Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Journeyman - Chapter 23

You can follow this exciting story here.

By noon on the Tuesday, Huntington accompanied by Ruth and John Dickson had returned to Bramshott.

Already its grounds were patrolled by uniformed security and a plant hire firm were erecting light units, positioned to flood the area round the house and it access. Ruth, as yet, hadn’t agreed to accompany Laing. After Dickson had explained all he could on the Sunday, she’d used the excuse of a mind-clearing walk to make her call to Ireland.
‘Yes, she was expected to agree after a natural show of anxiety. No, it wouldn’t be dangerous. Arrangements having been made ensuring she wouldn’t be compromised. Had, she was asked, she seen or heard any indications of the authorities being called in? Confirming there were none that she had heard mentioned or knew of. She was told to act as if she knew nothing and play the role of innocent victim.’
Ruth had answered ‘I hope not too much of a victim.’ before ringing off. Now her difficulty would be forcing enough information out of them so any sane person could credibly agree to do it. Her claim to innocence, realistic protest.

Once they were in the house Ruth made her stand. ‘ I accept you’re being blackmailed with some indefinable threat, but for all I know it could be over some dubious business deal. Why should I risk my life just to save somebody’s face or their corporate reputation?’
The question shook Huntington as she’d intended, ‘Good lord Ruth; it’s nothing like that. The bastards have primed our water system with bombs that are designed to release a poison into the supply. We’re all putting our positions at risk because we think meeting their demands is the right thing, possibly the only thing we can do to minimise the threat. Anything else and I would have told them to go to hell. As it is we haven’t a bloody clue why they have included you in their demands. Except the bastards seem to think you’re my wife.’
‘Well, if that is the case they can’t be that well informed. So maybe their threat is not as thorough or as potentially disastrous as they claim.’
‘Exactly my argument Ruth until they left us with a sample of the chemical they claim to have used. It’s one developed by Hopkins’ Company and as yet not known, let alone available on the commercial market. Hopkins has confirmed its toxicity is off the scale and insists the fact they knew of its existence and the methods they’ve used to threaten us with it goes a long way towards establishing their credentials.’ Huntington sighed, ‘Look Ruth, perhaps I’m to close to you on this one. Don’t want to risk our relationship by forcing a decision on you, or for you to consider it as a obligation one way or the other, but the scenario you’re seeing here is for the collection of twenty millions in bank notes. That’s their price and we’re committed to paying it. Which show’s how seriously we are treating the threat.’

Ruth gave him a look of bewilderment, ‘You’re just handing it over? Twenty million? No conditions. No involvement of the authorities, police traps, cops and robbers type stuff?’

Huntington shrugged, looked to John Dickson for support, then, taking Ruth’s hand sidestepped the situation. ‘As I said, I’m too involved. It’s out now, so if John, you fill Ruth in John with the rest of the developments I’ll see how Hopkins man and Jones have got on.’
John nodded, ‘Probably better if they’re gone before the money starts to arrive.’
Huntington looked relieved, ‘What about their findings?’
‘Tell them to seal them in an envelope. We can’t use any of their ideas until we can weigh them against the instruction we’re given. And, if we can believe the sods, we will have most of tomorrow to study them and have copies made.’

Neil accompanied by George and Gerald arrived before Jones and Spienz had left. Fraser was scheduled to arrive around four, provided all the collectors had confirmed they were on route. Cecil wasn’t due to arrive until early evening. Ranked under the study window were three attaché cases and a tatty overnight bag. The bag was Cecil’s but the contents were much the same, totalling around a million and a quarter pounds drawn from personal accounts. Insurance against delays, temptations or Murphy type cock-ups. After a light lunch in a heavy atmosphere Ruth made her excuses and left for her room while an amused George went off to get changed. Reappearing resplendent in Dishdasha, Keffiyeh and Agal he was complimented on being the epitome of the guileful Moor.

I was parked in the Corley services on the M6, watching the spasmodic dart of vehicles flitting through the service gate. From here I could see the coke works chimney casting its grey plume into a sympathetic sky. Two miles southeast of the chimney lay the scrap yard. Already the final resting place for the two Thames vans buried under their mausoleum of similar cubes. Shortly they’d have others joining them, cloned in destruction after having been matched to perfection.

