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Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters


The Thai Exchange
Dominic H.
"That dog’s our ticket out of this mess," Sam said, turning the keys in the ignition.

The unfortunate events that unfolded that weekend were mainly due to my belief in a popular misconception beaten into me by my folks (and they in their turn, probably, by their folks), that when things seem as bad as they can get, they can only start to pick up. That when you return home on a Friday, to find your car missing, your house robbed and your fiancée gone, you can rest assured, safe in the knowledge that things will only get better.
It was at that moment – when I collapsed in a broken heap on my sofa and lent over to roll a cigarette – I found that the following two days were going to be a bit more than a trip to the police station. I mean, it was not rare to be robbed in that neighbourhood, and my fiancé could have been out shopping for jewellery, or something equally small and uncomplicated - especially if she had taken my car. A nice car it was, though. A limited edition BMW M3. 1984. The stereo had been nicked a few days back and I hadn’t got round to replacing the window.
But that small yellow post-it note there, on the coffee table, next to the tobacco pouch, alerted my attention…
It was going to need something stronger than a simple cigarette to make sense of that one, I thought, shaking out the contents of my cigarette onto a king-skin. I didn’t owe anyone money… well, apart from Sam across the road, but that was only twenty pounds for a Henry of Thai weed, and he knew I was good for it – I mean he’s my best mate, so I imagined he wasn’t eager to kidnap my fiancé. I would have put some music on but the hi-fi was gone, so I sat in silence, looking for answers in the wallpaper.
I woke up the next morning on my back, on the floor next to the coffee table, with a half-empty mug of water balanced on my chest. I finished the water (a difficult thing to do when horizontal), stood up clumsily, the contents of my head sloshing about with praise to the people of Thailand, and headed down the road to Nico’s Café for breakfast.
I had the fortune to bump into Sam in the café.

"Five fucking grand! You’re joking, ain’t ya?" He spat the grease of his bacon as he spoke. Sam seemed like a bloke to confide in. Well, he was the only bloke I knew to confide in, and plus he was used to handling large sums of money, or at least I thought he was.
"Keep your voice down," I said, wiping the bacon fat off my vest. "- I need to get hold of it before this nutter kills Kelly."
"Well you’re in shit, mate," he said.
"Sam, mate, this is not a fucking joke. It says ‘FIVE GRAND SATURDAY’!"
"Well that’s ok, at least they gave you some notice. You could sell your house." Sam suggested, trying to soak up the sauce from his baked beans with a piece of cold toast.
"Sam, man, it IS Saturday… TODAY. Now who’s gonna buy a fucking house like mine in a day? And even if I did, by some miracle, get a buyer, the cheque wouldn’t clear for a good 2 days."
"Yeah, you’d have a tough time selling your house for five thousand!"
"Thanks for being so helpful" I said, and pushed my knife and fork together.
"Well what about your stuff, like TV, laptop, hi-fi, that sort of thing?"
"Shit. D’you reckon it was the same people?"
"Nah." I said. "I thought this over last night. They must’ve left the door open when they left, and some fucking pikey kids probably spotted it. That sort of shit picks up a nice amount on the market. I should know, I bought it from there!"
I began to laugh, but I couldn’t. I had this image of Kelly strapped to a chair at gunpoint, with some twat playing God in a balaclava. I stood to leave, but Sam tugged my sleeve, beckoning with his grime-encrusted finger.
"I’ve got a plan…" He whispered.
My heart sank. Sam had plans that were so flawed that a blind man could see through them. But I had to listen. After all, he had a plan and I didn’t. And I had to face the fact that I wasn’t going to come up with one any time soon, thanks largely to Sam’s Thailand connection.

