Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 6.3

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 six, part three.

Peering into the slowly-opening box, I felt Penny’s face against mine. I turned and planted a kiss on her cheek.

“Get off, you daft old bugger,” she said, then returned the favour.

We looked into the now-open box.

It was empty.

“False bottom?” Penny asked.

“Screwdriver’s too thick to get down the side.”

“Use the knife.”

“But you said—”

“Use the blasted knife. You’re buying me another canteen anyway, so why should I care about one knife. Use it!”

I placed the blade of the knife into the crack at the bottom of the box.

“Nope. That’s actually the bottom.”

“But it’s empty,” she said.

“Glad to see your degree in the bleeding obvious wasn’t wasted,” I said sarcastically, followed by an expression that combined the elements of surprise and distress as the business end of a quarter-inch flat-bladed screwdriver made sudden, forceful contact with my rectus femoris muscle. “Sorry,” I said nursing my thigh and checking to make sure it hadn’t broken the skin, “that’s likely to bruise.”

“Teach you to be sarcastic, won’t it? Besides, I can’t use withholding sex as a weapon any more, so I’ve had to be more, shall we say, creative. Now, give me that box.”

I handed it over. Well, wouldn’t you? The woman had a weapon and she had shown that not only was she not afraid to use it, but she also had the means to use it to good effect. She looked at it and closed it again.

“That took ages to open,” I complained.

“It’s empty,” she said icily.

“I know.”

“So there’s no reason not to shut it then, is there?”

“No, dear. Sorry.”

Penny upended the box and looked at its base. “No false bottom from here, either,” she said. She studied the underside some more.

“A-ha. Tell me, Rory, when were QR codes invented?”

“I don’t know, but I know someone who might,” I said followed by, “Okay, Google, tell me about QR codes.”

According to Wikipedia, QR code is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode first designed in 1994 for the automotive industry in Japan—

“Okay Google, stop. So – 1994. Why?”

“There’s one on the bottom of the tin.”

“Not really surprising, they crop up all over the place.”

“But this one is nowhere near the lettering or the bar code. Look.” My wife handed me the tin. The QR code was, as she had said, nowhere near the lettering or the bar code.

“Not only that,” I said, “but the ink is different.”

“How?”

“I don’t know – blacker, heavier. If you asked me to stick my neck out, I’d guess that it’s newer than the rest. Do you have a QR code reader on your phone?”

“No, but I’ll bet you do.”

I looked at my phone. There, in the group I’d called photography, was indeed a QR code reader. I scanned the code on the tin. My screen said ‘Unknown Format. This barcode has a special format and can’t be read by this app. Here is the content of this scan:’ followed by what looked like an unsolved word-search panel.

“It can’t read it,” I said.

“Take it to Charlie when you go around in the morning. If he can’t do anything with it, we’ll just have to think of something else.”

“Knowing Charlie, if he doesn’t have a way of making sense of it, he’ll write a new algorithm that can.”

“Ready to call it a night? I’m tired and I’ll bet you are, too.”

“I am, but I’m also in pain.”

“In your thigh?”

“Yes, dear, in my thigh.”

“Serves you right.”

“I’m going to get a book from the study – try to level the bed before I get in it. I don’t much fancy waking up with raging backache as well as everything else – and a bruised thigh.”

“One of your own books?” she asked.

“Possibly.”

“That’ll be a first.”

“First what?”

“First time you’ve been supported by your writing.”

Penny can run quite quickly when she has a mind to.

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 6.2

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 six, part two.

Penny was watching one of those god-awful programmes when I got in. A couple of people with more money than sense were looking for a holiday home somewhere; a home for which they’d no doubt be grotesquely overcharged and which they’d probably regret buying as soon as the programme-makers move out. I mean, how many people have a quarter of a million pounds lying around to spend on a frivolous thing like a holiday home? And how many of them would want to blow that much on a place they’d only go to for a few weeks each year? Do they ever even think of the cost of upkeep? If it’s unoccupied for most of the time it’s like a magnet to burglars, to say nothing of squatters, ravers and drug-dealers. But she likes them, and I don’t want to stand in the way of her happiness – it’s more than my life’s worth.

“Oh, hello,” she called out as I entered, “anything?”

“I’ll tell you later,” I said, “you enjoy your programme.”

“I’m not really watching it.”

“What’s that smoke issuing from your nether regions? Oh, it’s your pants. They seem to be ablaze. I’m in the study. I’ll see you in a few.”

“Okay,” she said and went back to the programme she so clearly wasn’t watching. I hauled my bulk up the stairs and into my study. The whole thing about this green box was bothering me. Five of them upstairs in the attic, one brand new, empty one down here but still in its original packing. No way could that one have anything in it. I looked around some more. I checked in every drawer and cupboard and on every shelf and surface. I could find nothing.

Light-green in colour and the size of a ream of paper, he had said. Actually, that rules out the file boxes, thinking about it. Why? Because a box file is a lot larger than a ream of paper. I was stumped. I went back downstairs to make myself a cup of tea. Penny was already in the kitchen and the kettle was close to boiling.

