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COMPLICITY by Iain Banks


You hear the car after an hour and a half. During that time you've been here in the darkness, sitting on the small telephone seat near the front door, waiting. You only moved once, after half an hour, when you went back through to the kitchen to check on the maid. She was still there, eyes white in the half-darkness. There was a strange, sharp smell in the air and you thought of cats, though you know he doesn't have cats. Then you realised the maid had pissed herself. You felt a moment of disgust, and then a little guilt.

She whimpered behind the black masking-tape when you approached. You tested the tape securing her to the little kitchen chair, and the rope holding it against the still-warm Aga. The tape looked just as you'd left it; either she hadn't been struggling or she had but it had had no effect. The rope was good and taut. You glanced at the shaded windows, then shone your torch at her hands, taped to the rear legs of the chair. Her fingers looked all right; it was a little difficult to tell because of her dark olive Filipino skin, but you didn't think you'd cut off her circulation. You looked at her feet, tiny in the low-heeled black slippers; they appeared healthy too. A drop of urine fell and joined a pool on the tiled floor beneath the chair.

She was quivering with fear when you looked into her face. You knew you looked terrifying in the dark balaclava, but there was nothing you could do about that. You patted her shoulder as reassuringly as you could. Then you went back to the telephone seat by the front door. There were three phone calls; you listened to the answer-machine intercept them.

"You know what to do," his scratchily recorded voice said to each caller. His voice is quick, clipped and vaguely upper-class. "Do it after the beep."

Tobias, old chap. How the devil are you? Geoff. Wondering how you're fixed next Saturday. Fancy a foursome out at sunny Sunningdale? Give me a tinkle. Bye."


"Ah… yes, ahh, Sir Toby. Mark Bain again. Ah, I rang earlier, and the last couple of days. Umm… well, I'd still very much like to interview you, as I've said, Sir Toby, but, well, I know you don't usually give interviews, but I do assure you I've no axe to grind, and I do very much appreciate, as a fellow professional, what you've achieved, and would genuinely like to find out more about your views. Anyway. Clearly it is up to you, of course, and I do respect that. I'll… ah, I'll try your office in the morning. Thank you. Thank you very much. Good evening."


"You abrupt old bastard, Tobes. Give me a ring about that diary story; I'm still not happy. And get that bloody car phone repaired."

You smiled at that one. That rough, colonial voice, its commanding tone contrasting with the Harrovian chumminess of the first message and the whining, working-class Midland entreaties of the middle one. The proprietor. Now there was a man you'd like to meet. You glanced up into the darkness towards the wall at the foot of the stairs, where there are various framed photographs. There is one of Sir Toby Bissett with Mrs Thatcher, both smiling. You smiled, too.

Then you just sat there, breathing carefully, thinking, keeping calm. You took the gun out once, reaching round under your thin canvas jacket to the small of your back and easing it from between shirt and jeans. The Browning felt warm through your thin leather gloves. You snicked the magazine out and back in again a couple of times and ran your thumb over the safety catch, making sure it was on. You put the gun back again.

Then you reached down, pulled up the right leg of your jeans and slipped the Marttiini out of its lightly oiled sheath. The knife's slim blade refused to glint, until you tipped it just so and it reflected the little, flashing red light on the answer-machine. There was a small greasy smudge on the steel blade. You blew on it and rubbed it with one gloved finger, then inspected it again. Satisfied, you slid the knife back into its leather sheath and rolled the denim back down. And waited until the Jaguar drew up outside, engine idling in the quiet square, bringing you back to the present.

You stand up and look through the spyhole in the broad wooden door. You see the dark square outside, distorted by the lens. You can see the steps down to the pavement, the railings on either side of the steps, the parked cars sitting at the kerb and the dark masses of the trees in the centre of the square. The Jag is right outside, beyond the cars at the kerb. Street lights reflect orange on the car's door as it swings open. A man and a woman get out.

He's not alone. You watch the woman straighten the skirt of her suit as the man says something to the driver and then closes the Jaguar's door.

"Shit," you whisper. Your heart is pounding.

The man and the woman walk towards the steps. The man is holding a briefcase. It's him: Sir Toby Bissett, the man with the quick, clipped voice on the answer-machine. As he and the woman reach the pavement and make for the steps, he takes the woman's right elbow in his hand, shepherding her towards the door you're looking through.

"Shit!" you whisper again, and glance back down the side of the stairs towards the hall and the kitchen, where the maid is and where the window through which you entered is still half open. You hear their footsteps on the pavement. The skin on your forehead prickles beneath the balaclava. He lets go of the woman's elbow, switches the briefcase to his other hand and reaches into a trouser pocket. They are halfway up the steps. You start to panic, and stare at the heavy chain hanging at the side of the door by the bulky Chubb. Then you hear the sound of his key in the lock, startlingly close, and hear him say something, and hear the woman's nervous laugh and you know that it's too late and you become calm, standing away from the door until your back is against the coats on the coat-stand, and you slide your hand into the pocket of the canvas jacket and it closes round the thick weight of the shot-filled leather cosh.

The door opens, towards you. You hear the Jag's engine purring away. The hall light comes on. He says, "Here we are."

Then the door closes and they are there in front of you and in that instant you see him turned slightly away, putting his briefcase down on the table beside the answer-machine. The girl — blonde, tan, mid-twenties, holding a slim briefcase — glances at you. She does a double-take. You are smiling behind the mask, putting one finger up to your lips. She hesitates. You hear the answer-machine spin back, squeaking. As the girl starts to open her mouth, you step forward, behind him.

You swing the cosh and hit him very hard across the back of the head, a hand's width above his jacket collar. He collapses instantly, falling against the wall and down over the table, dislodging the answer-machine as you turn to the girl.

She opens her mouth, watching the man crumple to the carpet. She looks at you and you think she's going to scream and you tense, ready to punch her. Then she drops the slim briefcase and holds her shaking hands out in front of her, glancing down once at the man lying still on the floor. Her jaw is trembling.

"Look," she says, "just don't do anything to me." Her voice is steadier than her hands or her jaw. She glances down at the man on the carpet. "I don't know who — " she gulps, eyelids fluttering nervously. You watch her trying to speak through a dry mouth. "- who you are, but I don't want anything… Just don't do anything to me. I've got money; you can have it. But this isn't anything to do with me, right? Just don't do anything to me. Okay? Please."

She has a refined voice, a Sloane voice, a Roedean voice. You half-despise her attitude, half-admire it. You glance down at the man; he looks very still. The answer-machine lying on the carpet clicks to a stop at the end of the tape. You look back to her and nod slowly. You move your head to indicate the kitchen. She looks that way, hesitating. You point towards the kitchen with the cosh.