"Do you like dogs, Mr…?"
"Finch. Mr Finch."
I sat in the chair, quietly, not sure that I was ready for first-name terms with Sam’s apparently wealthy acquaintance, "I don’t have one of my own – they don’t seem to like me, generally."
I looked about as I said this, admiring his poor taste in expensive interior decor. He didn’t notice - he looked tragically downcast, strangely saddened by my incompatibility with canines. He seemed a little eccentric; an emotional stew garnished with a smart dressing of an intensely blue suit and tie.
"Oh dear. That is a shame. Oh… well, I suppose it must be the way you smell."
I smell with my nose like everyone else does, including dogs. But this was not a time for jokes. This was an insult - and I barely knew the guy. Fucking rich cunt.
"What do you mean, I smell?" I said, leaning forward.
"Scent!" Sam interrupted, diffusing the atmosphere. "Dogs are attracted by different smells, right? Well that means they can be… revulsed by smells they don’t like. It doesn’t mean you smell bad - I mean, they eat dog food don’t they? Ever smelt dog food?"
He smiled nervously, and then shot me a glance, that I took fairly to mean that I was making things difficult. Mr. Grieves relaxed a little, and leant over to offer me a cigarette from a small silver case on his desk. Without a word, I placed it in my mouth slowly – cigarettes like these should be savoured, I thought.
"I’m terribly sorry, Mr Finch. I do believe you got the wrong end of the stick just then. I didn’t mean to offend you."
I looked at him, dropping my head to one side to acknowledge his apology. I had come to this guy’s house by Sam’s request, and we had barely been there five minutes and I already hated him. Offering posh fags to a guy like me is like letting me sit in an Aston Martin convertible, but not letting me drive it. I pulled the cigarette from my lip and looked at it. White filter. Awkward. As I listened to Sam’s conversation, I tried to figure out whether you would be able to know which end to light in the dark.
"So anyway Chris - how’s Valerie?"
"Oh she’s fine – she hasn’t seen you in a while though, Sam. She’s been busy lately."
"So how’s it going?"
"The shows? Oh well you know – you can’t beat a bitch like her. ‘Best in show’ has become her nickname!"
He laughed, blowing tufts of smoke out of his mouth and nostrils like an inverted steam engine. Sam smiled and nodded, as if to completely understand. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but I was happily distracted by Chris’ novelty lighter. A silver dog, that, when you pushed its tail down, it opened its mouth and a flame came out.
What an interesting bit of expensive junk. The flame didn’t light my cigarette though - I just looked at it. It made me think of a documentary I’d seen on Vietnam. Then Kelly. Napalm? Burning dogs. Kelly’s no dog, I thought, and anyway, I didn’t think that stuff existed anymore. At least it shouldn’t do. And why would these guys want to kill her with Napalm anyway? They didn’t. Obviously.
"Gaz… Gaz?" Sam tapped me on the shoulder. I must have stopped listening for a while. "Chris wants to know about this Thai stuff."
"Chris? Oh Chris. Well Mr. Grieves, what can I say? It’s the best stuff yet. At least for the price."
At that moment, a white poodle padded past.
"Oh hello," Chris said, "so you decided to join us then? We’ve got some visitors today; your old friend Sam and his friend Gary."
This was a dog. Not a person, despite how it seemed. And the fact that Chris knew my first name made me even more confused. Sam glanced at me without turning his head. It was clear he hadn’t introduced me as Gary. I felt a bit stupid when I realised that not many other names are abbreviated to ‘Gaz’, but there still seemed something weird about this guy and his poodle.
"Do you have a girlfriend, Mr Finch?"
"A fiancé," I replied.
"Oh congratulations. Does she like dogs?"
"She’s become allergic to them recently. But I’ve never wanted one, so I suppose it doesn’t…"
"Well that’s convenient," Chris said, leaning back on his chair.
Sam placed a large joint on the table. Chris lent forward again.
"Smoke this when you get back from Catford. Let me know what you think later, and I’ll get you more if you want it." Sam stood up. "It’s been nice talking, but we have to get going now."
"Yeah, um, thanks for the fag," I said, rising to my feet. "Goodbye Valerie."
I waved at the poodle, which showed no interest in polite etiquette; instead turning to walk away. Chris got up and showed us to the door.
"Well it’s been a pleasure. I’m sure I’ll see you soon. Especially if this gear is as good as you say it is. Goodbye gentlemen."
The front door closed behind us and we walked across the road to where Sam’s car was parked.
"That dog’s our ticket out of this mess," Sam said, turning the keys in the ignition. "Chris’d blatantly sell his soul to get that dog back. All we have to do is leave the same ransom note for him."
"Nick that poodle? You’re sick," I said, smiling. "I thought Valerie was his wife, you know."
"Yeah it might as well be. He treats her like a fuckin princess."
"He’s a bit of an arrogant cunt."
The passenger door pulled open noisily. My car never had that problem, I thought, as I got in.
"I should coco. He’s got more money than sense. He’s off to Catford Dogs in a bit. Goes every Saturday, but never wins a penny. Always bets on the one that looks pretty, apparently."
"So we’re going to nick Valerie while he’s away? How do you suppose we do that then?" I said, winding down the window for some air.
"Leave it to me. You need some rest. It’s not every day you’re fiancé winds up in a hostage situation."