Donald Fraser arrived at Bramshott an hour early, which was taken by all to be a good omen. Shown by Mrs Neetcham into the study he gave a respectful nod to their Arab guest then waited to be introduced. His amusement on recognising George was short lived when John asked him to adopt the same dress code.

From her bedroom Ruth had a grandstand view of the cars arriving, though she’d to crane her neck to see the security men on the door. One seemed to be listing the car numbers while the other checked the labels on the bags against a list. In the next half hour seven cars delivered and the neck strain overcame her interest. Instead she went downstairs to check with Mrs Neetcham if her ringing her bank in Dublin would cause any difficulties, or did she have dial an extra digit to get an outside line from her bedroom? Seemingly not, if she got a dialling tone the line was hers. Her ‘bank’ in Dublin accepted her instructions and confirmed funds would be released to her Coutt’s account once the principal had been cleared.

In the dining room George and Donald were beginning to appreciate their acting role when sweat began to dampen the shirts of the others while they’d only to juggle the totals from the collectors against the numbered tags. Neil and Co were beginning to wonder if they had the endurance to pack the stuff, let alone have it ready to deliver by ten.

Having returned the hire car to Euston, I was struggling to convince myself I wasn’t disorientated, and I had got on the right train, and I was heading in the right direction amongst the mass of professional commuters and shoppers. Like Pavlov’s dogs they seemed to reanimate at stations without any outward sign of checking it was the one they wanted. Manners, compassion, consideration, were not constituents in the bellies of the metal worms. By Acton I was feeling less threatened but not comfortable till I was set free at Heathrow where, whether it made me late or not, I had a wash and freshen up. It was going to be a long night.

Laing arrived at Bramshott minutes after seven.

I had already found the van and, leaving the engine running, checked it over inside and out. No labels, stickers or marks. Even the tax holder was unmarked red. On the outside I could see the edge of a second plate under the exposed number, a quick check told me its magnetic catches would hold fast. Only in one respect did it differ from a million other Transits – the VHF radio with its whip aerial attached to the passenger door. Testing the set, it all functioned except for the channel select, no matter where they spun the knob their choice was limited to one channel, 67. In the mystical world of radio transmission the marine wavebands enjoyed an exclusive allowance in the one hundred and sixties. And while terrain we’d be passing through could limit reception. The advantage would be the scarcity of radio traffic on a marine waveband in middle England. Satisfied, I was only minutes late turning into the Runnymede Hotels car park.

Immediately Pat spotted me he flashed the Saabs lights, swung out of the entrance on to the M25 then down the slip on to the M3. Circling the junction he waited till he was clear of the concrete labyrinth before pressing transmit and sending the test message. He came through strong and clear, acknowledging my reply and confirming at the very least, we had a six-mile range.
When he pulled back into the park I collected the attaché cases, slipped the bottle of pills into his paper overalls and went to join him. ‘Smells nice and fresh.’
Pat smiled, ‘Thought it was the least we could do for her, I told them to give it the works including the leather treatment.’ Flicking open the glove box he collected a sheaf of envelops. ‘The white are for everything going to plan, blue are the alternatives we’ve thought of.’ As I checked through the contents of each envelope he added, ‘I used the stencils and the paper and envelopes have been wiped.’ From his door pocket he passed over a small cassette. ‘It’s recorded in the sequence of the white instructions; anything else we’ll have to play by ear. Unless you have anything to add I reckon we’re ready to roll?’
I handed him a bulkier envelope, ‘that’s your holiday itinerary, now if I slip the copy of the loading instructions into their first envelope we can be on our way. Oh did you get the stuff I asked for?’
Pat tapped a brown paper bag on the console. ‘It’s all there and the squares are already cut.’
Right Patrick, let’s get it done.’

As the convoy of Transit and Saab were swinging onto the Westbound M3 a travel weary Hamilton was swinging his legs onto Bramshotts drive. Neil was sipping the dregs of a cold coffee when the security man appeared with more bags. ‘Excuse me gents. Bloke called Hamilton wants a word with a Mr Hopkins.’
Hamilton was impressed when they swung onto the drive. The combination of lights and security gave an air of careful preparation rather than devious irregularity. Nosing round, he spotted the Arab headdress just as Neil stood up. The sight of the Arab added to his niggling suspicion he was about to look more of a fool than a sleuth.
‘David!’ He turned as Neil indicated he should follow him into the house. In a room that looked like a study, Neil closed the door then offered him a whisky.
‘Some place this Neil, is it yours or the companies?’
‘Neither, it belongs to Sir Reginald Huntington. He’s chairman of Thames Water and the rest of us; apart from our guests, are directors. Now I don’t mean to be rude David but we are fairly busy.’
‘I take it everything worked out all right?’
‘Yes David, it’s a job well done and appreciated. There’s only the Scottish and Newcastle deliveries to come, along with area thirteen.’
A new concern replaced Hamilton’s earlier one, ‘Thirteen that’s Bristol, they should have been here hours ago. D’ye want me to chase them up?’
‘No need, they’ve already rung in to tell us they’re on the M4 waiting for a replacement windscreen. That was a couple of hours back I imagine they’ll be here anytime.’
‘Got a bit of a problem I was hoping you could help me with.’
‘What’s that?’
‘My driver comes from Worcester and I was wondering if there was anyway you could get me to Euston, or if I could borrow a car and leave it there. Save the bloke having to drive up to Manchester before heading home.’
Christ, now he’d to take into consideration drivers’ welfare. ‘Hold on till I see what can be worked out.’
Noting Neil’s annoyance Hamilton knew he’d been cornered by a pigheaded conviction that was now struggling for a spectre of intuition.

At Alton, Pat drew the Saab up by the two telephones, and then caught up with the van approaching Chiddingfold. Pulling up by the Green I gave the van a final once over, checking the trip and mileometer still registered zero before locking up and sticking the key to the magnet in the wheel arch. Stripping off my overalls and gloves and bundling them into the Saab, we walked across the Green and into the Crown Pub.

Hamilton turned Fraser’s Scorpio right at the end of the drive. Now that he could be foolish in private, intuition was worming back. Though with nothing to go on, other than the intricacies of the collection procedures and size of the haul, allied to the activity at the house and the status of the people involved, could simply mean it was out of his league. Searching for a reason he also found he was searching for the road out then realised he’d done a circle when the lights then the entrance reappeared. Annoyance made his mind up for him as he passed the drive; it was the only solid fact he could work from – the money was in there and sooner or later it had to come out. Opening the gate into a field he tested the ground before driving through and using the hedge as a screen, backed towards the drive. A quick survey had him thirty yards up from the entrance and sure to see anything going in or out with lights on. He checked the cars vital signs, almost a full tank allowed him to leave the engine running. Comfort guaranteed he decided he’d give it till midnight before heading back to London and a hotel for the night. By half eight he’d a tally of four cars in and four out.

Ten, and instead of following Pat out of the Crown I apologised my way through the revellers to the pay phone.

‘We’re to go to a place called Chiddingfold. Parked by the Green we’ll find a white van registration number.’ Neil checked his scribble, ‘G 920 EGM. Key’s stuck to the top of the nearside wheel arch and there are detailed instruction in the cab. On the way there and back we have to use the B2131 and the A286. I think we’ll need to use your driver Reginald.’
Cecil stretched, ‘Well I suppose this is it. Was anything said about Mrs Dellows accompanying me?’ There was a moment of panic as eyes searched each other out. With all the tallying and the graft they’d forgotten about her, even Huntington, who now somewhat pensively knocked on her door.
‘Come in Reginald.’
He knew her answer by the way she was dressed; sensibly in slacks and jumper with comfortable shoes covering socks and, apart from earrings, free of any jewellery. ‘You don’t have to do this you know darling.’
Ruth smiled, wondering if he would have been just as relieved had she said no. ‘I don’t know why I’m doing it Reginald or what’s going on today but I can’t see I’ve any option after John explained the possible repercussions. I think however you’ve made a rod for your own backs by not going to the police.’
Huntington’s face reddened, ‘I was for doing exactly that, I thought Cecil would be on my side; caught me wrong footed when he backed Hopkins.’
‘Why should Cecil’s opinion sway you?’
‘Don’t you know what he does?’
‘Now why would I know that? I’ve only met him a couple of times and it’s hardly been social events.’
Explaining Laing's mandarin role, Huntington went on, ‘So once he argued for Hopkins I was hardly in a position to go against all of them, though I regret you getting involved.’
Stretching Ruth touched his mouth with hers. ‘Poor thing, perhaps he does know what’s best, or has he organised a private army or the S.A.S. to back us up?’ Huntington shook his head. ‘Fraid not, it's Cecil who considered co-operation offered the least risk and was soonest mended.’
Ruth smiled, ‘Ah well, let me get my coat.’

