Gordon Brown: Partners In Crime *Special*

OMFG!  This month I am thrilled to have TWO authors in my #PartnersInCrime feature!  Today is the superbly splendid Gordon J Brown <G.J. Brown> !!!   Can you believe it!  Grab a coffee/tea; take a break…sit back and enjoy Tick. Tock. – it bloody rocks!!

About The Author: 

image

G. J. Brown (Gordon) lives in Scotland. He’s married with two children. He has delivered pizzas in Toronto, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival, floated a high tech company on the stock market and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final. He is a DJ on local radio and helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.
Gordon has been writing since his teens and has four crime and thriller novels to his name – Craig McIntrye appears in three books –  ‘Darkest Thoughts (Feb 2017), Furthest Reaches (Sept 27th – this month) Deepest Wounds (Feb 2018). All published by Strident.

A Wee Blurb:

Craig McIntyre, the protagonist in the short story Tick. Tock. – and the novels Darkest Thoughts and Furthest Reaches (and Deepest Wounds – due out 2018) was born in a pub on the south side of Glasgow – not literally nor in a fictional sense but he was conceived in my head, on a Friday night, with a pint in my hand. A friend and I were enjoying a quiet drink in a quiet bar. The bar was all but deserted. In one corner was a man, maybe late thirties, dressed in jeans and t-shirt, sitting at a table reading a paperback. In another corner were two brothers, both drunk as skunks. My friend and I were leaning on the bar when the brothers decided that a fight was a good idea. Being so drunk the fight was a lot of swinging and a lot of missing. As my friend and I watched they trashed the pub, leaving a trail of broken glass, tables and chairs without inflicting much damage on each other. They circled the two of us – turning the whole thing into a bit of theatre for two mates on a night out. When the police arrived to lead the brothers away we returned to our pints.
During the whole fight the man with the paperback never lifted his eyes from his book. Nor did he look interested in the violence around him. He looked, if anything, as if this was all quite normal. That got me thinking. What if this was normal for him? What if his life was blighted by the outbreak of unexplained violence, him always at the centre. Then I took the idea a little further. What if he caused the violence? What if he brought out the worst in people? What if he, and with no idea how, dragged deep help animosity out. Magnified it. Turned it into something dark. Transforming people’s darkest thoughts into action.
And so Craig was born. His life a series of uncontrollable events that leave a trail of destruction. A man who, with a little imagination, makes for a great assassin – after all put him a room with whoever it is you want to die and stand back. If they kill each other – who is to blame? Craig? Who? And so Craig spends his time on the run – being hunted by those that would use him to help them kill their enemies. This is Craig McIntyre’s world.
Tick. Tock. is the first short story Craig has appeared in – if you want to know more click on www.gordonjbrown.com.

