Brock hurried down the dusty tunnels of Leicester Square, stepping onto the Tube’s busy concrete platform. People were spilling out everywhere, and agonising pains thumped through his head like a revolver firing continuously at point-blank range. An announcement blasted through the Tube’s crackling intercom as a train rushed through the tunnel. Turbulence forced air and dust into the dreary station platform and into the faces of eagerly waiting passengers flocking to its doors. The red doors screeched open and Brock pushed himself inside the Tube and its hot, sweltering atmosphere. He stepped over to an empty seat, collapsing into its hard fabric, taking in a gulp of the stale air. The doors slammed shut and the train whizzed through the dark tunnel like a funfair ride.
“Tickets, please,” shouted an inspector.
Brock dived into his black tracksuit pocket, yanking out his leather wallet and glancing up through the blur of his eyes, catching graffiti etched across the Tube’s window. He waved his ticket towards the smartly suited inspector, who nodded and turned towards two men neatly dressed in grey suits. One of the men was very tall with a distinctive scar to the left of his face and towered over his companion. The inspector leaned over to them and the tall guy whispered, “We’re on official business.”
The inspector stared at him.
The other man cracked his knuckles. “We’re police, move on!”
People were glancing over now. The tall man glared at the inspector as he moved off and down the carriage. Moments passed and the train screeched into the next station, eventually coming to a halt. The two men pulled themselves out of their seats, stepping calmly towards the door.
Brock, head resting on the Tube window, caught the attention of the tall man.
“Have we met before?” the man asked, grinning.
Brock shook his head. He didn’t recall the man – after his attack, he didn’t recall who anyone was any more – and the man’s grin turned to a cruel smile as he marched through the doors, stepping off the train. The doors screeched closed, ringing through Brock’s head, driving into his skull. Another announcement blasted over the Tube’s intercom: the driver.
“This train is delayed due to someone under a train at Charing Cross.”
Any Londoner will tell you: if someone ends up under a train, the whole damn line of trains stops and the whole track comes to a standstill.
Brock slammed his rucksack on the floor between his feet, anxiously waiting for further announcements, anticipating one hell of a delay.
After an agonising half-hour wait, the train jerked hard into Camden Town Station. Brock was nearly home. Yanking himself from the seat, he stumbled to the door, rubbing his head. The thick black graffiti caught his eye again and he took a mental note. Struggling forward, he jumped out of the Tube and across the station, throwing some loose change towards a homeless man, and headed for Camden Avenue in NW1.
Finally, he stepped up to his blue front door of his basement, the number 13A in cast-iron black letters. Gasping a sigh of relief, he shoved the key into the lock and turned it, pushing the door open. As he did so, he heard a voice behind him.
“Parcel for you.”
He grabbed it from the hand holding it out, pushed the door open, and charged down the grey-carpeted stairs, grasping at the freshly painted walls for balance. Storming into the basement kitchen, he reached up to a sturdy cupboard, grabbed a box of painkillers, and poured himself a fresh glass of water. He stepped into his beige-decorated bedroom, collapsing onto his unmade bed, slamming his eyes completely shut and falling asleep.
Darkness surrounded him. Sweat poured off his face and bright lights pierced his eyes like razors. His chest was tight, struggling to pull in breaths. Water swirled as if from nowhere, hitting his face, forcing him to gasp for air. He hit out with his fist into some kind of wall, screaming for his life. Moments later, his eyes came crashing open, his body sprawling across the bedroom floor. He was under the window, his hand bleeding from the force of his fist hitting the wall.
Another gruelling nightmare, and one of many he had lived through over the last nine months. He pulled himself up, still in his clothes from the night before, and hit the light switch; the bulb illuminated to the rhythm of its usual flickering. The wall clock said 6 a.m. exactly. One thing was certain: the reoccurring nightmare was bothering him, affecting his life. Help was out the question; he’d lived through too much of that already. He was on his own now.
Chirping birds started their rounds and the sun shone through the cracks of the clumsily closed curtains. He gave out a huge yawn, rubbing his fist. His head felt much better than yesterday – the painkillers had done their thing. After a slow, reviving shower, he threw on a blue T-shirt, pulling up some tracksuit bottoms and kicking his best trainers on – in fact, his only trainers. He stepped into the minuscule white-tiled kitchen. Pulling open the fridge door, he grabbed the milk, gulping it and slamming it back into place. After a quick bite on a biscuit, he flung his rucksack over his shoulders and headed into work.
He got as far as Leicester Square, grabbing a coffee from a small kiosk. A small lad in his thirties, short brown wavy hair, tapped him on the shoulder and started speaking in a faint Irish accent.
“Brock, it’s been so long. You are Brock, aren’t you? You remember me – it’s Tyrone, Ty. Look, I’ve got to split. Take my number. I need to speak to you urgently.”
The lad shot a glance to several men at the corner of the busy square, sprinting away. As he darted through the square, they appeared to chase after him, and this Ty, as he called himself, hadn’t given Brock his number.
Brock hovered over the neatly built gym, staring at it. It was his workplace – a popular upmarket gym owing to its excellent status and central location. He pushed the double glass doors, stepping into the reception area, clutching his lukewarm coffee. A suited man stood up from the seat and shouted in a fierce broad Russian accent, “You’re late. You’re always late, and what’s your excuse this time? You have missed the weekly meeting again and someone’s complained about you for the third time. You’re on a written warning. Any more and you’re out.”
The manager of the gym, Sergei, a Russian national, body pumped to the point he’d cheated on steroids, was waiting for him. Brock ignored him, staring at the floor as he hurried past onto the bustling gym floor. Weights clanked and chitter-chatter filled the air. The floor was divided into three areas, and to the left was an array of free weights equipment. The right was filled to the brim with cardiovascular equipment, and directly in front fixed weights covered the floor.
