“Lord love a duck,” said Robert Johnson.
The Dockyard CCTV camera focused on Victory’s main mast area flashed a red alert-light on the main console in the Security offices. The young man, just back from making tea, watched the monitor speechlessly as Merlin pulled his staff out of the mainmast. He eyes never wavered from the screen and his hand, that should have been slamming an alarm button, never moved.
As the massive smile lit up Merlin’s face, the young man remembered his training. He flipped the safety covering off the big red button and slammed his fist down on it. Why is it that emergency buttons are always big and red, he wondered? And then smiled at the stupid thought. He remained motionless, his mouth open and his eyes as wide as they had ever opened in his life as he swivelled back to stare at the monitor.
Bloody hell, I hope that got onto the disc. Jesus. Nobody’s going to believe what just happened without that. The thoughts tumbled around his head like lights in an amusement arcade.
His communications speaker came to life with the voice of the emergency services operator, “Can you tell me the nature of this please,” said the voice on the phone.
“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, you’d think I was drunk. Get your asses down here with as much firepower and men as you’ve got on hand. You’re going to need every last little bit of it. And I’ve got it all down on tape,” he said.
“Johnson I hope you’re not drinking because if this is not an emergency, you’ll be unemployed by the time you go home tomorrow morning,” said the anonymous voice on the other end of the line.
“Just get your butts down here and bring everything you got. I got tape you won’t believe,” replied Johnson.
Three minutes later, Johnson heard the rising and falling tones of the police sirens getting louder as they approached the dock.
Johnson leaned back in his chair and wondered what it was he had witnessed.
He’d seen a man’s arm disappear into the middle of Victory’s mainmast and when it reappeared, it held a piece of that mainmast. It was impossible, and he knew it was impossible. But he’d seen it and he had a video of it.
He looked again at his computer systems. Decided that he would copy the video right now before the police removed it. You just never knew when a bootleg video would come in handy. A few flicks of the mouse and the video file system appeared. He right clicked, and the video copied slowly but surely.
The machine asked him, “Save as?”
And with this he hesitated. “Save as…” he said. He repeated himself, “Save as…” The machine patiently waited for the command.
And then he smiled. He reached into his pocket, took the thumb drive on the end of his key ring, shoved it in the slot and dragged the copy file over to it, named the file, “Not-possible.” The machine’s download symbol started rotating
The sirens grew louder.
One minute later there was a soft bing from his machine as the backup completed. He ejected the thumb drive, closed it and put it and his key ring back in his pocket.
The sirens became almost deafening as two vehicles entered the parking lot. The lone police car led an unarmored van right up to the building entrance.
Eight battle-armored police emerged from the vehicles to sprint toward the entrance gates.
Johnson watched them on the cameras as they came into the Security building. He stood, walked to his door and threw it wide open. As they burst into the lobby, he waved from his doorway. The commanding officer who had led the men into the building gestured to the other doors and the troops moved to guard each. The young officer walked briskly towards him. Johnson took one look at the straight back, swinging arms and the officious look on his face and decided he didn’t like this one already.
“Johnson?” the officer asked.
“Yes, Sir, it’s Johnson. Fred Johnson, Sir.”
“Lieutenant Borders,” said the officer. He continued without hesitation in the clipped accent of the well-educated, military officer. “Well Johnson, let’s see what you’ve got.”
Johnson keyed up the appropriate part of the CCTV video and smiled as he watched the young officer’s jaw slowly drop so that his mouth was wide open and his eyes bugged out as the video showed Merlin retrieving his staff.
“What the… ” said the young officer.
“Now you know as much as I do, Sir,” said Johnson
“Where did he go? Show me those camera views,” ordered Borders.
“Don’t know, Sir. We’ve got him coming down the gangway on this camera, and the CCTV outside the other side of this building shows him walking up the street. You may have passed him.”
“Oh crap,” said Borders. He continued, “Do not move. Do not go anywhere. Do not do anything to that tape. This is now a national security issue.”
The young Lieutenant turned and double-timed across the entrance hall yelling at his men to get back into the machines on the double.
As the young man ran, he said, “Command radio, how do you read me?”
“Reading you 10 x 10,” replied anonymous voice in his headset.
“You won’t believe what the video shows. We need a full video-security team here soonest, and I do mean soonest. We also require an immediate search for a man, grey hair to his shoulders and trimmed grey beard, blue jeans, black leather jacket, about 50 years old. He’s carrying a long wooden staff. Do not approach. Do not arrest. Simply observe and track. Do that first. Now! And get me the most senior person on duty,” said Borders.
A few seconds went by as the young Lieutenant continued running towards the parking lot. He received the confirmation.
“Yes, Sir, I’ve put those requests out and we’ll see what we can do, Sir. Stay online for the night duty officer, Major Peters, Sir.”
Borders continued his run towards his troops, yet spoke carefully into his helmet microphone, “All troops, back to the vehicles on the double. Now, now!”
As the men clustered around the vans, Borders said, “We’re looking for a tall elderly man, grey hair and beard, wearing a black leather jacket, blue jeans and carrying a staff that’s almost as tall is he is. Don’t bother any old guy unless he has a staff,” said Borders. He paused for two seconds and changed the tone of his voice for the next order. “Listen carefully. If you see him, do not approach him. We’re not sure what we’re dealing with here. This is no ordinary old, white guy even though he looks like one. Just radio his location in and observe him.”
He continued, “I don’t know what he is, but I just saw him take a jeezly long piece of wood right out of the middle of Victory’s mainmast and that was no camera trickery.”
As they entered the van, one of the troops looked at his partner, raised his eyebrow and then spun his eyes around twice. The other nodded and sent a private message, “Indeed. Bedbugs. Crazy as.”
Two troopers joined the young Lieutenant in his command car, and the two vehicles split up to cruise the streets leading away from the dock. They drove down all the adjoining streets one by one, but didn’t see anyone remotely resembling their quarry. Other police cars joined their search. Stealing something from Victory offended their national and professional pride and they weren’t about to treat this as a minor theft. But they didn’t catch even a glimpse of Merlin.
“Excuse me, Sir. He could’ve gone to ground a long time ago,” said the team Sergeant. He continued, “I doubt were going to find him out here, Sir. We’ve been driving around for over an hour, and wherever he is, he’s deeply hidden now.”
“Officer of the watch, do we have him on city CCTV?” asked Borders.
“Negative, Sir,” came the reply.
Borders took a deep breath, considered extending the search but reality intruded and he looked at his sergeant. “Unfortunately, I think you’re right. Sonofabitch, I would’ve loved to have caught him. After seeing that tape, I don’t know who this guy is or what he can do. But, I really want to ask him how he pulled that wood out of the friggin’ mainmast,” he said.
Two seconds later, Borders closed his eyes, and wondered whether he’d really like to confront somebody who could put his arm deep into a huge mainmast and pull something out of it. A shiver ran up his back.