Tail by Chris Green
It can be difficult to know if you are being tailed, especially if the car behind you is grey. So many cars these days are grey, and designs are all very similar. Perhaps none of them blends in as easily as a VW Tiguan. This model is so inconspicuous, it has long been the drive of choice for private detectives up and down the country. At what point, though, do you become suspicious about the grey Tiguan behind, and when can you be sure it is tailing you? Fionn Dooley, who used to be an Intelligence Analyst with the motorway police and knows about these things, tells me the rule of thumb is seventeen streets. If you have an unfamiliar vehicle behind you in an urban setting through seventeen corners, he says, the odds are pretty high that you are being tailed. His count assumes that you noticed the car behind you quickly in the first place. Studies have shown that this is not always the case. You have to check your mirrors regularly and have your wits about you. Some people are so unobservant that they might have a grey Tiguan behind them all the way from Plymouth to Rotherham and not notice it in their mirrors. Although why anyone from Plymouth might be travelling to Rotherham remains a mystery.
It is not a Tiguan that I find behind me on my early morning trip to the gun shop. It is not even a grey car. It is a dark blue Nissan Qashqai with tinted windows. But as I near my destination, I can’t help but realise that it has been behind me since I left home. I don’t think Fionn has ever mentioned Qashqais. I phone him on the hands-free to see what the dope on them is.
‘‘I’ve got a Qashqai behind me, Fionn,’ I say. ‘Dark blue. How many streets do you think for a Qashqai?’
‘Well, Max, You’d be looking at fewer streets than a Tiguan, for sure,’ he says. ‘I’d say if it’s more than eleven, then you’d better take some steps to find out.’
‘It’s more than that,’ I say ‘What should I do?’
‘The most obvious first step is, mate, to do a hundred-and-eighty degree turn. Perhaps nothing as dramatic as a handbrake turn. That would attract attention. A more discreet manoeuvre will suffice. If they do the same, you have a tail. Next, you will need to judge if you have the faster car. What are you driving these days?’
‘A Celica,’ I say. ‘I didn’t need the Rav4 any more now it’s just me and Chloe at home. And Chloe has her Blue Media Mini, of course.’
‘Still with Blue Media, is she?’ Fionn says. ‘That’s good. With all these TV companies feeling the pinch and having to make cuts, it’s administrative staff that are the first to go.’
‘So a Celica, eh? Definitely leave out the handbrake turn then. Just a three-point turn in a side street or a driveway will do. But if the Qashqai driver does turn round and follow, you will be able to get away from it easily enough if push comes to shove.
I execute the manoeuvre with as little ceremony as possible on a quiet street, and with the Nissan no longer behind me, I take a circuitous route to The Bullet Hole. I have a chat with Lenny about future investments, do my business, pop in quickly at Terri-Lou’s to let her know I will be round later. Always best not to phone, just in case Billy-Bob is there. Then I head off to Vance Kruger’s warehouse to pick up some bits and pieces. It is not long before I once again spot a dark blue Qashqai in my mirrors. This one has different plates, but I have a feeling that it is the same car. It has the same carbon-tinted windows, making it difficult to get a clear picture of the driver.
I imagine he won’t know where it is I’m headed. Presumably, this is the reason he is tailing me. I start to lead him on a wild goose chase and when I reach a decent stretch of open road where there are no cameras, I step on it. I am quickly up to ninety-five, and in no time at all, I am long gone. Now it is a question of avoiding the main roads and taking lanes and back-roads to Vance Kruger’s. Fortunately, I know the area like the back of my hand, knowledge that I assume my would-be pursuer will not have.
