Virtual Thursday excerpt part 2: Well done, Jesse!

Part two of a six-part serialisation of the first three chapters of ‘Virtual Thursday.’ Who is Thursday’s assailant?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5Part 6

A hand rested on my shoulder, I supposed to hide the gun from general view. “I said now,” the man repeated. It was the sales assistant. I recognised his voice.

“Who is that?” Ferric asked. “What’s that man doing standing so close to you?”

The clogs were fifty per cent downloaded. “I don’t know what you mean,” I said to the man. “What do you want me to cancel?”

“This is the third and last time I’ll tell you. Cancel the download now or I’ll put a hole through the top of your spine.”

I pressed cancel.

“I’m directing Jesse to you,” said Ferric. Panic had crept into his voice. “Try to stay where you are for as long as you can.”

“Now give me the phone,” said the shop assistant. I held it out; it was snatched from my hand. “Now stand up slowly.”  I stood.

“I know you hate competition from online retailers,” I told him, “but this is a hell of a way to treat a customer. I’m going to be leaving a very unfavourable review.”

“Shut up,” he said. “You see the door over there in the corner?”  I nodded. “You’re going to walk with me to it. Slowly.”

“What do you want from me?” I asked him.

“I said shut up. Now walk.”

A new voice cut jumped into my head as we started crossing the store. “Thursday, it’s Jesse. I’m on my way. Try to keep calm. Just breathe slowly.”  I love it when men try to explain stuff to me, like how to breathe.

I reached the door. “Open it,” the assistant instructed. I reached out and pushed down on the handle. We entered a plain, breeze-block corridor; no expense whatsoever for the backstage decor to the scenery of deluxe, carefree shopping. It made me feel dirty for wanting those mules. I waited until I heard the door click shut behind us.

And then I span, swept aside with my right arm, nose punched with my left palm, kicked once into the shop assistant’s genitals, kneed his descending stomach and chest, brought my joined hands together down on the back of his head and stood to one side as he tumbled. His right hand flailed uselessly as he passed, slapping against my left boot.

I crouched, picked up his fallen gun and pushed it into his right kneecap.

“Who are you?” I asked him.

He looked in his late twenties. His hair was short and dark, and curled on the top. He was clean-shaven except for a neatly trimmed soul patch below his lower lip. He wore one-centimetre gauges in his ear lobes. I hate ear gauges. I hate even more that I hate ear gauges. It makes me feel like I’m eighty.

Blood was flowing from his nose. He dabbed at it uselessly with his fingers. Without taking my eyes off his face, I pulled tissues from my coat pocket and tossed them to him. He muttered a thin, barely audible, “thanks” and pressed them into his nostrils.

“Who are you?”

The door behind me burst back open. A young, straw-haired man rolled into the corridor. “Thursday,” he said, out of breath, but only a little. “Is everything okay here?”

“Nice of you to join me, Jesse,” I said. “This idiot put a gun in my neck when I tried to download the item.”

The voice started squawking in my head again. “What’s happening?  Is everyone ok?”

“I’m at the scene, Ferric” Jesse told him, shutting the door once more. “The assailant is down. Thursday’s fine. Stand by.”

“Oh, thank God. Well done, Jesse!”

“He was there to pick up the item himself?” Jesse asked me, pointing at Gauges.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “He was there before I was. He’s wearing store uniform. I think he was waiting for me.”

“Who are you?” Jesse demanded. Gauges looked at him, dabbed at his nose some more and said nothing.

I retrieved my phone from his shirt pocket and took a picture of his face. “Ferric, I’m sending you a photo. Run it through the facial recognition software.”

“We don’t have time for that.”  Jesse took a fistful of uniform and pulled Gauges back onto his feet. “Where are the nearest stairs?”

“Interesting fact,” Ferric replied, “this department store has a roof garden for its employees.”

“Fascinating. How do we reach it?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I told him. “You’re not taking him up to the roof.”

“We need to know who he is and what he’s doing here.”

“Don’t put yourself in a situation where you might need to follow through on your macho bullshit, and don’t make me order you to stand down. We’ll wait for facial recognition.”  I motioned for Gauges to sit back down on the ground. “What exactly is that thing out there?”

Surprise seemed to get the better of his silence. His eyebrows raised a millimetre. “You don’t know?”

“All I know is I was supposed to download it.”

“So you’re just a… courier?”

“She’s asking the questions, smartass, not you,” Jesse told him. “Answer her.”

Ferric told us, “I’ve got a match.”

“Who is it?”

“It came up really quick. His name is George Mansel. Ah. He’s Security Service.”

“Shit,” I breathed.

“You’re from Millbank?”  Jesse said to him. “What interest does MI5 have in any of this?  Is the item some sort of terrorist shit?”

Mansel glared at us. “Who are you and how do you have my picture on file?”  Reluctantly, I pointed his gun back at him. He sighed and said, “I don’t know any more about that thing than you appear to. My orders were to intercept anyone who tried to download it. That’s it.”

I said to Jesse, “I should go back out there and try again. If this thing is that important then for all we know someone else could be grabbing it right now.”

“Or just some kid,” he replied.

Ferric cut in again. “Wait. You mean you haven’t downloaded it?”

“You didn’t hear him telling me to cancel the download?”

“Oh yes I heard that perfectly. I just assumed you’d found some clever way of doing it anyway without him realising. There I go overestimating you again, Thursday. Anyway, it’s gone now.”

“What do you mean it’s gone?” I snapped.

“Gone. As in not there anymore. The little green blip vanished from my screen a few moments ago. I just assumed that meant you’d only just finished the download.”

“Shit!” I threw open the door and ran out into the store. The shoe department was empty and the clogs had disappeared.

Tomorrow: Part 3. Who has stolen the virtual item?

Virtual Thursday will be published on Wednesday 1 December and available to purchase in print, Kindle, ePub and PDF versions.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5Part 6

Photo models: Huckleberry Hax and Caitlin Tobias

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