This is all 34 parts of a fiction serial, in one complete story. It is a long read, at 26,310 words.
**It also contains some swearing**
Home from Spain.
London didn’t feel as cold as Alan remembered. Even after twenty-five years in Spain, he didn’t need more than a normal suit that morning. But the tie felt strange, and so did the heavy black shoes. Too long in shorts and a tee shirt, wearing flip-flops for most of the year. Gloria was holding his hand in the back of the car. Her hand felt cold, and he noticed the wrinkles around her neck. She was wearing too much perfume, and he fought back a sneeze.
He wouldn’t have come back if not for mum dying. His older sister had rung him and told him she was ill, but he hadn’t expected her to go that quickly.
Gloria was pleased to see her brother. Since Vince had died, she spent too much time alone.
Some of the locals showed up for the funeral, no doubt mainly for the free drinks and buffet grub at the pub later. Then there were the few remaining relatives, most of whom Alan hadn’t seen since he skipped. Young women came up to him and called him Alan, or cousin Alan, and he didn’t even know who they were.
But he recognised Old Reg, amazed that he was still alive. Reg shook his hand outside the crematorium. “Like to have a chat later, Alan. At the pub, okay?”
On the way back, Alan took in the changes. The area he had grown up in looked the same, but different. The shops were different, the people on the street looked different, and the traffic was bloody awful. Bus Lanes full of buses and taxis, bikes and motorbikes weaving in and out.
Then when they got to the pub, he couldn’t even smoke inside. At least standing outside allowed him to slip the knot on his tie, gratefully running a finger around where his neck was sore from the brand-new unwashed shirt. He had left Gloria inside, doing the meeting and greeting. He put five hundred behind the bar, and told the manager to let him know when that ran out.
Even the pub was different. The Admiral Nelson was owned by a company now, and served cappuccinos and lattes along with the booze. Pie and chips had been replaced by a Panini press, and Gloria said you had to book a table if you wanted to eat. She had arranged for the back bar to be closed to everyone except the funeral party. The manager knew a good earner when he saw one.
A flash motor pulled up. The driver got out and opened the back door. He was a big black guy the size of a grizzly bear, and his grey suit was creased to buggery at the back. Frankie Toland got out of the car, immaculate in a cashmere overcoat and three-piece suit. He still had his hair slicked down, like someone from the sixties. Walking up to Alan, he extended a hand. “Good to see you, Alan. You look like one of the bloody Beach Boys with that sun-bleached hair and tan. How’s life treating you? I just popped in to pay my respects to your old mum. Won’t be staying long.”
Alan returned the firm handshake. “I’m good, Frankie. You’re looking prosperous”. Toland was an old-time villain from back in the day. When everyone had started getting into drugs, he had stayed in the protection rackets, and running girls up West. Looked like he had survived the arrival of the Russians, and still had his spot. But Alan knew gangsters like Frankie were past their sell-by date. He must have been seventy, maybe seventy five years old now, and his time was almost up. Like the dinosaurs, he was set to become extinct.
As he walked inside, Toland turned back for a moment. “You looking for work, Alan? I could find you something”. Alan shook his head. “Heading back to Spain soon, but thanks for the offer”.
On the third cigarette, Old Reg came out to find him. With an arm on his shoulder, he guided him to the street corner, away from any snooping ears.
“Alan, I have to talk to you about something. Can I come and see you at Gloria’s tonight? I want to tell you about it before you go back to Spain, and I think you will want to hear it”. Alan nodded. “Okay, Reg. But what is it about?”
“A job, Alan. A really big one”.
Old Reg comes calling.
Gloria had definitely had too much to drink that afternoon. She was slurring in the cab on the way back to her flat, and Alan had to help her find the doorkey in her handbag. She went straight into her bedroom and collapsed face down on the duvet. Alan pulled her shoes off, then took the coverlet off the chair by the dressing-table and threw it over her.
Sitting in the kitchen with a glass of Black Label scotch, he thought about what Old Reg had said. Did he need the grief? After all, he would be fity-three next birthday. Still, Reg had looked serious, so the least he could do was to hear him out.
