hair.
“Tom’s lying to you,” she said. “I told him not to give you the information. He’s hidden it somewhere safe and without me you’ll never find out where.”
“We don’t give a shit about that, sweetheart. You did what we wanted with Tom, but you’ve been a naughty girl. Pissed some powerful people off with your—” He made air quotes with his fingers, “—artwork. Boss says it’s time we took care of you.”
She felt for the door handle, but he’d locked it. If she could reach the glove compartment, maybe there’d be something sharp inside that she could plunge into Chad’s eyeball. That’d teach him a lesson, the backstabbing fucker. He’s a hired thug for Venom Empire, and they’re just a front. A honey trap for subversives like her and Tom. She reached out, but the knife was close to her throat, ready to sever her carotids.
“People will look for me, you know. If not Tom, then others… I’ve got lots of friends in the city.”
“Shut your gob.” Chad started the car. “We gonna be late for your appointment with Mr Fenwick.”
After being relieved of the stolen Metanox, the security guard took Tom to the inner sanctum of Elixium Pharmaceuticals—the apex of the pyramid where Watson and Reuben dwelled in the lap of luxury.
“Wait here,” said the guard, before shoving him into the executive lounge. The guard slid an ice pack across the floor and slammed the door shut, locking him in.
Tom staggered around, taking in the opulence. The gold metallic walls were artificially aged, and the floor was polished black marble—so shiny that he could see his reflection beneath him. Egyptian revival furnishings adorned the lounge: a winged Isis lamp, several decorative cat statues and symbols, and motifs he presumed represented the sun. It’s like some sort of fetish to them, Tom thought. Did Watson and Reuben Fenwick pleasure themselves while pretending to be modern-day Pharaohs, sending down plagues of boils and locusts upon the earth? He shuddered.
Sitting himself down on a soft beige sofa, he pressed the ice pack against his swollen ankle. The cold sensation soothed the burning pain, but he struggled to relax. He expected the police to barge into the lounge and arrest him, but as time ticked away, he realised Reuben had other plans for him. He yearned for Isla’s touch. She’d have left the station by now, but perhaps he could track her down. She’d be livid once she found out he’d sacrificed the entire mission to take Metanox, and he couldn’t blame her.
Next to a mahogany desk, he noticed a mask hanging on a coat stand. It was the mask the grandmaster wore at the rave—a ram’s skull. Tom’s blood froze in his veins. They must have caught the grandmaster, he reasoned, imagining the police rounding up every Venom Empire member, breaking down doors and chasing fugitives in cars and helicopters. But shouldn’t the mask be in a police evidence room?
After hours of waiting, it grew dark outside. Through the panoramic windows, Tom watched a storm brewing, the clouds engulfing the city in a mantle of shadows. Finally, he heard the key turn in the lock and Reuben entered, alone. His stubby chin contrasted with his long face and prominent forehead, which was further elongated by a messy quiff of brown hair.
Reuben strode confidently into the lounge and placed a bottle of Metanox on the glass table. Two statues formed the base of the table—a statue of the jackal-headed Anubis, and Thoth depicted with the head of an ibis. He sat down in a nearby wicker chair, his large, piercing eyes resting on Tom and a faint sneer spreading across his face.
Reuben probably wanted him on his hands and knees, pleading for forgiveness, but he would not capitulate, no matter the consequences. He wished he’d taken the pictures and escaped. The drug had merely distracted him. He folded his arms and stared back at Reuben with icy defiance. He expected Reuben to shout and rant, but he burst into raucous laughter.
“What’s so funny?” asked Tom, but Reuben kept laughing until Tom lost his temper. “Stop laughing!”
“Ah, Thomas,” said Reuben, composing himself. “The look on your face is priceless!” Reuben wandered over to the panoramic windows, where rain-heavy clouds hung over the city. “Contrary to what you may think, I value your contribution to this company, and as I told you in the cafeteria, I want you to work in a management position. But I needed to know, where your loyalties lay.” Reuben turned from the window and rested his eyes on the Metanox bottle. “And now I have my answer.”
“Reuben, what the fuck is going on?”
He pointed to a photograph on the wall of his father, Watson Fenwick, CEO of Elixium Pharmaceuticals, in a large boardroom at the head of the table. “My father is the Grandmaster. That’s why he wore the mask, so you wouldn’t recognise him. He’d be here tonight, but he’s been taken ill.”
“Wait? You… Set me up?” He could not believe what he was hearing.
“Venom Empire is not what you think. We’re not illegal rave organisers, we’re a society for enlightened minds. Bankers, tycoons, lords, politicians, financiers, company executives, even one or two members of royalty attend our events. We use it to network and establish policy, but also as an opportunity to unwind and sample the carnal treats of the flesh. We ship in beautiful models from all over the world and we cater for every taste… every taste.”
Tom shuddered. Reuben did not have a wife. Venom Empire must keep him busy in the trouser department.
“I’m not angry, Thomas. You may have broken into our archives, but you stopped short of stealing our intellectual property, which I might add, was nothing but notes for a diabetes drug out of patent ten years ago. If you’d taken photos, you’d be sitting in a prison cell right now. But you didn’t. Not a single picture!” Reuben offered an oily smile. “You believed we were concealing a dementia cure and yet, when you had the opportunity to steal it, you did not. This is the kind of loyalty I demand from senior employees.”
Tom struggled to resist smacking the smirk off the old tosspot’s face.
Reuben chuckled. “I can tell you’re angry. I know it’s humiliating to admit you’ve been duped. But I’m laughing with you, Thomas. I’ve been conned before. I spent years searching in vain for spiritual enlightenment. I was such a fool! The promise of an ultimate cure inspires you, Thomas, just as it inspires me. Don’t lose heart. In time, medical and technological discoveries will eradicate death and suffering. But it’ll be a slow process.”
“And it’ll only be for the rich.”
“It will be for us. For you and me, Thomas, to share with the finest men of the age. Aren’t you excited? You’re being promoted to work alongside me in the inner circle of the company.”
Excited? I’m suspicious. He thinks he’s one of the ‘finest men of the age’. What a prick!
“I don’t understand why you did this. I mean, if you didn’t trust me, why didn’t you just promote Harry or Naomi?”
Reuben waved his hand as if to shoo away an annoying fly. “They’re all two-a-penny. But you, Thomas, are special. I was watching what you did down there with the access code, you displayed godlike intelligence.”
Godlike intelligence? You’re off your rocker, mate.
“And now I know you share our vision, deep down, the possibilities are endless.”
He nodded. Yeah, whatever you say, you fucking control-freak. I don’t share your vision. Something distracted me. His eyes turned from Reuben to the bottle of Metanox on the glass table.
“Ah,” said Reuben and sneered. He grabbed the bottle and held it out to Tom. “Here. Take it.”
Tom was reluctant at first, but Reuben’s arm remained outstretched, offering him the chemical. “Take it,” he repeated more forcefully. Tom accepted the bottle. It contained clear liquid, just like he’d seen at Venom Empire. He noticed something behind the white label—he pulled at it and discovered a second label underneath—Venom Empire and the skull and snake logo. Are Venom Empire and Elixium Pharmaceuticals really part of the same organisation? Or is this another of Reuben’s tricks?
“Is a man any more than a set of urges? Sometimes I have to wonder. Oh, we kid ourselves that we’re more complex than that. But deep down, don’t we all just follow our self-interest? You have an addictive personality, Thomas, but I can work with that. As you’ll be within management, you can attend Venom Empire events with the rest of the corporate team.”
“She put on a good act, right? She was using you all along. In fact, I’d say she despises you.”
He’s lying, thought Tom. Maybe they conned her too. After all, she tried to warn him about Venom Empire. But a slither of doubt about her remained, and the possibility she’d deceived him sent him into a rage. His face burned red. He launched himself at Reuben, determined to punch him in the face.
“Security,” yelled Reuben, ducking out of the way. A guard—built like a rugby player—burst into the lounge and grabbed hold of Tom’s shoulders.
“Calm down, Thomas,” ordered Reuben. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Be more forward-thinking!”
Tom wriggled free, but instead of going after Reuben, he made towards the door.
“You’re a manipulative psychopath!” shouted Tom and stormed off.
“Where are you going?”
“I quit,” shouted Tom.
“Quit? You can’t quit! This company is all you have. Think about what you’re doing.”
I may be a druggie, thought Tom, but I’ve got morals. Hell, Snout-nose Steve’s toenail clippings have more morals than Reuben. “Never should have worked here in the first place.” I’m going to find an ethical company who’ll appreciate me. Screw Reuben and his transhumanist wet dream.
The security guard rushed forward to prevent him leaving, but Reuben stopped him. “Let him go. Let him struggle on the dole. Remember, Thomas, we’re well connected with all the major recruitment agencies. But I’m sure you’ll find something. Burger vans on match day get a lot of traffic.”
Is he threatening me? He clenched his fists. “What about my ‘godlike’ intelligence? I’ll do just fine. And if you blacklist me, I’ll tell the police all about Venom Empire. That won’t be good for sales, will it? When people find out you’re running a prostitution ring.”
Reuben shook his head. “You obviously don’t understand the extent of our influence. The police commissioner is one of our best attendees. Has a thing for Scandinavian rent boys. I suggest you calm yourself and think about what you’re doing.”
“Fuck you,” said Tom.
“You’ll be back. Mark my words, Thomas! You’ll come crawling back on your hands and knees!”
The lift door closed, shielding him from the red-faced, ranting Reuben. He descended, hobbled across the foyer and left Elixium. Outside, he offered the middle finger to the black pyramid of doom and smiled. His shoulders relaxed, and even the pain in his ankle seemed to subside. He arrived at the stop just in time to jump on the next bus. As he sat down on the back seat, he noticed he still held the bottle of Metanox in his hand.