Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Journeyman - Chapter 9


When I hung the phone back up in the Leeds steak house on Thursday night I knew I’d inherited an Irishman. Whether it was Murphy’s or Sod’s law I didn’t particularly care, all I knew was that by not denying all knowledge of him I’d practically admitted Pat was with me. And while I didn’t know what it meant for him I was cautious about what it meant for me.

Like the rest of the world we had to wait till the evening news on the previous Sunday to hear of the deaths of Quinn and Butler. Pat had minutes of elation, when he’d done a jig in the cockpit and wished them a long time in hell before, taking the whisky I’d offered him, turned towards Ireland and gave a toast. ‘Well done Jim; now go and find your peace.’
When I asked him if it was the Jim I had met he thought for a moment before shrugging and saying, ‘Can’t see any harm in telling you now.’ He then reminded me of the two blokes who’d grabbed his attention at the restaurant, and told of the solution it had offered him. It took some time and a couple of drinks at the weepy bits before he filled the gaps between what he’d already told of his family and the circumstances that lead to the news item. I only asked him one question that night.
‘Would you have killed them?’
‘Definitely. I would have fed them to the pigs then incinerated the pigs shit.’
Difficult to argue with that so I left it.

Monday morning the Sierra was the sole occupant of the Abersoch yacht clubs car park and as expected the battery was flat. Pat earned his corn by pushing the car round three circuits before it started and kept going. He was a bit knackered after that so I left him in peace until we were nearing Bangor. I was musing on his connection to Holyhead and his ferry home, and juggling with my conscience whether to drop him in Bangor or take him to the ferry. I’d a lot of time for Pat but not enough to be involved in his life and distracted from my own, whatever that was going to be. I asked, ’Where do you want to be dropped off?’ Another couple of miles rattled under the cars wheels before I got a reply.
‘Don’t know. Can’t think of any place. Where are you heading?’
I wasn’t having that, ‘Not your business Pat. You know I’ve things to do that probably won’t lie too easy with you.’
‘Conspiracy to murder is a fairly serious offence even in Ireland and I don’t find I’m too bothered about it.’
To be fair I hadn’t even thought of that but now I probed deeper. ‘ I can understand that. If all you’ve told me is true, they deserved all they got. But in my case it’s me against the system and somebody could get hurt that doesn’t particularly deserve it.’
Pat scrounged a cigarette, ‘I’ll tell you what Brian. If I don’t like the way you’re going I’ll bugger off. But, I can see you need me.’
‘How d’ye mean?’
‘You use the system. Be seen to go against it and you’ll be the one that’s hurt.’
Clever stuff, but I was too vulnerable for criticism this early in the game. ‘You seem to be forgetting Pat I’ve got something to aim for, you’re at a loose end now and looking for something to grab on to. You could take it into your head to piss off and leave me right in the shit?’
‘Yeh, but for now your aim’s as wide of the mark as it was in the boat. Why don’t I just tag along until you’ve sort of firmed things up?’ Pat laughed, ‘Who knows it could be the loose end that gets me hitched up.’

By this time we were well past the Bangor or Holyhead options and I was beginning to wonder whether my opposition was down to sense or mood and I’d to admit to a bit of intrigue. Perhaps I was getting the answer to my conundrum on the boat. Two loners didn’t double or half loneliness, maybe with the right attitude they could explode it to oblivion. And I’d had enough of solitary thinking till the mind feels like a sponge of useless inertia. Besides anything I told him now was so loose it could easily be changed.
‘All right; we’re going to Leeds.’
Realising the length of his journey Pat started to recline his seat. A risky business in the Sierra since its ratchet was pretty weak. ‘Why Leeds?’ He asked
‘The pin picked it. I’ve told you the cash situations a bit tight. I intend to remedy it there.’
‘How d’you intend going about that?’
‘I’m going to have it donated.’
‘Donated?’ I couldn’t see his face but I knew he’d a smirk on it.
‘From a munificent supermarket.’
The whrrrrk from the seat told my I’d his full attention. ‘There’s no need for that, I’ve over five thousand on me.’
‘All no doubt in crisp Irish punts.’
‘What does that matter? It’s hardly enough to cause any concern.’
‘Exactly Pat, it’s a cash lake I want, not a puddle. And I’m not interested in swanning around until yours runs out. Besides I’ve got to satisfy myself on a couple of points. I think I’ve got the nonce to source and plan the job, I’m not sure if I’ve the bottle to carry it out.’
‘After your efforts in Dublin I’d be more worried about your nonce as you call it than your bottle.’
‘It worked.’
‘Only by a fluke. In fact by a couple of flukes and the fact you were convenient. Anyway that’s past, how do you intend getting the supermarket to make this offer.’
‘By putting them in a position they can’t refuse.’
Realising I was serious didn’t stop Pat asking, ‘Are you taking the piss? Because if you’re not I can tell you every supermarket has procedures in place with the emergency services. They’re inconvenient for the markets and the shoppers, except for some who manage to get free groceries, and a bit of excitement for the police. Rarely is any money paid out and if it is it’s in security cases. You know the type that spew out dye and contaminate every thing in the case and within twenty yards of it in an instantly identifiable Day-Glo red.  You couldn’t launder the money or flog it to a blind fence.’
‘Thanks for the info, I’ve got to admit I didn’t think ripping off the markets was that common.’
‘Ripping them off isn’t, trying is.’
‘I’ll just have to turn the commonplace to my advantage. Look Pat, no offence but I’ve too much at stake to have to worry about somebody playing at it.’
‘Brian I’m not playing, I’m just not saying I’m committed. How can I till I know the in’s and out’s. I’ll tell you this though it’s more inviting than just changing four walls and bar counters from Dublin to some place in England. Maybe this is my chance for a new start. Even if it’s only talking over what you intend to do then making the choice if I want to go along with it or not.’
‘Choice is not an option for me Pat.’
Pat’s voice saddened, ‘I know Brian; I know. I’ve lived with that as well. It’s because I have that I can promise to do nothing that’ll bugger you up.’ By now we’d just past Chester and were heading down the slip road to the M56. 