Sam dropped me at home and I sat on the couch to mull over the situation. I came to the conclusion that through some of her acquaintances at the local pawnbrokers, Kelly had somehow found herself mixed up with some loan sharks. She had developed a taste for expensive jewellery, and my job at the carpet store wasn’t going to fund that, even if I was floor manager. I’d previously assumed that a rich relative had died or something – that was about as much thought as I gave it.
I’d never been an emotional person either, so when a situation like this came along I found myself quite confused. If I was bored, or stopped to look at anything for a long time, I started to think about Kelly, but while I had an objective, I was fine. So I didn’t rest. I cooked. After my lunch I phoned to check up on Sam.
"Sam mate, I’m not sure this is such a good idea. I mean, we could be in some really fucking messy business."
"Relax," he said, "I’m sortin’ it."
"Man, I think I know what we’re dealing with. You know all Kelly’s jewellery? Well those shifty bastards at the brokers probably stitched her up with some sharks."
"Those dirty little shits have really sunk low. They must be getting desperate for cash. I can’t believe they would do that. Do you know the sharks?"
"No." I said, but I did know of them. We had never met, but I had heard things. My throat closed up.
"Well then we’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ll be round in ten minutes."
"Shit," I tried to say, but it didn’t come out.
I put the phone down and sat on the coffee table. The house was unbearably silent. The only sound was coming from down the road – a few kids playing football in the street. I realised that the coffee table was not the most comfortable seat on offer, but I felt too weak to move. My eyes felt like they were being sucked out of their sockets, and my nose began to tingle. I couldn’t believe this was happening. One minute I’m coming back from work, the next I’m being bent backwards, buggered by some heartless kidnappers.
Later, the doorbell rang. I wiped my eyes and forced myself up. I couldn’t fail her now. I needed to be alert. Sam had returned to the car and was waiting for me as I came out.
"So where is she?" I asked, as he started the car.
"In the bag." He said, pointing behind him with his thumb.
"What the hell are you doing putting a prize-winning poodle in a fucking sports bag?" I said, lifting the bag from the back seat.
"It’s not like Chris’s going to care if it looks a bit scruffy"
"Sam, mate, this dog is a bloody work of art. You can’t just stick it in a bag… and anyway, why is it so calm about being stuffed in a – Jesus! What did you do to it? It’s not moving." I gave it a poke to check.
"Well I had to entice it out somehow, so the only thing I had in my bag was a load of cakes that I baked this morning. In fact, I was going to see if you wanted to buy them."
"This dog is as stoned as a heathen, mate. You’re lucky it hasn’t given up on life altogether."
Sam went red in the face, not in an angry way, but kind of embarrassed.
"Gaz. I’m doing you a fucking favour here. Your bird’s got herself into this mess with these sharks so just be grateful, ok?" I guessed he wasn’t used to taking friendly criticism.
"You’re right mate. Sorry. I guess we’ll just have to improvise." Something in the bag caught my eye. "What’s this?" I said, pulling a pair of stockings from the bag.
"Here…" He handed me a pair of scissors. "I don’t want Chris to see that we’re involved – he’ll never do business with me again. And I need to shift this weed."
I cut a leg from the stocking and pulled it over my head. It felt like I had a thousand ants crawling over my face. I pulled down the sun-block/flap thing and looked in the mirror.
"Very fetching. Kelly’ll love it," Sam said. I took it off and put it on the floor.