Brock headed past the fixed weights and into the staff room at the back of the room. He pushed the blue door open, coming face to face with rusty lockers and disgusting cups dotted about a small kitchen worktop, stinking the small room out. Gunner stood below the cupboards hung unevenly over the sink, holding onto the lockers. Of average height and build with light brown hair, his bad taste in mismatched casual sportswear had gotten him a name with the crowd.
“Stuck-up Sergei’s been moaning at me all morning. Mainly about you this time,” he said.
“Do I look worried? This idiot is cracking up. The pressure’s getting to him. Anyway, it’s unlikely I’ll last here much longer. Did I miss anything important at this pointless meeting?”
“Unfortunately for you, I’ll never know. I ignored the whole thing.”
Brock chuckled and yanked open the fridge door, pulling out some milk, putting it up to his mouth and gulping it down. “What makes me laugh is that I can’t do anything until the first client arrives. That’s at 9 a.m. and look at the clock – it’s only 8.30 a.m.”
“Oh, bad news,” Gunner said. “He cancelled. Sergei took the call. Anyway, I’m popping to the gym floor. Some stuff needs moving, apparently.”
Brock fell into one of the cheap grey plastic chairs to wait patiently for his now 10 a.m. client. Leaning back in the chair, he closed his eyes. Moments later, the office door flung open, nearly being torn off its rusty hinges. Brock pulled himself up and Sergei’s red face appeared before him.
“Your 9 a.m. has cancelled, but I hope you aren’t going to lounge about in this chair all day.”
“What’s happened to you, Sergei?” Brock asked. “You were such a chilled-out guy. You were all over me in that jazzy cafe in Camden, desperate for someone to train your clients here. You’ve transformed into the Gestapo. Chill out.”
Sergei snarled, marching out of the office, slamming the door behind him again – hard. Brock laughed, but it wasn’t funny. Sergei’s persistent attitude wasn’t like him at all.
The office wall clock showed 10.05 a.m. Brock, still slouched over the cheap chair, jumped up and headed out onto the gym floor. He nodded to fellow gym members, pacing through like it was a tradition. Gunner stepped in front, pointing towards a bloke in a black Adidas tracksuit: his 10 a.m. appointment. It was the Scottish-born Icarus: late forties, brown hair, moved to London from Aberdeen some years ago. A fairly thin chap of average height who couldn’t keep his gob shut, always asking the wrong questions. Brock had been his personal trainer since he’d started working there over seven months ago. One thing about Icarus – he was fit as they came.
Brock shook his hand and took him over to the treadmill for a light-hearted warm-up. Hovering over, he pressed various buttons on the control panel as Icarus sprinted, swishing his arms energetically. Ten minutes passed and the machine automatically slowed.
“Forgive me for noticing, but you look like you’ve had a right old rough night,” Icarus said, stepping off the machine. “I can see how tight your fists are clenched. Calm down, boy.”
“This morning hasn’t been good either. I’ve had a nightmare from hell and a manager from the bloody Gestapo. It’s becoming a huge problem.”
“If it’s affecting your wellbeing perhaps you should visit a doctor. You’d be surprised what they can do.”
“Sergei requires the doctor, not me. He’ll lose all his staff when he’s finished. Don’t know what’s wrong with him these days. It’s not like he’s not bringing in the money.”
“Forget Sergei,” Icarus said. “I wasn’t talking about him, you know that. Give the guy some space. Between me and you, people in here are suspicious about him. He’s probably picking up on it, could be affecting his psyche.”
“I’m planning on leaving here soon.”
Icarus nodded. “Let me know, lad.”
He stepped off the treadmill and they both headed towards the fixed weights section. Brock leaned forward, adjusting a pin in the weight equipment. A girl in black gym attire and with long light-brown hair was on one of the spinning bikes, pedalling. Icarus started waffling on about his sister and Brock kept stealing glances at the woman on the bike.
“What?” Brock asked suddenly, aware Icarus was looking at him expectantly.
“I’ve finished. I’ve finished all the sets.”
Icarus shot him a glance, and Brock dropped his gaze to the floor. “I’m sorry, I was distracted. I should have been concentrating.”
“Is this wee lassie a problem?”
“Let’s move over to the leg press. We haven’t been on this equipment for a while. It’s good for the thighs.”
Brock kept his glance downwards, stepping towards the leg press equipment and fiddling with its dumb-bells.
“It’s the one with the emerald eyes, isn’t it? She’s a bonnie lassie, and you’re a womaniser. You should approach her. I can manage this on my own.”
Brock rubbed his eyes and gave out a little sigh as he adjusted the controls on the leg equipment, clicking them into place.
“I can’t figure her out. She made an impression with me on her first day and now no interest,” he said.
“A wee bonnie lass like her, she’s probably waiting for you to make a move, lad. Her name is Sarah, by the way. You should ask her out for a drink.”
Brock stepped back and Icarus grinned at his red face as he moved closer to the chest press. Brock stuffed a load of weights on the bars.
“See if you can manage that.”
Icarus raised his eyebrows at him, took a deep breath, and stepped up to the chest press. Brock stood next to him, shooting another sly glance at Sarah and then turning hastily away when Sergei clocked him from across the room.
The one-hour session ended and Brock called it a day. Icarus stepped away from the equipment, breathing heavier, sweat appearing across his forehead.
“Thanks again for today, lad. Look, I know it’s none of my business, but you should concentrate on getting that memory of yours sorted out. For your own sake.”
Brock froze and watched Icarus walk through the gym, disappearing through the door into the changing rooms.