Hamilton had lost the Bentley by the time he got through the gate and it was luck more than judgement that had him turn right at the junction and caught the flash of brake lights as the Bentley paused to cross the A3. After that it was easily tailed to Chiddingfold where he reversed in to a convenient house drive as the Bentley eased its way round the Green. He didn’t recognise the couple who got out and made their way to the van parked immediately in front of them. Concerned that one of them could be the owner of the Scorpio he switched on its lights as a blind when they drove past in the van. Thirty minutes later he was back where he’d started, in the field, trying all the cubbyholes in case the owner smoked and he could succumb again to the habit and maybe, just maybe, relax enough to let his brain notch into place the relevance of something he’d watched on the box which involved Thames Water and Arabs? Anyway something was happening; even if it was only another layer of confusion over a bog standard van; probably big enough to take all the money, so why the rigmarole of collecting it. Why not have it parked at the house ?

We were glad he’d moved. We were parked in a lane known by a few loca Fangio’s as a god sent escape route having caught themselves on a tread defying right hander. ‘ Too much of a coincidence? Both directions, one white Scorpio. Time to warn them off?’
Pat shook his head. ‘No leave it for now or they’ll know we’re still in the area. I’m pretty certain there was only one in the car and two in the van.’
‘They probably sent Laing and Dellows.’ It was then that the thought occurred to me that set me off chuckling, causing Pat to give me a look that showed concern for my sanity. ‘What’s hit your funny bone?’
‘It’s just struck me; we stipulated Laing had to drive. We never checked if he could drive.’
Come off it Brian, practically everybody over seventeen drives.’
‘I don’t mean legally but competently. Wouldn’t it be a bastard if we were to loose the lot because he’s a crap driver.’
‘He got it back didn’t he?’
‘If it was him driving.’
Pat sighed, ‘Brian.’
‘Shut the fuck up.’ The fuck sounding like feck.
‘Just a little banter to pass the time. We’ll check them on the A32 and see if the Granada’s still with them. How’s things going for you with Jane?’
‘Fine, you?’
I shrugged and tried for a tone that would tell him my interest hadn’t been facetious. ‘Don’t know yet.’
‘Ah well, best of luck.’
Cecil, having changed into well-worn cardigan and cords, watched Gerald and Neil struggling with the last of the cases. ‘Very precise instructions. Makes you wonder why, any ideas?’
Gerald wiped the sweat from his face and looked over their handiwork. ‘None, unless it’s to help us get them all in. They’re packed as tight as sardines.’
Neil tugging his sweat laden shirt off his back made a mental note to find time for exercise. ‘That doesn’t answer the colour scheme. Look at it.’
Cecil took the page and read the instructions that gave them detailed packing positions and colour coding. ‘ Maybe they’re control freaks, or I should have ran a check to see if the colours represent any terrorist organisation.’
Cecil’s attempt to lighten the situation went over Gerald’s head. ‘I’m more concerned about their intentions with the Dellows woman. Anything happens to her and Reginald will blurt the lot out to anybody that wants to listen.’ He cut his comment short as Huntington and Ruth approached. Five minutes and Ruth, having given Huntington the obligatory kiss, was watching Cecil trying to adjust the seat to gain a shade more legroom and couldn’t budge it. Giving up he started towards Alton and the two telephone boxes outside the Grange Hotel. Cecil, more conscious of familiarising himself with the van than its contents, while Ruth was wondering just how much added value was going to be gained by her account from the load packed behind them.

Laing was at the phone box in time for my second attempt of contacting him. As instructed he lifted the receiver on its fifth ring and for the first time heard the hiss and tinny voice from the tape. Nerves had his brain racing instead of memorising. He found himself apologising to the machine and asking for the message to be repeated. The hiss re-started, this time he forced himself to concentrate.
‘Were to go back to the centre of Alton, find the A32 then stay on it till the M4 then head for London. And we’re not to exceed sixty.’ Said more in confirmation than to inform Ruth, he added. ‘You wouldn’t by chance have a notepad and pen would you? I’d a mental blank back there.’
Ruth shook her head.
Putting her silence down to fear, Cecil tried to involve her by handing over the road map supplied by their tormentors and asking her to find this A32. Driving through the town’s bright centre, both were too busy searching for the road to notice the Granada following in plain view through the door mirrors.