The noise of a police helicopter startled him, sounding as if it was right outside the window. Gloria and Vince’s two-bed on Highbury Grove had been a quiet place at one time, and they considered themselves lucky to get it. Now it seemed to Alan that the whole area was under seige. Gangs all over the place, drug-dealing kids on corners, and stabbings becoming an almost daily routine. He might talk to Gloria about going back to Spain with him.
This was no place for her to grow old.
By the time Old Reg arrived, the amber-coloured glass ashtray was full to the brim, the scotch bottle half-empty, and Gloria still snoring. Reg came in and sat opposite him at the tiny formica-topped table in the kitchen. Alan got a glass, poured Reg a drink, and leaned forward. “So, Reg. What’s this about a job?”
Alan had only ever known him as Old Reg. A solid friend of the family who must be at least eighty years old by now. His false teeth were too white to look remotely natural, and they made a clicking sound when he spoke too quickly. He downed half the glass, wiped his mouth, and nodded.
“It’s a big job, Alan. Right up your street. All cash, untraceable, and you won’t need a big crew to tackle it”. Alan sat back and lit another cigarette. “Reg, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Now, what’s this all about, and what’s in it for you?”
The old man ran his hands over his head, as if forgetting he had no hair left to smooth down. “Well, you know my Teddy? He’s fifty-odd now, and still serving time for that jewellery job twelve years ago. Anyway, his girl Carly has a baby now, little Dawn. So she lives with this bloke in a shitty flat in Agar Grove, and they want to buy a place further out. Dagenham or somewhere, it’s got a nice garden. But they don’t have a deposit, do they?” Alan put a hand up to stop him.
“The story of your grandchildren is all very nice, Reg. But what’s that got to do with this job mate?” He topped up both glasses, noticing the bottle might soon need replacing.
“The boyfriend, Alan. Carly’s boyfriend, it’s him that has the tip. All he wants out of it is a nice drink to use as a deposit. Give it a year or two, and they can say they saved it up. Carly works at the school, and he’s a lorry driver”.
Alan went to get another bottle from his bag in the hallway, wondering what Reg was on about. Perhaps he was losing his marbles. He was the right age for that.
“How much is what this bloke thinks is a nice drink then, Reg?” Alan filled the glasses as he spoke. “Twenty grand, Alan. That’s all. He couldn’t explain away anymore than that anyway, and he’s a straight bloke. Never been in trouble. And I don’t want nothing for myself, just looking out for young Carly”. Alan wasn’t the sort to get excitable, or fling accusations about, but he wanted to know something.
“You put this job up to anyone else, Reg? Told any other firm about it? ‘Cause if you have, it’s a non-starter, you should know that”. Reg shook his head. “No, honest. Carly’s bloke mentioned something to me about where he works a couple of weeks ago. Then when I heard you were coming back for the funeral, I thought I would give you first refusal. It’s definitely your sort of work, Alan”. Lighting his fiftieth cigarette of the day, Alan screwed up his eyes as the smoke drifted into them.
“Where’s this bloke work then?” Reg’s top teeth slipped down as he replied with a big smile.
“The Bank of England”.
An Idea Forms.
“The Bank of England, Reg? I presume we are not talking about walking into Threadneedle Street and holding it up? I doubt there is any cash on the premises mate”. Alan lit another cigarette, feeling the pressure on his chest as he inhaled.
Reg took another big swig of the Black Label, and Alan refilled the glass for him.
“No, Alan. This is a warehouse in East Ham. One of the places where old notes are stored from banks all over London. They are counted out into amounts, wrapped in plastic, then put in wheeled cages. The lorry drivers load them up, and take them to sites around the country to be incinerated. The biggest one is in Wales. But the thing is, next year, they are going to start composting them. Chop them up, and recycle them. It’s all this Green thing, you know. Global warming, pollution. You must have heard about all that crap, even in Spain. The bottom line is that this is the year. The last chance before they stop burning them. Once they are chopped up, they will be worth nothing. Fuck all mate.”