“You want a cup?” she asked.

“What happened to your programme?”

“Bloody morons. Couldn’t make up their mind either what they wanted, where they wanted it or how much they wanted to spend on it. I gave up and turned off. Do you want a cup or not?”

“Yes please. Sorry.”

“Nothing for you to be sorry about. How did you get on with Charlie?”

I told her about the conversations, and what had happened with the phones and what we were planning to do next.

“Chris and Sam would be proud of you,” she said, “it looks like your research for the books is paying off in real life.”

“Yeah – life imitating art. Who’d have thought it?”

“That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?”

“What, life imitating art? That’s exactly what’s happening.”

“No, describing your books as art…” she flinched, or maybe she ducked. Either way, a reaction more appropriate than her comment.

“I’ve been thinking about this green box.”

“One of your box files?”

“Too big. A lot bigger than a ream of paper.”

“Didn’t we, when we moved in, use a green metal box under the corner of the bed with a rug over it, because the floor was so uneven?”

“You know what? I think you’re right. We found that box in the loft and it was exactly the size we needed for that. I’ll go and look. Did I tell you that I love you?”

“You did, but I never believed it,” she replied with a cheeky grin. Penny dodged past me and darted up the stairs, waiting for me at the top. I followed at a gentler pace and led the way through to our bedroom. I lifted one corner of the bed and Penny scooted down and retrieved… a light-green metal box about, as Mr E had said, the size of a ream of paper.

“What are we going to use to steady the bed?” Penny asked.

“This may be a good time to get Rob in to repair the damaged floorboard.”

“On it,” she said, trotting down the stairs.

I looked at the box. It was heavily dented on the top, probably from a few years taking the weight of a corner of the bed as well as a good chunk of mine. It was also fastened with one of those small combination padlocks people use to secure suitcases in transit. The lock was only three digits, so wouldn’t take forever to crack. If I use one combination every ten seconds it will take less than three hours to try every possible set. Against that, the right tool, which I’m quite sure Charlie will have somewhere, will do it a great deal more quickly. The lock was set to three zeroes. Whilst speculating on its possible contents I idly fiddled with the dials. I tried one-two-three. Nothing. Three-six-nine. Nothing. Three nines, three threes and three ones all had no effect. About to give up, I finally tried nine-one-one. The lock sprung open. I removed it and carefully started to raise the lid. Either time or the weight that caused the denting or a combination of the two had rendered the hinges solid.

I carried the box downstairs to the kitchen, where I took a sturdy knife from the cutlery drawer to use as a lever to prise the box open. It bent. I fetched a heavy screwdriver from my toolbox and tried with that. After some minutes of concerted effort, the lid finally started to move. Shifting the screwdriver to one side I applied pressure until that side raised. I propped it open with the knife handle and switched the screwdriver across to the other side.

“Rob has booked us in for tomorrow afternoon,” Penny said walking into the kitchen, “You’ll have to put up with a wobble tonight. What are you doing?”

“Trying to get this bloody tin open,” I said, “The hinges are jammed solid.”

“WD40?”

“Have we got any?”

“No.”

“So I can’t use it, can I”

“Take your pick: sewing machine oil, three in one, cooking oil or butter.”

“Perhaps I could try some cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil,” I suggested, “or, ooh, don’t we have some sesame oil in the cupboard?”.

“Don’t be sarcastic. I’ll get the sewing machine oil, that’s about the thinnest.” She went off and came back with a small container of the lubricant. She applied some to the hinges and said, “Now wait.”

“How long?”

“Quarter of an hour. Give it time to work its way in. And, by the way, what have you done with one of my best dinner-knives?”

“Sorry, it wasn’t as strong as I thought.”

“Sorry, it wasn’t as strong as I thought,” she said back at me in a mocking tone, “How many times do I have to tell you – the right tool for the right job. Dinner knives are made for cutting cooked food, they’re not levers or substitute screwdrivers or anything else. If you can’t straighten that to my satisfaction, you’ll have to buy me a complete new service. I will not give one of our dinner guests a knife that doesn’t match the rest, do you hear me?”

“But we never have dinner guests, dear-heart. And even if we do, we’re not likely to be serving eight, are we?”

“But we might. And if we do, I will not have the evening ruined by a damaged or odd knife.”

There are times when, to quote Bart Simpson, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. All I could do then was to take it on the chin and bounce back.

“Is my fifteen minutes up yet?”

“Your fifteen minutes of fame?”

“No, my fifteen minutes waiting for the oil to do its job.”

“Probably.”

I leaned gently on the screwdriver as the lid of the light-green metal box slowly creaked open.

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 6.1

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 six, part one.

Charlie cleared his electronic whiteboard as soon as we were in his study. “Let’s see what we know so far. We’ll start with this mysterious light-green box.” He placed a green box in the middle of the board.

“I thought you would. You have a thing about that, don’t you?”

“Of course. I’m intrigued.”

“You’re right to be, Charlie. Were I writing this story, I’d make this box central to the whole case.”

“Why?”

“Because, regardless of the personalities involved, regardless of their backgrounds or current troubles, those lads wouldn’t have come near my house had they not been instructed to by – shall we call him Mr E?”

“If we must. Oh, yeah, I get it. Clever. Anyway, two questions. First question: Who is Mr E? He obviously knows the boys well, or he’s done some good research. Second question: What is in the box? I imagine that once we know the answer to that, we’ll have some idea why he wants it.”

“As far as the first question goes, I’ll dig through their social media accounts on their phones. That should give us some pointers.”

“And the second?”

“I don’t know. There are five box files in my attic. All of them light-green in colour. Each one contains the submitted manuscript for one of my books together with the correspondence with agents and publishers. There’s also one in my study, which they seem to have missed.”

“What’s in that one?”

“Nothing. It’s still in its cellophane wrapping.”

“Odd.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Let’s look through their phones, shall we?”

“Do you think you’re getting a bit too close to this, Charlie? After all, it’s not your area of expertise, not like physical security.”

“I know, but I’m intrigued. Don’t cut me out, Bro.”

“Okay, but on one condition.”

“Name it.”

“Don’t ever call me Bro again.”

“You got it. Now can I have a phone? Please?”

I gave him Alan’s phone and I fired up Billy’s.

“Nothing,” Charlie said, “It’s blank. Wants me to install it.”

“Billy’s too,” I said, “They were working when the boys handed them over, weren’t they?”

“I saw Alan using his. Looks like they’ve been remotely wiped”

“It does. But who could do that?”

“Where did the boys get the phones?”

“I’ll call Meredith and ask.” I keyed in the number Meredith had given me. She answered on the fourth ring.

“Meredith,” I said, “Sorry to bother you so soon, but the boys’ phones seem to have been wiped.”

“I have no idea what that means,” she replied.

“It’s a security thing. If your phone is stolen, you as owner can give it an instruction to delete everything and reset it to the way it was when it came out of the box.”

“Billy and Alan have been with me ever since we left you, Rory. They can’t have done that. Billy just said that if you put in the wrong PIN ten times it does a reset. I assume that’s the same thing.”

“It is, except we haven’t. Put in the wrong code, that is. Where did the boys get the phones?”

“Let me put Billy on.”

“Hello, Billy here.”

“Billy, where did you get the phones from?”

“From Mum.” There was some background chatter which, as far as I could make out consisted of Meredith denying having given the boys their phones and the boys not believing her.

“Billy here again, My Rogerson. Mum says she didn’t give them to us—”

“Yes, I heard. So who did?”

“Don’t know. They came through the post and had a card in them saying sorry for being late, but Happy Christmas. I remember thanking Mum, but she said she didn’t know anything about it. We thought she was joking or something. You know, like some people get embarrassed when you thank them for stuff. Mum’s a bit like that sometimes.”

“So you don’t know who sent them to you?”

“No idea. They were fully set up including Facebook accounts, which I remember thinking was a bit weird. We didn’t know Mum knew anything about Facebook. Hahaha – Mum just said she still doesn’t. Anyway, it saved us setting them up, so that was okay.”

“That means whoever gave you the phones has been able to track you completely every day since you had them. How long ago was that?”

“February last year.”

“You’ve been royally set up, lads. Put your mum back on, will you, please?”

I explained to Meredith what we’d found and recommended that she buy a PAYG phone, go somewhere crowded and well away from her home and log into the boys’ Facebook accounts and see if there’s anything in either of them that could throw some light on what’s been happening. She should then destroy the SIM and buy another one.

“Why do that?” she asked.

“Because if the guy is watching those accounts, which is likely, he’ll discover your login and pinpoint it. Depending on how sophisticated he is, he may be able to latch onto the SIM you use and track you. Destroy that chip and he’ll lose you. Are you going back to your house?”

“We’re there now.”

“Make sure you’re well away from home when you look up your boys’ Facebook accounts. He knows where you live, so he’ll know it’s you looking at the accounts if he traces the signal to your home.”

I ended the call after Meredith had agreed to my plan.

“If this is what you’re like in real life,” Charlie said, “I think I’ll enjoy reading your books. Any chance of a freebie?”

“Once this is sorted, you’ll have more than earned one.”

“Two?”

“Don’t push it.”

“Okay, what’s the next move? I’m up for restoring the phones from backup – maybe to another phone.”

“Agreed. However, if Mr E is monitoring the cloud accounts, which I imagine he will be, he will not only know that we’ve done it, but also be able to trace where we did it. Get your car out. We’ll go to the Police station car park and restore the phones there. One at a time.”

“But he’ll still know we’re doing it, won’t he?”

“He may be able to work it out, but my hunch is that he’ll think the police are doing it.”

“And what’s he likely to do then?”

“Let’s find out, shall we? Only not now – tomorrow.”

“Why wait?”

“Because I want him to think we, or whoever he thinks came by these phones threw them away, and some public-spirited soul took them to the police. If we do it too soon after the boys last used them he may put two and two together.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to go and keep my wife company. See you tomorrow?”

“Okay.”