We got to Java Wharf eventually, and I immediately started to feel dizzy. A drop of sweat ran slowly down past my ear and my head began to throb. I waited in the car, across the road from the warehouse, while Sam went around the back with the dog. The street was empty. Not surprising, really, as it was a dead end and not many people did business in an empty warehouse (apart from us, it would seem). There was not a lot I could do about the situation until it started to get better, so I pulled yesterday’s Sun off the floor. The evening began to draw in and soon I had to turn the passenger light on to see even the headlines. But they all spoke of rapes, kidnappings and affairs. Not exactly what I want to be reading in my circumstances. I folded the paper back up and threw it gently onto the back seat. My hands shaking, I lit a cigarette to calm my nerves. It reminded me of waiting outside the headmaster’s office at school. There was nothing I could do about the situation I had got myself into and it completely wasn’t my fault, but there was no way out of it and I was still sweating like a pig in summer.
A fat knuckle softly hit the window, making me drop cigarette ash all over my lap. Swearing under my breath, I brushed off my trousers and wound down the window. Sam bent his head into the car.
"Has Chris turned up yet?"
"No" I said, shaking the ash off the stocking.
"You know, I can hear Kelly in there, so she must be okay."
"Yeah?" I said, thinking all the while that they could be scolding her with hot irons or all types of sick retarded shit. I tried not to let it show.
"Yeah. She’s not screaming or nothing, just sort of like a muffled ‘chrrmfghs!’" Sam said, putting the empty bag in front of his mouth.
"Chris mate, where’s the dog?"
"Oh - well I thought about what you said and I thought it was a bit cruel so I took it out of the bag." Sam said, with a triumphant grin. "Don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere."
I got out of Sam’s car quickly, putting the stockings in my pocket, and went round firstly to check that the dog was still there and secondly to make sure that the voice of my fair female was not being distorted by screams of agony or torture. These thoughts go through your mind when you end up in such a situation.
Sure enough, the poodle was there, lying on the rotting planks of the fire escape, still dreaming of waging war on London’s population of squirrels and cats. I pressed my ear to the door.
"What’s she saying, Gaz?" Sam asked, hopping from foot to foot like a schoolboy watching a playground fight. I turned to him.
"What would you be saying if you were a fucking hostage?" I whispered, violently. "Something along the lines of ‘let me go’, I should think, now shut up and stand still or these boards will snap."

At that point a white Mercedes appeared around the corner. Chris had finally turned up. Our only hope was that he had the money. Any funny business and we would be toast, I thought. That, and Sam would definitely lose a client.
"He’s here. Don’t let him see y-." I turned, and found that Sam had already vanished somewhere already. I ducked down as the headlights scoped our hiding position. I saw between the slats that Sam hadn’t listened to my warning about the rotting planks. He lay there underneath me in a contorted heap of rubble and green-brown timber.
I returned my ear to the door.
"Sounds like she’s shouting for ‘Chris’ but I can’t hear it that clearly."
I looked down to him.
"Yeah. Shit. How does she know him?"
"Beats me, mate." He said, shifting his weight.
"You silly bastard– I can’t take you anywhere. Get up and let the dog in."
I threw his stocking-leg down to him.
"I- I can’t." He groaned.
"Bloody hell." I mumbled, and pulled my stocking out of my pocket. As I was about to pull it over my head, I saw my old Beemer being driven away down the street. Strange. I looked at the dog. It looked back at me with those eyes that only a dog or a small child can make. "Sorry about this, girl." I said, pulling the disguise down over my face. I picked up the dog and kicked the already collapsing door inwards. As I stood there, at the back of the warehouse, I found myself watching my fiancée in a clinch with a guy in a crisp white suit. Chris.
I stood there, watching them kiss as if I had never existed in Kelly’s life. Everything fell into place. Those bastards didn’t want to leave me the ransom at all. They probably saw her earlier with Cash-Money over there, and thought it was an easy earner. All they had to do was follow her to what they thought was their home.
Kelly saw me first, and took a step back.
"Valerie? What’s she doing here?" She quivered.
Chris turned to face me. They were both standing there, hand in hand, staring at a prick in a vest with a stupefied poodle in his arms and some women’s lingerie on his head.
"Valerie? Oh thank god you’re ok," he said. "Unhand her, you beast."
This was too much to cope with. I took off my disguise.
"Oh fuck – Gary?" Kelly whispered.
"I thought you were allergic to dogs."
It was not the most appropriate thing to say, but I had to clear things up. I probably didn’t need to ask. I knew the answer anyway – she had been lying to me all this time. Trying to throw me off the scent.
"You know him?" Chris asked her.
"She was my fiancée." I retorted. "Oh, and this was your dog."

With that I returned down the fire escape to Sam’s battered Nissan. I left the dog on the back seat, lit a cigarette and went to haul Sam out of his position in the broken timber. He had seen me come out without my stocking on, and he looked about to say something, but fell silent when he looked at me again. I took the keys and drove Sam and his new dog home. Silently. As I drove, I thought of Dad. I would ring them later, I thought, when I got back. My folks always had something helpful to say.

© Dominic H. (1st Year Student Leeds University)

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