Tag Archives: crime

Hat Band

hatband

Hat Band by Chris Green

A jazz musician making his way down an Exeter street on a Wednesday morning with a charity shop bag full of bargain books can hardly be blamed for failing to notice that he is being tailed by a tall, thin man in a dark overcoat. Musicians are more accustomed to being looked at than looking, a matter which helps to explain why the thin man in the dark overcoat has been able to keep an eye on Max Tempo’s movements unnoticed for a day or two. Max is simply not aware that there is anything untoward in his world and why would he be? His quintet has a full diary of bookings, the promise of a recording contract and he has the beginnings of a new tune in his head. This is what preoccupies him as he approaches RAMM in Queen Street, where he feels he might drop in and have a cup of tea and sketch out the chords of the new tune on the pad he carries around with him. Maybe afterwards he can have a look at the paintings in the new exhibition by the modern artist whose name temporarily escapes him. Belinda mentioned him that morning over breakfast. Portraits assembled from cut up phone books or something like that, she said.

Max Tempo is not even curious when he catches the tall, thin stranger casting furtive glances from the corner of the café in RAMM, where he is enjoying his lemon polenta cake. The man probably recognises him from one of his gigs. This happens all the time. People are just too shy to come over and say they enjoyed the set. Or, is he merely admiring his brightly coloured African blazer and striped Jazz cap. It does register with him however when he encounters the same stranger waiting outside the gents toilet, but he does not give this a second thought. After all, there are gay men everywhere these days.

‘I wonder who that fellow in the black Jaguar is,’ Belinda says, looking out of the bay window of their townhouse. ‘He’s been sitting there all afternoon.’

‘Probably broken down or something,’ Max says. Max is working on the arrangement for his new tune on his iMac. The piano part is coming along well but the guitar part is proving trickier than he first thought it was going to be. This is the trouble when you try to put in too many minor chords.

‘Now I come to think of it, he was there yesterday afternoon too,’ Belinda says. ‘When I came back from the leisure centre. I noticed it because it’s quite an old car, isn’t it? Fellow in a dark coat and hat with his head in Jazz Weekly. Peering over the top of it, he was. I remember the banner headline Big Fifties Jazz Revival. I thought he must have been a friend of yours. There were some instruments in the back of the car too. Saxophones, I think.’

‘Perhaps he’s with Green Flag,’ says Max, who has not been listening. ‘They are pretty slow in coming out.’

‘He keeps looking over this way, Max.’

‘You want me to go and ask him what he’s doing, is that it? Perhaps I should invite him in for a tea and cake. Maybe, he can stay for dinner.’

‘No need to be like that, Max.’

‘I’m trying to finish this tune, Bee.’

Max feels It is always a good idea to open the set with a good old jazz standard. So, at Cool for Cats, the Max Tempo Quintet open with Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. As he looks around, Max feels pleased that there is a healthy turnout for a weekday, a couple of hundred perhaps, a good mix of all ages, couples and singles, a few gays and a few hipsters thrown in. So, Max feels they might try out the new number, now that Buck has put in the new guitar part and Bram has the tenor saxophone solo worked out. Max has given it the working title, Borsalino.

The band’s set, featuring highlights of their own material along with reworked standards, goes well. There is a good response from the audience to the new number. Although it is sometimes difficult to see everything that is going on from behind the piano, during the last few numbers, Max can’t help noticing that there are two men with no rhythm dressed in dark vintage overcoats sitting at a table towards the back. Alongside the revellers, they seem oddly out of place and out of time. As Max leaves Cool for Cats after the set, humming a new tune that is coming to him, he finds the same two men are waiting for him by his car. Is that a Fedora the one pointing the gun is wearing?

‘Nice and easy now!’ the other one, the stockier of the two says, stepping out of the shadow.

Definitely a Trilby, the stocky one is wearing, thinks Max. Wait! He’s also got a gun. What’s happening to people in this sleepy corner of the country? It’s always been so peaceful and laid back down this way. The Max Tempo Quintet have been able to get away with more slow numbers here than anywhere else in the country. You wouldn’t be able to follow Misty with The Nearness of You in Bristol or Swindon.

‘You are coming for a little ride with us,’ Fedora says, without the menace you might expect from a seasoned gunman. He ushers his Max towards a Jaguar with blacked out windows. Against his weak protests, he is bundled into the back. Without ceremony, Fedora and Trilby get in and the car speeds off.

………………………………

Ella Valée plays jazz singer, Liv Golden in the long-running television series, High Tide. In case you’ve not seen it, High Tide takes place over an indeterminable time frame and is set on an imaginary island where nothing is what it seems. When Ella is snatched from the set at Shepperton during filming by two thugs with bad manners in dark suits and nineteen fifties hats, she takes it to be an unscripted development in the plot. Surprises like this often take place in High Tide. Director, Leif Velasquez does nothing in a conventional way. Uncertainty, he says, keeps actors on their toes. The series plays around with alternate realities, multiverses, sadomasochism and jazz. A typical episode of High Tide will feature flashbacks and flash-forward sequences, secret agents, doppelgängers and speaking dolphins. Liv Golden usually gets to sing a number or two, in a carefully selected hat. This is one of the regular features of the show, probably the only regular feature the show.

Ella Valée first begins to suspect that something might be wrong on the silent drive away from the studio in the big black Jaguar. Neither the stocky gangster in the Trilby who forces her in at gunpoint or the long, lean one in the Fedora has anything to say. It would be unusual, she thinks, to place such a protracted silence in a prime time TV drama. Not that the unusual phases Ella these days. She has learned that anything can happen shooting High Tide. But, why are they going so fast and where are the cameras? She looks around her. She can see none of the usual paraphernalia for filming inside the car and the vehicles that usually accompany them with kit for the shoot are nowhere to be seen. This is not something that is scheduled to happen. These goons are for real. They are abducting her.

For miles upon miles, the forbidding silence in the car persists. Why don’t the two goons speak, Ella wonders? They could at least threaten her or swap stories with one another about buying hats or gunrunning. She notices they are keeping to windy B roads. Back lanes these might be but she recognises the some of the place names. Stockbridge, Middle Wallop, Winterslow. They seem to be heading south west. It would help to have some idea what was happening. It’s not likely to be good but it would be helpful to know.

………………………………

Whichever genre of popular music, drums and bass represent the driving force of a band. There have been some great rhythm sections over the years. Depending on your proclivities. Max Roach and Charlie Mingus, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, or Sly and Robbie might be ones that spring to mind. Sticks Mullins and Bernie McCoy may not enjoy the same stature as the aforementioned, in fact, you have probably not heard of them but for years they have been the backbone of the jazz combo, the Zoot Norris Seven.

Sticks and Bernie are puzzled as to why two burly hoods should seize them in the middle of the day from the Pannier Market in Tavistock where they were innocently trying on hats and bring them to this big old house in the middle of Dartmoor. Questioning their captors on route about what was happening met with the cryptic, you’ll find out soon enough, sunshine. They haven’t. The hoods appear to have just dropped them off here and left them. Not a clue as to why they might be here. However with the doors triple-locked and the windows barred and boarded, they are unable to escape. Apart than this, it seems they have free run of the place.

Someone is tinkling the ivories in an upstairs room. They follow the direction of the notes and find a showy pianist playing a catchy jazz number on a Yamaha.

‘You need a bit of a beat behind that, bud,’ says Sticks. Secretly he quite likes it. Zoot doesn’t come up with melodious arpeggios like this.

‘And perhaps a nice hat instead of that bandana?’ says Bernie. ‘Something with a brim. And a hat band. How about a Panama?’

‘I’m Sticks and he’s Bernie, by the way,’ says Sticks. ‘Other than hat advice, we might be able to help you out with some drums and bass.’

‘That’s what we do, bro,’ says Sticks. ‘I’m drums and he’s bass.’

‘Cool!’ says Max, surprised but pleased by the intrusion. ‘There’s a string bass in the closet and a set of drums.’

‘Seriously?’ says Bernie.

‘And a cupboard full of saxophones along with a trumpet or two,’ says Max.

‘Really?’ says Bernie. ‘All we need now is a chanteuse,’

‘I can be your chanteuse,’ says the beguiling woman in the wide-brimmed pink hat who seemingly appears out of nowhere. ‘I’m Ella Valée.’

‘I bet you are, babe’ says Sticks.

‘Very droll, Casanova. Ella Valée is my name. You may have seen me in High Tide. I play Liv Golden, the jazz singer.’

They begin to share stories about being picked up off the streets by hoodlums. Max Tempo and Ella Valée it transpires have been at the house for two days. They too were just dumped there. ‘Wait for developments,’ they were told and then left to their own devices. Both were a little frightened at first when they found the doors and windows barred. But, they discovered running water, food, electricity, musical instruments and even some recording equipment, not exactly state of the art but even so, serviceable. Certainly, a better state of affairs than you might expect after being abducted. They even found changes of clothes and toothbrushes. So, instead of thinking of escape, they settled in. There are no phones of course. The captors took away their mobiles. Max hopes that Belinda isn’t worrying too much but he imagines she will be and Ella, if she is honest, is glad of a break from her fiancé, Brad. Brad has become a bit serious of late, she feels, and she’s not sure she’s ready for that level of commitment.

‘Why do you think these geezers have brought us all here then?’ asks Bernie. ‘And who the fuck are they?’

‘Exploitation,’ says Ella. ‘They must think they are going to get something out of us. Some kind of performance or product.’

‘The music business is a more cut-throat game than it was back in the day, for sure’ says Max.

‘Agents in the music business all behave like gangsters these days,’ says Sticks. ‘Managers and promoters too. Crooks, the lot of them.’

‘But, the geezers who brought us here are a throwback to the fifties,’ says Bernie. ‘They are wide-boys, spivs, whatever you want to call them.’

‘Perhaps they have brought us all here to form some kind of retro band,’ says Sticks. ‘Apparently, vintage jazz is making a comeback. I read about it in Jazz Weekly. And they’re keeping us prisoner here to cut some tracks and make some money for them. That’s what I reckon.’

‘Bit of a longshot though,’ says Ella. ‘We’ve not even played together.’

‘But they would have seen you sing every week in High Tide,’ says Bernie. ‘So not completely a longshot. And clearly, they’ve seen Max play. And the dude’s damn good.’

‘I already have a band,’ says Max. ‘The Max Tempo Quintet. And we’re doing pretty well. We might even have a record deal. Clint Snider of CPS Recordings should be in touch any day now. Come to think of it, he was supposed to get back to me last week. I probably missed Clint’s call through being here.’

‘We’re in a jazz band too,’ says Bernie. We’re the Zoot Norris Seven.’

‘Sorry, I don’t think I’ve heard of you,’ says Max.

‘I guess Zoot’s not that ambitious,’ says Bernie. ‘But we get gigs locally. The Nobody Inn and The Jolly Yachtsman last month. And we’ve had one or two good reviews.’

‘Hey! Look at the name on the bass drum,’ says Sticks. ‘Hat Band! It’s all beginning to make sense now.’

‘What?’ says Max.

‘Don’t you see, fellas?’ says Sticks. ‘Bernie is right. Those rogues are setting us up as Hat Band. What kind of name is that?’

………………………………

Do you really think those bozos will make us a million?’ says Frankie.

Of course, Frankie,’ says Duke. ‘No doubt about it.’

It’s just that I’m not sure that many people watch High Tide so they may not know who Ella Valée is.’

You worry too much, Frankie.’

Also, I think that the pianist might be a fairy like that Elton whatshisname.’

It hasn’t done Elton whatshisname any harm, has it?’ says Duke. ‘Anyway, this is jazz we’re talking about. Jazz isn’t about image.’

I know that, Duke. Jazz is all about the music.’

And, fifties Jazz is going to be the next new thing, remember.’

I guess you are right, Duke. We are due a bit of good luck, aren’t we?’

Luck’s got nothing to do with it, Frankie. Certainly you have to be able to take advantage of a situation. But, it’s all to do with calculation and confidence. But, with a name like Hat Band, they can’t fail. …….. I wonder who the original Hat Band were.’

We’ll probably never know, will we? But it was dead lucky you came across that job lot of their instruments, Duke. By the way, how did you know that big old house on Dartmoor was empty and the owner was away in Japan?’

I keep my ears open, Frankie.’

The best bit was you coming up with the toy guns, though, They all really went for it. Scared the living shits out of them.’

Shall we finish our drinks and go back and see what they’ve got for us? They are bound to have got a number or two by now. We’ll tell them they need to have enough tunes for the album before we let them go. Got your gun, Frankie?’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

SOUTH

south

SOUTH by Chris Green

On occasions, just for a moment, everything seems in place. For this brief spell of time, a supernatural force seems to be at work. There is equilibrium in the universe. It might be referred to by some as an epiphany, an insight through the divine. Here at the top of the mountain, Gregory North enjoys such a moment. Gregory’s mountain may be metaphorical, as might the moment, but briefly, space and time conspire to offer him that sentient feeling of arrival. He is where he wants to be. It, of course, cannot last. Destiny cannot allow contentment. All actions from here on in are bound to burst the bubble.

So, how is it that Gregory finds himself at the summit of the metaphorical mountain? What is the back story? Gregory is born into a steady middle-class family in a small town in the south of England. From an early age, he displays an inquisitive nature and a creative spirit. He passes all the right exams with appropriate distinctions and wins a scholarship to a revered English university. His tutor describes him as a genius. He quickly lives up to this weighty kudos. He invents a life-saving product that the world desperately needs. The life-saving product not only makes him at twenty five the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine, it makes him a multi-millionaire. Money does not necessarily buy you love or indeed happiness, and fame and fortune are notoriously fickle. Nevertheless, Gregory meets a beautiful woman who in addition he feels he can communicate with on a spiritual level. He marries her. Fairy tales proliferate. Clichés abound. He has his crock of gold. There is equilibrium in his universe. The fame of a Nobel scientist, however, is low key. You will not have heard of Gregory North. His name is never in the papers.

Where there is light, there must also be shadow. They are interdependent. Gregory might like to stay exactly where he is but life insists on change. Change is the only certainty. Hidden forces are already at work. It can only be downhill from here. There are different paths down the mountain. The west would be the best but Gregory North might go for the east putting himself in peril. The compass points may be metaphorical. The trouble that lies ahead may not be metaphorical.

Crime can take many forms. The view that crime is the province of those that do not have a large enough stake in the system, or that there is some biological or psychological explanation that accounts for deviant behaviour misrepresent the evidence. Criminals lurk everywhere. There is one not far from you now. There are many in the vicinity of Gregory. He is right in the firing line. They want to plunder his ideas, hack his computer, or forge his documents. They want to steal his money, burgle his house or steal his identity. They want to beat him up, burn his house down or kidnap his wife.

The descent begins. Gregory gets a phonecall. He does not recognise the voice. It has been disguised by software called geocrasher. You can download geocrasher for free. It makes your voice sound like a robot. The robot voice tells him that they have kidnapped his wife. The caller does not specify what the demands are for her safe return. He says he will call later. He tells Gregory he is not to contact anyone about the call and he should not try to trace it. The whole strategy is calculated to cause maximum uncertainty, something that the kidnappers have been working on. This is not something that should be happening to a Nobel Prize winner who has invented a life-saving product that the world needs. He does not want to be heading south.

Gregory’s wife is Italian. She is called Allegra, which translates as happy. Allegra is not happy, as she is locked in a windowless space miles away from home. She is being held captive by two ruthless villains. One of them seems to do all the talking. He barks orders at her. His accent is hard to place but may be eastern European. The consonants seem to crowd the vowels. His Heckler and Koch handgun has the look of one that has been fired. He is covered in tattoos and has a scar running down one side of his face. He is disarmingly tall and has to stoop to get through the door. His drainpipe trousers are tucked into a pair of jackboots, somehow making him look even taller. He does not look like he would blend in easily anywhere. The stocky one wearing the camel coloured overcoat with the fur collar and the large white Stetson does not say anything. He just slaps her now and again to establish his authority. His eyes seem to point in opposite directions. His skin is pale, like an albino. Allegra thinks perhaps he may be wearing a mask. She is not sure which of the pair is the more sinister. She is terrified.

Psychology is an important weapon in the kidnapper’s arsenal. Abduction can be viewed as a transaction. The relationship is between captor and prisoner, owner and chattel. The captor holds absolute power. He knew the moment was coming. The captive who had no idea the moment was coming holds no power. To show his cards too soon can take away the obvious advantage in negotiations that the kidnapper has. The mechanics of human nature is something these kidnappers have been working on.

Gregory waits for the follow-up call with the ransom demand, but this does not materialise. He waits by the phone. He checks his emails and his social media. He even checks the newspapers, but the Hollywood celebrity divorce and the resignation of the England football manager over match-fixing allegations have kept everything else of the front pages. But even if it got out, it would not be here, would it? Nobel prize winners are not household names.

The finger that arrives in the mail comes as a shock to Gregory. This is not what he expected the next step to be. He thought that there might be a phonecall asking him to meet at a remote location with a case full of unmarked notes, as it is in films. This is much more horrifying. He is violently sick. He cannot help himself. Whoever has sent it wants him to believe that it is his wife’s finger. It is Allegra’s finger, isn’t it? He cannot be sure. It is the little finger of the left hand. It looks about the right size. There is no message to accompany it, but an hour later the robotic voice comes on the line.

‘You’ve got the message, I believe,’ says the menacing voice. ‘Stay put. Don’t talk to anyone. We will be in touch later.’

Gregory attempts a reply but the call ends. How can things have changed so much in just twenty four hours, he wonders?

Allegra has not told Gregory she is pregnant. She was saving it for the coming weekend when they would be away together. They were going to their favourite hideaway, the one that no one else seemed to have discovered. The fact that Gregory does not know she is expecting makes her situation seem all the more wretched. There are two lives at stake. Jackboots and Overcoat, of course, do not know. It would probably up the ransom demand if they did. Allegra has no idea what their plans are. They have not mentioned the reason for her internment or what any ransom demand might be. She is in a dark room, about ten feet by ten feet. The room has a hollow sound. It could also be below ground level. Although she was blindfolded, she recalls going down some steps when they arrived. She is no longer blindfolded but she cannot see anything except when her captors visit. She can hear them approaching now. She shivers with fright.

Gregory’s phone rings. He picks it up. The scrambled voice issues a demand.

‘Twenty four hours is not long to come up with five million,’ Gregory protests.

‘In used notes,’ spits the voice. ‘None of your electronic transfer or bitcoin.’

‘That will be impossible,’ says Gregory.

‘Each day you don’t deliver you will get another finger through the post.’

Gregory mumbles something. He is not sure what he is saying. He has the idea that he needs to keep the conversation going. To what ends, we can only speculate. No-one is tracing the call. The phone goes dead. Black clouds tower in the morning sky. There are distant rumbles of thunder. The forecast is not good.

Gregory takes his portfolio and every form of identification he can muster to his local bank branch. He has never actually visited the bank before. He knows nothing about banking. He is not optimistic that he will be able to liquidate his investments, but he feels he has to try something. His wife’s captors seem to be uncompromising, but at this stage, he does not want to risk going to the police. Mr Leach, the bank manager is unavailable without an appointment and he is told there is a three week waiting list. Mr Cash, the deputy bank manager sits him down and goes on at length about money laundering. Every question or request that Gregory makes is greeted with a round the houses no. Mr Cash is full of suspicion. He clearly knows that something is amiss, but will not come right out and say so. Gregory gets up to leave. He wonders if Mr Cash will call the police as soon as he has gone. He returns to the Pay and Display to find his Lexus has been stolen. The rain is torrential now.

Sergeant East seems more concerned about the theft of the Lexus than about Allegra’s kidnapping.

‘Which model is that, Mr North?’ he says.

Gregory tells him it is the Lexus LS.

‘Very nice motor, sir. Would that be the LS460 or the LS 600?’

‘The 460, but what about my wife’s kidnapping?’

‘One thing at a time sir. Is that the long wheelbase model or the sport model?’

‘How many Lexus 460s do you see on the road around here? Look! You’ve got everything you need to know you have the registration and the colour and even the chassis number, now what about my wife?’

Jackboots holds Allegra down. Despite her struggles, he begins to force her rings off over her swollen knuckle.

‘We need these, lady’ he barks. ‘I think they might help with our negotiations.’

It is only when they are being taken away that Allegra realises that rings are more than just tokens of affection. They represent her marriage. Everything that she and Gregory have built together. Ties that bind in this way are sacred. She experiences the symbolism of the loathsome act that is taking place. It feels to her like murder. She screams. Jackboots covers her mouth with his hand. Her instinct tells her she should bite it. Quick as a flash, Overcoat pulls out his pistol. It is now pointing at her. She has never been more terrified. A trickle runs down her leg.

Jackboots has the rings in his hand now. He holds the engagement ring up to catch the light that filters through the open door. He forms the impression that it is a valuable one. Allegra knows it is a valuable one. It is a single stone Cartier diamond.

‘You’ll get your money,’ stammers Allegra. ‘My husband will give you the money. For my safe return.’

‘You think so,’ barks Jackboots. ‘You don’t know how much we are asking for, lady.’ Overcoat stands there, pistol still raised. Unlike the pistol, his eyes still seem to point in both directions.

‘I could speak to him if you like and tell him that I am safe.’ Allegra bursts into tears once more.

‘That will not be necessary, Jackboots says, a smile emerging from the wreckage of his features. ‘He will get the message soon enough,’

Using his pistol, Overcoat motions her over to the back of the room. Without further ceremony, they leave. She is thrown into darkness once more. According to historian Thomas Fuller, things seem darkest before the dawn. Is he stating the obvious or is this axiom more profound?

The ring finger with Allegra’s engagement ring and wedding ring on it arrives by courier, early next morning. It is freeze wrapped in muslin inside a small cardboard package. The courier does not have the sender’s address. He seems a bit vague on everything. Gregory suspects he is not a real courier, but before he has chance to quiz him further he has disappeared on his Honda. Gregory does not have a car to pursue him.

Max Tempo of The West Detective Agency is not what Gregory expects a private detective to look like. The West is the Best is the agency’s slogan, but the diminutive middle-aged figure with the receding hairline, the crumpled blue linen suit and the red and orange striped sunglasses, that the agency has sent along, does not seem to fit with this image at all. As he introduces himself, Gregory who is six foot tall towers over him. Max cannot be more than five foot two.

‘Let’s get down to business,’ says Max, offering Gregory some chewing gum. ‘How did you find out about the abduction?’

‘I got home and found a crude note in red marker pen, at least I hope it red marker pen blu-tacked to the fridge. It said, ‘We’ve got your wife! Stay put!’

‘Any sign of a struggle?’ Max asks.

‘Now you come to mention it, no,’ Gregory says.

‘Could mean nothing. Could mean nothing. Does she have a laptop, tablet or anything? Any sign of her phone?’

‘I’ve looked through her phone, but found nothing out of the ordinary, but laptop and tablet both have passwords.’

‘You don’t know what they are. Am I right?’

Gregory says he does not.

‘No worries,’ says Max. ‘Let’s have a look, we’ll be on in no time.’

Max is able to get in straight away. ‘John the Ripper,’ he says. ‘Great little app.’

In no time at all Max has scanned the emails, recent documents and pictures. Nothing remarkable shows up. This is often what he finds in cases like this. The good detective has to come up with more imaginative methods, he says. Meanwhile, he has wired up a device to record the phone.

Time, of course, is of the essence here. Gregory is impressed with the speed that Max works. First impressions can be misleading. He lets Max know.

‘It’s not every day I get a Nobel Prize winner as a client,’ says Max.

‘How do you know that?’ asks Gregory.

‘I just sensed it,’ says Max, cryptically. ‘Now tell me about the phonecalls, and while you’re at it show me the fingers. We can get to the bottom of this I’m sure.’

Gregory explains the phonecalls and how he is unable to cash in his portfolio.

Max nods, while he examines the two fingers. He draws no conclusions from these. He is more interested in the diamond ring. Why have they returned the ring, he wonders, when it could be worth a hundred thousand in itself?

‘It can mean one of two things, he says. Either they are very confident that they will get the money or they are amateurs.’

It would be difficult for the observer to guess the power relations between Jackboots and Overcoat. Although Overcoat does not, perhaps cannot speak, they communicate effectively. They are a good fit as a team. They operate with a strange telepathy. Perhaps Overcoat has peripheral vision and his function in the team is to be watchful. The observer would not be able to pinpoint their country of origin. Jackboot’s accent might make Romania favourite. His tattoos too are in an Eastern European language. If you are looking for sartorial clues, you wouldn’t know where to begin. There is something theatrical, perhaps filmic about their bizarre appearance. In everyday life, they would be as inconspicuous as a pair of tarantulas in a bowl of fresh cream. All in all, they are an enigma. The indications are that, as in many kidnapping cases, the motive is money. It is time for Jackboots to make another phonecall. He once again makes it over VoIP using geocrasher.

Allegra wonders how it has come to this. How has she moved from her work with Dior and Dolce Gabbana in the high-flying fashion world of Milan, weekends on Lake Garda and skiing in Cortina D’Ampezzo to being held captive in this darkened room, not knowing if she will live or die? It is quite a descent. It all started when she came to London for a fashion shoot. How had she come to meet a Nobel scientist? She didn’t have the slightest interest in science. She was into the arts. Gregory might cut a dashing figure but perhaps she should have found someone that looked after her better. Why hadn’t he come up with the ransom? It was hours since they had taken the rings as a bargaining tool. Why had she fallen for him? Certainly, he had a lot of money, but she was not exactly poor herself. The fashion work brought in a decent income. And she gave all this up. They didn’t even socialise that much. Gregory was always working on some paper or had a meeting with the board. If he hadn’t been working, these two murderous villains would not have been able to just walk in and bundle her into the van. She thinks she has been here now for nearly two days. She is hungry. She has had nothing but water for the duration. Even if she could find a way to relax, she cannot sleep. The room gives off a continuous hollow sound like amplified tinnitus.

‘You will have taken delivery of the ring finger,’ says the metallic voice. A green light appears on Max’s device to show it is recording. ‘Quite generous of us to return the valuable rings, do you not think. But, my friend, that is all we will be returning until we have five million.’

Gregory says that he is working on this. Max has advised him to do so. He has said that you should never show defiance in such a situation.

‘Good! I’m glad you are beginning to see things our way. I expect your lovely wife will be glad too. I will call at exactly five o’clock and we will arrange a time and place to pick up. You will have the money by then I am sure.’

Gregory says that he will do his best.

‘I expect you would also like your nice car back too. When you deliver the money, we will deliver your wife in the boot of your car.’

On that note, the conversation ends. The green light on the device changes back to red.

‘That was great,’ says Max. ‘Watch this!’

He presses a couple of keys on his device and plays the recording. It is now a proper sounding human voice. ‘ModulatorPlus. Great little app,’ he smiles.

The voice, they both agree, does sound Eastern European. Max explains that Eastern European languages have consonant clusters so they tend to shorten the vowels when speaking English. To Gregory, it just sounds Eastern European. Max takes a gigantic pair of Sennheiser headphones from his bag to listen more closely. His bag must be dimensionally transcendental, Gregory thinks. He appears to have a whole workshop in there. Max says he is listening for background noise. He closes his eyes in concentration and begins playing with the frequency sliders on the side of the headphones. Finally, several minutes later, he takes them off.

‘I think I’ve got it,’ he says. ‘The call was made by a mobile phone redirected from an unlisted landline from a blue Ford transit van near a railway station, but what I’m not getting is which railway station or the registration of the van.’

Gregory wonders how Max can tell that the transit van is blue but he doesn’t like to ask.

Iancu Emanuel Constantinescu’s career as a lion tamer ended when circuses stopped using wild animals. The Romanian International Circus, which had built its reputation on dangerous stunts, folded. Iancu’s appearance, the legacy of years of taming ferocious big cats and a long relationship with Silvia Daciana Vacilescu, the circus’s tattoo artist, left him with little prospect of getting a job. In a word, he looked scary. He felt he might as well use his intimidating stature to frighten people. Kidnapping seems to be the obvious place to use his skill set. His friend, Dragomir Stan Antonescu had been a clown with the circus. As he was mute, his chances of getting a job when the circus folded were also slim. Dragomir’s lack of speech was however compensated by remarkable eyesight. He had long been a collector of handguns and was a crackshot. It seemed natural that he should team up with Iancu.

The only way that you can learn kidnapping is by going ahead and doing it. There are no training manuals or kidnappers’ colleges. If you get it right, you can make a good living and you do not need to work long hours. Iancu and Dragomir start small by kidnapping a pub landlord in a popular seaside town and asking for £500. They find that this does not cover their expenses. Their next outing is a football manager of a Championship team, where they manage to get £5000. They brush up their technique by watching a number of kidnapping films. After watching Fargo, it occurs to them that it might be a better idea to abduct a partner rather than the target himself. They get £20,000 this way by kidnapping a minor celebrity’s wife. They manage to convince the celebrity to pay up when they send him a lock of her hair. Allegra is only their fourth victim. They are thinking of asking £50,000 when they find out that Gregory is an incredibly rich man. He has reaped the benefits of inventing a life-saving product that the world needs. To up the ante, Iancu feels that they need to employ scarier tactics, so he purchases a preserved hand from Stelian Serafim Albescu, a former reptile trainer with the circus who is now working as a mortuary assistant. With so much inexperience, the potential for disaster is immense.

‘How do we find the blue van and what do we do if we find it?’ Gregory asks.

‘We follow it,’ says Max. ‘What we do when it takes us to Allegra is probably the question you should be asking. But don’t worry I’ll think of something. That’s what you are paying me for. Now come on! Let’s get to the station. They might still be there.’

‘But, you said you couldn’t tell which station.’

‘Have you any better ideas? Next, you will be saying what if there are two blue vans. There! I’ve diverted your phone. Now let’s get going.’

Max packs his bag, cracks open a new pack of chewing gum and off they go in Max’s grey Yaris.

‘Nobody notices you in one of these,’ he explains. ‘Not even with tinted windows. Inconspicuous but fast.’

Allegra’s miscarriage is sudden. Jackboots and Overcoat arrive just after it has happened. She is covered in blood. At first, J and O have no idea what has happened. It slowly dawns on them both. She seems hysterical. They do not know how to handle the tirade of verbal abuse she subjects them to.

‘ I need a fucking doctor,’ she screams at them. ‘Get me a doctor, You fucking scum.’

They sense that pointing guns is not the appropriate response, but are not in a position to offer understanding and tenderness. They back off. They decide they can wait in the van. It is parked just down the road by the railway station. They can go back in a few minutes. Allegra, they reason, will have calmed down by then.

Max and Gregory arrive at the railway station car park just in time to see Jackboots and Overcoat getting into the blue van. There is only one blue transit van. They must be the captors. What an odd looking pair they are, though.

‘How’s that for timing,’ says Max.

He parks the Yaris a few bays behind the van, in preparation for it driving off. He can follow at a discreet distance. The van, however, does not move. Although the van is fifty feet away, Max manages to rig up a device up to listen to their conversation.

‘A friend of mine borrowed the device from the secret government base,’ he explains.

Jackboots and Overcoat’s conversation comes through loud and clear. Unfortunately, they are not speaking English.

‘It will come with a translator in a couple of years,’ Max says by way of apology.

One voice seems to do all the talking. It is the same voice that made the phonecall earlier. The one wearing the overcoat and the Stetson seems to be nodding or using sign language.

Had Max’s hypothetical translator been operational the conversation they would hear would go something like this.

‘Perhaps we should reduce the demand.’

Silence

‘Count our losses.’

Silence

‘Down to ten thousand. What do you think?’

Silence.

‘We can make a bit more on our next job, maybe.’

Silence.

If Max’s hypothetical translator had been operational, the substance of the phonecall that Gregory receives on his mobile would not have been so unexpected. As it is, he feels he has been let off the hook somewhat. He is sure that Mr Cash will let him have ten thousand pounds from his assets. Why, he wonders, have they reduced the sum so drastically. It feels like bargain basement.

‘Three hours time, that’s five o’clock, Used twenty pound notes’ says Jackboots, establishing the upper hand once more. ‘At the entrance to the disused airfield. Look out for a blue van. Your car will be close by. You won’t be able to see your car from the road. Your wife will be in the boot. No funny business or you know what will happen.’

No-one makes a move. Max wants to stay put so as not to lose sight of the villains. Gregory thinks that he should probably be at the bank, but is dependent on Max for transport, and it seems J and O are in no hurry to move business along.

Max has been in stakeouts before. He understands the terrain. A good deal of patience is necessary. You need a cap to pull down over your forehead. And a pack of cigarettes. Gregory is a stranger to the underworld, university did not prepare him for this. To him, the underworld is something that Orpheus got himself into in Offenbach’s operetta. Gregory does not have a cap to pull down over his forehead. And he has never smoked.

Jackboots and Overcoat sense that they still have a lot to learn. Things are not going as planned. And now a police car has drawn up a few cars away. How long will it be until they spot the stolen blue van they are in, or for that matter the stolen Lexus 460 about a hundred metres away, and who are those people in the grey Yaris? Are they watching them?

Miscarriages can be psychologically damaging. It is said that the attachment to the foetus begins very early into pregnancy. Women are often reported to lose themselves after such an event. Given the circumstances of Allegra’s loss, this might be the expected consequence, but she finds that there are immediate and more profound results of this cruel termination. Her soul has gone. Science now believes that the soul could be the link that connects individuals to the universe, a dynamic connection that explains consciousness. If nothing else, the soul is a poor thing to be without and Allegra’s has parted company with her physical body and disappeared into the ether. When she screams it is not now her that is screaming but something that is happening as a result of a bodily impulse. She does not inhabit the scream. It is no longer her scream. It is not her who finds that she can push the door to her prison open, where Jackboots and Overcoat have not secured properly. It is not her who finds herself staggering up an unfamiliar street.

Whoever it is that has managed these things finds herself in the vicinity of a railway station. Something tells her she should recognise it, but she can’t connect with this part of her. The link has been severed. There are a lot of people about. She spots a blue van and a police car. The police seem to be asking the people in the van to step out of it.

‘My God! There’s Allegra,’ shouts a shell-shocked Gregory, making a move to jump out of the Yaris.

‘Stop! No! Don’t,’ yells Max, grabbing him by the shoulder to restrain him. ‘Kidnappers have guns, remember.’

This is a pivotal moment. From here, it could go any way. It depends on how competent the police are. It depends on how desperate Jackboots and Overcoat are. It depends on whether Max has anything up his sleeve. Certainly, Max is aware that the kidnappers would recognise Gregory, but perhaps he should have let Gregory go and talk to the police. Is it his professional pride that is urging against this?

Max seems to have subdued Gregory for the moment and they duck down out of sight. J and O seem reluctant to get out of the van. Allegra lurches on zombie-like and disappears into a throng of people emerging from the station. Gregory and Max’s attention is drawn away by a squeal of tyres and a scattering of police officers. In a daring attempt at escape, the blue van speeds off. With a squeal of tyres to match, the police car gives chase. By the time Gregory and Max focus back on the station, Allegra has disappeared out of sight. There are hundreds of people now, jostling one another for position around the station entrance. Why hasn’t Max got an app on one of his devices that can find someone in a crowd?

As he and Max dash here and there searching for Allegra in the bustling station, Gregory asks himself how this reversal of fortune has come about. Circumstance has up till now always favoured him. He rose to elevated heights with so little effort. There was never a struggle. Doors opened easily. His discovery of a life-saving product that the world desperately needed felt as if it were something he just plucked out of the air. He has never knowingly taken advantage of anyone or abused his position. He has always looked for the best in people. He has paid his taxes, given to charity and been kind to animals. He has even on occasions said his prayers. What is happening in the cosmos to deliver such a cataclysmic volte-face?

The station has a staggering seven platforms, each one swarming with restless passengers. Trains are arriving from everywhere. Trains are leaving to go to all points of the compass. Allegra finds herself on one of the trains. She does not know where she is heading. She may be going east or she may be going west. It does not matter to a person who has no soul. People stare at her. They do not understand what has happened. Everyone keeps their distance. They know that something is wrong. They make up their own stories about her from the true life magazines in their heads. Gregory North continues frantically to search the station but cannot spot her. He will never find her. He has lost her. He will continue on his way on a train of his own. It will be heading south.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Three

ronpic3

The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Three by Chris Green

In his nineteen years on the force Sergeant Crooner has happened upon many strange scenarios. If he has learnt one thing from police work though, it is when something seems amiss there is usually a rational explanation. Cause and effect, action and reaction and all that. The supernatural does not feature heavily in the life of the plod. He can however see no rational explanation this time. He is flummoxed.

‘That is a dead pig in the back seat, isn’t it, Vaz?’ he says. He feels he needs to make sure. With all the back to back shifts he has been doing lately, he doesn’t know if he is coming or going. Only yesterday, he drove through a red light on the pedestrian crossing outside BronzeTan and narrowly missed a lady walking her Bichon Frise. It certainly looks to him like a dead pig, the kind you used to see hung in butchers’ shops before namby pamby political correctionists took over the western world.

‘Yes Sarge,’ says Vaz. He is not sure how to react. He is a newcomer to police work. He drifted into it when he found no commercial opportunities for street art. ‘I think that describes it perfectly. It is a dead pig.’

‘And it wasn’t there just now, was it Vaz? When we went up to Mrs DeAngelo’s house.’

‘No Sarge,’ says Vaz distractedly. ‘It definitely wasn’t there then.’ Vaz recalls the scene with the horse’s head in the bed in The Godfather. And Marlon Brando saying I’m going to make him an offer he cannot refuse. This worries him a little. He doesn’t mention it. It seems reasonable to assume that Sergeant Crooner will also have referenced this. After all, the iconic film was from his boss’s generation.

‘And you did lock the car, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. I never forget to lock the car, Sarge. You keep telling me that thieves will stop at nothing.’ There again this is 2016 English suburban Home Counties, not Mafioso run 1950s New York. There is no real reason to suppose that whoever deposited the dead pig is delivering the same kind of message as Vito Corleone. Is there?

‘And we definitely didn’t go into Mrs DeAngelo’s house, because no-one answered the door, right?’

‘That’s right, Sarge.’

Sergeant Crooner mops his brow. He feels dizzy. For a moment he thinks that he might be going to faint.

‘Are you all right, Sir?’ says Vaz. ‘You’ve gone a funny colour. Uh, cerise, I think.’ Vaz is good at colours. Art college education.

‘So,’ says Sergeant Crooner, bypassing the enquiry after his welfare. ‘The dead pig must have been put there while we were trying to get someone to answer the door. ….. How long do you think that was, Vaz?’

‘About a minute and a half, I would say, Sarge. Three minutes tops.’

‘The car was in full view as well wasn’t it?’

‘Yes Sarge. When you went round the back I stayed at the front as you recall.’ He does not mention that he used the time to change the ringtone on his iphone to Catfish and the Bottlemen’s new tune.

‘H’mm.’

‘Do you want me to call Division to get someone to come and dispose of the dead animal?’

‘Forensics, Vaz. We need to bring in Forensics.’

‘Remind me why we were calling on Mrs DeAngelo, Sarge. I’m not sure you let me in on this.’

‘Later, Vaz. Later.’

…………………………………………….

Ron Smoot met Daniel DeAngelo in prison. Anxious to rid himself of the moniker, Wet Blanket Ron, which had plagued him for years, Ron took the CBT course on offer at Strangeways, four times. Daniel DeAngelo was on CBT course number four, under the misapprehension that CBT was some king of boxing training. He discovered quickly that it wasn’t, but he found Ron to be amenable and latched on to him for the rest of his stay. He was mysteriously released after two years of his sentence. When taunted with the line everyone in here is innocent DeAngelo had consistently said the difference is I AM innocent. I was fitted up by a bent cop. Ron never discovered if this really was the case or in fact why DeAngelo was released. By and large he kept his head down. When he was himself was released after serving three years of his six year stretch, Daniel DeAngelo offered him a position in his trading firm, this in return for the many favours that Ron had done for him inside. Although it was not a high powered position, and his job description was vague, Ron was grateful. He felt his efforts had paid off.

Ron had been jailed for his part in bringing down the rock star, Johnny Angel’s helicopter. As it happened Ron had had nothing to do with it. He was a victim of circumstance. But then, this was the story of his life. Bad luck had dogged him since kinder-garden. For instance, years ago he suffered multiple injuries when he was was knocked down by a hit and run driver. In hospital he went down with Norovirus. While he was in the isolation ward, his wife, Heather ran off with his best friend, Frank. When he came out of hospital, his landlord, Kostas Moros, who was also seeing Heather when she was not seeing Frank, threw him out of his flat to let it for more money and charged Ron two grand for damages incurred during his tenancy.

Ron acted like a magnet to calamity. Disaster and disappointment were constant companions. His every endeavour went tits up. Time and time again, outrageous misfortune tracked him down. No-one would have bet against him going to prison for a crime he did not commit; there was a strange inevitability about this happening.

On being released from prison, Ron was determined to turn his life around. Feeling positive, he put his Hank Williams CD collection on ebay, ditched his Life is Meaningless and Everything Dies sweatshirt, and joined the InstaDate dating agency. He started seeing someone called Simone. It was unfortunate that Simone turned out to be a transvestite. Simone’s dark brown voice should have given him a clue, as should the fact that her feet were bigger than his, but Ron in his enthusiasm, missed these pointers. It was unfortunate too that it took him nearly a month to discover Simone’s proclivities, but he did not dwell on it. The Wet Blanket Ron of old would have seen the episode as an insurmountable knock-back to his confidence. He would have dined out on the story for weeks, but the post-CBT Ron resolved to quickly put the matter behind him. He told himself there were plenty more fish in the sea. He just had to be more careful, next time.

Although working for Daniel DeAngelo offered no company car, and pay days were a little irregular, Ron was eventually able to buy a Rover 75 from Ted Drinker Quality Second Hand Cars. This way he was able to do pick ups and deliveries for DeAngelo. Although Rovers were notoriously unreliable, for a week or two Ron had no trouble with his purchase. He made no less than seventeen journeys up and down the motorway with important packages. He did not know what the packages contained. He was curious as the packages seemed unnaturally light but he thought that it was not his place to ask. It was enough that Daniel DeAngelo had described them as important and had entrusted him with them.

Ron knew he shouldn’t have ignored the oil light, but when you have to get somewhere quickly, you sometimes overlook these things. Daniel DeAngelo did stress that time was of the essence on this particular mission. Il tempo è importante. Le borse contengono tempo, he had said lapsing into his native Italian. Strictly speaking Ron’s judgement was right, as the car did make it the hundred or so miles to his pick up and back. It wasn’t until he was nearly home that the engine started labouring. Pulling off from the traffic lights at the Scott Mackenzie roundabout it started to make unwelcome noises. At first the smoke that emerged from under the bonnet was light in colour, but over half a mile or so of chugging and lurching, the poor Rover began belching out thick grey clouds of the stuff. Ron was never mechanically minded but it was apparent even to him that the engine was now on its way out. By the time he pulled it over on to the kerb, to let the traffic pass, the Rover had all but disappeared in a cloud of acrid black smoke.

Ron of old would have been mortified but his post-CBT voice tells him that the main thing is that he has the package safe and sound. He can still deliver it to DeAngelo.

…………………………………………….

‘I don’t want to bother you, Sarge,’ says PC Vaz. ‘But, look over there! Someone’s just ……. uh, torched a car.’

‘Oh, so they have, Vaz. Lot of it about, I’m afraid,’ says Sergeant Crooner, dismissively. Vaz is beginning to get on his nerves. Why did they keep giving him these hopeless rookies. If he had been promoted to Inspector, he wouldn’t have to break in these fresh-faced kids with no aptitude for police work. He had missed out on promotion five years in a row now. Wasn’t his nineteen years of service enough? Debbie might not have left him for Kirsty Tickler if he’d been promoted. But arguably he might have been promoted if Debbie hadn’t left him for Kirsty Tickler. This sort of thing was still looked down upon in the Constabulary. Or was it all down to that business with DeAngelo that they had not considered him suitable for higher office?

‘Shouldn’t we go and have a look, Sarge?’ says PC Vaz, bringing him out of his reverie.

‘You’re like an excited child, Vaz. Wait until you’ve been on the beat a few years, son. ……… Oh go on then. I suppose we should have a look. I’m guessing it will be a while before forensics get here to go over the pig. We may as well be doing something useful.’

‘There’s someone standing by it, Sarge. He’s on his phone. Seems to be gesticulating a lot.’

‘Oh my God, Vaz! That’s ….. That’s Ron Smoot. Wet Blanket Ron. He can’t be out of the nick already, can he?’

‘Who is Wet. …. Blanket. ….. Ron. Sarge?’

‘He’s notorious, Vaz. He’s the one that brought down Johnny Angel’s helicopter. Before your time I expect, Johnny Angel.’

‘Oh no, Sarge. I remember Johnny Angel. Rocket Man. Crocodile Rock.’

‘No. That was the other fellow, Vaz.’ Why had then given him this plank?

‘This Wet. Blanket. Ron, Sarge. Why is he called that?’

‘You don’t want to know, Vaz.’

…………………………………………….

Ron is relieved to see the two police officers approaching. He was getting nowhere on the phone with Stan Feckwith Salvage. They did not seem to be treating his request seriously. Tomorrow afternoon, indeed. As if you can leave a burned out Rover by the side of a main road until then. And £50 to take it away. They should be paying him. When his Metro had gone to the breakers years ago Andy Carr Breakers had written him a check for £50. Never mind, the officers are sure to be able to help. They probably come across problems like this all the time. They will know what he should do next.

‘Am I pleased that you have come along?’ he calls out. ‘You can’t believe how difficult it is to get a car towed away around here.’

‘Well, well, well! If it isn’t Ron Smoot,’ says Sergeant Crooner. ‘What is it this time, Ron? Oh dear, torching cars. That’s slumming it a bit isn’t it after bringing down helicopters?’

‘Might he have had something to do with the dead pig, Sarge?’ says Vaz.

‘Not now, Vaz.’

‘I haven’t done anything,’ says Ron. ‘I’m trying to be helpful. I’m just trying to get the car taken away.’

‘I think we should take him in, Vaz. We’re bound to find something we can charge him with. Search him will you.’

‘OK Smoot!’ says PC Vaz. ‘Hands up against the wall and no funny business!’

‘I need to call my lawyer.’

‘We’ve caught you red handed setting alight to a car, Smoot.’

‘The engine blew up on me, officer. I want to call my lawyer.’

‘That would be the celebrated, Brent Diaz, would it?’ says Sergeant Crooner ‘In case you don’t know, Vaz, Brent Diaz is the most famous crooked lawyer in these parts. He is popularly known down town as Bent Diaz.’

‘I resent that allegation.’

‘Shut up, Smoot. Cuff him, Vaz! We’ll take him in.’

‘What about Mrs DeAngelo’s house and the dead pig, Sarge?’

Ron may not be the brightest button in the box, but the mention of the name DeAngelo puts him on a higher state of alert. Last time he was in the office he overheard a phone conversation about settling a score with a mention of sending a dead animal as a message. There was an allusion to a scene in The Godfather and although he could not remember the film that well, there was one particular scene that had stayed with him. What was the offer that the victim couldn’t refuse, though? Was it something to do with getting the character that wasn’t meant to be Frank Sinatra a part in a film? More to the point what had DeAngelo been referring to?

…………………………………………….

Brent Diaz is surprised to get the call, and a little horrified. When he said goodbye to Wet Blanket Ron at the trial, he thought he had seen the last of him. ……. Wrongful arrest? Daniel DeAngelo? What is the fellow talking about? He can’t have been out five minutes. Surely he is not in trouble already. You would have thought he would have learned his lesson by now. I mean, he doesn’t come across as a career criminal, just a recurrent loser. Still, there is something about Wet Blanket Ron that against your better judgement elicits sympathy.

‘Slow down, Ron,’ he says. ‘I can’t make out what you are saying. ……. Sergeant Crooner? Yes a regular pain in the ass, that one. …….. I agree there’s nothing worse that a bent cop.’

‘They’ve already taken the packages that I was supposed to deliver to Daniel DeAngelo and opened them.’

‘H’mmm. Out of interest, Ron. What was in the packages?’

‘That’s just it, Mr Diaz. Nothing. The packages seemed to be ……. empty.’

‘Then they have no reason to detain you.’

‘There’s still the business with the car, Mr Diaz. They are still saying that I torched the car. But I didn’t. It just blew up on me.’

‘OK Ron. Hang on in there. I’m on my way. Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be there at the station.’

…………………………………………….

‘I feel really bad about what happened to young Vaz, Inspector,’ says Sergeant Crooner. My heart goes out to his family. I know he was a bit naive, and could be a pain in the ass with his arty farty stuff, but he didn’t deserve that. I can’t stop from thinking that the explosion was meant for me. DeAngelo seems to have felt that there was an old score to settle. To be honest I would have thought that stuff about framing him would have blown over. But maybe it hadn’t. It seems he was driven by revenge. That must have been what the dead pig was about. He was sending a warning. Do you know, Vaz said something about a scene in The Godfather. But never having seen the film I did not understand what he was talking about. I’m probably the only person in the county that hasn’t watched the film. Never was one for watching films. But now I wish I had watched it. It might not have come to this.’

‘Perhaps give it a miss now, eh, Crooner? …… The film, I mean.’

‘Right there in broad daylight too.’

‘Vaz walked right into it, didn’t he,’ says Inspector Otis. ‘Poor sod. Probably never be able to walk again though, they are saying.’

‘Don’t make me feel even worse, sir.’

‘Well. I guess as officers of the law we have to learn to expect these things.’

‘Any word on DeAneglo yet?’

‘No. The bastard seems to have disappeared without trace.’

‘How long do you think we can hold Smoot?’

‘Indefinitely, I should think, now that Brent Diaz has backed off. Even if we can’t pin the bomb on him, arson is a pretty serious offence in these days of terrorism.’

‘Bit of a mystery why Diaz didn’t want to stay on the case. He seemed to give up too easily.’

‘Probably two hours of listening to Wet Blanket Ron was as much as he could take.’

‘I wonder what happened to the stuff that he was carrying when we brought him in. ‘

‘I expect it’s downstairs with Evidence.’

‘Anyway, what’s done is done I suppose. What have you got?’

‘This is a weird one, that’s just come in, Crooner. Someone has been smuggling what they describe as small packages of time out of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This it says has happened now on seventeen occasions in all.’

‘What would these packages look like, Inspector? These packages of ….. time?’

‘That’s just it, Crooner. Nobody seems to be able to describe what a package of time would look like. Time doesn’t have mass, as such. Whatever shape or size it was when you opened the package up it would just look like it was empty.’

‘There must be a market for it, wouldn’t you say, sir? A market for time. I mean everybody needs time.’

‘You mean as in buy some time or buy more time.’

‘Exactly.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

IDEAS

IDEAS

IDEAS by Chris Green

‘I’m telling you,’ says Flavia. ‘The guy was a complete stranger. He just walked up to me and handed me the bag.’

‘And you didn’t think to say what are you doing or who are you or anything like that,’ says Matt.

‘There wasn’t time. It all happened very quickly,’ says Flavia. ‘Besides I was taken completely off guard.’

‘And he just disappeared into the crowd.’

‘Well, yes. That’s exactly what happened. Look! It was busy. There were a lot of people around. There were people coming out of the cinema. There were people waiting for the 61 bus. And there were a large group of passers by watching a street musician with a trumpet. He was very good. If you hadn’t gone into that games shop you would have seen how quickly it all happened. You could have done something about it.’

‘So you were distracted. That’s what you are saying.’

‘That’s right, Matt. You know I like jazz. And this is free jazz.’

‘And the fellow that gave you the bag was about average height, average build and was wearing blue or grey.’

‘That’s right. Even his balaclava was blue, or grey. Look can you get off my case, please. Who do you think you are? Inspector Wallender or someone?’

‘You do realise what this is, don’t you?’ says Matt.

‘But there’s nothing in it. I’ve looked. The bag is empty.’

‘I know that is how it looks. But, does it feel empty?’ says Matt, handing her back the blue Ikea bag. ‘Here! Feel it. It’s very heavy.’

‘You’re right. It is heavy. ‘

‘There is something in there. Feel inside it.’

‘It got a shape. ….. But …. but it’s invisible. What is it?’

‘It’s an enigma. That’s what it is.’

‘What? One of those machines the Germans used in the war?’

‘Not exactly. But you might be on the right lines.’

‘Well, if that’s the case someone’s going to want it. Someone’s going to be looking for it. Someone’s going to be looking for us,’ says Flavia.

…………………………………………………………………….

Flavia is right. Someone is looking for it. Casey Boss is looking for it. His department is extremely security conscious. They need to be. There is a lot at stake. How could the courier have been robbed like that? From his van. In broad daylight. Who were these cowboy logistics people? Weren’t there supposed to be two people on board when they transported sensitive cargoes? And how did the thieves get it into the Ikea bag?

Casey Boss has the van driver in his eleventh floor office overlooking the river. He is trying hard to stay calm. He was recently hospitalised. Dr De’Ath warned him he must avoid stress. Losing his temper again will send his blood pressure through the roof. He is on powerful beta blockers.

‘You do realise the gravity of the situation,’ Boss says, swilling a couple of extra Propranolol down with a glass of water. ‘You understand that we have just lost something ………. important.’

Zbigniew Wozniak has some difficulty in following him. There are several big words there. English is not even his second language. His job as he sees it is to get things from A to B. Even this can be a challenge sometimes. He has difficulty with some of the road signs. How was he to know that it wasn’t a real diversion sign? The next part of the scam was however easier for Wozniak to understand.

‘Man’s face is covered,’ he says. ‘He says gun if I don’t give him.’

‘Where did covered man go?’ says Casey Boss, finding himself reduced to Wozniak’s pigeon English in order to communicate.

‘Have big black car,’ says Wozniak. ‘Drive fast.’

…………………………………………………………………….

‘It’s a pity that you hit that car, George’ says Mavis Deacon. ‘Look at the time. We are going to be late for indoor bowls. And you know it was our turn to make the tea.’

‘I know, dear, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.’

‘Black ones are definitely harder to see, aren’t they? I think the last one you ran into was black.’

‘It was the other fellow’s fault though, dear. He did pull out in front of me.’

‘That man certainly didn’t want to hang around to give you his insurance details, did he? Running off like that. Why do you think, he was in such a hurry?’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps he had to get that bag to the shops quickly. It was one of those bags, wasn’t it?’

‘I think it was an Ikea bag, George? Perhaps we could go to Ikea sometime. They do some very nice kitchen ware.’

‘Yes. I believe it was Ikea, Mavis. And we will go one day. If we can find it. Anyway, I expect the police will be along in a minute. They will be able to sort things out. His car did take a bit of a knock though didn’t it? They don’t make them like they used to.’

‘Why do you think he was wearing a balaclava though, George? That seemed to me to be a little odd. Especially if he was going to the shops. The security people in the shops might think that he was a criminal with a gun, who was going to rob them.’

‘I’m sure there’s a rational explanation dear. And anyway he’s bound to be on CCTV cameras somewhere.’

…………………………………………………………………….

Matt and Flavia are in Café Baba, a small establishment run by a Moroccan family down a discreet alleyway, away from the main shopping centre. They have gone there to get away from the hubbub while they take stock of their situation. Matt is feeling inside the bag. What can possibly account for it’s weight?

‘I think it might be changing shape,’ he says.

‘You mean like it’s alive?’ says Flavia, nervously.

‘Kind of. …… Not exactly. …… I don’t know. Have a feel.’

‘No, thankyou! I’ll take your word for it,’ says Flavia, with a grimace. ‘Look Matt! Enough is enough. We’ve got to get rid of it.’

‘What do you suggest we do with it then?’ says Matt. ‘We can hardly go to the police with it can we?’

‘Can we not? Why’s that?’

‘Don’t you think they might find us a little suspicious, handing in a blue Ikea bag with an invisible object inside. A heavy invisible object that keeps changing shape, no less. I really don’t think they Sergeant Rozzer would be likely to understand. A man handed it to my wife in the street. No she hadn’t seen him before. No we did not get a look at his face, he was wearing a balaclava. They would detain us as aliens or something. We would probably be locked up forever in a secure institution.’

‘We could just dump it.’

‘I suppose so, but that seems a bit irresponsible.’

‘Wait! Don’t you have a friend who is some sort of scientist, Matt?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘The one with the multicoloured framed spectacles.’

‘Oh you mean Theo. No. Theo’s a prosthodontist. That’s basically a dentist. I don’t think that’s quite the same.’

‘What about the one who works for MI5?’

‘Oh, Hank. You’re talking about G4S, not MI5. Hank works for G4S. Used to be called Group 4. He’s a night security guard at a building site.’

‘Well. Perhaps you could come up with a suggestion, but we’re not taking it home.’

…………………………………………………………………….

Casey Boss is conscious that he has an emergency on his hands. He must not let the situation escalate. There is no telling what harm could be done. He leaps into action. He quickly puts a number of his people on the streets to requisition CCTV footage from cameras over a distance of several square miles. Freeman and Willis send him film of the crash at the Cross Hands crossroads. He plays the footage. The white Skoda ploughs into the side of the black BMW. A hooded gunman gets out of the Beamer and runs from the scene. An old couple slowly emerge from the Skoda.

‘Doddery old farts like that shouldn’t be allowed on the roads,’ he says to his colleague, Jagger. ‘Look at him he’s about eighty. He’s got a white stick. He’s probably blind.’

The gunman with the blue Ikea bag heads in the direction of the shopping district. It is strange, Boss thinks, how little notice people seem to take. It is as if they are all too used to seeing armed men in balaclavas running through the streets with heavy Ikea bags.

Boss moves his focus to footage from a bank of sixty four cameras located in the centre of town in the comms suite of the municipal building. He is able to witness the masked man’s progress through the town on several cameras, past BetFred and BetterBet, past the Hungarian supermarket, past the bank of posters advertising the Psychedelic Furs reunion concert, through the park where the street drinkers assemble, into the square, past the fountain of Poseidon and into the smarter part of town. He passes the 61 bus stop by John Lewis, but then it is not clear where he goes. He disappears into a crowd of people that are watching a weathered looking jazz trumpeter with a hunched back in a black coat and black trilby hat. It is unusual for a street musician to draw such a crowd. Jazzman’s audience grows by the minute. With the movement of the crowd it is difficult to see what is going on. There is no sighting of the masked man emerging from the melee.

Boss tells Jagger to put out the word to bring the jazz trumpeter in for questioning.

There are no further sightings. He hopes that as the day wears on there will be more on the CCTV footage to view. Other than that, there are bound to be witnesses. Some public spirited citizen will have noticed a man wearing a balaclava weighed down an Ikea bag. Surely. Perhaps he went into a shop. Perhaps one of the local premises is a front for some clandestine operation. Perhaps a number of the shops are fronts for clandestine operations. A lot of ethnic traders have moved in lately. He instructs his team to question all the traders in the area, threaten them if necessary.

…………………………………………………………………….

Meanwhile the jazz trumpeter too has disappeared. He has somehow avoided Boss’s men, who are now all over the west side of town. As it happens, with his gear packed into a makeshift box trolley, he is making his way to the Café Baba. He likes to relax here with a slice of orange and almond cake and a glass of mint tea, away from the afternoon crowds. Ahmed will usually have some mellow jazz playing. They might even have a bit of a jam later in the back.

Matt and Flavia are already there, discussing what to do with the bag. It is a quiet time of day at Café Baba and they are the only customers. The Gaggia machine is switched off. There is a faint smell of hashish. Behind the counter, Ahmed and his younger brother, Youssef are sharing a pipe. A tune by Mulatu Astatke’s Black Jesus Experience plays gently in the background. East African beats. This is free jazz. All about ideas, inspiration and improvisation.

Ahmed notices that there is a little tension at Matt and Flavia’s table. Their voices are raised. Perhaps its the food. Maybe they are not familiar with Moroccan delicacies. Perhaps the briouats or the kefta wraps are not to their liking. They do not seem to have touched them. He ambles over to their table to see what the problem might be. In his djellaba and babouche slippers, his movement is hushed, so Matt and Flavia do not hear his approach. They are facing the window. They appear to be in the middle of an argument.

‘I think we need to find out what it is,’ says Matt. ‘Before we make a decision.’

‘I want it as far away from me as possible,’ says Flavia. ‘It’s gross.’

‘Someone might offer a reward for it’s safe return.’

‘How do you even think of these things? Matt. Where do you get these ideas from? Sometimes I think you live in a parallel universe. It’s a bloody Ikea bag for God’s sake.’

‘But a mysterious Ikea bag.’

‘We’re getting rid of it.’

‘We could put in in a storage unit or a locker at the station until we find out more.’

‘It’s going.’

‘But Flavia …….’

‘Matt! Matt! Look!’ says Flavia, grabbing him by the arm. ‘I swear the bloody bag is breathing.’

Ahmed follows her gaze to the inlaid leg of the walnut table. The blue bag, he notices, does look as though it’s breathing, in fact it appears to be edging its way across the mosaic floor tiles. It has moved several inches. He is about to remark on this, but at that moment, Chet appears at the door with his gear. Chet comes at about this time every day, after he has played his pitches in the town. He is struggling a little today. He is not getting any younger. Ahmed goes over to help him with his cart.

…………………………………………………………………….

‘We’ve found him, boss,’ says Freeman.

‘Who?’ says Boss. ‘Speak up man.’

‘Sorry. It’s a poor signal. …… Is that better?’

‘What is it, Freeman?’

‘We’ve found Jazzman, sir. He has been caught on CCTV passing the horologist’s in the old town. He’s gone down one of those alleys, with some equipment. Willis thinks he might be heading for the Café Baba.’

‘Where?’

‘The Café Baba. It’s an African place.’

‘What’s the low down on it, Freeman?’

‘Could be a front for terrorist activity, possibly.’

‘What about the bag?’

‘He didn’t seem to have the bag, but perhaps it was packed away with his gear.’

‘Keep Jazzman there until I get there. Stay outside, for now but keep a close eye. We’re not going to lose him again. …….. But I want to be the one to apprehend him. Bring the car round, Jagger!’

‘You asked me to remind you to take your tablets, sir.’

‘Quite, Jagger. Thank you. And let me have some of the others, the ones you got from your man, Zoot.’

…………………………………………………………………….

Matt and Flavia have put away their differences for the time being and realised that they are hungry. Perhaps it has something to do with Chet and Ahmed having sat themselves down at the next table. Chet and Ahmed are waiting for Youssef to bring the mint tea. They are listening to Miles Davis’s So What. It is a live version. Ahmed has turned the volume up a bit.

‘Jazz should be about breaking down conventions, experimenting,’ says Chet. He looks forward to these conversations. They affirm his dedication to the art. ‘I mean it’s got to have energy, be a bit raw, come from inside. You know what I mean.’

‘Absolutely,’ says Ahmed. ‘You certainly get that with Miles he doesn’t do pre-written chord changes.’

‘That’s right,’ says Chet. ‘Miles probably never played this tune the same twice. His improvised melodic lines are the basis of the harmonic progression.’

‘He’s a genius. Where does he get his ideas for improvisations from?’

‘I know. It’s like he opens the bag just before the show and grabs a handful of ideas?’

‘Some of these people you hear today on Jazz FM. It’s like you are stuck in a lift,’ says Ahmed. ‘This so called smooth jazz. I mean what’s that about. Smooth jazz is a contradiction in terms.’

They sit back to take in an improvised passage.

‘The pastries are delicious by the way,’ says Flavia, trying to make amends for their earlier lack of decorum.

‘Really tasty,’ says Matt.

‘Thank you,’ says Ahmed. He remembers the conversation that they were about to have before Chet’s arrival, the one about the bag. The big blue bag is still there under the table. It appears to have settled.

‘What is in the bag by the way?’ he asks.

…………………………………………………………………….

Casey Boss and Jagger arrive at Café Baba. Freeman and Willis are waiting outside.

‘How’s it looking?’ asks Boss. ‘Is jazzman in there?’

‘Yes,’ says Freeman. ‘He didn’t bring the bag though, but a man and a woman were already there with it.’

‘So there’s more than we thought. What about the café owner?’

‘I think they must all be in it together,’ says Willis.

Casey Boss has not done a lot of field work lately. He is suddenly racked with uncertainty. Shouldn’t Zoot’s meds be working by now, he wonders, to give him a little confidence?

‘What do we do now?’ he says.

‘We generally burst through the door pointing guns and shouting,’ says Freeman. ‘I’ve always found that to be effective.’

‘What are we waiting for then?’ says Boss.

The four of them make their entry in the recommended manner.

‘Nobody move!’ yells Jagger. He has brushed up on his commands.

No-one looks as if they were about to move. It’s as much as they can do to look around. They see so much street theatre these days.

‘Stay away from the bag!’ says Jagger.

‘What’s the fuck’s going on?’ says Ahmed. His sentiments are echoed by the others. Eyes gradually focus on the Ikea bag. Whatever is happening, this is at the heart of the narrative.

Boss picks it up and examines it. He feels calmer now he has the bag and the meds are finally beginning to kick in.

‘Whatever is in the bag seems to have got everyone hot and bothered’ says Ahmed.

‘Whatever’s in the bag! Whatever’s in the bag! You know perfectly well what is in the bag. And we are going to find out everything about your little operation here at Café Baba.’ says Jagger, producing several pairs of handcuffs.

‘I swear none of us have any idea what’s in the bag,’ says Matt.

‘Well let me tell you what is in the bag,’ says Boss, feeling magnanimous. Zoot’s stuff is a real mood changer. ‘The bag is full of …….. ideas.’

‘It’s what?’ says Matt.

‘A bag full of ideas,’ Boss repeats.

‘What are you all talking about?’ says Chet.

‘It’s a bag full of concepts potentially present to consciousness,’ Boss elaborates. ‘Ideas.’

‘Cool,’ says Chet. ‘A bag full of ideas, eh? Can I have a look?’

‘Stay back,’ says Jagger, pointing the gun at his head.

‘I will attempt to explain,’ Boss continues. ‘It is clearly dangerous for too many people to have access to too many ideas, too many concepts potentially present to their consciousness, if you will, so it is necessary to keep a collection in a central repository. Ideas need to be carefully regulated, but it is also important to have a new idea now and then. After all, new ideas generate investment. Even the most antisocial ideas generate an investment. Sometimes raw ideas need to be transported from our warehouse to another location in order to be developed. Different skill sets you understand, storage workers and visionaries. Earlier today, in transit, a delivery was hijacked and has ended up here in the blue Ikea bag.’

‘What are you talking about?’ says Chet.

‘The bag is empty,’ says Flavia. ‘Or at least what is in it is invisible.’

‘Obviously its invisible,’ says Boss. ‘Ideas are invisible.’

‘And heavy,’ says Flavia.

‘Of course it’s heavy. You don’t think ideas just come in through your internet browser do you, or blow in gently on the prevailing south westerlies?’

‘Anyway, you’ve got it all wrong,’ says Flavia. ‘A hooded man ran up to me in the street while I was standing there watching the jazz and handed me the bag and ran off.’

‘What?’ says Boss looking round at Jagger. Has his colleague messed up again, he wonders.

‘Why do you think he did that?’

‘Panic, possibly. I don’t know.’

‘And I’ve been trying to get rid of it ever since.’

‘Well, be thankful that you didn’t get rid of it,’ Boss continues. ‘There are a billion embryos of ideas in that bag. Ideas in their raw form, like the seeds of creation. Their value of is immeasurable. Over time the ideas will grow and the department needs to be able to monitor their growth. Imagine if they fell into the wrong hands. We would have a free for all. We need to lock them back up in a safe place. It wouldn’t do for people to get the wrong idea.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Just The Way It Is

justthewayitis

Just The Way It Is by Chris Green

A second did not seem an important integer, but therein lay the problem. It was such a small unit of time. Yet, such was the degree of precision operating in the overcrowded skies that if Quincey Sargent had returned from his break seven seconds earlier or seven seconds later, the dreadful accident would not have happened. Sargent would not have given the instruction that resulted in the collision between the two leviathans that changed, albeit ever so slightly, Earth’s path around the sun.

Had the accident not happened, things would be as they had always been. Earth would spin on its axis once every twenty four hours and revolve around the sun in its normal orbit every three hundred and sixty five days. There would still be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds in a calendar year. But as you know there are now more. Just how many more has still to be calculated accurately. We hear new estimates every day with eminent scientists forever trying to steal a march on one another. No one can even say for sure that Earth’s orbit is going to settle into a regular pattern. As you will be aware, the uncertainty has played havoc with digital technology and really messed up schedules and timetables. Try catching the eight o’clock Eurostar now.

Quincey Sargent has of course been dealt with, along with Stanton Kelso at ATC who failed to notice that the two giant craft were on a collision course. You probably saw Sargent and Kelso’s execution on television, if you have one that still works. But knowing that they were punished can never make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost. I expect from time to time some of you still take a look at the film of the explosion on topnet, if you can get topnet, to remind yourselves.

But it is not only the measurement of time that we have to consider. The accident has a far greater legacy, affecting every area of our lives. We’re only just beginning to find out the full extent of the disruption it has caused.

My friend, Ƣ, who works at the spy base calls me up out of the blue. He says that many of the strange phenomena that might be attributable to the catastrophe are being hushed up. Ƣ is not a WikiLeaks scaremonger. When Ƣ tells me something I believe him. I trust Ƣ implicitly. We go back a long way. We belonged to the same motorcycle club, The Diabolos when we were younger. He rode a Triumph Bonneville and I had a Norton Commando. You build up trust when you are riding fast bikes on long runs in large groups like this. Margins of error are small. Ƣ would not lie to me now.

‘I’m sure you’ve noticed that your satnav no longer works and there aren’t nearly as many websites as there once were,’ he says. ‘

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘As you know digital is my field.’

‘Quite! Time is well and truly screwed, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘Anything that depends on time or needs a timer to operate, forget it.

‘At least you no longer need to keep looking at your watch.’ I say. ‘Do you know? Even the oven timer is kaput and I’ve no idea when to put the cat out. In fact, the cat no longer wants to go out.’

‘Who can blame it with all that fog?’ he says. ‘But, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that for whatever reason is not being reported. Why has an eight kilometre wide trench opened up across Central Asia?’ he says. ‘I don’t think that has been on the news. Why are they keeping the lid on that?’

‘Perhaps they have been too preoccupied with the floods in Nevada and Arizona to report on it,’ I say.

‘Why have the people in Australia started talking in a language that no one understands? Why do goats no longer have shadows.’ he says. ‘And what’s happened to all the fish in the sea?’

‘You think it’s all part of a big cover-up then,’ I say.

‘The communication satellites weren’t taken out by the explosion like they told us,’ he says. ‘They’ve been shut down since. And it’s not our people that are doing it. There’s definitely something sinister going on.’

I tell Ƣ about the after images that have begun to appear on all my photos. ‘They make it look like people are slowly leaving or arriving,’ I say. ‘It is as if I have set a long exposure or superimposed a series of images on one another.’

Ƣ tells me that others are having the same problem. A friend of his finds he has a Serbian First World War ambulance superimposed on all his pictures and someone else he knows has a spectral German shepherd in every shot. Every day he says he comes across more and more curious things that cannot be explained.

‘I’m wondering whether we are seeing more strange things lately, Ƣ, because we’re beginning to expect things to be odd,’ I say. ‘Aren’t we looking for weirdness?’

‘I suppose you might have a point, Bob,’ he says. ‘But I’m guessing that you don’t really believe that what you say explains everything. There are just so many things that have changed. Life bears no resemblance to how it used to be. Look! There is one important thing that has never been revealed and no-one seems to have picked up on it. What was on board those two craft that collided? We just don’t know. The Ministry hasn’t been able to find out. Our allies haven’t been able to find out. Nobody seems to know. Which is where you come in.’

‘I do? You’ll have to make that a little clearer,’ I say.

‘Well, Bob. For obvious reasons I can’t go public with any of the information I come across. I mean, look what happened to Eddie Snowden. I don’t want to have to live like that.’

‘What you are saying is that I can, is that it?’

‘Pretty much, Bob. I know that the internet is a bit skinnier than it once was, but you’ve got the skills to set up a proxy website and you know all there is to know about SEO, if that is the right expression and assuming that search engines still work. You could at least begin to post information for me. At the same time, you could discretely find out what other people might be noticing that we are not being told and report back.’

‘But …..’

‘You will get paid.’

‘It’s not that. It’s …..’

‘I know. I know. I work in the secrecy business. But there’s a limit. When something this serious is going down, I don’t think you should keep people in the dark. What do you say?’

I don’t have anything better to do. I no longer have a job. Nobody seems to need digital display designers anymore. I suppose I could get a job repairing cars or something. With all the electrics failing that’s where the demand is. But everyone’s going to be turning their hand to that. I agree to Ƣ’s proposal.

I try to think of a suitable name for the site. aintthatthetruth.com, wtfshappening.com, alliwantisthetruth.com, none of them very snappy. Surprised that the domain hasn’t been taken, I settle on whistleblower.com.

Ƣ comes up with staggering tales from the word go, extraordinary stories from around the world. He wants people to know that they have started practising voodoo in Switzerland. He wants it out there that everybody in Japan has become left handed. That there are giant badgers in Nepal. The reason that the fish are all dead it is now thought is that there is no salt left in the sea. They have moved the International Date Line three times in a week and changed the value of pi. The latest on the length of a day is now that it is believed to be twenty five hours and twenty four minutes in old time. Ƣ says that no-one is talking about the number of seconds in a year anymore. This he says is going to be impossible to calculate until Earth’s orbit has settled.

My site begins to attract whistleblowers from around the world. Rigatony posts that Venice is sinking fast and that everyone in Padova is having identical disturbing dreams at night. Plastic has become unstable and computer keyboards and TV remote controls are decomposing, posts MercyCaptain. According to Kommunique, all the babies born in Kyrgyzstan since the catastrophe have been female, not a popular option in a Muslim country. There are dust storms in Oklahoma says CrashSlayer. Aren’t there often dust storms in Oklahoma?

A lively online community quickly comes together through the forum. My admin duties keep me busy day and night. In no time at all the analogue hit counter is up to five figures. Although there’s nothing directly relating to the cargoes of the craft, a majority of the posts are constructive and informative. Being an open forum there are of course also time wasters and religious fanatics. Fire and brimstone and Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned a lot. What we are witnessing, the evangelists claim, is God’s punishment for planned parenthood, spare parts surgery and gay marriage.

There have always been conspiracy theories, so it is unsurprising that some of these also find their way on to whistleblower.com pages. Everything going wrong it is claimed is part of a plan by ruthless aliens who want to force us into submission so they can take over Earth. It is an Illuminati or Zionist plot to take over the planet. It is part of a big budget surreality television show. Everything is an illusion anyway. Some things you have to take with a pinch of salt. Nothing resembling a conclusive explanation for the upheaval appears, although the illusion explanation, while clearly impossible to confirm, is tempting. Everything that is happening might well be part of someone’s dream. Or a hologram. Gravity in the universe comes from thin, vibrating strings. These strings are holograms of events that take place in a simpler, flatter cosmos. The holographic principle suggests that, like the security chip on your credit card, there is a two-dimensional surface that contains all the information needed to be able to describe a three-dimensional object, our universe. In essence, the information containing a description of a volume of space, be it a person or our Earth could be hidden in a region of this flattened real version of the universe.

It’s a bit of a head-banger. I put this to Ƣ as best I can.

He agrees that multiverses and strings are legitimate lines of enquiry and the Ministry has been putting resources into their research. But how does this help?

‘We have a whole heap of strangeness, that we didn’t have before,’ he says. ‘If parallel worlds could explain what is happening, we would have had the kind of anomalies we are getting now all along. There would have always been parallel worlds. That’s not what it is.’

It is difficult to disagree with him. Quantum mechanics even in its simpler form is something I have never been able to grasp, despite watching many programmes about it on television.

Ƣ goes on to tell me I am doing a good job and if I keep at it, all should be revealed. There is bound to be an explanation for the apparent rupture in the space-time continuum. So that’s what it is, a rupture in the space-time continuum.

One moment I am sat at my computer, keying in a report about the dense swarm of black moths that has appeared over London, the next I am in a darkened room. The space is unfamiliar. It is small. There are no windows. There is a dank smell. The door is locked. I can hear the hollow sound of a slow but steady drip of water. I have always suffered from claustrophobia. Being confined like this has always been my deepest secret fear. I am terrified. This feels like the grave. Is this what death is like? Is this how it happens? Could this be it? No blinding light. No life flashing before your eyes. No white tunnel. Is this it? The other side? Or, perhaps it’s the waiting chamber, the holding bay.

This is not it. Sometime later, it may be hours, minutes or even seconds, my captors reveal themselves. Not before I have been to hell and back. The door opens and they materialise slowly as if they are made up of dots, like a halftone in an old newspaper. There are three of them. As my eyes get used to the light I can see that they are three-dimensional figures and they are wearing military fatigues. They don’t look friendly. There are no welcoming gestures. They have guns.

The one on the right of the group opens his mouth to speak. The sound appears to come from the one on the left, the one with the scar down his cheek and the alligator grin. ‘You will close the website down,’ he barks.

‘Immediately,’ says the one on the right. The sound appears to come from the one on the left. This one has a gallery of Japanese Dragon tattoos on his arms.

‘We would have taken it down ourselves, but you did something ……. smart with it,’ says the one in the centre. He is built like a Sherman tank and aptly he is the one with the biggest gun. It is pointing directly at my head.

Beneath my fear, I can’t help thinking that this is a heavy-handed approach. Just one of them, any one of them could have knocked me up at home, pointed a gun at my head and expected to get results. You would not mistake these people for boy scouts. They really look like killers.

‘We are the time police,’ says Alligator Grin.’ This may not be what he says, but this is how I hear it. Perhaps they are the time police. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are hallucinations but I am not taking that chance. My survival mechanism tells me that they are armed and I am not.

‘We are here to set the record straight,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘To put an end to all that nonsense you’ve been publishing,’ says Tank.

‘Lies,’ says Alligator Grin. At least I think that’s what he says. His diction is not good.

‘There’s only one reality,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘And it’s not yours,’ says Tank.

‘You are going to start again on your server and tell people the facts,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The real facts,’ says Tank. They have lost the rhythm. It’s not his turn to speak.

‘The day is twenty Ferraris,’ says Alligator Grin. I’m getting the hang of it now. He means twenty four hours.

‘And there are sixty minutes to the hour, and sixty seconds to the minute,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The same as it has always been,’ says Tank. For a moment, I think he is about to pull the trigger, but if he does that then the website is still going to be there.

‘And the earth sorbet has always been the same,’ says Alligator Grin. Perhaps he means Earth’s orbit.

‘You will say all the rest was a misapprehension.’ I lose track of who is saying what. They are firing phrases at me like bullets. I feel dizzy. The room is spinning.

‘A result of an over-active imagination,’

‘Too much science fiction,’

‘Choo many movies,’

‘Too many video games,’

One moment I am face to face with three menacing mercenaries, the next moment I am back in front of my computer at home. The mercenaries must have been an hallucination caused by the stress of being in the darkened room. The darkened room might itself have been a delusion. It’s hard to tell what is really happening anymore. But, here I am at home. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I’m not out of the woods yet. Two men in dark suits are with me in the room. One looks like a Mormon missionary, the other looks like Napoleon Solo. They both have guns. They are both pointed at me.

‘You have not heard from Ƣ,’ says Mormon missionary. This is a statement.

‘You are not going to be seeing Ƣ,’ says Napoleon Solo. This too is a statement.

‘Ƣ died in a motorcycle accident in 1999.’ Mormon Missionary again.

‘So let’s get started on the new website,’ says Napoleon Solo. He is beginning to look less like Napoleon Solo. More Reservoir Dogs. Is it the way he angles his gun? Or is it the look of intent he has on his face? Mr Blue, perhaps.

‘People need to know what’s really going on,’ says Mormon Missionary. He begins to look a little less like a Mormon missionary. More Men in Black.

‘sameasiteverwas.com,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And put this little piece of …….. worm software on the back of it,’ says Man In Black. ‘It will take over all internet browsers and stop anyone getting access to any …….. rogue sites.’

‘People will be able to sleep easy in their beds, with the assurance that everything is OK,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And know that someone is looking out for them,’ says Man In Black. ‘Like a big brother.’

I begin to see how it is that history is always written by the ones with the guns, the ones with the biggest guns, whoever they might be. The ones who can manipulate the media, whatever the media might be. How science at any point in time is what the scientists of the day tell us, however erroneous, and why God persists, albeit in one or two different versions. The people who are in charge make the rules, all the rules. They are the ones that dictate what is true and what is lies and that their way is the way it has always been. They establish their set of beliefs as facts and employ militia to enforce their truth, their version of events. They quash dissent. They find out what people’s fears are and work on them until they are too frightened to disagree. There are no ways of seeing. There is just the one way, their way. Their version of events will always be the one that has always been. If necessary they will burn books and rewrite history. They will put worms onto your computer. They will destroy civilisations to make the oven timer work. You will know exactly when you have to put the cat out.

Earth will revolve around the sun in the same way at the same distance and there will always be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six second in a year until such time as the people in charge say otherwise. Goats will always have shadows, Switzerland will never practice voodoo. Plastic will continue to be stable. Venice will not sink. There will always be fish in the sea. There will never be a multiverse. Pi will always be three point one four one six. The same as it ever was. There will only be one reality. All the rest will be make believe. That’s just the way it is.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Strike While The Iron Is Hot

strikewhiletheironisshot

Strike While The Iron Is Hot by Chris Green

It is time. She has fought against it for too long. If she doesn’t do it now, she never will. What is so difficult about telling Dirk he has to leave? Each time that her friend Marie has said, ‘you’ve got to do it, Donna,’ she has said ‘it’s not that simple, Marie.’ But, it is that simple. She just has to say ‘I’ve had enough, Dirk’ and tell him to pack his things. After all, it is her flat.

Dirk coming home drunk from the dog track last night with his mate Dean was the final straw. He knew that she had arranged for Sam and Samantha to come round for a meal. She had been talking about it for days. He had even watched her preparing the marinade. Then her guests had had to put up with Dirk and Dean making lewd remarks and swapping dirty jokes. She was so embarrassed. She didn’t know where to put herself.

As soon as Dirk steps through the front door, she will let him know. She won’t even give him chance to put his work bag down. It’s the only way. Strike while the iron is hot.

The only problem is, Dirk Fiftey doesn’t come through the door. Donna waits and waits. She seethes and smoulders to keep the iron hot, reminding herself of all the occasions he has let her down or abused her. About all of the times she has had to bail him out. The drinking. The drugs. The thieving. The lies. The deceit. What did she ever see in him? He wasn’t even good in bed. All he was concerned about was his own gratification. And now the spineless wuss doesn’t even have the decency to come and face the music.

Finally, at midnight, she puts the metaphorical blacksmith’s hammer back and goes off to bed. She has to work in the morning and it’s a busy day at the salon. End of the month is always fully booked. And she has to talk to Tina about Mrs Nesbitt’s green hair and explain that it wasn’t her fault. The product labelling was wrong.

She hears no more of Dirk until the police come calling, two days later. They want her to come down to the station. Dirk’s battered body, they are saying, has been found by the canal path. That morning apparently by a man walking his schnauzer. She is reminded of her rights.

‘Am I a suspect?’ Donna asks.

‘We’d like you to answer some questions,’ Sergeant Phelon says. If you’d just like to get your coat, Ms. Davies and get into the car.’

‘What? Just like that?’ she says. ‘Are you arresting me?’

‘We’d just like you to answer some questions,’ he repeats, this time, a little more forcefully. ‘Down at the station.’ His hands are now playing with the handcuffs.

Donna gets her coat and locks up. As they drive downtown, she bursts into tears. She can’t hold back any longer. Her nerves are in tatters. The contestants on The Voice and Strictly Come Dancing are always banging on about being on an emotional roller coaster. That is not an emotional rollercoaster, that is ego massaging or ego bashing. The turbulent feelings that punch into your head after being suddenly told that you might have murdered your partner when you didn’t know he was dead, this is an emotional roller coaster. The history. The abuse. The fights. The retaliation. The times out of sheer frustration she has threatened to kill him. The making up. The threats of leaving. The decision to throw him out. The battered body. Where is Dirk’s battered body now?

‘I don’t have to identify the body or anything like that, do I?’

‘No. Mrs Fiftey is coming in to identify the body later.’

‘Dirk’s mother! I thought she was dead.’

‘No, Mrs Fiftey, his wife.’

‘He’s married?’ says Donna.

‘I take it that you are telling me you didn’t know,’ says Sergeant Phelon.

‘Dirk Fiftey has been living at my flat for three years, Sergeant. Well, when I say living I mean he has been treating my flat like a hotel for three years. And in all that time he didn’t once think to mention that he had a wife. He deserves everything he fucking …….. ‘

‘I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, Donna, but I don’t think you should be saying too much until you’ve spoken to your solicitor,’ says W.P.C. Mabombo, who has come along as the female support officer. Sergeant Phelon glares at her. Why do Division keep sending him these basket-weaver rookies, he is thinking. There was nothing wrong with Noriega and Suggs’ more direct approach to policing. It certainly helped with confessions. They helped clear up a lot of difficult cases. It’s a shame they are under investigation.

Donna manages to find one positive thing you could say about Dirk. He had a very good solicitor. Max Tempo could get him off anything. Who else would have been able to get the police to drop charges as diverse as Aggravated Burglary and Indecent Assault? Donna manages to find Max’s number from the deep recesses of her handbag and within twenty minutes there he is telling the police what they can and can’t do. Sergeant Phelon has his head in his hands. Donna gets the impression that he has come across Max Tempo before. A little later after a no comment interview, she is free to go.

Whatever her view of Dirk might have been, his having apparently been murdered puts a slightly different spin on things. How many obituaries or eulogies, for instance, do you find in the papers or on TV that dwell on what a cad the deceased was. When anyone she has ever known, friend or relative has died, she cannot recall anyone ever having a bad word to say about them. Even great Uncle Malkie, who was by all accounts an arsonist and an armed robber, was praised for his courage and generosity. Certainly Dirk had his faults and they were plentiful, but she is a compassionate woman. Three years is a fair chunk of her life, a tenth to be exact. She can’t completely ignore these years. Twice, for instance, Dirk brought home flowers, although she suspects that one bouquet came from a neighbour’s garden. And he did sometimes point out bargains for her on ebay.

The feeling of sympathy is not shared by her friends. They always felt that Dirk was an asshole and they are not slow to refresh Donna’s memory.

‘Don’t you remember the time he left you stranded in Turkey,’ says Marie. ‘And the time he sold your jewellery to buy himself a new smartphone.’

‘You can’t have forgotten the time he threw up on your new dress at Tasha’s daughter’s Christening at St Margaret’s,’ says Gemma.

‘Or that bull terrier he bought you for your birthday,’ says Marie. ‘The one that bit the child and had to be put down,’

‘What about the time he crashed your car and pretended it had been stolen,’ says Gemma.

‘Good riddance, I say,’ says Marie.

‘Now you can get on with your life,’ says Gemma.

‘I suppose you’re right,’ says Donna.

‘Come out with us on Friday,’ says Marie. ‘We can have a proper girlie night out. We can go to that new Albanian restaurant that Rick Stein recommends and then go on to a club.’

Vibe is cool, or what about R3Hab,’ says Gemma.

Chaos is re-opening,’ says Marie. ‘Or there’s always Heaven.

Donna buys a new skirt and little black top from River Island to go out with the girls. She is looking forward to her big night out although with a certain amount of trepidation. She has not been to a club for so long. She showers and dresses and puts on her makeup. Self-consciously she dances around the kitchen to a Ministry of Sound CD she has bought to get her in the mood for the night ahead.

‘Hi babes,’ says a familiar voice. ‘Sorry, I haven’t been …….. home, like. I bet I’m in the doghouse. Thing is, I got caught up in a spot of bother with Nolan Rocco and his boys. I may have to get my man, Max on to it. ……… Hey, honeybun! Did you see that in the paper about the body they found down by the canal? For a while, they thought it was my brother, Kirk. I don’t know how they got that idea. Tracey even had to go down to the morgue. It wasn’t him of course, just some old crusty. Incompetent the police, these days, innit. Just think. It could have been me, eh? You gotta be real careful these days. Never know what’s around the corner.’

It is unfortunate for Dirk that he has chosen this moment to come in because Donna has the iron on to smooth out the wrinkles in the red jacket she is going to wear. Just one thought occurs to her, strike while the iron is hot.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

South by Southwest

southbysouthwest2

South by Southwest by Chris Green

I have been sitting around the house all winter waiting for the call. I have been waiting so long in fact that I have had time to set up a profitable online business selling glicée art prints. I have frequently wondered whether the phone they gave me to await the call actually works. It looks like it is the most basic £9.99 model. I do not know the number and when I try to find this out by phoning my home phone from it, it merely comes back with number not recognised. Like everything else in this game, anonymity seems to be the key. I’m wondering whether the people who have signed me up, whoever they are, have changed their minds about giving me a mission. They may have decided that as I was dismissed from the service that I am untrustworthy. But there again they must know I am cheaper than other professionals who might have my experience in the field. ‘Just be ready,’ I was told. That was last October.

I am in the middle of my morning ablutions when it happens. I hear Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head playing from somewhere. At first, I wonder where the tinny tune is coming from, but quickly track it down to the black Nokia. I press the button to accept the call.

‘Meet me at the railway station at 1100,’ says a female voice, with a trace of an accent that I cannot place.

‘How will I recognise you?’ I ask.

She replies that there is no need for me to recognise her. She knows what I look like. ‘And bring everything you might need for a week away from home,’ she says.

I take this to mean I should include the Glock in my luggage, along with ammunition. Given the sense of economy, they have shown with the phone, it seems unlikely that they will supply me with a weapon. While I would not describe myself as a hit man, in the field it is often important to be armed. It gives you that extra element of security.

I phone Laura and tell her not to expect me around for a few days. She seems to take it quite well, too well perhaps. She does not even ask why. You would have thought that as we have been seeing each other for three years she might have shown an interest. I have the feeling it may be because she wants more commitment. Or perhaps she thinks I have been drinking too much lately.

I make a habit of arriving for a meet ten minutes early. This gives me the chance to do a reccy. If I do not know the person I am meeting which frequently is the case, I challenge myself to be able to spot them before they introduce themselves. I have quite a good success rate here. On this occasion, I not able to. The concourse is quite crowded. People are milling around everywhere and most of them look suspicious. They are all dressed like extras from North by Northwest. Perhaps there is a fifties overcoat and hat convention somewhere. Eventually, a woman in a fashionable dark suit with a wide brimmed hat seems to come out of nowhere. She hands me a black folder.

‘The instructions are here,’ she says. She looks me in the eye. It is a firm stare. ‘You will find a number to call when it is done. Phone from a public call box. You will have noticed a deposit in your bank account.’

Before I know it her shapely silhouette is disappearing into the throng of passengers. I make my way to a quiet seat outside the station complex. I open the folder and carefully read the instructions. I am to liquidate Zachary Driscoll. Liquidate. So it is a hit after all, but, what was I expecting the mission to involve? There is a grainy picture of Driscoll wearing a trilby, probably taken years ago and a mid range shot of him in a blue double-breasted suit. How is anyone supposed to recognise him from these? Driscoll it says is believed to be somewhere in the South West of England. There are details of several sightings in Devon and Cornwall. The report suggests that I check out these locations as a starting point.