Waiting for Alan to say something, Reg tapped the rim of his glass with his unusually long and thick fingernails. But before he got an answer, there was the sound of someone moving outside in the hallway, followed by the bang of the toilet seat being lifted carelessly. Next came the unmistakable sound of someone throwing up, with the accompanying gagging and retching. Alan stood up and switched on the kettle, sliding a mug over before dropping a tea-bag into it from the canister nearby.
Gloria would need a cup of tea after that.
As Alan allowed the tea to brew and spooned in two sugars, the tapping of the glass was irritating him. Reg seemed nervous in a situation where he had no need to be. He added a splash of milk, and stirred the tea. “Won’t be a minute, Reg. Just need to check on Gloria”.
His sister was taking her dress off as he walked into the bedroom. Her hair was plastered flat on one side, and her face was as white as a sheet. He put the tea down on the bedside cabinet. “Drink this, love. Then get some decent sleep. I’m just chatting to Reg in the kitchen”.
Before going back to Reg, Alan leaned against the wall in the hallway, staring at the knitted flamenco dancer ornament on a side table that Gloria had brought back from a trip to Benidorm. If he worked on this plan, it would mean months of preparation. He might even be there well into the new year. Even after seven years, Alan hadn’t got used to seeing a two in front of the year, and two thousand and eight wouldn’t change the feeling that it didn’t seem right.
Alan came back into the room so quietly, it made Reg jump. “So how soon next year does this composting start, Reg? Can your boy find out? It’s never going to happen this year, it will take too much planning, maybe even a couple of dry runs for timings and feasibility. Besides, I don’t know that many blokes still working in the game now, and finding a decent team is going to be the hardest part”. Reg smiled, knowing that Alan must be interested enough to have an idea forming in his mind.
“I can ask him tomorrow, Alan. His name is Graham, but everyone calls him Duke, ’cause he walks like John Wayne. He had a bad motorbike accident years ago, and his hip never set right. Alan lit a cigarette that sent him into a fit of dry coughing. “No phones, Reg. All face to face. And I’m going to need to see this Graham, sound him out, get the feel of him. Okay?”
Gulping down the remainder of his scotch, Reg stood up and felt for his car keys in a trouser pocket. Even though he had drunk the best part of a bottle of Black Label, he seemed like he hadn’t had one drink. There was no way he was walking home, Alan knew that. “Right, Alan. I will set up a meet. Somewhere quiet, away from any big-eared radar”.
The bathroom door slammed again, and they both heard Gloria bringing up her sweet tea.
When Reg had left and Gloria went back to bed, Alan sat in the kitchen thinking about whether or not he could be bothered about the job. It depended on a lot of things. How much was involved. How many he would need to pull it off, and Graham and Carly keeping their mouths shut. He would decide for sure once he had met the bloke.
Alan Gill had been a professional criminal all his life. But he had never once been arrested, had his fingerprints taken, or had to give a DNA sample. In every respect bar one, he had never really existed once he had left school. He had never paid taxes or National Insurance, never been employed legitimately by anyone, and certainly never claimed any social security benefits, or registered to vote in elections.
When there was a census, his mum and dad had known to leave his name off of the form, and he had never applied for a passport, or been abroad on holiday. The only document he had ever had that bore his real name and address was a driving licence. Not to have one of those was asking for trouble if he had been stopped for some mickey mouse driving offence. If he needed a dentist or a doctor, he paid privately for one that asked no questions.
He had watched his dad working for basic pay as a delivery driver for John Lewis. Happy to get overtime for a Saturday morning, acting like the manager was doing him a favour letting him work. Although he could have done well at school, he chose to leave before he was seventeen, and go to work for Frankie Toland. Frankie had the local detectives straightened up, so nobody ever asked who the new kid was when they saw him helping out at one of the warehouses. By the time he was eighteen, he was driving one of Frankie’s vans and delivering juke boxes and gaming machines to pubs and clubs that had been told they had to have them.
