Tomorrow, Martin Vernon Grey, Marty to his friends, would remove the approval forms from the replacement passports then re-attach the old for re-filing. Two extra passports courtesy of H.M. Liverpool Office and the original applications with no record to say the duplicates existed. Except for the dossier he’d stashed in his loft. That fostered his dream of tropical Sun, Sea and hash and two fingers to the boring shrew that called herself his wife. But not yet, a few more on file and he’d make the move. Tonight he’d collect the grand’s worth of black from his Warrington contract. The thousand would gross him five and a few favours enjoyed. Not bad; who say’s two into five won’t grow.
Wednesday morning, he’d the two amongst the pile for issue stamping. This was the part that loosened his bowels. Everything else was lost in a maze of paper and procedures, but the stamping with the original numbers and the actual pocketing wee risks without excuse. Separating the specials then going out of the office so he could return, remove his jacket and throw it over them before hanging it up was a routine he’d created mornings and afternoon. The fear never left him until he’d returned the package to the barrier located by parking bay A12. Walking away he ran his hand over his gleaming red BMW 320. Marty reckoned it was a shrewd move booking the parking bay on a yearly contract.
Once he’d hid to see if he could spot his benefactors. He’d ended up bored and threatened by an irate woman who gave him a suspicious look when she’d parked her car and an absolutely murderous one when she came to collect it. What the hell; maybe one day he’d get to meet the little darling with her Brummie accent who give him all the details. Marty never grasped the significance of A12 and it’s proximity to the Ocean Tower Hotel. Twenty rooms over three floors gave Joanna an excellent view of A12 and the car parks entrance and exit.
Jane Huntington gave herself a moment to register the aches in her body; the ache in her brain would take longer to disperse. Shrugging into an old shirt of her father, she gave a look of revulsion at the thing that lay beside her. Its hair long and dyed in the latest freak fashion lay in oily shards like a lank shredded bin liner over the pillow. The head moved presenting a gaping salivating mouth to her. Disgust shuddered to revulsion of both herself and the adenoidal ape she’d allowed to use her. As the quiver ran through her she padded to the kitchen for morning – just - coffee. Her home looked as though it had been ransacked. Clothing and the things that normally filled them were scattered over furniture and floor. Even sleep failed to create any mirage of innocence for the bodies draped in singles or huddled as doubles once it had gained dominance over the snorting and screwing. Today they would go. No ifs or buts. Today was “it”. How long had it been now? Four; nearer five weeks and all on a whim of perversity because Jane Huntington had been bored. A feeling no stranger to her since she’d gone to some pain and given her teens to cultivating it.
Occasionally she could fool herself into believing the perversion was the free spirit of rebellion and enjoy it. Mostly she recognised it for the empty shell it was and wondered if it was a family trait. At twenty-two she was beginning to believe she’d cast a mould too solid to break but translucent enough to allow the occasional flash of hope to taunt her.
She hadn’t really been interested when the sewage sweaty alien with the planet sinus accent had approached her once his group had finished their spot with the question / instruction; ‘Dance?’
Amused by the rough cockiness of the Geordie group she was introduced to the rest who were all collecting partners. Later by fate, or more likely quirk of influenced tongue, she found herself hostess to the lot of them.
Dave, her partner, though monogamy wasn’t a criterion for the six of them, was full of himself. Confident another few gigs like the one they’d just done would see them signed on the doted by a record label. Jane doubted if they’d see much of anything. The high life was all right, but the stuff they were using was stratospheric and it burned you out if you didn’t stay in orbit. She couldn’t see the sense in using something if it put you so far out you couldn’t connect the action with the thought. They’d stayed with her for three nights much to the consternation of her Mews neighbours. Each night continued the collage of depravity and she’d continued the challenge when she agreed to accompany them on tour.
Rarely staying in hotels, mostly in a shuddering cesspit of a bus she gained experiences of provincial England that were vastly different to her usual jaunts up north. The boys didn’t find the back streets behind the disco’s and clubs hideously threatening and depressing. To them it was an environment easily ignored through familiarity. Dave in a moment of eloquence had said, ‘What d’ye fucking expect. Once the drabness of the building matches their lives it stops ‘em worrying about either.’ The only other time Dave had slipped into showing signs of normal human emotion was during the week they were booked in Newcastle. He’d taken her to stay with his Auntie Lill in an overspill dump called Cramlington. Lill was a gem and it surprised Jane the genuineness of Dave’s affection for her. They weren’t related Lill was his last and longest serving foster mother. However his temper was sorely tried when he found the sleeping arrangements made no concessions to his needs. Jane’s folding bed in Lill's room guaranteed her night rest.
