Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 8.2

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 two.

I’ve never been much of one for buses. Even now, when I have my old bugger’s free bus pass, I prefer to go everywhere in my own car. Yes, I know, the ecological as well as the economic arguments in favour of using public transport over private are strong and becoming more so, and no doubt I’ll give it a try sometime. For the time being, though, I’ll stick with what I’m used to. Anyway, the upshot of all that is that I didn’t know there was a cafe at the bus station.

It had occurred to me that the bus station might be quite large and it could possibly have taken a few minutes for us to locate each other, so we aimed to arrive early. We went in Charlie’s car and parked in the central car park which connects with the bus station through a system of overpasses. On arrival at the bus station, Charlie and I looked around and speculated where the others were likely to be.

“They’ll probably be by the drop-off point for the 33 service,” Charlie opined, “the sign says it goes to their part.” I tended to agree.

Penny is an administrator and an organiser as well as an educator. She is the one who thinks things through with more logic than intuition. She applied her methodical approach to this situation. “The 33 runs twice an hour,” she said, “and the next one is due in ten minutes. That means the last one arrived twenty minutes ago. Do you seriously think Meredith and the boys would wait at that draughty stop for twenty minutes?”

Chloe answered before either of us could. “Not if I know my sister-in-law,” she said.

“Where would you expect her to go?” I asked.

“To the cafe, of course.”

“I didn’t know there was a cafe here.”

“You didn’t know there were buses here,” Penny said icily as we started to walk towards the cafe, “I doubt you’ve ever seen the inside of a bus station.”

“When I was a lad, I did,” I said, “most families didn’t have cars back in those days. You’ll remember that, won’t you, Charlie?”

“Well before my time, mate. I’m nowhere near as old as you, don’t forget.”

“Haven’t you got some software to debug, turncoat?” I asked, giving him a friendly jab on the arm.

Meredith, Billy and Alan were indeed waiting for us in the cafe. As we approached, Billy whistled shrilly in the direction of the counter and held up four fingers. At a nod from Meredith, Alan arranged four more chairs around the two tables they had already pushed together.

“I’ve ordered coffees,” Billy said as we seated ourselves. Moments later, a waitress arrived with four steaming mugs.

“Your phone, Alan,” I said, handing the younger sibling his mobile. His face lit up and I thought he was on the point of crying, but it seemed not.

“Is it… okay?” he asked, hesitantly.

“Yours is fine,” I said and explained how we thought he was given his as a cover to draw attention away from Billy’s.

“That’s hellish sneaky,” he said, “but I don’t mind. I could never have been able to afford a phone this good.”

We then handed Billy his phone and went into detail about it, how we believed it had been set up and monitored and what was in the latest WhatsApp text.

“Here’s the question, Billy,” I said, “Does location three mean anything to you?”

“Of course,” he said, “Location one is a place where I put very small things like letters and location two can take anything up to about this size,” he extended his arms to describe something about the size of a lever-arch file. “Location three is for bigger stuff. It’s further out of town and I usually have to change buses to get there, except Saturdays when there’s a direct bus.”

“Where is location 3?” Charlie asked.

“Near the football ground.”

“Which is why there’s a direct bus on Saturdays. Every Saturday?”

“Just match days.”

“Okay. Billy, we want you to go ahead with this as normal. Go to Halfords to collect the package then do the drop. Do you need to contact Mr E when you do it?”

“No. He seems to know when I’ve got the package—”

“Because he’s monitoring your phone and will know when you are at the collection place and when the QR code is opened. What about the other end? He will know from your GPS or triangulation when you reach the drop-off point.”

“Yeah, but he’s never there. I’ve never seen the bloke.”

“Well, Billy, he will still be able to track you and know when you make the drop-off, but this time, so will we. Not electronically, but we will be watching you from a safe distance. We’ll be far enough away that he or whoever he sends won’t know we’re there, but close enough to rush in if someone turns up and starts to get tasty with you.”

“Will I be wearing a wire?”

“Another one who watches too much TV,” I said, with a laugh, “No, you won’t be wearing a wire. Too obvious. You won’t be wearing a tracker, either. It’s easy to scan for those. If he has the equipment to scan you and he does it, he could be quite nasty if he finds something. We’re not prepared to put you at risk like that.”

“But you’re happy to put me at risk in other ways!”

“Hang on, sunshine. Let’s not lose sight of how this all started. You broke into my house, remember? Be grateful I’ve taken your side and not just handed you over to the police.”

“Say sorry to Mr Rogerson,” his mother instructed him.

“No need for that, Meredith. I just think it’s important to remember what the relationships are here.”

“Nevertheless,” Meredith said casting a steely look at her eldest son.

“Sorry, Mr Rogerson.”

I nodded. I would have apologised if she’d looked at me like that!

“We are… I am grateful for how fair you are being with my boys,” she said then, with gritted teeth, “especially when they’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

“Fairness is exactly what we’re aiming for,” Penny said, “would that the law were always as fair as we strive to be.”

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 8.1

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 one.

Charlie messaged me a little before eight the following morning. I replied that I was tied up with some personal stuff and couldn’t make it until half-past-nine. I also suggested we meet here at my house, and I told him that both Penny and Chloe would be sitting in. My phone rang. It was Charlie.

“Just a quick one, Rory. Why get Chloe involved? I’m not objecting, I just don’t understand.”

I passed on what Penny had said, as near verbatim as I could.

“Yeah. I can see that. Okay. Your place, half-nine.”

“Do you have results?”

“I can show you when I come. How’s your broadband connection?”

“Full fibre, same as yours. Strong WiFi too.”

“Good. I’ll bring my laptop and VPN to my home server.”

Nine-thirty arrived. So did Penny and Chloe. Charlie arrived fashionably late. True, it was only three minutes after the ladies but it was still late. We gathered around the dining-table whilst Charlie fired up his laptop and connected it to the big display that Penny used to test her presentations. The screen showed five hits on the voice search. The probability figures given ranged from 63% down to 18%.

“What does that mean?” Chloe asked. Charlie pointed to me.

“It means, Chloe, that we don’t know whose voice we picked up on the messages,” I said.

Charlie chipped in, “The highest, at sixty-three per cent, is a possible candidate, but it’s a long way from certain.”

“What do we know about the highest?” Penny asked.

“That’s the other thing,” Charlie said, “he’s a teenaged lad from the other end of the country. Only one conviction – car theft.”

“Yeah. Rule him out,” I said. I turned to face my wife and Chloe, who was seated beside her. “How much does Chloe know about the current situation?”

“As much as I do,” Penny said, “which, hopefully, is as much as Charlie and you do.”

“Almost,” Charlie interjected, “another collect and drop-off instruction came to Billy’s phone last night. An item to be picked up from Halfords and dropped at location three.”

“Where’s location three?” I asked.

“No idea. Presumably, Billy knows of it. Either that or it’s a test.”

I looked at Chloe. “Can you get hold of Meredith and the boys today? I’d like a brief meeting… let’s say at the main bus station at four o’clock. That okay with everybody?”

“I’ll call you to confirm,” Chloe said then got up and left us.

Charlie looked, I don’t know… stern? disappointed? confused? “Problem?” I asked.

“I would have preferred somewhere more salubrious than the bus station, given the choice.”

“We shouldn’t use the same place twice, Charlie.”

“Not necessarily the Masaala Ghar. Somewhere nice though. Somewhere we could do this over a decent meal.”

“Firstly, I don’t want to make a big thing of this – the shorter the better in my book. If Mr E had knowledge of our meeting at the Masaala Ghar – I’m not saying he did, but if he had somehow found out about it – he’d expect our next meeting to be there or somewhere similar, and he’d expect it to be at a similar time of day. Four o’clock in the afternoon at the bus station is precisely what he would not be anticipating.”

“Penny tell you that or did you think of it all by yourself?” he asked sarcastically.

“What’s eating at you, mate? If you must know, it’s what Christopher and Samantha Connors would have done.” Unless I was very much mistaken, I saw a look of pride spread across my wife’s lovely face.

“Colour me impressed,” he said, “I’ll give Billy his phone tomorrow and talk him through what we know—”

“Any reason not to give Alan his phone back, too?” Penny asked.

“None,” I said before Charlie could get a word out, “we’d planned to anyway, hadn’t we?” I shot an accusing look at my partner-in-crime-solving.

“As I was saying,” Charlie continued, “We’ll talk Billy through what we know and how we plan to keep an eye on this transaction.”

“And if Billy doesn’t know what Mr E means by location three, then we’ll assume he’s onto us and abort the transaction, right Charlie?”

“Depends – maybe, Rory.”

“No depends about it. No maybe either. Right, Charlie?” I’d put on my special steely gaze for that one.

“If you insist. What’s the big deal, anyway?”

“If Billy doesn’t know where location three is, then he can’t make the drop at location three, can he? And if Mr E knows that Billy won’t know what or where location three is, then this may well be a trap, one that’s possibly ready to be sprung as soon as Billy makes the collection from Halfords. So, I say again, if Billy doesn’t know what Mr E means by location three, then we’ll assume he’s onto us and abort the transaction.”

“I agree with Rory,” Penny said.

“Fine,” Charlie conceded, “I know when I’m outnumbered.”

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 7.4

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 seven, part four.

Not unexpectedly, Priya wasn’t there when I got back home. She had, however, left a note with Penny. ‘Charlie told me about his automatic door controls and how he’d set it up. Interested?’

“Did she say anything about this?” I asked Penny.

“Did she? She didn’t talk about anything else. Told me how Charlie had a system whereby we could, with previous permission, go into his house whether he’s there or not. How the system would disarm the alarm, unlock the door and open it, then shut and lock it behind us and how it’s set that when the last person leaves the house, the door will close and lock itself and arm the alarm system. Is that true? Has Charlie done that?”

“Pretty much.”

“But how does his system know anyone’s coming up the drive?”

“Smart cameras. Not only does the system recognise that a human is approaching the door, but facial recognition software tells the system who it is. If it’s an authorised person, the system disarms the alarm and opens the door. Did it for me this morning. Spooky at first, but hellish effective.”

“So, would you like that here?”

“Not sure. I love the technology and it’s awesomely cool.”

“I sense a but coming on.”

“But isn’t it a bit overkill? I mean, alarms, yes. Cameras, yes. Even some of the fancy software, but do we need the door to open for us when we come in and close after us when we leave?”

“Actually, you don’t need to convince me. I’ve thought a lot of the so-called security you’ve already put in is a bit over-the-top. But it’s in and working so I’ll live with it. But, for my money – and bear in mind a good amount of what we have is money that I earn – enough already.”

“At least we agree on that. I have to confess that my pensions and what I get from my writing and all that goes with it don’t come near your salary. Does that make me a kept man?”

“I didn’t say it for that reason. I don’t resent you spending our money – our money, not yours or mine but ours – on what you think is important any more than you resent me spending our money on what I consider important.”

“But—”

“No, Rory. Subject closed, alright?”

“Okay. I’ll tell Priya we’re okay as we are. Neither of us wants to end up with a system that’s more sophisticated than we can handle.”

“I’m glad that’s agreed. Now, how did you and Charlie get on with the mobiles?”

I talked Penny through what Charlie and I had done and what we had found out.

“What I don’t get,” she said stretching out on the sofa, “is how come Alan’s phone was clean, not even… what was the term …ghosted?”

“We talked about that. Charlie reckons—”

“Before you go any further, is this your case or Charlie’s? I thought he came on board to help you with some technical stuff, but from what you’re saying, it sounds like he’s running the thing.”

I moved closer to Penny and placed my hand on hers – for comfort, not condescension before you think anything. “A lot of it is technical and needs to make use of his software, expertise and contacts. Is he running it? No, I don’t think so. If anything, he’s… let me put it this way. If you want to do a detailed, mixed media presentation to the School Board or the PTA or even the pupils, where do you go for help? Or do you do the whole thing from start to finish?”

“No. I’m not an IT expert. I call on IT for the technical parts, and generally run my presentation by the relevant department heads before actually doing it.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why run it by the department heads?”

“Obviously, because they’re the subject experts. Although we all work on the curriculum and syllabus together, we operate at different levels. Same with IT. I don’t want to be an expert in computers. I’m an administrator and a maths teacher – and a bloody good one, too. I have neither the ability nor the will to be omni-expert.”

Et voila, as your French teachers would say. Because of my security background and because of the subjects I’ve researched and written about, I have a set of areas of expertise. Because of his work with technology and the research he’s had to do to write and support specialist software, Charlie has his own areas of expertise. There’s a certain amount of overlap between Charlie’s competences and mine but mostly we complement each other. And precisely because of the areas of overlap we produce a combined effect greater than the sum of our separate effects.”

“Which is the dictionary definition of synergy.”

“Really?”

“Look it up. So it’s fully a joint operation?”

“Yes, I’d say so.”

“And where do I fit in?”

“You work with people at a level that neither Charlie nor I can even aspire to. You have an understanding of people, of their psychology, their motivations.”

“Have you read your books? You get right inside your characters—”

“And I learned it all from you, Penny, but although you’ve taught me all I know, you haven’t taught me all you know. That’s why we need you on board. You are our Deanna Troy, our —”

“Okay, I get the picture. You were saying, Charlie reckons…?”

“Let me see if I can get back to that train of thought. Right. Charlie reckons the reason Alan’s phone was clean is because Mr E didn’t want to get Alan involved. He gave Alan a phone identical, or outwardly so, to the one he gave Billy to distract any attention from Billy’s and to make it easier to support the illusion that the phones were a gift from Meredith.”

“But they weren’t.”

“No, they weren’t, but they had them nearly two years ago and until a couple of days ago the boys believed them to be a gift from their mother.”

“And Charlie came up with that?”

“At the time I was concentrating on the boys’ social media profiles so wasn’t thinking of that.”

“And what’s next?”

“We’re waiting for the voice-matching tech to do its thing. Charlie’ll let me know when it’s finished then we can consider the next step.”

“The one that puts Billy back into the firing-line?”

“I wouldn’t have used that exact term, but yes. Are you at school tomorrow?”

“I can skip off after assembly if you need me. I have commitments after lunch but can be here between nine-thirty and one-thirty.”

“Good. I’ll be meeting up with Charlie early tomorrow morning. I’ll find an excuse to put it off until nine-thirty.”

“Here or next door?”

“I think here unless we need any of Charlie’s tech.”

“If you’re bringing Billy back into play, you should probably involve Chloe. My opinion – and remember, I am the expert here – is that she has great value as a buffer between the Suttons and you pair.”

“Do we need to involve her?”

“They trust her. I know you’re getting on fairly well with Meredith and the boys, but they’ll be more comfortable, and so more open, with one of their own, one they have implicit trust in.”

“Okay. You want me to talk to her?”

“No, I’ll do it,” she said emphatically.

“Because she trusts you more than she trusts me?”

“And who can blame her?”