If I was the villain I wanted to be, I would have pulled off the motorway on to some side road and shot him. But, the pistol was in the depths of my sailing bag under his case in the boot and it suddenly dawned on me I’d never checked to see if he was carrying one of his own. Besides it was fantasy, I liked him too much so I ragged him. ‘Christ Paddy is this going to be one of your -i f that’s where your going I wouldn’t start from here - days.’
He didn’t seem to appreciate the rag and I didn’t appreciate being straight- armed with his hand round my throat and my head pressed against the door pillar. Easing quickly off, his eyes indicated for me to check behind, just as the chequered Rover eased off its ramp to join us. We must have covered ten miles with that Rover behind us and probably another two once it left, before I slid the wheel wrench back between the door and my seat and without taking my eyes off the road asked him to light me a cigarette.
‘Never call me Paddy.’
Now how did he expect me to react to that? I’d already swallowed enough pride to straighten out the kink in my windpipe and he thought he could act like Swartzen whoever while I played the mug. ‘Fuck you Pat. Tell you what, I’ll drop you in Warrington then don’t call me and I won’t call you.’
‘Look Brian I’m sorry. Really sorry, I just hate the Paddy cracks and I seem to have developed this temper that just acts. I’ve got to get a handle on it.’
‘Certainly gives the lie to the laid back attitude you usually adopt and the wisdom you profess. It’s like walking on eggshells.’
‘Brian it won’t happen again, that’s a promise.’
What the hell we’d past the Warrington turn off any way. Next stop on the route I was taking would be Partington and I couldn’t be cruel enough to drop anybody off there.

That night we booked into one of the private hotels that litter the area round Hedingley. Apart from getting a new battery fitted to the car at Pat’s insistence, we spent the next three days visiting supermarkets in Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds. We settled on one in Leeds early Thursday. Then Pat had us visiting hospitals, ambulance depots, which was in one of the hospitals, police headquarters and sub stations. Commenting I didn’t regard such pessimism as much of a morale booster all I got was a grin from Pat. I was still none the wiser when we sat down to our meal in the city centre steakhouse.