The next fortnight in Cologne living like rutting pigs in a dank flat completed her slum therapy. She should have got rid of them at the airport and saved herself a night that had been more of a screaming crescendo than a finale. If depravity wasn’t killed in her, it was certainly cured for the foreseeable future. A girl coming into the kitchen broke her contemplation. Finding a glass the girl rinsed it, and then downed two glassfuls of water. ‘Makes you terrible parched.’ She’d a trace of Welsh and was trying to hide her embarrassment under a tinkly assurance. ‘Could you do me a favour? Ring my work for me and tell them I’m too ill to come in.’
Jane did as she was asked then hanging up said, ‘They didn’t sound too happy.’ Bitch.
The girl started worrying her bottom lip and looked so down Jane regretted her comment and poured her a coffee. She remembered her now. Poor sod had looked terrified when she came in with Tonto a couple of hours after the party had started. Tonto! Christ, she couldn’t have picked a worse one, he liked to watch the pot being stirred a few times before he came in his own manly conclusion. ‘I’m going for a shower and getting dressed. I’d advise you to join me then get out of here before any of this lot decide they want a encore.’ The girl said she would; thankful for the offhand manner Jane seemed to view the whole sordid affair in. Silly little cow Jane thought as she watched the girl search for her clothes. Disregarding a pair of leering eyes on a floor cushioned head, she stepped over and pushing the girl in front of her latched the bathroom door.
The shower freshened but didn’t clean. Buggery to her was futile, dirty and sore. Back in the bedroom she was dressed and the girl gone before she hauled Dave out of bed and told him to take his menagerie and fuck off to hell. Slowly the message penetrated and by holding out she was the recipient of wishes that were unique if not impossible. With her home her own again she rang the cleaning agency and arranged for it to be sanitised, laundered, spring cleaned and, had she thought of it, exorcised. Agreeing the following Tuesday would be fine she made arrangement for the keys then had a second shower. Opening the garage door she realised her mothers ring was still where she’d hidden it the first night along with the rest of her jewellery. Slipping the ring on and leaving the rest where it was she eased the Lotus out of the garage. Four saw her a notch ahead of the early rush hour pushing down towards the old A3. By half five she would be through Bramshott and turning into the drive of the Victorian monstrosity with its Tudor chimneys, herringbone brick and half timbers her father called home.
Without knowing why, Brian and Pat were left to their own devices at Coniston for most of Wednesday. It was evening before they learnt they were to be re-born.
Giving each of them a passport, copies of the holder’s original applications and four visa forms, Joanna explained their purpose. Brian’s adopted identity was one William Gallacher; born in Greenock the year before Brian to William and Alexanderina, both deceased. Next of kin was wife Ivy, nee Jones, living in blissful matrimony in Wrexham. William, a civil engineer, was as physically matched to Brian as the generalities of the form allowed. Pat was James Charles Srachan. Born in Lesmahagow in fifty-four to John Robert and Elizabeth who, supposedly were still living. Divorced yet still listing as his emergency contact his ex wife Dolina domiciled in Macclesfield. Pat expressed the fervent wish never to meet anybody with a name like Dolina. Carefully filling in their applications they wrote accompanying letters for the visas and passports to be held for collection from Grosvenor Square until their departure date in the last week of June. Checking their handiwork, Joanna handed over two registered envelopes. ‘Post them tomorrow from any place you pass through. There won’t be much happening over the next ten to fourteen days and with other visitors due it isn’t practical for you to stay. Besides, you need to get comfortable with your new identities and it’ll be very confusing for Mrs Wilson if Pat suddenly becomes James and Brian William.
It’s better you find a place where you can practice using the names until you’re comfortable with them. Ring me around the end of next week, I might know by then more about the arrangements.’
Shades of vetting, I thought saying nothing other than, ‘I prefer Bill to William.’ Pat thought James was fine, better than Charlie and Charles was too formal. I said, ‘I knew there was a lot of the Jacobite about you.’
‘I’ll learn to handle it once you explain it.’
‘Seriously Pat. How about we post the packages from Greenock; we could charter a yacht for a couple of weeks out of Largs. We’d be able to practice being the new us to our hearts content till we’re proficient enough to test ourselves on shore?’
Pat winked at Joanna; ‘The sailing’s purely to find a spot remote enough to practice in?’
