Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.
Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.
Together, they make a formidable team!
Rory (ret’d). Chapter ten, part six.
We didn’t speak much on the way back to the hotel. I was deep in thought, the rucksack over my back possibly weighing me down more than my worries, Charlie was also inside his head, or so it seemed judging by the way he was slightly slouching, hands in pockets and avoiding eye contact with me or with Penny. She, however, was entranced by everything around her, incessantly pointing out things that caught her eye – here a building, there a flower, even the shapes made by the few clouds that were in the sky above us.
Back at the hotel, Penny declared herself in need of a nap and went into our room. I told her that Charlie and I would be in his room with the cylinder, and she should come in and join us when she was ready.
Charlie and I entered his room. He immediately apologised to me.
“Sorry, Rory,” he said, “I put the wrong sign on the door when we went out. I’d meant to put up the please make up room sign, but I’d put up the do not disturb sign instead.”
“I can see the bed’s not been made,” I replied, “and judging by the look of it, you didn’t sleep too well last night. I’ve never seen such a messy bed.”
Charlie opened the large window. “It needs air, too. Still smells of sleep.”
I raised my eyebrows, pulled a chair up to his table and retrieved the cylinder from my rucksack. He parked himself beside me.
“How did the guy get on with opening it?” Charlie asked.
“Fine. He did what he said he was going to, including drilling it in the hazmat container and evacuating it to draw any gas out.”
“And what’s inside it?”
“Don’t know yet. I didn’t want to open it without you being able to see it, too.”
“Now you’re making me feel bad, Rory.”
“Well, you were sitting it out in that hot, clammy workshop while I was out having a nice time with your wife and you got no benefit from it. If I’d been the one inside, I would have opened it straight away.”
“I couldn’t do that to you, Charlie. You are as much a part of this thing as I am, and it would have been wrong of me to effectively claim as mine something that should be ours.”
With that, I took the cling-film off the cylinder and carefully poured its contents onto the table. We both gazed, transfixed at what had come out of the device, each thinking the same unasked question: “Is that it?”
“Look inside it,” Charlie suggested, “there has to be more. Something stuck to the side, perhaps? Something wedged at the bottom?”
I looked thoroughly, even ran around the inside with my hand. “Look for yourself,” I said, handing the cylinder to him.
He went through the same motions I did with, not unpredictably, the same result. “Well, I’ll be—”
“Be careful what you wish for,” I counselled.
We looked again at what had landed on the table. There was no mistake. One piece of rolled-up paper and a SIM card from a telecom provider I couldn’t identify. The lettering on the card looked like Russian, but I couldn’t be sure. It was old and worn. I picked up the paper and flattened it. On it was written an international telephone number – I didn’t recognise the code – and an instruction: Dial this number and wait for connection. You must use this SIM card. A call from any other number will be rejected.
“Small problem,” Charlie said, “this is a standard SIM. My phone takes a Nano SIM. I’ll bet yours does, too.”
“It does. It’s only a case of cutting it to size, isn’t it?”
“Would that it were that easy. The standard SIM isn’t just larger than the Nano, it’s thicker. You can buy a special tool to cut it to size and shape, but you then need to sand it accurately for it to fit in the Nano SIM holder.”
“Doesn’t sound hard. How much would the cutter cost?”
“Less than a tenner I should think, but I don’t think you’ll get it delivered it out here by tomorrow.”
“Then we take the paper and SIM back with us tomorrow. I have a few old phones lying around. I’ll just need to charge one up and pop the card in, then we’ll be good to go.”
Penny came in, looking like she’d just woken up.
“Hi,” she said, “I’ve just woken up. What have I missed?”
I mentally patted myself on the back to congratulate my excellent observation skills and updated her on what we’d found and what we were planning to do.
“Is there any point in staying here any longer, then?” she asked.
“Probably not. I’ll see if we can change the flights.”
Charlie went downstairs to ask about changing our booking on the bus back to Jo’burg and Penny went back to our room to start packing. Knowing we’d need at least twelve hours to reach Johannesburg, I managed to change for a morning flight the following day. I was just closing down my laptop when Charlie came in.
“How did you get on?” I asked.
“They laughed at me.”
“Their exact words were: ‘There is no booking for the early bus. If there is no room inside, you just climb on top.’ Honestly.”
“Okay, if we can’t get the early bus, we should be able to get the Greyhound that comes through later and will still get us to Jo’burg in time. Let’s get packing.” I left his room and rejoined Penny.
Ten minutes later we had packed, checked out of the hotel and given instructions that the large equipment we no longer needed: gazebo, metal-detectors, shovels etc. should be donated to a charity of the hotel manager’s choosing.
We caught the early bus. There were plenty of seats when we left Barclay North although, by the time we got very far past Kimberley, the roof-rack was filled as well as every seat and standing space inside. To describe the trip as uncomfortable would be a gross understatement. To describe it as safe would be stretching the concept beyond breaking-point. But it was cheap and we got to the airport in time to check in for our rearranged flight.