Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 8.5

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 eight, part five.

I switched the radio off. Meredith was sobbing. “My babies,” she said. “I must go to them.”

“As soon as we can,” I said, “but they’re okay. The newsflash said they’d be out today.”

“You can’t always believe what they say on the news, can you? I mean, they may say that just so the people who set the bomb think it didn’t work. What then?”

“I doubt that. If they believe it didn’t work, they might try again. So that wouldn’t help anyone, would it?”

“So what are you going to do?”

Good question, I thought to myself, what am I going to do? I heard Penny’s voice inside my head, saying, “What would Chris and Sam do, Rory?” And suddenly, as though a light bulb had lit up in my head – an LED one, of course, more ecologically sound and less likely to fry my brain – I knew.

“I’m going to drop you home, then I’ll pick your boys up from the hospital and bring them home – Chloe too, then I’ll go home myself and work on these photos we have.”

“Aren’t you going to go to the police?”

“Not yet. I need to talk to Charlie first. This has put a completely different slant on this business. We need to take it very seriously, and we need you to take Billy and Alan somewhere safe. Any ideas?”

“One of Henry’s mates has a château in France that he keeps inviting us to. It’s completely isolated in the middle of nowhere. I’ll get in touch with him, see if we can go there.”

“Is it likely to be secure?”

“If you knew Henry and his workmates, you wouldn’t ask that question,” she said with a chuckle, “These are exactly the people you’d call in if you wanted to make a location impregnable.”

“Fine. Do that. Let me know if you need any help.”

“Of course.” I dropped Meredith at her house, giving a gentle squeeze to her hand as she got out. She responded with a look that was at once worried, grateful and affectionate. I left her and collected the others, leaving the boys with their mother so she could explain to them about the trip they were about to undertake. I then took Chloe back to her house (she refused my offer to explain to Trevor how she came by the obvious cuts on her upper body) and went home and uploaded the video and images to my computer. So good were they that I had no need of Photoshop or anything else to enhance them, which pleased me, as I was never completely sure that you could hide the fact that the pictures weren’t in their original condition.

I took screen captures from the video to produce more still images of the two men’s faces and the car registration, then loaded them onto my phone.

A quick five-minute drive took me to the county hospital and I was at Charlie’s bedside just a few minutes later. Charlie looked fine to me and in good spirits.

“Why are you still here?” I asked, “As far as I can see you’re less injured than Chloe or the boys.”

“Firstly, mate, they didn’t like my blood pressure or heart-rate. I tried to tell them that they were both normal for me, but they insisted on keeping me in and checking every couple of hours and secondly, if you think the boys were injured, you should see my back – I sheltered them as much as I could. Wanna look?” He sat up, pulled his pyjama top up and turned to face away from me. “See?” he said. I had to admit, his injuries were far more serious than the boys’ or Chloe’s, though still not major.

“Listen, Charlie,” I said, “I know I keep saying I want to see the back of you, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind.”

I could tell that amused him by the way he said, “Don’t make me laugh, Rory, it hurts.”

I apologised, pulled out my phone and showed him the pictures I’d got.

“Nice, clear images,” he said, “well done you. Let me look at the car again.” I flipped back to the car. Charlie studied it closely. “I can’t be one hundred per cent sure, but I’m fairly confident that I saw that yellow Peugeot cabriolet drive away as I got off the bus and walked towards what used to be my car. Look, I’ll be out in the morning. Let’s run some of these shots through the mugshot database and see what we can find out about the vehicle. You should be able to do that. Go to the DVLA and search to see if it is taxed and insured. Don’t give any personal information – oh, and use the multi-hop VPN to hide your IP address. I can check for records of theft, unpaid fines of any kind etc. from the police database at the same time as we search the mugshots.”

“Okay, Charlie. I doubt either of those two is Mr E, though. What do you reckon?”

“I reckon you’re becoming quite tasty as a private detective, that’s what I reckon.”

“We’ll see. We’re not there yet, maybe when this is over.”

“What?”

“Maybe we could make a good pairing – with Penny as back-up. Meanwhile, should we get the police involved now? It’s getting a bit serious.”

“As long as everyone is safe – what about the boys?”

I told him what Meredith was planning.

“If the château is big enough, maybe Trevor and Chloe could join them.”

“That’s up to them,” I said, “I’ll talk to Trevor later.”

***

I ran what we had by Penny when I got home, then we popped in on Trevor and Chloe together. Chloe loved the idea of a holiday in a secluded château in the middle of France, especially when the word ‘free’ was tagged on the end. Trevor was less enthusiastic.

“Why are we being offered this? There must be a catch. No-one does anything for nothing these days,” he said.

“The situation we have,” I explained, “is that Chloe and your sister-in-law’s boys were in a car that had blown up almost immediately they got out of it. What we had believed to be a straightforward theft has developed some seriously dangerous undertones. Had Charlie not been suspicious of a car he saw drive away from the bus stop as he got off the bus, Chloe and the boys would have been inside it when it blew up, then you and I would have been having a very different conversation. One of your late brother-in-law’s friends owns a well-secured château and has offered accommodation whilst we clear this up. Meredith and the boys will be taking it up, and I would sleep better if I knew that Chloe, who will have been seen by at least one of the bomber’s associates, was tucked away somewhere safe, too.”

“But I have commitments. I can’t drop everything just so you can sleep better, you know.”

“Let me get this straight. You are putting your business commitments ahead of your wife’s safety, maybe even her life. Am I right?”

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit melodramatic about this?” he asked.

I considered various possible responses, all of them valid, true and reasonable, but was convinced they would only feed his scepticism, his disdain. “No, I don’t believe I am,” I said calmly, “We’ll be next door. Don’t call us after ten. Come on, Penny.” My wife looked at Chloe and shrugged in a way that would have Frenchmen arguing over its meaning for hours, but Chloe understood.

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