When I arrive at Vance Kruger’s on the Century Park Industrial Estate, the place is swarming with sturdy dudes in orange hi-vis jackets. There are probably a dozen of them. They are not run-of-the-mill utility workmen. Their jackets look tailored. They might even be bulletproof. They have a logo printed on the chests, blue writing on a white oval, but I can’t read what it says. I have a nagging suspicion I’ve seen it before, but I can’t place where. Who are they? What are they doing here? They may or may not be military or police, at any rate, some kind of security detail. But it is clear there is something not right going on here. Whatever it is, I have no wish to become caught up in it. I’ve always found it’s best to avoid complications when you can. Delays play no part in my modus operandi. I’m a busy man. I’ve already lost time shaking off the Qashqai. I have other business to attend to. I turn tail and postpone my visit until later. Perhaps a discreet phone call to Vance first to check that the coast is clear.
I am driving out of the industrial park along Enterprise Way, when in a car park belonging to Fricker Goole Logistics, I spot a fleet of blue Qashqais. Thirty or more, all with tinted windows. I have never heard of Fricker Goole. They seem to be new kids on the block. I phone Britt at the office to get her to find out what she can about them and she if there’s anything going on that I ought to know about. She tells me she is unable to get online. Our network is down. It has been down all morning. Has someone changed the network password, she asks? It was fine yesterday. I tell her I haven’t changed it, and no one else has administrator privileges. She says that Kieran, our Tech Support, is looking into it, but he seems to be getting nowhere. I tell her I will swing by later.
I stop the car and google Fricker Goole on one of my private phones. There is not a single reference to them. I try alternate spellings. Still nothing. Zilch. Not even a nod on the dark net. It is as if they don’t exist. One of the Qashqais makes its way onto the street and parks a few vehicles behind me, presumably waiting for me to make my move. It seems a little obvious. He’s hardly trying to keep his presence secret. Whoever it is wants me to know he is there. While I remain confident that I can shake the thing off and he will know this too, it is still an unsettling development. What are they up to? What is their game? Why me? If I am their target, how vulnerable am I? What have they got up their sleeve? How exposed am I?
There’s only one way to find out, and this is to get moving. Predictably, the Qashqai is in my mirrors right away. Equally predictably, given the Celica’s power, I am able to see it off on the first stretch of open road. Not that there is a lot of it these days. Lights and traffic calming measures everywhere. But here we go again. More developments. The helicopter that starts to track me is something I have not bargained for. The interest that whoever is behind all this nonsense is taking in me is way out of all proportion. I might sail a little close to the wind sometimes. There might be the odd dodgy deal and perhaps my tax returns aren’t up to date. But that’s mostly down to Damien Holst of Holst, Holst and Swindley. It’s not my fault that my accountant has become a crack addict. By and large, I am an honest entrepreneur, working hard to make a living, not a serial killer, an enemy agent, or a people trafficker. Nor am I an enemy agent or an escaped prisoner. This is surely a case of mistaken identity. But even if this is the case, you would have thought that one way or another, they would have apprehended me by now. Unless, of course, they imagine I am heavily armed. They will have seen me visit The Bullet Hole earlier. Perhaps they don’t realise The Bullet Hole has other ventures apart from selling guns. Markets change. Things don’t stay the same. If you want to get on in business these days, you have to be flexible and willing to diversify.
My phone rings. It is Chloe.
‘How’s the filming going, Max?’ she says.
‘What?’ I say.
‘The filming. How are they getting on?’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Haven’t the crew turned up?’
‘Hasn’t who turned up?’
‘The film crew for the shoot.’
‘What crew? What is this about a shoot?’
‘They were supposed to be filming some establishing shots this morning,’ Chloe says. ‘Ahead of the start of the main location filming next week.’
‘I really have no idea what you are talking about,’ I say. ‘Something about a film, was it? But look! I can hardly hear you. You’ll have to turn the volume up. I’ve got a Bell helicopter hovering overhead.’
‘That will be them. They are doing some preliminary filming of you driving your Celica.’
‘Why would they be doing that?’
‘Don’t you remember? The production team for Blue Media’s new TV drama, Yesterday’s Password, wanted a car chase. Toyota were looking for product placement for this one on the cheap, so I suggested for the right price they could use yours. Toyota don’t spend money like Nissan do, you know, Max.’
‘I don’t recall such a conversation.’