We were tucked into a line of parked cars by Tunsworth lane waiting for the first sight of the fruits of our labour. We’d to be patient for twenty minutes before the van flashed past, followed seconds later by the Granada. Pat finger drummed for a full five minutes before there was anything else for us to consider, a mini bus, hiving with singing revellers.
‘Definitely definite. Did you see if there was more than one in it?’
Sliding into gear, Pat shook his head, ‘Too dark, too fast and still too bloody obvious.’
‘Okay, spell it out especially the obvious bit.’
Just that Brian; it is too obvious. It’s either a trick I don’t know, to appear incompetent or it is incompetent. The police wouldn’t be using one car, they’d have it boxed in a grid and covered from the air. This way they’d have been as well using a traffic car with its lights flashing.’
Sometimes a little knowledge is more dangerous for what it could be rather than what it is. ‘Okay, it’s either a decoy or a fuck up. Pull in by the post office I’ll use the phone.’

‘Who’s speaking?’ Keeping the tape on pause I waited for the other end to shake himself awake.
‘It’s Hopkins.’ Neil watched the others begin to pull themselves together, turning from them as the tape began its hiss.
‘White Granada F263 PGA following van since Bramshott; who and why?’
‘I don’t know, it’s nothing to do with us….Shit, hold on a minute.’ I missed the first of the conversation until Hopkins moved whatever he’d muffled the phone with, in time to hear a voice in the background identify the car as his. There was another expletive. ‘He’s David Hamilton a private detective. His job was to help with the delivery of the money. He must have got curious; he asked if he could borrow the car to get to London. We haven’t told him to do this you must believe.’
Neil hung up knowing he was pleading with a dead line and told them what had happened.
‘What if I reported it stolen?’ For a moment they allowed themselves the luxury of believing Donald’s solution. Gerald was the first to see its faults. ‘It’ll mean nothing unless the police stop him and if that happens he’ll spit out why he’s doing it. Obviously they’re keeping tabs on the van so what are our friends going to think. That we’re getting him off their back, or having been caught out we’re changing tactics? There’s nothing we can do except do as we’re told and as yet we haven’t been told to do anything.’
‘Its all right you saying that.’ Huntington looked even more miserable. ‘We don’t know what this will mean for Ruth and Cecil. Hamilton’s your man Neil, you had him involved; or is this another of your ploy’s you haven’t had the decency to tell us?’ Looking around for support he made for the phone. ‘Its gone pear shaped, its time to get the police in on it.’
Neil put his hand over the phone and glared at him. ‘Christ’s sake calm down. What do we tell them? We’ve a van out there with twenty million in it and a car following it we want apprehended. How’s that going to go down, especially since we can give them the details of the car but not the van? I can’t remember the number, can any of you?’ Heads all shook except Huntington’s, who, not wanting to admit his own part in the oversight remembered Neil taking the phone call instructing them where to collect the van.
‘You wrote it down.’
Neil shrugged ‘Probably but what did I do with the note? And are you suggesting we ring the police and tell them why we have twenty million driving around somewhere,’ Glancing at his watch Neil tried to gauge time and distance, ‘in a hundred, maybe hundred and fifty mile radius of this place and we want the Granada pulled off because it’ll bugger up the arrangements. I don’t think that will get a touch of the forelock and the promise of seeing what they can do. We have nothing to give them that will explain our actions. Instead of pragmatists doing what we can we’d be fools. You might find that a comfortable enough cap, I don’t.’
Huntington eased off a bit. ‘I’d rather look a fool than have the death of Cecil and Ruth on my hands.’
Neil’s look should have been enough ‘First, it’s us who promised not to go to the authorities. Now, I doubt if they’ve ever taken that at face value, so they’ve probably covered themselves. Two, it’s a big area to cover and to be blunt I’m more concerned for Hamilton. If they’ve believed me, they’ll know he’s on his own and vulnerable. So having said that and to answer your stupid allegation, why, considering I’ve always pushed to co-operate with them, would I initiate such a stupid ploy?’
Huntington struggled for dignity, ‘I think it’s time you left my house.’
Shaking his head John Dickson threw a couple of logs on the fire. George poured himself a small whisky and fetched one for Donald without him asking. Gerald farted, then slouched back in his chair with a look of contentment. ‘That’s my considered opinion on this argument.’
‘Hope it’s kosher?’ quipped Neil.

