Looking for Mr Nobody
an extract from the novel
Before you start...
*BOOKSELLER selection as one
of this year's top debut crime novels*
*WATERSTONE'S preview 'a brilliant
thriller that's exciting, hip and alarmingly topical, conjuring up a
world where blue liquids and Black Ops converge. Read it now, because
before long you'll be reading about it for real in the newspapers.'*
A story of hunter and hunted, lost
and found, guns and roses, designer drugs and banana smoothies.
Set in the mean streets of Amsterdam, Looking
for Mr Nobody centres around two people, who inadvertently stumble
into the shadowy world of Black Ops and military designer drugs...
Jan Wolf is a drifter and pavement artist who
remembers nothing before the hospital where he was treated for gunshot
wounds. The police want to talk to him; sinister men in black are on
Robin Carlson, a woman not quite as tough as
she wants to be, is the 30-something estranged daughter of a US general,
with a Glock-17 for a security blanket. Stranded in Amsterdam, she puts
her military training to use as a martial-arts instructor and part-time
bouncer in the city's nightclubs.
Both of them are looking for friends who have
been swallowed up by the city. And as Robin and Wolf join forces, they
realize the stakes are getting very high indeed...
'Now don't you worry about anything, my friend. Not a thing.
confident grin flashed at Wolf out of a lean, tanned face and worried
He grinned back at the man as best he could while the hairs on the
back of his neck were standing up stiff as a wire brush, and nodded
his head up and down. Nervous, eager to please, not too bright. Don't
overdo it, you idiot.
Wolf tried to moisten his lips but his tongue was dry as an autumn
leaf. He rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth instead. Look
at that -- his hands were trembling, and he hadn't even told them to.
Just a sign of how swimmingly things were going. If you wanted to look
at it that way.
He reminded himself, a bit sourly, that he did want to look at it that
way. When you were a hero, you did things like tricking the enemy into
transporting you to their secret hideout so that you can discover all
their dastardly plans.
Rather to his surprise, that bit had gone off without a hitch. The
case of advanced orthodontics sitting across from him had been amused
to be approached by a volunteer. You heard what--? Yes, and you need
the money, of course we understand completely. But you do understand
as well, Menheer Wolf, that you will be in isolation during the programme?
There isn't a Mevrouwe Wolf--? No little wolves, hahaha. Nobody? Relatives,
friends? Excellent, then if you could just sign this right here, we
can do business ... That's it, OK. Excellent.
It seemed to be a favourite word of his. He had quite a lot to say,
unlike his partner who sat at Wolf's side in a Cro-Magnon silence. They
both wore the coats, long black wool FBI-style overcoats, just like
something out of The X-Files.
Wolf seemed to recall liking The X-Files , some time before
life turned into a murder mystery with him playing the corpse. A distracted
corner of his mind noted that this must mean that he had once had a
television, and presumably a room to put it in. Cheering thought, in
any other circumstances.
Orthodontic Man leaned forward in the dim cosy cave that travelled
in the back of the black limousine. Wolf had to stop himself from leaning
backward in response. Breath-mints wafted about him, and for the second
time in as many minutes, the guy was clapping him on the shoulder.
'Really, now, I'd just like you to sit back, take a load off. I know
you're probably worrying about all the medical stuff --' Dismissed with
an airy wave of the hand as if it was an incidental. ' -- but you won't
be inducted into the programme until tomorrow at the earliest. Really.
The doctor will want to see you, get all your details, allergies, that
kind of thing. She'll fill you in. She's very thorough, insists on the
most stringent precautions. And in the meantime we'll give you a nice
warm bed for the night.' A hammy glance at the expensive-looking wrist-watch.
' -- what's left of it! Almost five a.m. No, but you just relax, you
hear. I wouldn't like you to think this was some two-bit outfit. We're
not cowboys, my friend. No indeed.'
If he claps me on the shoulder even one more time, Wolf thought with
regret, I am going to screw this up completely by punching his lights
out. His stomach was empty and ticklish, a fit of nervous giggles straining
to get out.
He sat up a little straighter and stared out of the window: it was
snowing again, a fog of fat flakes blatting down out of the yellow-grey
night. The driver had the wipers going double speed, and the road had
taken on the drumming sound of ice.
