Fall The Warehouse Michael Fitzalan

Arriving at the Warehouse

When the truck finally stopped, I was already beginning to feel more nauseous. I was becoming overwhelmed by the length of my incarceration. The smell of rubber and the charcoal made me dizzy, I could hardly breathe. Gas masks – or this one at least – were not designed to be worn for long periods of time.

Anxiety was building and suppressing my feelings was becoming increasingly difficult.

As soon as we arrived, the engine died, and I heard footsteps on the steel ladder outside once again. Immediately relief swept over me and, with the sound of the cap being unscrewed, I fully relaxed for the first time.

I was expecting to be in some dark, deserted lane in the countryside but when the lid was removed, stark electric light flooded in, stronger than that at the border.

A beam of light formed a column next to us like some Albert Speer Nazi rally light show. My travelling companions went into action almost instantly as though the light was some command that galvanised them into action.

My bodyguards proceeded to release me with practised efficiency.

They untied my hands first, clipping the plastic handcuffs with a pair of pliers before cutting through the tape that secured me to the body of the truck with scalpel-sharp blades.

They ripped the sliced strands off my clothes and threw them on the floor of the tanker. After they wrenched the mask from my face; it was easy, my face was so sweaty by that stage it simply slipped from my head. The release of the straps that had been bearing down on my skull was a gorgeous sensation. My hair was free.

Smiling face ripped the tape from my face; that hurt but thankfully he pulled it off in one smooth motion.

The hard ball in my mouth was a problem but Smiley proffered a gloved hand and I gratefully spat the sphere on to his leather-clad hand. It was a relief to have the golf ball out of my mouth and reassuring to know that I had guessed that it must have been that – the divots in the shell gave it away.

As I stretched my jaw and chewed an imaginary, invisible corn cob, I checked my tongue worked and rubbed my smarting face with my hand. I knew stroking the sore skin would make me feel better. Despite the clean-out and the air conditioning, the stench of fuel oil burnt my nostrils and my eyes. I willed myself not to gulp in the fumes.

I measured my breathing despite my desire to take deep breaths.

From the light, I noticed that the men were wearing clear plastic masks over their faces and goggles to protect themselves from the odour and fiery fumes of the residual fuel.

I used to love the smell of petrol, it reminded me of the holidays. My father would always fill up at a garage
on the day we left for Cornwall, Kent, Cumbria or Pembrokeshire.

We would all be in the car with the windows open on a hot August morning, my mother in the passenger seat and me in the back with Mollie our black Labrador.

As an only child, holidays were all about meeting children of my own age and being free to roam the hotel grounds, playing with others. Some years, we took my best friend Becky, too. I have always found the fact that smells trigger such vivid memories fascinating.

This, on the other hand, was noxious, far more concentrated.

I breathed through my nose. Having breathed in the mixed fumes from the truck for what felt like eight hours, my fond memories of the smell had dissipated. I just wanted to breathe clean air again.

They had scrubbed out the tanker

Having added perforations to its skins, they had even rigged an air-conditioning unit of sorts in the cab to waft in clean air but still the rank stench of petrol, which is what it had become, filled my nostrils and stung my eyes like soap suds.

Being out cold when they had put me in my metal mausoleum, I had no idea how they would extract me or themselves. The tanker was like an echo chamber as they clambered noisily to their feet, stomping on the steel floor like truculent teenagers stamping around their bedroom.

This was unlike any bedroom though: cold steel, not soft mattresses; no cosy blankets or duvets to stop me shivering with cold; no soft carpet for my feet.

I was stiff and my bones ached, not to mention my bruises all over from these thugs.

‘Give me a moment to find my feet, I’m stiff as a board,’ I warned as they dragged me to my feet. My voice was cold and hard like gravel. It was not used to working.

‘Stop stalling,’ hissed the one that had hit me, and he grabbed my shoulder roughly.

‘You’ll look back at this as a joyride,’ cautioned the other, taking hold of my hand and pulling me towards him.
I swayed slightly, the oily floor almost made me slip, it was like an ice rink. Firmly grasping an arm each, they shuffled like debutant skaters towards the beam of light.

I was still not sure how they were going to get me out.

I screwed up my eyes once they had placed me directly underneath the blinding ray. Then I heard a whirring and realised that they had set up some sort of motor on the gantry above the tanker.

A harness was lowered on the end of a thick rope, but I was not going to look up into brightness. I was aware of the thugs’ hands working around me. A ship-to-ship transfer basket had been lowered almost on to the wet floor of the tanker and I was forced to step into what was effectively a giant orange canvas nappy.