Alan had an interest in guns. He read about them in magazines, played around with the ones at Frankie’s place, stripping them down and cleaning them. All of the older blokes working for Frankie carried shooters, though mostly just to wave around and frighten people with. By the time he was twenty, people were calling Alan ‘The Armourer’, and it seemed only logical that he should embark on a new career, away from Frankie’s seedy businesses.
He wanted to be an armed robber.
Permission had to be sought of course. Frankie agreed to Alan branching out alone, so long as he got a good earner out of it. Fortunately, he wasn’t greedy. “Ten percent is acceptable to me, Alan. But don’t you dare stitch me up, or believe me you will be sorry”. With a couple of decent pistols, bought from Frankie on credit, he set up a job with one of the other van drivers, another Alan known as ‘Little Alan’ because he was so short.
Keeping well away from home territory, they hit three post offices on three consecutive days. Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Buckinghamshire. Then they went to ground as the news was all over it, describing it as a ‘home counties crime wave’. After that success, everyone wanted to work with Alan The Armourer. He had shown he had a cool head, and was a natural meticulous planner.
The good years that followed started to build up to bigger and bigger jobs, until Alan set up one of the biggest robberies in British history. A robbery that never got any news coverage for fear that it would set off a wave of copycats. It was simplicity itself. Dressed as airport workers, the team were supposed to load bullion into a cargo plane at the edge of Heathrow, using forklift trucks. Naturally, security guards were in attendance, but when the robbers produced a small arsenal of automatic weapons, they did as they were told and lay face down on the ground. Then the gold was simply loaded into another aircraft, already arranged to fly it out of the country.
There had been a lot of ‘fixers’ taking their cuts, and they also had to pay off the genuine airport workers. Too many people were involved, but it was enough to set him up abroad. He already had a new identity, a genuine passport, driving licence, and bank documents. They had cost enough too.
When he drove his hire car onto the ferry to Santander that night, he was Richard Alexander.
The airport job paid out as agreed, eventually. Straight into a bank in the Cayman Islands. Alan didn’t mess around, and transferred the money to two different banks within a week. He had enough travelling money to set himself up with a front, and knew not to act flash, like wearing a Rolex, and checking into a five-star hotel. He exchanged the hire car for a much more boring runabout, and rented a tiny one-bed villa just outside Tossa de Mar.
It was going to take a while to get used to being Richard Alexander.
The passport was top-notch though. They had even got some genuine old stamps in for places like Ibiza and Corfu. For all the world he looked like a regular tourist who had decided to settle in Spain. The UK driving licence and International driving permit were suitably aged, and his date of birth had only been changed by one year older, so it would look convincing.
There had been no problem finding a property agent who spoke English. After a week in a budget hotel, he had rented the modest villa, and had her working on a commercial property for rent. He didn’t need a business to make money, just to look good, and give him a reason to be there. Once the woman found him somewhere suitable, within walking distance to the popular tourist spots, he bought forty mopeds and six VW convertibles, setting up a hire business squarely aimed at tourists.
Not speaking Spanish, and not actually wanting to sit in a pokey office all day renting scooters at a loss, he hired a German girl called Monika to run the place. She spoke English and Spanish as well as German, and she could manage some Italian at a pinch. Her interview speech was all about how she could get lots of German customers. Alan had to stop her in mid-flow and tell her she had not only got the job, but would be paid extra to teach him enough Spanish to get by on.
The fact that she ended up in his bed most nights was an unexpected bonus.
Back then, Spain was full of British criminals living the high life in the full glare of publicity. Alan wanted none of that, hence choosing the down-market Costa Brava instead of the gangster’s domicile of choice, Marbella. After making sure he could rely on the German girl and the two Spanish girls she had employed to help her, he spent some time in Barcelona, only ninety minutes away. Feeling instantly at home in that city, he took a lease on a flat in the Barri Gotic district, intending to spend half the year there.
Sure, he knew Monika would rip him off in his absence. But he really didn’t need the business to make money, just to tick over.
If he had a regret, it was that his parents and Gloria would never know about his new life and new identity in Spain. They would of course presume he had skipped after a big job, and just live with that. The families of criminals were a different breed. Staunch. If anyone had grassed up Alan Gill for the airport job, they would get nothing from his family.