Tick, Tock.
A Craig McIntyre Short Story.
By G. J. Brown

The man next to me is mixing something. My best guess is a bomb? Turned to the window, he’s hunched over a small backpack. The inflight table is pulled down; his coat piled on it. Creating a barrier.
I saw him extract a small silver bottle from the pocket of his backpack. Just before he whipped round, hunching his shoulders, covering up. Even with the whine of the jets I heard the tinkle of glass on glass. A light cheers in a bar sound. The sort of audio backing track to a night out. Usually accompanied by the resounding chorus of cheers, slanj, salute, bottoms up. Only this time there’s no counterpoint to the sound. Just intense concentration. Evident in the way his neck muscles are rock solid, his head deep into his chest. Small movements of his shoulders suggesting action lower down.
The plane is still in the climb and I’m buried in holiday land. Happy people on the first leg of their annual break. I’m an interloper. No tourist. Just moving on. The flight the cheapest way to get from the latest A to the next B.
The stewardesses are belted in.
The man next to me might be mixing down his first drink. He could be getting a head start on the day. A sharpener. Or maybe a top up. It’s still only a half hour ’till eight in the morning but the airport pub had been awash with lager and spirits when I passed it.
Maybe this drink is to settle his fears. Take the edge of the thought of crashing. Although why not start on the ground. Dutch courage works better before you hit the crisis point. Inject a few of the higher alcohols. Drown the brain.
But the man didn’t seem drunk when I was standing behind him in the line to board. He was too co-ordinated for that. His movements too precise. No stumbling. No slips. He didn’t speak, though – no slurring to give him away. Maybe his balance is a thing of long run practice. Many years of soaking in juice. A functioning alcoholic.
I’d guess he’s in his late twenties. Brutal, razor sharp haircut. U.S. Military style buzz. At odds with his dress. Loose shirt hung over a Woodstock tee shirt. Low slung Levi’s sitting on top of scrubbed out desert boots. An unkempt goatee dominates his face. His eyes hidden behind deeply shaded sunglasses. The baseball cap he was wearing in the airport is now sitting on top of his coat. As if to add another few centimeters to the barrier. Building a place to work. Away from prying eyes.
He ignored the safety briefing. So did most of the passengers. I didn’t. Never do. I routine up when I’m on a plane. Check for the emergency exits. Count the number of seats that I would need to touch if we went down. Eight back today. Then in. Handle pulls down. Door swings up. No need to throw it out. That can make a difference. When you panic everything can make a difference. Listen to the briefing. Is the life vest above me or under the seat? How many exits? All basic questions. All in my head should the shit come down.
The man had stared at the seat in front during the demonstration. Not registering the words from the speakers. Eyes fixed. Almost in a trance. Only when the plane went wheels up did he move. Reaching down to lift his small backpack from the footwell. A new backpack. The price tag’s plastic tie was shining and a small, lighter colored patch indicated where a sticker had been removed. Maybe an offer. Half price. It’s not an expensive piece of kit. It doesn’t have to be. All it has to do is hold the right mix of liquids. And liquids make bombs. It’s why you can’t bring more than the sweat from your forehead on board anymore,
How many bottles can you fit in one of those small plastic bags that you are allowed? How much liquid do you need to make a bomb? Not a big bomb. But big enough. Big enough to blow out the side of the plane. Big enough to depressurize the cabin. Maybe big enough to bring the jet down.
Mix it up. Then what. Go to the toilet. Place it against the fuselage. Or just set it off next to you. Die quickly. After all, if he’s a bomber, he has no intention of surviving.
Hijack. Maybe he’s a hijacker. ‘Take me to Cuba, or I blow up the plane.’ Only hijacking is a dead art, Cuba a dumb destination.
A bomb is a one trick pony. It’s either on or off. In the old days, guns were the leverage. Pop a few passengers to get the authorities attention. There’s a hundred a forty people on this plane. I counted. That gives you a hundred a forty playing cards – if you have a gun. With a bomb you have one card. Not even an ace up your sleeve. It has to be out there and center. Negotiating is tough. Demonstrating you’re serious means triggering the thing. There’s no negotiation in being dead.
A guy recently tried it with an Egyptian plane. His bomb was painted cereal boxes. Painted cereal boxes that you took seriously. After all, he was the only one that knew they were Kellogg’s. He had failed. Surrendered. He didn’t even have the one trick pony to ride.
So we are in suicide bomber territory here.
Another clink. Can I hear the pour? The transfer.
How do liquid bombs work? And they must work. That’s why I can’t bring my XL bottle of Issey Miyake L’Eau Dissey in my carry-on anymore. Just the handy size.
I was in the army. Not for long. I did one, foreshortened, tour of Iraq. A grunt. Regular patrols. We were briefed on IEDs. Not so much in how to make them. More, the important more, on how to spot them. I have a brief recollection on liquids. Not that much. The locals didn’t need to be that sophisticated. There were no airport security checks in the desert. Just a need to maim, wound and kill.
Mixing explosives is a tricky game. Playing with volatile substances needs skill. The man next to me is all sorts of intense. If he bends over much more he’ll be kissing the floor. He’s not playing this for subtle. But he’s doing it while the only crowd is myself and the old lady buried in the Maeve Binchy novel next to me.
At six feet six, the middle seat is not ideal for me. The ticket was cheap. Cheap trumps comfort. It’s a three hour flight. I’ll survive. Or maybe not, if the bomber is on his game.
I didn’t trigger him as a threat to me in the airport. There was no threat from any of the passengers either. The guys that are looking for me usually come wearing suits and ties. Guns are in their mix. That’s why I fly. Trains and bus are firearm friendly.
If the bomber’s looking to max out damage he has two options. Option one is to press play anytime in the next few minutes. While climbing. While still accelerating. Setting it off when there’s isn’t enough power to keep us in the air. Kill the forward momentum. Drop us below stall speed. An anvil from the sky.
Option two is in the cruise. Top height. Biggest difference between inside and outside pressure. Not quite explosive decompression. Let’s say decompression with attitude.
Collapsing structural integrity is key. Taking out an engine helps. In the climb this a big win. For this, he’s chosen the seat well. Far enough forward that debris will hit the engine. Pushed out by the blast, some of the outer fabric will be sucked into the fans. Bird strikes they can stand. Not aircraft grade aluminum.
With the main body compromised and half the propulsion gone we have no hope. He’ll need to do it soon if that’s his choice and he has chosen his seat very well. Far enough back to hide his actions from the crew. But a sweet spot for a bomb.
His backpack wasn’t rammed. The top flopped around. Not much in it. Enough, though. He carried it with care. Like it had a delicate, porcelain vase inside. Cuddled in arms. Shielding it from everyone. Or more like he had a newborn infant in the bag. Trying not to wake it.