‘I’m certain I told you. You never listen. That’s the trouble. It was two or three days ago, Max. In the evening. You had just come in from The Black Hole. You had been out with Guy Golfer, I think. You were in quite good spirits.’
‘Well, I’m sure I told you, Max. You seemed pleased about it at the time. You said that one or two of your little earners might be drying up and it would be good to have some extra cash coming in.’
‘H’mmm! ….. Did I? Well, I remember seeing Guy. But it was The Lost Weekend, not The Black Hole. I don’t go to The Black Hole. Not since …. Anyway, you might have said something about work, but I don’t know what it was. I mean, come on, Chloe! You’re always talking about work. Film shoots, casting, sponsors, advertising revenue. It’s endless. I can’t take it all in. When you got a new logo, you didn’t stop talking about it for days. Sometimes I have to switch off. I’ve got my own things going. …… Look! What about these people with the premises on Century Park? Fricker Goole? Who are they? What’s that about? Where do Fricker Goole fit in to all of this? As far as I can tell they don’t exist.’
‘Exactly! Fricker Goole is a fictional firm from the script of Yesterday’s Password. The premises you saw is one of the principal locations for filming.’’
‘And all the Qashqais?’
‘Product placement. Like I said, Nissan are big on product placement. Really big. They spend zillions on it. We have a lucrative contract with them. They place with us in most of our productions. That’s partly why their cars sell so well in the UK. It’s also why we were keen to do the Toyota business by the back door.’
‘How much are we getting for this filming? Am I getting? I’ve been risking life and limb here.’
‘It depends on how much film they use in the finished product. So we need to give them some decent shots. …… Don’t worry, they will be discreet about filming. Most of the time, you won’t know they are there.’
‘Yeah, discreet! Like flying a fucking eggbeater yards above my head. Do you realise the noise of those things? Why couldn’t they use drones?’
‘I think they are using drones as well. Blue is a proper outfit, not a fly-by-night. We do actually do films and TV, you know. We even do health and safety. Not like some of the rogues you are involved with.’
‘And how does any of this explain the MaxiNet network being down? Britt tells me we can’t log in at all. We’ve been shut out all morning, she says. What’s that all about? That’s a coincidence, is it?’
‘I don’t know anything about that, Max. That’s well out of my park. You know what I’m like with computers.’
‘Yeah! Certainly do!’
‘But I think you’ll find that your outage, or whatever you want to call it, is a separate issue. That won’t be down to Blue Media. We don’t go around doing that sort of thing. We wouldn’t last five minutes if we behaved like that. We’re a respectable communications company. That isn’t us. It can’t be us. ……. That is, I don’t think it is us.’
‘Have you actually seen a shooting script for Yesterday’s Password? It seems to me there might be a clue in the title. Perhaps you need to get yourself along to one or two of the programming meetings. You might have some catching up to do.’
It turns out they don’t need a lot of footage for the car chase scenes in Yesterday’s Password, and from the morning’s endeavours, they already have more than they need. It’s not even a series, it’s just a pilot. I am unlikely to get a big payout on this one, but at least the network is back up. It just came back on, Britt said. Kieran was stumped, but then Kieran is often stumped. His support isn’t over-burdened with tech.
You have to be philosophical about your day-to-day fortunes. Some you win, some you don’t win, some you should win but don’t, some you win but shouldn’t win. Things have a tendency to even themselves out. It’s best to take a Zen approach. There’s no sense in fighting every corner. If you go with the flow, there’s less heartache. It’s about balance. Wherever you are is the place you need to be. It is almost comforting to find a grey Tiguan behind me on the run to Terri-Lou’s. The wild-goose-chase on, all I have to do is see how far we get towards seventeen. I don’t know how he gets the figures, but Fionn tells me that a staggering nineteen-point-three percent of grey Tiguan owners nationwide are private investigators. We live in that kind of world, he says. Modern life breeds suspicion. You have to budget for these things. But even the worldly gumshoe of crime fiction would need to work hard for his plus expenses fee to get one over on me.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved