They laid the unconscious waiter carelessly down on the floor to one side of the swing doors. A pinkness was returning to his cheeks and lips now that Trevor had released his grip, but the blood around the tines of the fork, where it was stuck in his throat, was beginning to darken and coagulate. Behind them the diners, who had been herded into the kitchen, crackled with terror and pushed towards the back of the room. Most had turned away from the kitchen doors towards a point in the back wall that Nathan could not see. A few were dressed in white jackets and aprons. Others wore their night-time costumes, jewellery shining beneath the kitchen's white lights.
Nathan said, as if to himself, 'Quiet.' He turned to Trevor, who was standing by the partially open door and watching the police lights flash against the walls of the stairwell. 'There are too many people down here,' he said. There was a tightness in the way he spoke that made him sound impatient. 'We can't control this many people.' Trevor stared at him, his eyes unblinking through the holes in his mask, and then looked past him to examine the kitchen for possibilities. Close by, next to the stove, was a stainless steel deep-fat fryer. The vat of amber oil was on a gentle roll. A few feet away, his back turned to the gunman, the art dealer was trying to push himself to the back of the room with everyone else. Trevor walked over and took him in a neck-hold from behind. With his free hand, the gunman grabbed one of Walker's arms and forced it up his back. It took two steps to manoeuvre him so he could be pushed forward over the boiling fat.
Walker screamed, and a silence fell on the kitchen. The cooks and the diners turned to look, and seeing the involvement of the man who had so eagerly bloodied the head waiter just minutes before, they stiffened. From his position at one side of the kitchen Lord Connaston watched the gunman and saw in him an uncommon and disturbing physical self-confidence. He recognized an animal of instincts who knew how to control others. The art dealer was trying to lift his body away from the oil that was only a few inches below his face, but Trevor's hold was tight. Walker twisted and bucked his body. Sweat rolled down his face to the end of his nose, and dropped into the hot oil forcing it to splash back into his face. He screamed again and opened his mouth wide so that a dribble of saliva spooled into the oil, causing it to fizz and spit once more. Trevor didn't flinch.
hspace="8" align="right">Nathan watched, and swallowed hard. 'Trevor,' he said quietly. 'Tell them,' the other gunman said, nodding towards the crowd behind him. His voice sounded hoarse from the exertion of keeping the man in place, and his teeth were gritted.
Nathan looked at the crowd. 'Clear away from the back of the room,' he said. Slowly they began to walk towards him. 'Faster. Do exactly what we say. Do it now.'
Soon a narrow channel had opened up through the crowd of diners so he could walk towards the back wall of the kitchen. He turned to Trevor. 'Leave him.'
The gunman kept his hold.
'I said, leave him.'
Reluctantly, Trevor released his grip on Walker's neck and arm, and took a step backwards. The art dealer pushed himself upwards, gasping. He turned and slid down the side of a cabinet, his head in his hands. Through the art dealer's fingers, Nathan could see a crust of white blisters beginning to form on his cheek where the boiling oil had made contact, and once more felt the contents of his stomach rise towards his throat and then settle again. Grey Thomas slipped down on to the floor next to Walker, and wrapped one arm around his slumped shoulders.
Nathan looked about the room. It was full of smells – of hot alcohol and meat cooking over naked flames. When he was a child in his grandparents' house, kitchens smelt only of frying onions or crisping bacon. This was a different experience entirely. It distracted him from the heat which was causing sweat to build up behind his coarse woollen mask. Nathan pulled the gun from his own waistband and felt the unfamiliar weight of the weapon. He waved it around the room and said to himself, 'I'm taking control.'
hspace="8" align="left">Now he shouted, in a voice that surprised him: 'Everybody back off. Give us space.' Pleasingly, they recoiled from him. He might not have Trevor's intent or violent commitment, he thought, but with the gun in his hand he could be effective. He sniffed the air again and told himself to focus. He had to treat this as part of the job, not the job gone wrong. He looked towards the doors behind him and, through the small safety-glass windows, saw the strobe of police lights. That way was not an option. The solution therefore lay in the other direction.
'Stay here,' he said, redundantly. And, 'guard the door.' He walked through the crowd, taking in the changing smells as he passed copper saucepans of thick brown liquor. 'Out the way,' he said, and 'coming through' like it was a busy Saturday night at the pub and he was trying to carry a pint. He felt sweat building on his temples and slipping down the back of his neck, and he gave thanks that nobody could see his face. He didn't have to worry about looking anxious, confused or concerned. He was what he was: the man in a mask with the gun. At the back of the kitchen he could see the open door, and around it a tight huddle of diners. As he approached, people drifted away until he was facing the doorway. He stared at what was behind the door, his weapon slack at his side.
'Not what you were hoping to find?'
He turned at the sound of a American woman's voice. He took in the chef's whites and the silk scarf tied around her head.