How had he got the liquids through security? Decanted deodorant? Refilled aftershave? A minimum of three liquids are needed. Two to make the explosive. One to act as the catalyst.
Getting it right would be an issue. He must have been biting the hand of trial and error for a while. That would require somewhere out of the way. Somewhere that allowed for the noise of explosives.
Then there’s the ingredients. For all I know they may be available at the local pharmacy. Not likely. Whatever it is that makes it all go bang, will be on a watch list. Online ordering would be monitored. Supercomputers or an array of PCs scanning for the key words. Looking for phrases. Hunting chemical symbols.
Of course beneath the Internet lies a deeper place. An untraceable jungle of the hidden. TOR allowing you in. Sites that offer the dark world. I knew something of this world. I’d been placed on a bounty hunter site well beneath the view of Google. Thousands on my head. Tracked down by a pair of geeks that struggled to function in a world that wasn’t ones and zeros. Found in the back end of the back end. Tracked by a digital footprint I didn’t even know I was leaving. So ingredients are probably not an issue.
The man moves. Packing stuff into his bag. Carefully.
Another chink. He winces. Freezing. I freeze. His left hand pulls the bag up, placing it on the coat, nudging the baseball cap to one side. He adjusts it. Plays with it. Settles it into his coat. Creating a nest.
Sitting back, he crosses his arms, closes his eyes. He starts to talk. Low. A prayer. A call to his God before he thinks he’ll meet him. Words inaudible. Lips moving. Easily. No invention. A stream of the known. I breathe deep through my nose. Seeking the smell of booze. Hoping for booze. Almost joining him in prayer.
Nothing. No hint of drink.
His lips speed up.
We are still climbing. Still lacking the speed to survive if the bomb is triggered.
I consider getting up. Heading for the back. Away from the blast.
But then death would be slower. Not by much. Maybe a few more seconds. Dropping from the sky. Knowing there’s no exit. Screaming with everyone else. Better to go quickly.
‘Scorning’
A single word. I pick up one word as he prays. Meaningless. Maybe I misheard. His eyes are still shut. Arms still folded. Readying for the wave of energy. Ready to embrace his fate.
Maeve Binchy is lost in her book. The last words she’ll read a humble plea from a lover to forgive. A description of a moment of revelation. A tender phrase. Words written many years ago. The author unaware that she is writing a goodbye.
The man stops praying. He uncrosses his arms. Extending them, he brings them up until they sit either side of the back pack. Floating a few inches from the material. Palms inward, fingers extended. Ready to clap.
I know how he’s going to detonate it. A sudden closure of his hands. Smashing the glass inside. Instantly blending the liquids. Creating the necessary chemical reaction. Letting loose the monster.
I can stop this. Maybe. If I’m quick. Grab the bag. Reach over his right arm. Snatch at the top. Looping the buckle under my fingers. Pulling the bag up. Straight up. Fast. Hard. Away. Hook it towards me. Across my face. Towards Maeve. Turning. Putting myself between him and the bag. Uncoupling the safety belt with my other hand. Rising as the bag swings over Maeve’s head. Up. Up and to my right. Letting the safety belt buckle go as I rise and balling my fist. Ready to strike. Aim for his head. No finesse. Just put muscle into it. Power. A jet engine’s worth of power. Power to spare. Power to stun.
Maeve will react. I’ll be throwing myself across her lap. Taking her book out. Maybe taking Maeve with me. She’s undone her seatbelt. Out onto the aisle. Keeping the backpack up. Avoiding the seat backs. Keep it safe. Hit nothing solid. No way for the glass to smash.
Then to the back of the plane. Into the toilet. Lock the door. Back to the door. Keep it closed. Then decide what to do.
It’s my only chance.
The man stretches his arms. Increasing the distance between palms. Going for as wide an arc as possible. To close them. To close them as hard as he can.
I start to twist, bringing my right hand up, my left at my safety belt buckle, already flicking the metal catch. One swift movement. A one handed version of the way the safety demo has shown me a thousand times. Justification for watching the demos. Proof that they are life savers.
My eyes fix on the strap of the bag. It curves up. Presenting a loop of a few inches. Two fingers worth. A small target. It’s all the target I have. No second chances.
I start to rise. I need the height. His arm is blocking the loop. His eyes swivel. Registering my movement. My forearm starts the journey across the space between the two of us. The hair on my arm is electric. Upright. My heart is accelerating. Matching the still climbing surge of the plane.
This is life or death.
His right arm begins to move in. Starting the strike. Building the momentum.
I could grab his arm. But his other arm is also moving. One hand might be all it requires. I pass my arm over his contracting limb. Aiming for the loop. My world is that loop.
My fingers uncurl, readying to slip under the material. To fish hook the nylon. My legs are pushing down, weight off the chair, to the right. Into Maeve. Ready to take me and the bag into the aisle.
I’m too slow. His arm overtakes mine. I’m not going to make it. All he has to do is close his arms. I see failure. There’s no way to lift the bag out of the way. Not in the time it will take him to snap shut the trap.
I do the only thing open to me. I transfer the sideways motion of my arm to down. Trying to cut him off. Reducing the blow to one hand. Increasing the odds of the glass surviving the impact.
Then his arm is moving up to meet mine. Reaching into the cabin airspace above. No longer travelling towards the bag. His other arm does the same.
He’s looking to block me. He knows I know. One arm up to provide a barrier. The other to bring down from on high. No need for the clap. Just downward pressure. A slap. Job done.
Our arms touch. Skin to skin. I have force in mine. His is loose. Weak. Not a blocking move. Not one ready to take a hit. His eyes widen. The first sign of surprise. No sign of fear. Just surprise. The beginnings of a question is forming. And just before this. An instant before, his mouth started to open. A tense line around it. Not more words. Something as familiar but uncontrolled. The birth of a yawn.
My arm forces his down. A mistake. Not away from the bag. Towards it. I’m pushing his arm towards the bomb. I’m going to set it off. Not him. Me. I can’t stop. I’m committed.
My arm. His arm. Our arm plunges onto the bag.
I close my eyes.
The only action left open to me.
Nothing.
No end.
No oblivion.
I open my eyes.
The man is looking at me. A sweet sickly smell is enveloping us. A clawing scent.
‘What the fuck?’
His words cut through the air as the Captain throttles back. Easing us into the cruise.
A stain is spreading on the material of his backpack.
‘For fuck’s sake.’
The man raises the back pack up. Liquid drips from it. Thick, viscous. The smell goes into overdrive.
‘My aftershave.’
No bomb. No mixing. Just a little rearranging. Maybe a little inspection. Checking out his new purchases. Slipping the bottles from their boxes.
No bomb.
He opens the bag.
No bomb.
He drags two wet and mashed boxes from inside.
No bomb.
The branding visible.
No bomb.
One bottle called ‘Tick’.
No bomb.
The other ‘Tock’.

EEEEEEK!  How awesome was that?!  A HUGE thanks to Mr Brown for this and I cannot wait to get stuck into the novels!  

In a few weeks time, I am absolutely over-the-moon that my bestie, THE Michael J Malone, will be doing a Q&A with me as my #PartnerInCrime. Woohoo!! *insert happy dance* 😜

 

22 Replies to “Gordon Brown: Partners In Crime *Special*”

  1. Great story Gordon, though I won’t be letting my wife read it as she’s already nervous enough when we get on planes. And I certainly don’t want her wrestling in the aisles.

  2. A tidy, economical story which isn’t over-loaded with words but has more than its share of tension, paranoia, and claustrophobia. A fine introduction to the Craig McIntyre character if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the novels so far.

  3. In an increasingly paranoid world, in which every man with a beard and a tan gets held at security and any nut with a blonde combover could be world dictator, there’s plenty of scope for laughter in GJ Brown’s short sharp story. Who hasn’t imagined the worst – only to find that all our fears are foolish? ‘Tick tock’ is a lovely wee metaphor for the mild lunacy that grips modern society and the moronic gaffes we are all disposed to!

  4. I’ve often sat on a plane waiting for take-off, looking at the passengers around me, wonder which one looks a bit iffy, but with security in the airports today l never really think about the contents of their hand luggage. A great short story that keeps you wondering – what’s the end game?

  5. Well hello Mr Leggatt! I am feeling pretty special (even though it is Gordon you are all coming for ha ha) – you’re absolutely right in what you say though!! 😉

  6. Loved that story! And I really like the internal dialogue is exactly as you would hear it on your own head; it’s tight, hard and fast, just like the story, and carried you along at just the right pace. And a great ending, just when you thought it was really going to happen. Top stuff.

  7. Splendidly taut writing and a nice wee touch at the end. Gordon’s writing is so economical and yet evocative that you can’t help but be caught up and carried along. His books are like that, too, by the way. (I have received no financial reward for this comment. Although always up for some)

  8. Boy that’s tense. I’m sure many of us have been there, convinced that someone is up to no good , then end up feeling stupid. It kind of sums up the world we live in today . Great short story, with lots of intensity and food for thought.

  9. A gem of a short story, with all the tension, twists and pacing I’ve come to expect from Gordon. We’ve spoken about Craig a few times on the Crime Factor tour, and this tale has me wanting more!

  10. Pingback: Crime Book Junkie | G J Brown