‘But of course, mind you we may have to try a few until we find the best one. Seriously though, we’ll come up against all sorts of minor crises and if we can react with the right names during them we’ll know we’ve cracked it. Besides I’ll be able to work on that bloody awful accent of yours.’
Pat gave Joanna a look of amazement, ‘A haggis decrying my accent! When his own, unless he’s how now brown cowing it sounds like the death rattle of a strangled gander.’
Joanna refused to be drawn, ‘ I don’t think I’ll comment, but the boat ideas fine. If you like I’ll run you up tomorrow.’
‘That’s settled then. Joanna assuming we check out alright and we leave by the end of June, how long should we reckon on being out of the country?’
‘Oh, I’d allow for anything between eight and twelve weeks Brian.’
‘What!’ Pat was first but the surprise was shared.
Joanna couldn’t help chuckling at our expressions. ‘Before you start bombarding me with questions. I don’t know specifically why you’re going, exactly where you’ll be or what you’re likely to be doing. So grilling me is a waste of time. The decision for you both is quite simple. Having asked for our help, you’re probably going to get it. Should you decide you don’t want it, tell me now or ring me before you go and it’ll be the end to the matter.’
Noticing the edge coming in to her voice I tried coming to terms with the time scale, ‘Sorry Joanna, we assumed it would be a couple of week’s thing. For that length of time there’s a favour I really need to ask of you.’
‘If I can Brian.’
‘You remember the first evening with Slieghtholme. When you attacked him for his attitude over the city, government and people thing?’
‘We’ll to be honest for the past couple of years I’ve been so immersed in my own quagmire I’ve a pretty confused picture as to what really is happening in the country. I was wondering if you knew anybody that could get it into some sort of perspective for us.’ Seeing Joanna’s quizzical look I added, 'And I was hoping once the format and data was agreed for it to be updated regularly?’
‘If I remember right Brian, on Monday you said you were learning to ignore things like that?’
‘No, I said I was learning to handle things like that. This is a tool that might help me to handle them. Think of it as a revelation of facts, a dispelling of belief.’
Joanna’s fingers played with her pendant, ‘What areas do you want to cover?’
‘Anything that really effect people. The figures that tell how people are existing as opposed to living and why it's happening. I know it’s asking a lot but I was hoping you would front it for us. Perhaps concoct some reason for wanting it done and keeping our identity out of it at the same time. I did get the impression you weren’t too happy with the way things were shaping?’
‘Why do I think you’re a devious bugger at times Brian and no, I’m not too happy about the way things are going. But I like to stay out of the limelight as well. Let me think about it while I’m in the bath.’
Fresh and willowy in her blue silk housecoat inspired erotic fantasies in Brian about her supposed nakedness underneath. ‘Right Brian I’ll give it a try and as you say front it for you. I’ll say it’s for my uncle; he’s an old guard Tory that hates these lots guts. He’d paid out a few hundred in the past for fact sheets so he could blast out at conferences and I know who did them for him. That only leaves the question who’s paying and how much?’
Brian had to think fast, ‘I was hoping Pat would agree to fund it.’
Pat’s nod, started him on a internal haggle without a clue as to value or going rates, ‘Why don’t we say twelve thousand for three months.’ Then realising the ambiguity quickly added, ‘That’s four thousand a month.’
Joanna started collecting the cups, ‘All right, I’ll try to get it for less. Perhaps keep something in reserve for any hitches or extras that are needed.’
Pat followed her through to the kitchen; ‘I’ll leave a note for John he can organise the money whichever way suits you best.’
‘Fine Pat, now what time do you want to set off in the morning?’
In the end no time was stated, other than the intention to be at Largs around lunchtime.
Joanna had gone by two thirty, after they’d managed to charter a boat from the first broker they visited. When she left Joanna put her hand on Pats shoulder, ‘Now dear, don’t let Bill bully you into sailing in rough weather and ring me as arranged.’ Then kissing him, very much the loving wife pleased to let her husband loose having laid claim to his fidelity. Brian, now Bill, having signed for the boat as William Gallacher got a peck on the cheek and told to behave himself.
For the next ten days, life was as well nigh perfect as two vacationing males could make it. Learning to be Bill and James in the Kyle’s and Lochs, the hook dropped in peaceful anchorage’s where even the squawk of a gull was an occasion and sleep came lulled by the gentle lop of the boat and the synchronised slop of the malt in the belly. The mild discipline of teaching James the rudiments of sailing kept the names being repeated thick and fast and by the end of the first week we used them without conscious effort. I left it till we were in the isolated anchorage of Glen Caladh before telling James of the idea I’d leached from Slieghtholme's ranting. It became our main topic of conversation and gradually formed to a concept. Hardening into and outline and, detailing minor issues occupied our train journey south. The few days we spent in London almost made it desirable. We agreed, Joanna would be asked to add another requirement to the list.