Still feeling slightly giddy

I was winched up and out of the tanker tomb and away from the stink of petrol. I closed my eyes even tighter.

The heat of the beam of light made my spine tingle but that particular searchlight was shut off as soon as I started to rise.

As my head emerged, I refused to look up and I was holding my breath in case the nausea forced me to be sick. As soon as I could feel moving air stroking my hair, I relaxed.

Taking deep breaths that filled my lungs, I opened my eyes, blinked several times and looked down at my body stuck in the darkness below.

It was like being reborn, discovering another piece of my body, my shoulders and my breasts, and my ribs. My belly and my lower body had been scooped up in that ridiculous looking nappy harness. With legs dangling helplessly, I was swung out like cargo on a dockside crane and lowered to the floor.

The whirring ceased and silence settled on the huge hangar. Looking around, I could only see the vehicle we had arrived in, nothing else was present in the cavernous space. I did notice a sound then, the ticking of cooling metal coming from the truck engine.

I was standing well

Not being sure if I could have stood without the aid of the harness; I stumbled forward briefly, grimacing as the harness chaffed the inside of my thighs.

I stepped forward and the sound of my soft soles slapping the concrete broke the relative silence. Then I heard shuffling, electric motors and winches moving behind me.

My legs were stiff, and I stretched like a cat, arching my back and clasping my hands behind my back, extending my arms out to relieve my shoulders.

I had been sitting in the same position for who knows how long.

Lifting myself on to my tiptoes, I lengthened my legs, but I felt a little dizzy, so I squatted down on my haunches.

Slowly, my eyes became accustomed to the bright arc lights; squinting was painful. The fumes in the truck had stung my eyes despite the deep clean that had obviously negated the worst of it.

Willing my eyes to open wide, I stared at the corrugated steel wall at the other side of the building. Blinking incessantly helped once I had focused on a point in the distance. My eyes filled with tears and washed away the pain.

Slowly, I came to my senses.

The drug was still having the desired soporific effect and if they had provided a bed instead of a chair. Mentally, I tried to shake off the soreness in my body and the cotton woolliness in my mind. My drug-induced stupor made concentrating almost impossible.

The men who had ‘escorted’ me thus far – hardly gallants, that was obvious – had vanished.

There was just me, the strange harness slovenly slumped on the floor now, and the oil tanker dwarfed by the cavernous space. Having escaped on numerous occasions in cities; I felt sure that breaking out of a guarded encampment would be almost impossible.

The only advantage was that they might be expecting someone trying to penetrate their perimeter fences from the outside not from the inside.

Amongst other seemingly insurmountable obstacles was the problem of getting out of the hangar in which I was incarcerated. After seeing the door was firmly shut, I sighed in resignation. I had not yet decided whether they were preferable to the stinging, noxious smell of liquid petroleum.

They certainly smelt worse, but their invisible poisonous particles assaulted the senses less blatantly.

‘Resistance is useless,’ boomed a voice from the Tannoy system.

I looked up and there was a glass and steel office at the top of a gantry to my left. Turning my head, I saw the silhouette of a figure. I wondered if there was an accent to it but could detect none. There was either something masking the voice, or the speakers were poor quality.

It was an English voice.

‘Curiouser and curiouser’, I recited in my mind, thinking how unlike Alice I felt.

The figure disappeared. I could not gauge from my viewpoint whether the shape was that of a young or old person; man or woman, did it even belong to the voice, I wondered. I blinked again to clear my eyes. The person, it was a man’s voice, could be the ringleader or he could be another henchman.

My thoughts raced

I was growing tired of all the psychological games that they had been playing with me. Craning my head hurt; so I went back to staring at that fixed point, blinking constantly and stretching different parts of my anatomy.

The sound of footsteps on the gantry woke me from my yogic activities. Clanging noisily, the footsteps had the unhurried ostinato of an old man walking down the stairs. I listened and turned my body towards the sound. Feeling marginally better than I had trapped in the tanker, I wanted to see this person.

I had a lot of questions to ask.


A well respected author

Michael Fitzalan was born in Clapham, South London where his mother had established a doctor’s surgery in a house which she filled with children.

With three sisters, two brothers and a library full of books, a love of literature was imbued in him from an early age.

Michael Fitzalan comes from Irish parents were doctors and they settled on the West Side of Clapham Common and had six children in quick succession.

A story by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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