I lit two cigarettes while Pat was red lining the Saab on the approach to the M3. The Granada problem had to be settled and, while we were both inclined to believe Hopkins, we’d no way of knowing how much this Hamilton knew, or his intentions. To us both were non-negotiable, zero, zilch until we knew how much of a threat he posed.
I gave Pat my version of a winning smile, ‘Let’s flush him out and see how strong his hand is.’
‘London, at the garage.’
‘Right, at least we’ll know.’

Settling back in my seat I waited for the M25 junction to appear that would take us on to rejoin the van on the M4. Perhaps we were over reacting, but our exposure would be spasmodic and controlled while the tails would be complete. Or our Christmas and probably all the other Christmases of our lives could be wrecked, but to suffer the inexplicable was unthinkable. Still didn’t stop the surge of excitement running up both our spines when after four minutes wait on the Heathrow feeder we watched the van and it’s shadow flash across the flyover.

Constantly checking to keep his speed to sixty, Cecil noticed the distance wasn’t being recorded and, for the want of anything better to say, mentioned it to Ruth. Accepting it was not exactly a topic to inspire conversation he was disappointed when she lapsed back into silence. A silence that allowed him to ponder the decision made on his recommendation. Then it had argued sound, the best approach ensuring minimum risk. Had he been acting officially he’d convinced himself his advice would have been the same; pay the money, get the blueprint, nullify the threat and start the manhunt; the last two in parallel. Whether it would have carried the day was another question. Probably wouldn’t have found himself in the position he was in now, personally involved and with an innocent life in danger. That gave a completely new slant to the values weighing the odds of real decisions. The collaterals of risks, so beloved by the executive theorists and analysts; became murder when that collateral was in the same space and breathing the same air as you. With a start he realised Ruth was speaking. ‘Sorry didn’t catch that, I was thinking about something.’
‘I said, from what I’ve been told I can understand the others being involved, but why you. Aren’t you something to do with the government?’
Cecil smiled, ‘More of a something. I’m head of the Civil Service, supposedly a mandarin of sense and stability. An apolitical umpire trying to control a game where they’ve done away with the boundaries, stolen the stumps and now seem determined to lose the ball. Not altogether a situation that gives job satisfaction.’ Then chuckling, ‘Forgive me; you don’t want to hear my woes. Fact is when John approached me with their problem I made a few discreet enquiries to the people who should know and got no feedback indicating it could be terrorist inspired, so I considered their approach to be best. If it’s purely for the money, John and the others could raise it and if; big if, I know, the blackmailers kept to their bargain it had the best chance to succeed. Mind you we never dreamt you would be dragged in. I can only apologise for that.’
‘At least I was given some sort of choice. Seems to be another case of plans versus Murphy.’
Cecil nodded his head in acknowledgement. ‘Maybe your Murphy will step in and bugger the other lots plans.’
Ruth smiled, ‘That could make them really dangerous.’ Then wiping the smile from her face, ‘How would they have known to tell you to drive this thing. I mean it’s strange they should think I’m Reggie’s wife, yet know of your involvement when John has only approached you for advice. I should imagine you wouldn’t want it known?’
‘I get your point; sort of inside job type thing. Thought about myself but kept running into the same wall. You see the more we tried to negotiate, the more complicated they made things for us. Now I’m resigned to doing as they say and, if I’m allowed to slip out before it’s known the fans been hit I will do. Provided you’re with me or I know you’re safe. If not.’ he shrugged, ‘I’ll have done my best for reasons I thought best. Mind you that still beggars your question.’
Ruth put her hand on his arm indicating she understood while her brain raced to make sense. It was all “we” when only giving them advice would have left them “they”; she almost felt the relief flow through her. Now she could see the logic of why she was in situation she found herself in. A lot more comforting, especially knowing the amount involved, and wondering how you were valued against it. Glancing at Cecil she considered whether she’d have preferred him to Huntington and knowing the answer was about to test it by saying – why don’t you just let me out – when the radio crackled into life.
‘Number one acknowledge.’
Cecil had to think what that was. ‘Receiving.’
‘Go to the Global services on Edgware Road. Carry out instructions located under your passenger seat. Acknowledge.’
Fumbling under her seat Ruth waived the envelope at Cecil.
‘Understood.’ He waited for more before asking Ruth what’s in it?
‘Fill with fuel. Use high pressure wash, pay special attention to wheel arches, behind bumpers and along sills. Remove taillight covers, shake then replace. Seemingly there’s a screwdriver in the dash. Move van out of canopy, buy drinks, sit in van and wait and you’re not to allow me out of the van. Cocky buggers aren’t they?’
Cecil was running his hand under his seat, turning down his visor then probing behind him.’
‘What are you doing?’ Ruth asked.
‘Checking if there’s any more instructions. If we know what they intend I might be able to chance dropping you off. Try your side will you’
Definitely she’d been given the hind tit in selecting Huntington. ‘Can’t find anything and play it safe. They want me in the cab we’ll go with it, at least then we know it’s all going to plan.’
Cecil pulled in to the middle lane to overtake a car. ‘Why do we know? Ah, I’m with you; the instructions being here already.’ Accepting her logic he wondered if they were to reap some indirect benefit from this exercise. Perhaps the fusion of Huntington to Ruth would give him a backbone.

‘Yonder is the winter of our content.’
‘Forget it.’ We had decided if they were in communication with the Granada, immediately after we’d contacted them with their next move, they’d pass it on. The only sign we saw was of Laing and Dellows conversing. We allowed the Granada to pass, confirmed there was only the driver, gave them a couple of miles to forget us then swept past. Half up the Cromwell road I stripped off my overalls and slipped the whip aerial inside the car. About four hundred yards from the station a waste skip up a side street had our two cases, instructions, red and green files and overalls tucked under a mouldy carpet. Couple of minutes later we were under the Global canopy and I was filling the Saabs tank to the brim.
Global supplied their customers with a choice of car washes. They had the high-pressure do-it-yourself type, for the lazy there was the automatic. Five pounds got me the top automatic. With nobody else using the pumps or carwash Pat waited till the van swung in. Then with a wave to me, pressed the button. Lather was setting like snow on the windscreen when the Grenada joined us.

Hamilton had a problem. He’d to fine tune his tank filling to that of the van. Too slow and he could lose the van on any of the side streets, too soon would leave him waiting. With his pump showing twenty he released the trigger but kept the nozzle in the filler until Laing was leaving the pay window before approaching the pay slot, a twenty already in his hand.
‘You got it Mate, twenty, pump number five.’ In dismay Hamilton was watching the van being reversed to the pressure wash. He took another note from his pocket.
‘I need a receipt for the petrol and twenty Benson please.’ While the attendant was scribbling his receipt he watched as Laing read the instruction. ‘And yes I’ll have a wash token.’
The attendant shook his head, what’s with these wankers, Christmas morning an' they want to do a car wash. Sad fuckers. He was turning to point out the grades when a voice broke in.
‘I wouldn’t bother, it’s packed in.’
‘What?’ Hamilton stood to one side as the attendant was asked if there was anything he could do.’
‘Can’t do anyfink at night mate.’
‘But the car’s covered in that wax stuff?’
The attendant plucked a hair from his nose and examined it. For the money he was on, they expected him to maintain the fucking place. ‘Here;’ he slid a fiver and a token through. ‘Best I can do, your money back and a token for the wash the van’s in now.’ Picking up his magazine clearly showed the issue was closed. I gave Hamilton an amused look before wishing the attendant. ‘And a very merry Christmas to you.’ Having lost his options Hamilton pocketed his change and drove off.

Approaching Laing I explained our predicament and the attendants solution and got the impression Laing was a reasonable bloke who’d have liked to oblige but couldn’t. That was fine by me and, on the pretext of staying beyond the loom of over spray circled the van. If it was bugged, it was too clever for the box of tricks we’d been given to check it out. Back in the car I passed the result to an apparently sleeping Pat sprawled in the rear. In the morning the attendant would have to explain why he was a fiver short when all that was wrong with the car wash was its switch had been thrown.

By the time the van was moving out of the bay the Saab’s windows were opaque with mist. I began to whisk the jet over it and watched Laing removing the rear lenses. The backwash from a passing truck peppered my face causing me to turn my head and catch the Granada heading down Edgware. Bugger wasn’t giving up. Laing meantime was buying drinks and a large selection of crisps. When he was back in the cab I rapped on the Saabs roof.
Pat eased out the aerial. ‘One acknowledge.’
‘Head for the M1 North now.’
The van started immediately, I was still hosing down when the Granada, its driver intent on the van didn’t give us a sideways glance. Seemingly we had a solitary problem to get rid of.   



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