Pat caught up with me after I left the phone and he’d paid for the meal. ‘They’re ringing us back here on Tuesday same time. I was asked if you were with me. Not strictly true, I was asked if I knew where you were. I wasn’t sure how to answer; it caught me on the hop so I think they know you are. Anyway I’ve a message for you, somebody called Ann? Her husband is to be buried tomorrow.’ I waited for a response and getting none carried on. ‘As far as I’m concerned they didn’t say no and they didn’t say yes. We’ll find out Tuesday. Oh, and the bloke said if you want to know more he’ll tell you then.’ Pat was lost in his own world staring into a window display. I didn’t think the display of blushers and makeup very absorbing and I knew he didn’t so I tried to nudge him back. ‘Pat?’ Then I saw his tears. ‘Okay, if we get you Manchester airport by five tomorrow there’s a ticket waiting and a seat on the first flight to Dublin for six.’
‘Just give me a minute Brian. It’s yer man in Dublin that’s getting buried.’ We spent maybe another twenty minutes admiring the for- sale and to- let signs that littered the centre of the city before his minute finished. ‘No need for Manchester Brian, I knew he didn’t have long, just didn’t think it would be that short. With Jim gone, it’s the last of my ties, makes me feel soulless.’
‘Shit Pat your depressing me. If you promise to keep your hands of my throat I’ll tell you I’d miss you.’
Scrounging another cigarette Pat asked, ‘Why the pistol?’
I’d to give that some thought, not wanting to commit myself either way. ‘When the shit hit the fan, what really got to me was the inhuman way they went about their business. Nobody was interested in the rights or wrongs and there was no feeling for the people concerned. It’s difficult to describe how it felt. It just took all of your spirit and ground it out of you. The myths of the caring society was a veneer covering mindless prats and pratesses with the moral capacity of Belsen stokers.’ I shrugged, uncomfortable that the memory could still bother me. ‘I decided they had to pay a token retribution. The gun was to get one of the buggers from the industry that started the problem, then one each from the bank and the receiver.’
‘You said was. Does that mean you’ve dropped the idea?’
‘Can’t say Pat. I wasn’t enamoured practising with it but there are still moments when the thought of the shits grind my guts into a knot. Being honest I suppose it’ll depend on developments.’
‘In what way does it depend on developments?’
‘If somebody ripped you off for two million, you wouldn’t feel too charitable towards them. But if you then ripped off ten million you’d be a bloody sight more satisfied. In fact I’d be positively smug and I wouldn’t want to risk my gains for something that causes the establishment so little pain.’
‘Is that what you’re aiming for Brian?’
‘Ten million.’
‘I reckon it’s what I’m due. Besides it makes it easy to calculate the interest.’
Pat laughed, ‘You know you’ll get nothing like that from the market job.’
‘I know that Pat. That’s just the taster, the crack that starts the flow till it widens to a torrent. It’s all to do with liquid assets Pat. Liquidity is the key to prosperity.’
‘You’ve had this idea up your sleeve all along haven’t you?’
‘Just the outline Pat. But ideas are the atoms of opportunity and I certainly wasn’t going to squander it on a chance meeting with a couple of Pa- Irishmen.’
Pat laughed, ‘It’s alright Brian I can handle it.’

We had a late session that night, not on drink; we’d hardly touched the stuff since we came to Leeds, but on the details of the job. It was three in the morning before all the details had been exposed, actioned then criticised and strategy agreed. I was impressed when I heard Pats reasoning behind the visits to the police stations, hospitals etc. Obviously his experience would prove a valuable asset. Two things still had to be cleared up between us. One was cleared that morning. Pat had just snaffled my last cigarette when he looked at me through the smoke then swung his hand across. 
‘I’m with you Brian, and there’s my hand on it.’ The second would be getting him to buy a packet of fags. I didn’t hold out much hope on that.

We started our shopping spree in Bradford then continued it over the next week as far as Liverpool and north to Newcastle. We stayed out for the most part of camera scoured precincts and stuck to the anonymous world of back streets. Every day we had one, sometimes two visits to the supermarket. The definite one covered from four till six in the afternoon. Everything had to fit round that.

The message on Tuesday forced an exception. A change that would mean the operation started from Manchester. On the Wednesday we travelled to Manchester and while Pat booked two rooms for Thursday week I found an engineering suppliers and bought eighteen replacement oxygen gauges from him. They’re a common item easy broken, so the amount wouldn’t cause any particular memory stir.

By Friday we had agreed most of the major details leaving a week to turn them all into fact. From four until six we were both back at the supermarket. I was parked apparently dozing while I waited patiently for the groceries. At five forty five, I got the confirmation of the procedure being the same as the rest of the week. Two security guards were sliding the cases into the van and driving out on the same route. 
On the dot of six Pat returned with little to show for two hours shopping. 
‘It’s pretty straightforward. The only detail I couldn’t get is the rear entry to the fish counter. We can check it out when we do the early morning visit but I reckon both it and the bakery have separate access to the main storage bays.’
I asked, ‘Everything in the bags?’
‘Yup. Got a bargain on the loaves, they’d just marked them down. Eighteen loaves, salad creams and some German sausage with an unpronounceable name that I couldn’t resist.’
The bread was perfect. Uncut about twenty-five centimetres long, ten centimetres square
And crusted all round. Made for the dainty diagonally cut, crust free sandwiches, of the calorie challenger set. That night I got busy with the cheddary coloured emulsion paint that called itself deep sun along with the oxygen gauges, engineers depth gauges, quartz alarm clocks and two sets of four core wire and magnets. Pat was busy modifying two empty beer cans, fiddling with fuse wire and separating the contents of six boxes of twelve bore cartridges.