They'd come off the motorway on to one of the industrial park roads
up northwest of the harbour. Signs passed too quickly in the snow to
read, but Wolf was aware of shapes in the grey, storage tanks like a
giant's game of boules left out to rust. He recognised them but couldn't
think of the name of the road. His momentary blip of optimism faded.
When someone calls you my friend every other sentence when you've only
just met, and pours out twenty excellent and unsolicited reasons why
you shouldn't worry about something they're going to do to you ... well,
frankly, it was worrying. Very worrying indeed.
The future threatened to be both eventful and brief.
Wolf was not gratified in the least to discover that he
was right on all counts. It could only have been an hour since he arrived
at what the Black Coats called the Hole, and things were going decisively
to the dogs.
Wolf rubbed cold palms up and down his goose-pimpled thighs and sighed:
it was being buck-naked in the middle of winter among people who were
fully clothed. It put one at an immediate social disadvantage. Not that
there was much social give-and-take going on.
When you live on the streets, people who inhabit the parallel universe
of work and time and money look at you in a certain way, if they look
at you at all: it is an embarrassed look, full of bile. It resents and
pities and condemns you as a shiftless layabout all in one sideways
Wolf would have preferred any number of such looks rather than the
way they looked at you down here, as if you were a piece of meat.
He glanced up at the inscrutable black lens of the security camera
high up in the corner of the room, then away again. Too much curiosity
about his surroundings might prompt suspicions about his true purpose
True purpose. The thought made Wolf snort: purpose was a grandiose
name for what had brought him to this pass. Gross stupidity would be
closer to the mark.
Getting here had been a cinch: he'd felt so damn clever, offering himself
up like a lamb to the slaughter. The only trouble with tricking villains
into taking you to their secret hideout, he thought, is that in the
movies, there's always another good guy -- an assistant hero -- following
you, or using an ingenious tracking device to pinpoint your whereabouts.
In short, backup.
Oh, Wolf added drily, the bit I haven't got. Didn't it occur to me
that the reason they let me come here was because it didn't matter?
They seemed to leave an awful lot of doors unlocked down here, and it
occurred to him suddenly that this might be because they weren't worried
about anybody being able to get out. No exit. Except feet first, maybe.
When he came to think about it, perhaps he ought to have planned this
in a little more detail. Including, say -- just for the sake of argument
-- some means of escape.
When they hustled him from the car, it had been snowing hard, but even
the gusts of white could not obscure the fact that the building they
entered was derelict. A broken plastic hoarding outside clapped against
the brickwork in the wind. Through a wooden door into an echoing corridor,
then into a cheaply-outfitted office lit by a single flickering fluorescent
strip. Another corridor ended in a set of wide lift doors.
Orthodontic Man punched a seven-digit number into the electronic key-pad,
trusting in sleight-of-hand as safeguard. Wolf caught the first four
digits, and repeated them to himself a couple of times as the men ushered
him inside the opening lift doors. Seven, five, nine, eight ... then
what? Chagrin at missing the vital digits segued into the sweaty onset
From the outside, this looked like a goods lift, battered and basic.
The interior was much different: carpeting that came half way up the
walls and tinted mirrors all round. There were some imperfectly-removed
rusty stains on the otherwise-immaculate beige of the carpet. Wolf tried
not to seem as if he was looking at them.
The doors hushed shut again, and there was an imperceptible jolt as
they started moving, downwards. That startled him, and kicked off unpleasant
speculations about what might be going on in a locked cellar. He gazed
as his boots dripped slush on to the nice beige twist, and tried to
look suitably cowed. It wasn't difficult.
It was when the lift doors opened that Wolf realised just how much
trouble he was in. This was much, much more than just a cellar.
God knows what it had been originally -- a nuclear bunker, maybe, back
in the bomb-paranoid Sixties. It showed signs of having been hacked
about and adapted many times. The little metal room Wolf was currently
sitting in looked as if it might have started life as one of those walk-in
meat lockers you find in freezer packing plants. There were still steel
slider rails bolted to the ceiling. Wolf could imagine frozen sides
of lamb or whatever hanging in rows.
He could just as easily imagine himself hooked up there, dangling,
and he pushed the image away with a shiver. Nothing really bad has happened
yet, he reminded himself. As a calming mantra, it left a lot to be desired.
Orthodontic Man and his monosyllabic companion had disappeared in the
first few minutes, leaving Wolf to the tender mercies of the most muscular
set of orderlies he had ever seen.
Wolf knew a bit about orderlies -- they'd been a daily feature of his
life in hospital -- and he thought he knew the type: chatty, matey,
some brisk, some laid-back. These men barely spoke except to snap orders
at you, and they had that Look, which said that what they were seeing
was not worth noticing. They didn't look like hospital workers, they
looked like mercenaries playing at dress-up.
The doctor, whose head barely topped their 48DD chest measurements,
and who also rapped out orders -- though with a delectable French accent
rather than Middle-Eastern -- was a woman.
Wolf contemplated the little circular Band-Aids that decorated his
arms. One shouldn't complain when a doctor was as pretty as this one
-- blonde, with an elfin face, lissome even in the all-enveloping scrubs
everyone wore down here -- but she was bloody careless with needles.
She'd tweaked the final one as she slid it out of his flesh, and his
bellow of surprised agony had earned him a cool, pitying look from her
beautiful grey eyes.
She turned away and sealed the vial of blood, laying it on the steel
trolley at her side before she spoke, with a quick sigh as if addressing
a recalcitrant child. 'Don't be such a baby. Here,' peeling the backing
off another Band-Aid, ' -- press this on and hold it.' She pushed the
trolley out of the door and left Wolf sitting there clutching his wounded
arm and feeling acutely foolish.
It occurred to Wolf at that moment that all his time on the street
had failed to imprint an important lesson. He'd relaxed when she walked
in the door, as if her full lips and sleek cheekbones and long-lashed
almond eyes were some sort of guarantee of good character. He'd believed
it, right up to the moment when she fixed him with that cold gaze.
All doctors everywhere speak over your head to their cohorts in a sort
of verbal shorthand, and doctors all over the world tell little white
lies like 'This won't hurt much.' These things are a given in the doctor/patient
But this French girl was not your average doctor. Wolf found himself
wondering, if she didn't care about hurting him, what sort of things
she might tell little white lies about -- or great whopping big ones,
at that. It didn't make for restful speculation.
He felt like a side of beef, and when she looked at him with that Look,
he knew in his heart that she was just sizing him up, preparatory to
cutting him into the proper joints for roasting.
They left him alone for a while after that, sitting on his plastic
chair. The air down here smelt of ammonia and some sickly deodorant
perfume that made Wolf think with longing of the freezing air up above.
This would not have been his first choice of ways to spend a Sunday
When the doctor came back in and ordered him to take his clothes off,
Wolf only hesitated a moment. He had the feeling that the so-called
orderlies would enjoy making him do it. He stripped without a word.
The lady doctor was giving him that look again that said he could have
made it a strip-tease and she still wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.
Pieces of meat aren't sexy, or embarrassing, or pathetic. They're just
pieces of meat.
More verbal shorthand, and they'd led Wolf out of the room clutching
his clothes, and down a harshly-lit concrete tunnel to a row of green-painted
doors. One was open, revealing a grey metal box of a room equipped with
a prison-style hole-in-the- floor toilet, a hinged plastic flap seat
where he piled his clothes, and a dingy hospital bed with one threadbare
'Wait here.' Wolf heard the latch drop on the outside: evidently there
was some point in the procedure past which doors were locked. Also evidently,
he had just passed that point.
That had been ten minutes or so ago, and Wolf was getting chilly waiting.
He let his gaze wander, curious as a cat. He had just slid to the floor
with the intention of testing the door, when he heard the doctor's voice
outside. He made it back on to the bed just in time as she entered with
a clipboard in her hand and two of the biggest orderlies pushing another
trolley behind her. Metal clattered beneath coyly-draped linen, and
Wolf's mouth went suddenly dry. The Frenchwoman tapped her biro on the
'OK. Just to confirm before we get started, please: you do not suffer
from hypertension, or have any diagnosed heart condition, or diabetes
'No -- no, nothing like that.' Wolf watched her brisk movements anxiously,
as if they might tell him something he didn't already know. She tucked
a strand of blonde hair behind one ear and wrote with the bunched fingers
and earnest concentration of a toddler. Wolf swallowed, or tried to.
The sides of his throat stuck together. He coughed. 'Can I have a drink
She shook her head while she finished scribbling on the sheaf of papers
clipped to the board.
'Not yet. Afterwards.'
'But -- '
'If you drink now it will make you vomit,' she said. 'Lie down, please.'
'But -- ' Her expression shifted into displeasure, and the orderlies
were there, one each side of the bed like really large guardian angels
-- if angels wore surgical scrubs and expressions of surly violence;
Hell's Angels, possibly.
'Listen to me.' The doctor placed the clipboard on the trolley and
snapped on a pair of whitish latex gloves as she spoke. Wolf had the
impression of a speech performed many times. 'In a moment I am going
to give you an injection. Before I do that, these gentlemen are going
to put you under restraint. This is for your own protection and ours.
Your body will react very quickly to the introduction of the test substance,
and the symptoms can be violent. I can't pretend that the next few hours
will be pleasant ones -- ' A slight shrug -- it isn't happening to me,
'but the induction will go much better for you if you do exactly as
'Violent? Is it ... ' Wolf had to pause and clear his throat again.
'Is it dangerous?'
'That's the reason for the medical,' the woman reassured him. 'For
someone with high blood pressure, or diabetes, or a bad heart ... well,
the result could be very bad.' The corners of her supple mouth turned
down a little to show him how bad. Another shrug, very Gallic. 'But
you are healthy, so I don't see any problems here.' End of speech. A
jerk of her head to the guardian angels. They grasped Wolf's arms, one
each, and looped jellybean-orange plastic cable round his wrists. A
metal ratchet clip turned the stuff into a sort of instant handcuff,
with a shortish length dangling from each wrist and terminating in a
heavy-duty snap ring. The plastic was warm where it touched his skin.
Wolf looked at it in disbelief.
'Look, is this really -- ' He was smiling, a little desperately to
be sure, but the doctor cut him off.
'Lie down. I assure you that you won't like it if they make you.'
Wolf flung himself off the bed, lashed the cable in the nearest angelic
They swatted him like a fly.
Crushed under several hundred kilos of muscle, Wolf felt his arms stretch.
Snap rings went clink. Someone was twisting cable round his ankles:
it tickled as it slid under his feet, then ceased to be funny as the
someone drew it taut. Another clink, and he realised they were tying
him down to the ring bolts in the floor. Wondering why made his guts
go watery with terror: no going back now, dom.
Dizzy with the lack of oxygen that comes from having your face squeezed
in another man's armpit, Wolf tried to indicate that he was co-operating
-- look, guys, not struggling any more -- but they held him tight. He
couldn't breathe, let alone yell.
The stab of the needle in his unprotected flank would have made him
yelp if he hadn't already been suffocating in an atmosphere composed
of five parts garlic, five parts stale testosterone.
He heard the doctor's voice say something testy. His assailants pried
themselves off him and lumbered back. Wolf lay panting, eyes closed.
Even the foetid recycled air smelt good after that.
'That was very stupid.' The doctor was shucking the translucent gloves,
a pinched expression on her face. 'If you refuse to co-operate, this
will be much more difficult. For you,' she added sharply.
Wolf bared his teeth at her: he was held fast, arms tugged straight
down on either side, as if he were pointing at the floor, feet tethered
by a cable that ran through a steel ring in the end of the bed. His
muscles felt like overdone noodles. He had never imagined he could be
this frightened. He shuddered suddenly, cold in his chest and belly,
as if he'd swallowed ice.
Over by the wall, one of the orderlies made a small noise in his throat
-- a giggle or a sigh, quickly muffled. Wolf looked across. It was the
man he had hit in the face with the cable: a red weal struck across
his cheek and chin as if someone had attacked him with a lipstick. He
looked as if he was enjoying Wolf's discomfort more than would be quite
appropriate in a medical professional.
Waves of cold rolled in. Wolf could not stop shivering. His skin seemed
to be trying to shuck itself off his bones. The ceiling spiralled down
to meet him in a whorl of nausea.
His last memory for some time was of puking helplessly over the edge
of the bed.
...continues in the print edition
© Sue Rann 2003.
Sue Rann's Looking for Mr Nobody was published in June 2003 by
No Exit Press (ISBN 1 84243 0661).
Order Looking for Mr Nobody online using these links and
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