Following Joanna’s telephone instructions, I went to the visa department of the American Embassy the morning after we arrived. The girl worked through a stack of similar request till she found mine. Checking the passport photo she threw a couple of questions to me before wishing me a pleasant visit, handed the visa and passport over. I waited outside for five minutes before taking a tube to Covent Garden and waited for James to join me.
‘See anyone?’ I asked.
James shrugged, ‘Not a thing.’
We repeated the exercise for James Strachan’s visa in the afternoon. James collected his visa then walked through the same audition for an idiot. I shadowed as James waited then walked, we both admitted after our second visit to Covent Garden to feeling guilty of overreacting.
‘Nevertheless’ I insisted, ‘we only felt ridiculous we didn’t look it and it can’t be a bad thing to train ourselves to minimise risks and maximise safeguards. At the moment we’re in the hands of Dublin. Not that it worries me since I see little use in worrying when it’s a chance we have to take. I’m pretty sure we can trust John and Joanna, for now at any rate. What we don’t know is whether the authorities know of them and we get caught in the mesh by association.’
James pulled me back as I stepped off the kerb, and let the three buses rumble past. ‘Or you could get run over by them. Usually one’s enough for most folk.’
We separated again the following day until it was time to meet with Joanna in a restaurant in Jermyn Street. A noisy hive of a place, the hum of conversations keeping each one private. l felt some relief when the welcome for James was no warmer than the one Joanna had given me. I have to admit, for me, Joanna was a woman for all seasons. London could, in some cruel way, take a jewel of a woman from the provinces and diminish her to the ordinary. Joanna’s spirit ruptured that rule. I came down to earth when she slid envelopes to each of us. Jim flew direct to Washington then on to Chicago. Tomorrow I was to fly to Frankfurt, then the next day to Kennedy, then on to Chicago where we were both booked into the Hilton. Finalising our instructions we were told.
‘Collect your tickets this afternoon. All the flights are already paid through to Chicago. You’re rooms are booked and confirmed and the person you are going to meet knows which rooms you’re in but you must clear you’re room bills. I’ve to make that clear because we don’t want any confusion and back checking done. It’s for the person you’re meeting to make any arrangement from then on. Finally James we need you to sign this cheque as P.U. it covers all the costs so far and John has asked me to tell you that another asset of Jim’s has turned up. Some property portfolio he put in your wife’s name. John say’s to add another half mil to your piggy bank.’
J.S. or P.U. some things don’t change, James just shrugged. Even Joanna looked slightly surprised, ‘Well having got over that hurdle, I’ve got to congratulate you both, it seems the names are second nature to you now.’
I said, ‘Thanks. For my part I hope the seconds more profitable than the first.’
‘Well, things certainly seem to be going your way. I’ve managed to get someone to do the reports for you.’
‘Great!’ I decided to let Joanna tell the good news before asking for the additional favour.
‘Her names Rebecca Troward. Early to mid thirties, unmarried and by all reports quite brilliant in sociology and economics. She moved to Salford on the promise of an early professorship but the cut backs put paid to that and left her a little soured. Though according to my sources, not enough to influence her judgement. Any way most of what you asked for she’s willing to do, provided she’s allowed to enlist the aid of a couple of her students. We’ve agreed a figure well within the one you outlined plus any additional costs for computer time and expenses.’
James asked, ‘She knows we don’t want a lot of mind-boggling gobbledegook. Just facts for dummies?’
Joanna nodded, ‘Yes she understands that.’
I smiled what, I hoped, was a winning smile, ‘Then we have another favour to ask and this time it’s for less altruistic reasons.’ I kept the smile going when I slid the paper in front of her, ‘Can you get the information we’ve listed on the Thames Water Board. Probably most of it can be extracted from their prospectus. We’re only interested in the ones confined to London.’
Commenting, ‘This is getting to be a full time Job.’ Joanna slipped the list into her bag. She didn’t repeat the pleasantries of the Largs farewell, wishing them the best of luck and telling them to ring when they were back, she left.
We didn’t drink that night, both having early flights to catch from Heathrow and speaking for myself I was already high on the stage we were about to set. Pat was his usual dumb Irish self, denying his millions made any difference. I don’t know if I’d have done the same, but he was the one that had the choice.
© Eoin Taylor
The links for Chapter 1-10 are at the end of Chapter 11.