They have provided me with a rail ticket to Exeter. Second class of course. And booked me into a hotel under the name, Foster Grant. Who thinks up these names? I check my bank account on my iphone. The deposit could not be considered the going rate for a hit but once again, what was I expecting from these cheapskates? Their initial retainer ran out in the first week. What do they think I’ve been living on all this time while I’ve been waiting for the call? I’ve no doubt that they would argue that as I am freelance I am open to other offers, but they must realise it’s not easy for an out of favour agent to find work. ‘Washed up,’ F, or was it K, had called me last year before they got rid of me. They seem to have a zero tolerance towards drinking and word gets around in this business. It’s a good thing that I have been able to apply my counterfeiting, sorry, printing skills to keep the wolf from the door.

I do not know the South West very well, so on the train, I get the laptop out and have a good look at Google Maps to acquaint myself with the lie of the land. Devon and Cornwall have hundreds of miles of spectacular coastline. There are worse places to find yourself for a week. The downside is that with the sightings of Driscoll being so far apart there is a huge area to cover, some of it quite wild. I decide that when I get to Exeter I’ll hire a four by four.

Who exactly is Zachary Driscoll? The dossier I have been given is short on facts. I have no age, no address, no phone number, no car registration, no profession, no family information, no character traits, no clubs or organisations, no affiliations, no interests, just a couple of photos and a list of sightings, none of these very recent. Apparently the man is five foot nine, although this is unconfirmed. I take a look around the train. Nearly everyone is about five foot nine, even the women. Unsurprisingly an internet search is of no help. There are several Zachary, or Zack Driscolls across the pond, but the search engines give me nothing closer to home. I search the Electoral Register and landregisteronline and DVLA. Not a single Zachary Driscoll anywhere.

People have this idea that undercover agents work for security organisations like MI5 or MI6 or GCHQ, but let me tell you this is just the tip of the iceberg. None of the organisations I have worked for has any monikers, we are just loose groups of individuals given instructions from people we don’t know. We don’t have colleagues, we don’t work in open plan offices where we talk about Champions league football in our breaks nor do we go out on ops together in unmarked cars with gizmos and gadgets, we are merely operatives paid for doing a job that might or might not be legal. The nearest you could come up with for a collective name is the service. This is the only factor perhaps that stops us from being mercenaries, although here we are probably getting into semantics. Somehow once you are no longer in the service, word gets around to those who might want to hire you to do a little job for them. This is the position I find myself in.

I am at the Café Alf Resco at the harbour-side in Dartmouth, enjoying an afternoon cocktail. It’s quite relaxing here listening to the jazz playing and looking at the boats, but wait, isn’t that man in the unseasonable trenchcoat with the dark glasses the same one I saw at Exeter station? If it is it could mean one of several things. It could indicate that I am on the right track and someone else is looking for Zachary Driscoll. Either they are tailing me thinking that I know what I am doing or I am tailing them assuming they know what they are doing. If it is the latter, then it is either instinctive or accidental. It could, of course, mean that someone is after me and is just waiting for the right moment to strike. It could be that I am being vigilant, or for vigilant substitute paranoid.

‘Does that man come here a lot?’ I ask the well turned out barista. Café Alf Resco was named best dressed bar at The Port Of Dartmouth Royal Regatta boasts a sandwich board. The barista’s name badge says, Mario. He doesn’t look Italian.

‘Which geezer would you be talking about, guv?’ he says. He doesn’t sound Italian.

‘The one with the big coat on,’ I say.

‘Couldn’t say, mate,’ he says. ‘We get so many weirdos round here that I don’t take a lot of notice. Know what I mean. It’s the Naval connection, innit.’ He’s not from round here, either. He’s probably from my neck of the woods.

‘So you wouldn’t have noticed this one either,’ I say, showing him the photos.

‘No, I’m afraid not, squire’ he says with a practised air of distraction. I get the impression that he would say this even if he had seen Driscoll. Perhaps I should have left the enquiry until after I’d tipped him and slipped it in on the way out.

Trenchcoat does not appear to follow me when I leave Café Alf Resco, but here he is again at Tangerine Tree in Totnes. He is tracking me somehow. Should I be searching my hired Freelander for a device? He must have realised that it is going to be warmer than yesterday because he has got rid of the coat. He has a summer jacket on but I wouldn’t be betting that he isn’t packing a gun. Perhaps he thinks that the Rayban sunglasses render him unrecognisable. Doesn’t he realise that I have been on courses? I debate whether to approach him and ask him politely why he is following me, whether to point a gun at his head in the car park or whether to suggest we pool our resources to find Driscoll.

None of these happen. I don’t know how I come to be tailing him in his big Nissan, but I manage to stay behind all the way across country to Mortehoe in North Devon. It is not my fault that he drives over a cliff – technically speaking, but testimony to my driving skills that I do not follow him. I do not think there are any witnesses, which is handy as there is bound to be an investigation.

Witnessing an accident in the field is always traumatic. It is something you come across time and time again in this line of work but you never get used to it. You can never be sure of the facts and there is no way to go back and check. What’s done is done. That’s it. Move on. But still ………

I find some suitably cathartic music on the radio, Sibelius I think it is, and take a B Road back to Exeter. This takes me through Exmoor National Park, a unique landscape of moorland that goes on for ever. I am not in a sightseeing frame of mind. I might as well be on the moon. I have a medicinal shot or two at Cullompton Services. When I get back to my room at the Travelodge, I find a woman in my bed, which is nice, but I wasn’t expecting one.

‘Room service is improving,’ I say.

‘Save the smartass for later,’ she says. ‘Now, let’s get you in a good mood then we can discuss how we’re going to find Zachary Driscoll.’

This is certainly a surprising offer but not an unwelcome one, and she seems particularly adept at cheering a lonely man up. I didn’t know you could do some of those things. Half an hour later I feel much more optimistic.

‘I’m Tania,’ she says, in what can best be described as a belated introduction. Whether this is her name or not doesn’t really matter.

‘I’m Foster,’ I say. Whether this is my name or not doesn’t really matter. ‘I guess it’s time to review the ……… case then Tania, wouldn’t you say? What have you got?’

She takes out a folder similar to the one I have but red and hands me a wad of large format photos of Driscoll. If you saw this person you would recognise him easily from these pictures. They are clear and sharp. Also, they look as though they might have been taken around these parts.

‘This one’s Penzance,’ she says. ‘And, there’s Fowey.’ Then we have Plymouth, I think. This one’s Truro. …..

‘This one is Exeter,’ I say. ‘And is that one with him in front of the estate agents, Torquay?’

‘Babbacombe,’ she says. Then there’s Bude and Padstow.’

‘He moves around a fair bit,’ doesn’t he?’ I say examining a photo from force of habit to see how much it has been photoshopped.

While I am doing this Tania unfolds an A3 spreadsheet listing all the locations where Driscoll has allegedly been sighted within the last month, along with the times of day. She is a mine of information. Why she needs me is not obvious.

It is not until the next morning that I discover why. Tania has disappeared, along with my gun. This might be a staple of spy thrillers but it has never happened to me before. I have never been done over like this. I must be getting rusty. At least, I have avoided the other clichés, like being knocked unconscious, interrogated and tortured, or tied up and left in a dark room. But how could I have been so trusting? What was I told all those years ago? Trust no one, not even me. I can hear, my instructor, Boris Whitlock saying it.

I cannot face the thought of breakfast at the Travelodge. Perhaps this has something to do with all the supercilious drones there will be sitting around in their business suits, checking their Outlook calendars and tweeting away on their smartphones. More likely though it is to do with the hangover. How much did I have to drink last night? Instead of breakfast, I take the Freelander for a drive down the estuary with the windows open to the little town of Dawlish, home of the black swan as it advertises itself.

In the field, you constantly face the risk of things going wrong. You have to brace yourself for setbacks, accustom yourself to occasional misfortune. You establish procedures which minimise the risk. This is something you learn over time. Perhaps you never stop learning. So, what is the lesson here? There’s no such thing as a free lunch, perhaps?

I need to go somewhere quiet where I can regroup and decide what to do next. After all, I have been in difficult situations before. I just need to compose myself. My rule of thumb is to give it fifty five minutes to adapt to my new position. A new strategy will then present itself.

I settle on a table outside a café on the Strand and order full English breakfast. It is then that I catch sight of him. It is definitely Driscoll. He is going into an estate agents. Pearson Ranger or something. Might this be an explanation for the sightings? He is buying property in the South West. I realise that land and property ownership can be a contentious issue, but surely it is not often a reason to kill someone. On the other hand, someone must have a reason or I would not be here now. I do not know who it is that has ordered the killing. Mine is not to reason why. I am being paid, however badly, to do a job. Why do I do it? I don’t know. I suspect that I am just a bad man. Perhaps growing up in war-torn Watford in the 1970s didn’t help.

So, to the task at hand. Now that I have found Driscoll I can tail him, but the thing is Tania has my gun. It is not always necessary to have a gun to liquidate someone, but in my line of work, it is by far the most popular method. Tania may, of course, appear anytime and do the job for me. She might be hiding around the corner, or in the back seat of his car waiting for him to return for all I know. It seems likely she is being paid by someone different to the ones who are paying me. My people don’t appear the sort to pay two hit men and her folder now I come to think of it was a different colour. But what the hell! Is any of this important? Why don’t I just hand the money back and go back to my glicée printing?

I hear the great Boris Whitlock’s booming baritone, from all those years ago in the underground bunker in the secret location that wasn’t even on OS maps, saying, ‘failure is not an option. No matter what difficult circumstances may arise, you must always complete your mission.’

With this in mind, I sidle down the street to Pearson Ranger and look in the window. I cannot see very much of the inside but I can’t help noticing that all the houses advertised in the window except for one have been marked, SOLD. What an odd situation. I realise that property is on the up and Dawlish might be a popular location, but surely the market can’t be that buoyant. I remember some friends of mine telling me only last week that they had had to drop the price on their house. Boris Whitlock’s voice starts up once again. I begin to wonder how I can complete my mission. Could I strangle Driscoll with my tie or my belt?

Driscoll emerges from Pearson Ranger. He does not appear to notice me looking in the window, but then why would he? Why would he be aware of my existence? I keep an eye on him as he crosses the road. He is exactly how he looked in Tania’s photos. Displaying an air of self-confidence he goes into Hunters, the estate agents on the other side of the road. Placing myself outside Hunters’ I can see at a glance that except for one all the houses advertised have big stickers on saying SOLD.

I can’t just go in and strangle him. I have to wait for him to come out and then …….. Before I can work out my strategy, Tania drives up and parks her car. I don’t know whether to be puzzled, shocked or angry.

‘How did you know I would be here?’ I say. ……… ‘Or for that matter, Driscoll?’

‘I’m guessing you don’t even remember the conversation we had last night,’ she says. ‘When I saw the empty whiskey bottle this morning, I didn’t think you would be up for much today, so I went on ahead to do a reccy. I’ve been all around the town this morning. You’d be surprised just how many estate agents there are here.’

‘What!’ I say.

‘Last night we reasoned that this morning we would discover Driscoll buying up property in Dawlish.’

‘We did? How did we work that out?’

‘I told you. ……….. Don’t you remember? I had a call from my …….. researcher. And from his information we worked out that Driscoll would be in Dawlish today. ……… Perhaps you felt bad at having brought so little to the table.’

‘Well, I must have remembered something about Dawlish at some level. I mean, I came here, didn’t I?’ I say, trying desperately to recover some ground.

‘You do remember us finding out the reason that we have been given the task of getting rid of Driscoll, don’t you?’

‘Do I?’ I say, trying to remember something, anything, of last night’s drunken conversation.

‘He is buying up Devon and Cornwall house by house, little by little, piece by piece and we have been assigned to stop him. You don’t remember saying you couldn’t understand how someone who had been making such obvious moves had left so little trace.’

‘It does ring a bell, now you come to mention it, yes.’

‘Driscoll, of course, is not his real name. But, Foster, and I don’t suppose that is your real name either, the fellow in there already owns large chunks of what you’ve been looking at the last couple of days. He is rich beyond belief and yet no-one knows who he really is. He might have made his money out of mining or telecoms, gas pipelines or media ownership, currency manipulation, pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs even. Nobody knows. Anonymously he is building an empire down here in the South West. All I can tell you is that my people don’t want him to build an empire down here in the South West.’

‘I don’t suppose you know who your people are either,’ I say.

‘Do you know who your people are?’

‘No, I don’t. I’ve absolutely no idea. But if what you say is true your people and my people, whether they are the same ones or not, must stand to gain from getting Driscoll out of the way, or they wouldn’t be doing it.’

‘And they pay us peanuts’

‘Same old, isn’t it?’

‘Let’s get on with it then.’

‘Well, Tania, and I don’t suppose that is your real name either,’ I say. ‘You’ve got the gun.’

‘What gun? My gun didn’t arrive. Why do you think I teamed up with you?’

‘But you have my gun,’ I say.

‘What! I don’t. …….. Oh no! You mean you’ve lost your gun too.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved