The automatic doors slid closed behind Alex and the security guard glared at him.
“They’ve been and gone,” he said. “Why’ve you come back?”
“Safety check,” said Alex. Michael spotted the moment’s hesitation, but he’d been hoping for it. “Safety check is done by a second team to make sure that they’re independent of the team that fixes the lift.”
The security guard stared at him in open amazement, and Michael suddenly realised that he was wearing a name-badge across his breast: it read Ted Allerton.
“You’ve never bloody done that before,” he said.
“New policy,” said Alex, but Michael could see that his cheerfulness was taking on a bit of an edge. “We had a couple of accidents, unreported you unders–“
“You bloody what?” Ted roared his question at Alex, who took a step back. He tried to speak again, but Ted advanced, shouting at him, flecking his face with tiny blobs of white spittle. “You killed people so you’ve put in a new policy? But you let people use the bloody lift before the second bloody team gets here? What kind of maniacs are you, you bloody cu–“
“We didn’t kill people!” yelled Alex, glancing behind him. The closed automatic doors that were anything but were coming up fast.
“Yet!” shouted Ted. “Right.” He stopped advancing and pointed at the couch where Michael was quietly sitting. “You sit there next to this other suspicious bugger, and I’ll make some phone calls and then we’ll see what you’ve got to say for yourselves. Both of you!” He stomped back the way he’d come, his gaze fixed on his desk and the phone there. As he walked past the couch, Michael stuck his leg out, and Ted tripped over it and flung his arms out to break his fall and especially push himself away from the corner of the desk. As he hit the floor, Michael dropped on top of him, his knee pushed into the small of Ted’s back, forcing him down to the floor. Five seconds later Alex had joined Michael and was holding a damp cloth over Ted’s face. He opened his mouth, drawing in breath to roar something, and then he coughed, choked briefly, and went limp.
“Chloroform?” asked Michael. Alex nodded. “Isn’t that a bit old-fashioned?”
“Budget cuts,” said Alex. “It’s a bit unofficial, the QM let me have it but he’s marked it down as mislaid rather than checked out. Plausible deniability.”
“Oh, well, I know all about budget cuts,” said Michael not bothering to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “How long is it good for?”
“I don’t actually know,” said Alex. “I only took it because it was there and it gets used in all the old spy novels, you know?”
“And you had it ready already?”
“I didn’t know if he’d buy my story.”
“He didn’t.” Michael smiled.
“Sounds like he didn’t buy yours either.” Michael’s smile vanished.
“It was better than elevator repairman,” he muttered. “They would have been here right along with the police.”
“Yeah well, what was yours then? And what are doing with him?”
“Ted? Is there a cupboard or something we can put him in?”
They looked around, and Alex spotted the metal lock in the middle of the panelled wall that suggested a discreet cupboard. The keys were in Ted’s trouser pockets, and the lock proved to open a janitor’s cupboard with a plastic bucket for mopping floors inside, two mop-heads without handles, a mop-head on a handle, a bunch of hypoallergenic cleaning cloths and close to five hundred toilet rolls plastic wrapped in bales of 96.
“Stuff a cloth in his mouth,” said Michael. “That way he can’t shout when he wakes up.”
“He can take the cloth out,” said Alex. They both looked around for rope, or washing line, but had to settle in the end for taking Ted’s jacket off him and using that to tie his hands behind his back. Alex stuffed a cloth in his mouth, and they closed and locked the cupboard again.
“Think he’ll be ok?” asked Alex.
“I hope so,” said Michael. “I’m not authorised to detain or immobilise.”
“Huh,” said Alex. “Me neither.”
They exchanged a look, and then Michael shrugged. “It’s done now,” he said. “Let’s just get our jobs and get out of here. What are you here for?”
“Rosa Lindenbaum. You?”