'When did they do this?' Nathan waved towards the doorway with his pistol. The rest of the room was watching.
'Two weeks ago. Trying to keep the vermin from getting in,' Bobby said. 'They didn't think about any vermin that might be trying to get out.'
'It's a fire hazard.'
'You think so? Like, illegal?'
'Nice, coming from the guy with the rusty gun.'
Involuntarily he ran a hand over his head, as if through his hair. He felt the rough weave of the balaclava beneath his palm. Sweat sucked the material in against his scalp.
'Who are you?'
'Bobby Heller,' she said. 'I'm the chef here, and this is my kitchen.' He kicked the back door open further with his foot so they could all look at the bricked-up doorway.
'Not any more it isn't,' he said. And he shoved the barrel of the gun up and under her chin so she was forced to look down her nose at him.
Up above they heard the diners who had rushed to the back of the dining room when the gunmen arrived leaving the restaurant. Each footfall made a heavy thud that forced those in the kitchen to look upwards and wish they were doing the same. Nathan had a tight grip on Bobby's wrist, and he was walking her back to the kitchen doors. Sheffield stepped forward as they passed, as if to drag him off, but Bobby shook her head. She mouthed 'No' and he sunk back towards the cabinets that lined the kitchen.
When they reached the swing doors Bobby stood quietly next to the gunman, waiting, watching the second man who was still staring out through the partially open door, his narrow back turned to her. Slowly, Trevor turned to look at her. She saw him blink behind his mask. The very tip of his tongue emerged from the mouth hole in the mask to rest against the rough material, a flash of pink against the blackness. Even with the mask she could feel his sudden interest in her. He was staring at her. As Nathan had moved through the kitchen the silence had been replaced by quiet voices of diners trying to reassure each other that they would all be fine, as long as they did nothing stupid. Once more the voices stopped. Everybody turned to watch Trevor.
'You look nice,' he said softly, and he took a few steps forward so he was standing in front of her. Bobby could smell cigarette smoke and involuntarily she leaned backwards to maintain the distance between them.
Nathan laid his hand flat against the other man's chest. 'Trevor—' But Trevor ignored the gesture. It was as if Nathan was not there. 'I bet you smell nice too.' He leaned in towards Bobby and she turned her head away, to expose inadvertently a long stretch of pale neck. She heard him breathe in, and then sigh, so that a warm rush of air brushed against her skin.
'Leave her be, Trevor.'
'You've been sweating.' He sounded exhilarated by the discovery. 'I can smell that you've been sweating. I like that.'
He reached out to touch her, his fingers splayed, and she saw the hard bony structure of his hand and the pale grey flesh pulled taut over the knuckles. She took shallow breaths and swallowed, watching the hand, waiting for whatever it was that he was going to do, feeling exposed and vulnerable with her wrist held tight by the other man. 'Pretty skin.'
Quietly, in a voice only just above a whisper, she said, 'Don't touch me.'
And he didn't. 'I want to taste you,' he said. His hand hovered over her neck and, without getting any closer, traced a path from her ear to the hollow of her collarbone just inside the open neck of her chef's jacket. 'I want to find out what you taste like when the sweat runs down into there.'
hspace="8" align="right">'We don't have time for this, Trevor,' Nathan said anxiously, turning to watch the door. His voice was forceful but quiet, as if he was dealing with a child he did not wish to startle. For a few seconds more Trevor kept his gaze on Bobby, then slowly turned to the second man. 'That's a pity,' he said, and he laughed so that his stained teeth appeared from behind red, chapped lips. Casually, and without taking his eyes off Bobby, he returned to his position by the swing doors. Bobby could feel Nathan's tight, solid frame next to hers. She was thinking fast now. She was weighing up possibilities. He was six inches taller than she was and she thought he could be as much as sixty pounds heavier, though she believed that would be to her advantage. He wouldn't be expecting anything from such a slight woman. With her free hand, she felt in the waistband of her trousers for the hard curve of horn-handle that she knew was there.
He turned to her. 'Are there any other doors in or out?'
She shook her head. 'No. Just this one.'
'Where does that lead?'
He was pointing to an open doorway in the same wall as the swing doors. He assumed it led back under the dining room towards the front of the restaurant. Bobby peered around him.
'Wine cellar at the back under the pavement. Staff changing area to the right, plus dry stores and walk-ins.'
'Fridges. It's where we keep the food, which is the stuff we cook in a kitchen.' She was regaining her equilibrium. She knew what she was going to do.
He ignored the challenge. 'No way out through there?'
'I told you. Just these doors here. And the dumb waiter.' She nodded towards the east wall of the room to their immediate left, where a pair of closed cupboard doors were flush into the white tiling. Next to them were two heavy buttons and two dead lights.
'What's one of them?'