Much to our relief we found the porosity of the bread and it’s proximity to the fan heater forced the paint to dry quickly. Three coats gave the loaves and acceptable finish and the week of waiting should help with the overall texture.  Two lengths of the four core wire had the outer covers stripped off and the inners twisted to make an eight core loom. Hollowing the bread to match the clocks the eight wires were pushed through it and out the other side. Two of the wires were left exposed before looping back behind the clock. Mixing the excess bread with a mixture of glue and salad cream I worked it into dough before adding a heavy sprinkling of the powder Pat had extracted from the cartridges. The mixture was packed behind and round the slurping alarm clock after its alarm had been switched off, its alarm hand set at six thirty and its time synchronised. From the other side a similar exercise was done for the oxygen gauges, which had their back removed, the gauges set to red and the two screws used as terminals for wires from the loom. The depth gauges had the unit dials set before the four back plate screws became terminals for the rest except for two of the wires. These were pushed back through towards the clock. The last wire, about a meter long already had a magnet attached to one end; its free end would sometimes be attached to the depth and at others to the oxygen gauge.  The loaf bomb with its dials and wiring looked like a scrum of spiders. Lifting it to my nose I gave it a tentative sniff. ‘Only thing I can smell is the glue.’
Pat looked up from the coffee table he was working from and eased his back.  ‘Don’t worry they will. Remember to throw in some variation in the wiring.’ Looking at it I didn’t think that would be a problem. It wasn’t, but cleaning up after us
was. We decided hotels of any sort were not the best bases for comfort and anonymity and latex gloves a triumph of hygiene over sensitivity. They were to become less troublesome in the future, probably like surgeons almost second nature.

Saturday, since we could do little during the day in the hotel we spent wandering round the Hospital. Noting especially the routes to the accident and emergency department the morgue and the incinerator, then going on to the various routes to the supermarket. Finally we went to Bradford and put in a little practice crippling trolleys. An early meal allowed an early start to the evening production. 

Our trip on Sunday started off badly. I’d suggested we try for someplace on the moors and we’d driven almost half way back to Manchester before the day-trippers making the best of the weather forced us to accept it was impossible. Driving back on the M62 we drove round the outskirts of Leeds until we spotted a huge concrete yard in the middle of an industrial estate. Deserted, it answered all our needs for isolation and its perimeter fence was more a token than serious attempt at security. Following a line of twisted and broken posts we came to section where the chain link had been prised back and walked in.

In one of the production sheds we found a series of steel mould tables and opted for the one nearest the end, mainly because of its proximity to a substantial looking sand pile. I waited behind the sand while Past jammed the can under the table, wedging it by a concrete caked support before running the wire back to me. Gingerly I connected one battery clip then the second. The noise was horrendous. We looked at one another in awe, deaf to all but the singing in our ears. Looking round we waited for the hordes of flashing lights but all we got was the slow recognition of squawking from every gull within a mile radius. When our nerves toned down we examined the table. It was undamaged but the concrete that had gradually built up on it during the years had been blown to dust.
‘Jesus Pat, that’s too much! Much too much! If we used that you’d be claiming me in a bin bag.’
‘I wouldn’t go to the bother. But no, I’ll cut it down to half. Imagine it though, it’ll be a hell of a persuader.’
I wasn’t so sure, ‘Maybe quarter would be better. Maybe we should put off everything until November and get some fireworks.  Are you sure we’ll be alright with half?’ 
Pat’s laugh didn’t entirely ring of confidence, ‘Half’ll be all right. I say we have a night on the town to celebrate. Besides my nerves are too fragile to do any work tonight.’
By Tuesday, as far as production was concerned, we were complete. We moved to separate hotels in Bradford. Apart from a growing anxiety whether the meeting on Thursday could interfere with their plans and the embarrassment of buying clothes from a run down second hand shop in Halifax, most of Wednesday was spent in Sheffield locating tapered steel washers then slipping a bung to a foreman of a small engineering shop to machine the hole into a slot running to the thin end.
Thursday was spent on rehearsal of the strategies we’d adopt in the grey areas before heading to Manchester airport. Pat used my driving licence to hire a Granada saloon for a week taking out all the extras and paying cash. I was parking the Sierra leaving the cases with the units in the boot along with two bin bags of rubbish and a heavily sealed bag of liquid that was probably the most difficult and definitely the cheapest item we had to get. Lugging my sailing bag and Pat’s case I waited for Pat to finish the hire arrangement before we headed into the city.

As promised the door to room 216 in the Piccadilly Hotel was open, though our dramatics almost backfired on us. At seven after checking the corridor Pat gave the door a hefty shove. He’d to move double quick to stop it locking shut on the rebound. Following him in I picked up the wedge of paper that had been used to stop the bolt latching home. Pat was busy opening wardrobes and drawers.
‘There’s no luggage or clothes. Rooms just waiting for the next guest.’
I flicked the wad of paper at him, ‘He’s in another room. That’s been torn from the courtesy folder and its not the one from here.’
Pat shrugged, ‘All right Sherlock, any suggestions other than waiting.’ I couldn’t think of a thing and thought of less when the voice said, ‘Good evening gentlemen. Would you care to escort me to dinner.’

It was obvious during the ordering of dinner that she was the one most at ease. I couldn’t get my head round how her understated clothes that oozed quality, probably drained bank accounts and suited her so well, fitted in with the terrorist scene.  Her voice, more Oxbridge than Arklow; education I supposed could account for that, but her demeanour and intelligence was natural. Not beautiful in the glossy cliché way and not pretty as in doe like. But expensively groomed or not, a blind man would sense her attraction and I wasn’t blind and a few minutes later I saw a look she got from Pat and realised he wasn’t either. In all the time I’d known him, that was a first. We were told to call her Joanna. 

Joanna was enough of a hostess to wean us back to comfort during the rest of the meal and had me at ease enough to outline my plans, including a couple of refinements we’d thought of since. Occasionally Pat  added a comment or qualified a point, which pleased me. It showed he was taking the scheme more seriously than at times he appeared.

It was Joanna who summed up our requirements. ‘You’re looking for a crash course on the firms policies and procedures. Then an ongoing association using it’s know- how, products and supply facilities. I take it we get a consultancy fee?’
I felt myself relax. ‘If I’ve understood you and I’m sure I have, that’s exactly what we want. But I’m not quite sure what you would regard as a fee.’
Her smile was quite warm when she asked, ‘Suppose the firm wanted you to do something for them in return for this help and advice?’
Pat’s raised eyebrow told me I was alone on this. My first reaction was to side step it with ifs, buts and depends, but she was too intelligent to buy it and I had just enough not to try it. ‘That wouldn’t be an acceptable fee. To use your parlance our success should leave your firm in a better position to capture all of its home market. The last thing I’d want is your stock rising over here because we intend to use different marketing methods.’

There was an impish twinkle in her eye and a twitch of her lips as I finished. ‘Not bad answer Mr Scotsman. And you Mr Urquhart are now quite a wealthy man. You’re both invited to my home for the weekend we’d like it if you can come.’ Taking the card she offered I noted the address up by Coniston and handing it on to Pat heard his sharp intake of breath.
‘Are you Mr Fernyhoughs wife,’ then realising his idiocy, ‘I mean Fernyhough from Dublin, the solicitor.’
‘Now how else would I have known about your inheritance Mr Urquhart, John will explain all the details over the weekend and I know there are some papers he wants you to sign.’
‘Well Mr Urquhart, it looks as though your boats come in.’ I gave his arm a playful nudge and marvelled how false I could be, ‘I’m bloody pleased for you.’ The response registered by her seemed to be in my favour.
‘Gentlemen, I need my sleep. Can I take it we can expect you?’
I’ve to admit this development on Pats worth concerned me so I thought it better to let him answer. Rising to pull out her chair he said, ‘It’ll probably be late before we get there. We’re tied up till the evening.’
‘Come whenever you can. I’m not an early bedder.’

Watching her weave her way through the diners I shared the last of the wine with Pat. ‘This news, if you want to call tomorrow off it’s all right with me.’
‘You don’t mean that Brian.’
‘Look man, I can’t see a woman like her talking about you being fairly wealthy even if it’s in the high tens of thousands. Fairly wealthy to her is minted.’ I admit to feeling like the jilted bride but I did manage to stop my lower lip from quivering. ‘Better I leave you to think it over.’ Getting up to leave Pat pressed me back down and signalled to the waiter for brandies.
‘Listen Haggis, I’ve put a lot of effort into this venture and I’m looking forward to seeing it work. As you said if we don’t do the little how’re we going to do the lot and I don’t think the news will equal five million. Besides, you’re taking most of the risks on this one. All that tonight has changed is the bolthole we run to. No we go for it.’
‘Just one thing Pat’
‘What’s that?’
‘Never call me Haggis.’
‘Shit, you’ll just have to learn to handle it.’

© EoinTaylor


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