'Hand-operated lift. We use it to bring the dirty dishes down.'
He looked at the cupboard doors. 'How big is it?'
'Not big enough for you.'
From the floor they heard a loud groan and everybody turned to look. Mr Andrews was coming round and, in turning his head, had moved the fork enough to reignite the pain. Bobby decided the distraction was the only opportunity she was likely to get and swung herself around so swiftly that she was suddenly behind the gunman. She pulled out the boning knife and, in one clean movement, pressed it to his throat just below his Adam's apple. He let go of her wrist in surprise and she reached up to wrap her other arm tight about his forehead. This is what boning out ten legs of lamb a week gets you, she thought to herself. This was what peeling a hundred pounds of potatoes and shucking a gross of oysters every day had done to her arms. It had given her the strength to take a big man down.
Nathan stood rigid and still. Trevor stared from his position by the door. Mr Andrews lay beside him, blinking.
'Now you're going to let us all go,' Bobby said quietly.
From between gritted teeth, Nathan said, 'Trevor?'
'Right.' He turned, lifted his weapon and shoved the barrel into the mouth of the head waiter. Mr Andrews stared back down the gun. Trevor turned to look at her. Nathan remained still, his head back as if waiting for a dental consultation.
'Be my guest,' she said. 'Blow his brains out. You'll be doing us all a favour.' Her blade stayed in place.
Trevor said, 'Fair enough.' He withdrew the gun from the man's mouth and patted him on the cheek. Mr Andrews gulped. Trevor stood up and took a step towards the crowd. He walked along the line, staring closely at them – a young man in collar, tie and brassbuttoned blazer, the twenty-something woman next to him with her arm looped tightly through his, an elderly man with narrow nose and high cheekbones. He stopped before the small bird-like woman standing next to him who had grey piled hair and a floral dress, and who smelt lightly of lavender. 'Fine,' he said and he put the gun against her right temple.
'What about her?' He turned to her. 'Name?'
'Susan Guthrie,' she said in a whisper.
'What about Suzy?' He pushed the gun harder against her head, and the woman let out a small squeal. She said, 'Please—' Bobby blinked and swallowed. Trevor stared back at her and jerked the weapon once more against the elderly woman's head. 'Shall I?' Reluctantly, Bobby released her grip. She let the knife slip away from the man's throat. Her arms fell to her sides as Nathan shook himself out.
'Thank you, Trevor,' Nathan said, as if his friend had offered him a cup of tea. He took the boning knife from Bobby's hand. He nodded towards the old woman. 'You can stop now.'
Trevor pulled the gun away from her head, as though he was always open to suggestions, and she turned to be comforted by the older man next to her. He closed his eyes and let out a puff of air, his papery cheeks deflating.
hspace="8" align="left">Nathan walked across to where the head waiter was lying on the floor and squatted down next to him. There was now a thick, black clot around the fork and running down over his neck to cake his skin. Blood had run into the folds of fat and dried there. Nathan knew what he needed to do, though the thought of it brought a familiar and uneasy lightness to his stomach. He looked into Mr Andrews' eyes and then away from him as he slipped two fingers either side of the fork's tines. With his other hand he pulled on the handle. At first it wouldn't move and the head waiter gave a piglet-like squeal and began to pant. Nathan decided the task had to be done quickly. He pushed down with one hand and at the same time, pulled so that with a crisp sucking noise the fork withdrew. A small amount of fresh blood welled up in the puncture holes and slipped out and over the clot.
Before he stood up Nathan wiped his hands casually on Andrews's clothes then he turned to face the room. He held the bloodied fork upwards, tines to the ceiling. Only a small amount of the metal was clean enough to catch the lights. The rest was smeared with black or brown matter.
Nathan said, 'Look at this.' He presented it slowly to the room, turning in a semi-circle so that everybody could see it. 'And the next time any of you think of trying something like that, remember it. Do I need to say any more?'
He said it again, only louder. 'Do I?' There was a dull murmur of 'No' from around the kitchen.
Nathan dropped the fork on to a work surface. He wiped his hand on his leg and turned again to study the shape of the kitchen. He needed a distraction, something with which to keep the attention of his hostages. On a shelf he saw what he was looking for.
Nathan looked at Bobby. 'Does that work?’ he said, nodding towards a small, portable television. Bobby looked over at the set. 'Yeah. It works.'
'Good.' He looked at his watch. 'This is what we're going to do. We're going to watch a little telly. You—' He pointed to Stevie, who was nearest. ‘Do the honours.' The cook flicked the switch and the black and white picture fizzed into life.
This is part three of a four-part series. Part one is here, and part two is here.
This extract is taken from The Oyster House Siege by Jay Rayner, published in March by Atlantic Books at £10.99. To order an advance copy at the special price of £9.99 including postage and packing, call 01903 828503 quoting reference JR1.