After almost ten years, and no sign of any cops trying to arrest him, he went back, travelling as Richard Alexander of course. His dad looked as if he had been painted battleship grey, and Vince wasn’t much better. He dropped his mum and Gloria a wad of cash, but couldn’t stand life back in London. He only stayed for four days, before returning to Barcelona. They didn’t complain when he said he was going. On the quiet, he told Gloria about his new name, and gave her a mobile number he was sure to answer.
The first time she rang it was almost a year later, to tell him their dad had dropped dead in the street. Heart attack, Gloria said.
The next few years were good years. He had a new Spanish girlfriend in Barcelona, Monika went home to Cologne, and was replaced by Rosa. She actually made money from the hire business, and Alan bought more cars and mopeds, just to make sure the profits were not too obvious. Alan could get by in Spanish, and in German too, thanks to Monika. His tan was like mahogany, and shopkeepers and bar owners in Barcelona gave him a ‘Hola!’ as he walked by.
Then Gloria phoned again. Vince had prostate cancer. Six months if he was lucky.
After almost twenty-five years in Spain, Alan was living in a bigger villa. It had a decent-sized pool, and a local woman came in twice a week to do the cleaning, and his washing and ironing. She called him ‘Senor Ricardo’, which always made him think of the old actor, Ricardo Montalban. He had given up the flat in Barcelona some years before. The winters could be cold and wet, making the city feel dismal, and his girlfriend had long since deserted him for someone who had a nice motor yacht.
Of course, she had no idea how wealthy Alan was. Even though he didn’t stint on his very comfortable lifestyle, he continued to pretend that he got by on the income from his hire business. So when she met some East European waving money around and boasting about his yacht, that was her cue to scarper.
For the last three years, he had been seeing an English woman who had worked as a holiday company rep in Tossa, and then settled there. Chrissy was ten years younger than him, and rented a flat in the old town. She helped out in one of the English bars, serving beer and full breakfasts to sunburnt tourists as they watched British football or cricket on large TV screens dotted around the place. Chrissy was very much her own woman, and knew the area like the back of her hand. She had turned down Alan’s suggestion to move in with him, but regularly stopped over a couple of nights a week.
Rosa was still running the business. She was pushing fifty now, but you would never guess.
The truth was, Alan was lonely. Back in London he had known a lot of people, even calling some of them friends. In Spain, he still had to be careful. Live the life of Richard Alexander, never talk about Islington, or what he did before he arrived in Spain. And he was feeling his age. He had been there so long that one of the restaurants saved a table for him, just in case he turned up. The waiters called him ‘Mister Richard’, and they all knew what he liked to drink.
Before Vince died, Gloria and him had taken their holidays in Spain, but never close to Alan. Vince preferred Benidorm, so Gloria said. That was five hundred miles further south, and although Gloria would always phone him to let him know they were there, it was never once suggested that he drive down to visit them. Alan knew Vince didn’t like criminals. He had never made any secret of his disapproval of his brother-in-law’s choice of career, or the fact that he had skipped to Spain, leaving Gloria to care for their mum and dad as they got older.
Vince worked as a market porter at the New Covent Garden Market, in Nine Elms. He had worked in the old market near Charing Cross, before it had moved in seventy-four. Starting in the early hours, Vince lugged around fruit and vegetables for one of the wholesale companies. He was a man who believed in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. A phrase he was often heard to utter. They never had any kids, even though they were married at eighteen, when everyone thought Gloria must be up the duff. Most people presumed Gloria had something wrong that stopped her having babies. But she had told Alan it was Vince who couldn’t father any.
When he died, Gloria took it hard. Alan offered her to live with him in Spain, but she wouldn’t leave the family in north London.
He had always got on well with his sister before he left England, even though there was no love lost beteen him and Vince. He had to admit that he missed Gloria, but he would never have admitted that to her. He hoped she knew.
The phone call saying his mum was seriously ill shouldn’t have been such a surprise, but it was. He didn’t have long to sort things out with Rosa, transfer some money into an account he could access easily, and book a one-way flight to London.
On the plane going over, he felt anxious, and not just about his mum.
A Meeting Is Arranged.
When Alan told Gloria the next morning that he intended to stay on for a while, he wasn’t specific about how long. She couldn’t hide her delight at having her brother home, and told him he could stay as long as he wanted. After breakfast, he walked up to Holloway Road and used an Internet Cafe to send Rosa an email telling her not to expect him back as arranged.
Old Reg came round at lunchtime, and Alan spoke to him outside the flat. The less Gloria heard, the better.
“Alan, I have set up a meeting with Duke for tonight. He will meet us outside Euston Station, on the forecourt, around seven. We can hang around near the bus stops, look as if we’re waiting for a bus. That okay with you?” Alan lit a cigarette, then nodded. “I take it he knows who I am? Reg shrugged. “Course he does, I had to let him know you were a pro who could pull this off. He doesn’t know about Spain, the airport job, or whatever though. Do you want me to pick you up, Al?”
Shaking his head, Alan replied rather sharply. “No I don’t, Reg. I don’t want to be seen in any cars with anyone from the old days. This place has more CCTV than you can shake a stick at, and I am betting your motor is well known to the coppers”. Reg looked miffed. “I ain’t been in trouble for almost forty years mate. The Old Bill couldn’t care less about me”. Flicking the butt of his cigarette onto the shabby grass outside, Alan turned to head back into the small block. “I’ll get a cab, Reg. See you there”.
It was easy enough to wave down a cab. Alan had walked down to the new Arsenal Football Ground that they now called The Emirates Stadium. It was very different from the old Highbury Ground he had known as a boy. He arrived early, and stood next to a coffee place that was in a kind of caravan outside the station. The area was nice and busy, hundreds of commuters rushing past him to get trains home to the home counties. If Reg was driving his car down, he was going to have a mare finding somewhere to park.
Just before seven, he walked across the front of the station to where all the buses pulled in. He could see Reg at the end of one of the stops, talking to a tall bloke who looked older than Alan had expected. Acting as if he didn’t know them, he walked over and stood nearby, waiting until a bus arrived and everyone else got on. Then they were the only three there, but Alan still stood with his back to them, as if they were strangers. “So you’re Graham? I’m not calling you Duke, I will use your real name. How many security are we talking about? How much can reasonably be expected to be there, and what’s the situation with alarms and that?” Despite the ‘No Smoking’ sign, he lit a cigarette as he waited for the reply.
The bloke was respectful. Reg had obviously had a word with him. “I don’t think it’s possible in the depot, Mister Gill. I was thinking you could hijack one of the lorries. They are pretty big, and most runs have fifty mill or much more in each truck”. Alan choked as he inhaled on the cigarette. He hadn’t had a clue they would be talking about such a sum. Graham carried on speaking. “Not a good idea to take that much though. You could just use a good-sized van, and still get ten mill in easy. They are all twenties at the moment, and you would be surprised what a small pile a mill in twenties is”.
Trying to sound casual, Alan nodded as he spoke. “What about the trucks? Alarms, trackers, radio? All that I suppose”. Graham nodded. “Yes Mister Gill, but I will be able to tell you how to get around all that”. Without turning, Alan spoke to Reg. “Okay Reg, the job is on. I will be in touch”.
He walked straight across Euston Road at the traffic lights and headed into a pub.
Time for a large Scotch.
Planning begins in earnest.
Back at Gloria’s, Alan sat in the kitchen with a notebook while Gloria heated up the dinner he had arrived home too late for. She knew better than to ask him anything about where he had been, or what he was doing.
It might be too much money. Not too much to handle physically, or to get laundered into other currencies. He still knew people who could manage that for around twenty percent, no questions asked. But the sheer amount of cash was going to attract attention, and everyone would be on the job like flies on a fresh turd. Worse still, he would have to sit on the money for a long time, until the investigation and frantic search subsided.
That meant having to trust people he didn’t know, like Graham. And some people he did know. Like Old Reg, and some fixers he would need to use later.
Alan didn’t trust anyone. Except Gloria.
In the small notebook, he jotted down some ideas. It was good to get them down on paper and look at them, seemed to make more sense. Later on, he would burn the pages in Gloria’s kitchen sink.
If he was going to do this job, he might as well go for broke. Two vans would mean three guys per van, so he had to find himself five useful blokes who would keep a cool head, and not blab about it after. Not easy, when you have been away so long. His old mate Little Alan was off the cast list. Gloria had told Alan the news about him when he had come back for that short trip years earlier.
After the airport job, he had gone cowboy, raiding banks and security vans, firing guns in the street, all sorts of crazy stuff. Then he had made a much bigger mistake. Frankie Toland had sent for him, wanting to know where his tribute money was from all the jobs. Little Alan had fronted him up, acted flash, told him he was old school, and that he could fuck off. Frankie said nothing. The next day, Little Alan disappeared. After two weeks, his girlfriend moved out of their flat and went back to live with her mum.
Chances are that Little Alan’s body was in some concrete on a new motorway bridge. Toland didn’t mess around.
The vans used for the job would have to be stolen, and have genuine plates relating to that type of vehicle. He would need to find somewhere in plain sight to store the cash. The cops would search any rural locations, outbuildings, farms, that kind of thing. So it would be best to get it into the city, where there was just too much to search. They would all need shooters, to make the driver and co-driver scared enough not to resist.
He had asked Gloria if Rupert Pennington still had his antique shop in Camden Passage, and he did. Rupert had to be seventy at least now, but he was the most reliable contact for firearms that Alan had ever used. An ex-Army officer, outwardly straight and honest, he had used his military contacts around the world to source all kinds of good stuff, most of which was shipped to his place stashed inside antique furniture. He had never had his collar felt by the cops, and was so respectable, Gloria said he had been on an antiques valuation programme on telly.
Rupert would be getting a visit soon.
First priority was to make sure Frankie Toland didn’t hear about it. No way was he going to take a small percentage from a job that big. He would stitch them up and take the lot. He had the muscle and manpower, as well as eyes and ears in every pub in the borough. As soon as the job made the news, Frankie would know. He would realise why Alan had stayed on after the funeral, put two and two together, and make five. Then he would come after Alan. Gloria would have to skip with him this time, like it or not. She couldn’t be left behind for Toland to use as a hostage.
When he had eaten the congealed dinner, Alan burned the notebook pages, then ran the tap to flush the ashes down the sink.
Tomorrow, he would have to arrange a second meet with Graham.
Alan makes some decisions.
By the time he had woken up the next morning, Alan had made some firm decisions. One meant he would have to see Graham sooner rather than later, so after breakfast he walked to Old Reg’s flat off the Essex Road. The place was shabby, and smelled bad inside. Since Reg had lost his wife to breast cancer over twenty years earlier, he hadn’t kept up any domestic routine to speak of. Hattie had been his childhood sweetheart, and the love of his life. Reg had taken it hard when she went.
Not even wanting to sit down on the greasy furniture, Alan spoke in a friendly manner. “Reg mate, I can’t stop, things to do. But I wanted to tell you that I am going to have to meet with Graham again, soon as. Can you get him to Gloria’s place tonight d’you reckon?” The old man nodded. “Well if it’s important, he’ll have to come, won’t he? Leave it with me, Alan. We will be there”.
Next stop was Rupert’s shop in Camden Passage. As it wasn’t raining, Alan walked there too.
“Alan Gill, well as I live and breathe. I didn’t expect to see you again old love”. Rupert turned the sign on the door to read ‘Sorry, we’re closed’, and slipped the top bolt into place. “Come out the back, and we will have a drinkie to celebrate your return”. As usual, Rupert was immaculate. Fresh flower in the buttonhole of his jacket, and his military striped tie firmly done in a nice Windsor knot. He hadn’t seemed to gain an ounce in weight in the last twenty-five years, and only a large bald patch on the back of his head betrayed his advancing years.
Gloria had been rude about him, when asked if he was still around. “Rupert? You mean that bum-bandit? Yeah, his shop is still going”. Alan didn’t concern himself about the man’s sexuality. He was good at what he did. The best.
In the comfortable office behind the shop counter, Alan was handed a very large whisky in a crystal tumbler. “Single malt old love, only the best for you. I take it you are here on business of some kind? I don’t suppose you came all the way from wherever you got that tan to buy some Ming vases of dubious heritage?” Alan sipped the whisky and made an appreciative face.
“Let’s suppose I had a job that needed a bit of firepower for show. Let’s suppose I wanted four good revolvers and a couple of shotguns. What are we talking about, Rupert old mate?” Smiling, the dealer stood up, his military bearing still very much in evidence. “Bring your drink and follow me”.
The small yard at the back was completely filled by a metal shed the size of a shipping container that left no room to even walk up the side of it. Rupert unlocked the huge padlock with a combination, and switched on a light before walking in. Behind random stacks of furniture and vases were some old trunks, the sort rich people used to take on world cruises. Laying out his wares on an antique Chinese table, he described each one in turn.
“You have your basic S&W .38, short-barrel, completely reliable. Or my recommendation of these Colt Pythons. They take a .357 magnum round, and the six-inch barrel gives more accuracy. And shotguns are so ninteen-sixties, old love. What I have for you are a couple of Chinese-made AK-47 paratroop assault rifles. Stick twenty-eight rounds in the magazine, and let go on full automatic. Nobody will still be looking at you after that, believe me. They are still in their packing grease, never been fired, and I have ammuntion for everything. If you don’t fire any of them, I will buy them back for half the price. But if they are used, dump them somewhere. They are all untraceable, you know me”.
Nodding at the Colt pistols, Alan smiled. “I’ll take four of the Pythons, and two of the AKs. Just enough ammo to load each one though, I don’t intend ending up in a firefight. And I don’t need them yet. If it turns out I don’t need them at all, I will bung you something for your trouble of cleaning them and getting them ready. There is something I need now though. Have you got a smallish .22 automatic? I’ll take a short silencer for it too, and maybe twenty rounds”.
After a quick rummage in a tea-chest at the back, Rupert appeared with what Alan had asked for.
“A .22 with a silencer? Dear me, are you going to actually kill someone old love?”
Alan talks to Gloria.
With the .22 and its silencer tucked away in an innofensive jiffy bag, Alan headed back to Gloria’s flat to deal with another of his decisions. It wasn’t going to be easy to get her to leave the country, but it would be essential if the job came off. She still worked two days a week for Ronnie, in his florist’s shop near The Angel tube. Not that she needed the money, as it had turned out Vince had good life insurance. But she didn’t want to let Ronnie down, so covered Saturdays and Sunday mornings during his busy time.
If necessary, he would have a quiet word in Ronnie’s ear.
As usual, she was pleased to see him, and asked no questions except for one. “What do you fancy for dinner tonight, love? I could make us a nice steak and kidney pie. Don’t suppose you have had one of those since you were last here?” He didn’t hang around with what he needed to say. “Yeah, a pie would be nice. But I have to talk to you, Glor. Sit down and have a drink with me”. He lit a cigarette, and started coughing again. His sister shook her head. “You should really pack those up you know. Hardly anyone smokes these days. It’s too expensive, and not good for you”.
Pouring two glasses of Black Label, he looked straight into her eyes. “There might be a job on. A very big job. If I decide to go ahead with it, you are going to have to leave before it kicks off. I have a very nice villa in Spain. It’s got a pool, cleaning lady, near the beach and town. You could fly out and enjoy some winter sunshine. Chill out a bit. It’s not like you have any reason to stay now mum has gone. And before you mention Ronnie, he could easy train up a school girl to help out with the flowers”.
Gloria pulled a face at the whisky. It wasn’t really her drink of choice. “Are you asking me, or telling me, Alan? Sounds to me like you’re telling me, and you know that’s not gonna go down well at all”. He looked across the small table at his sister. Her hair was dyed too black, and her fingers were getting too podgy for all the rings she was wearing. Her double chin seemed to quiver when she spoke, and her small even teeth could do with some attention. Nine years older than him, but looking more like his mum every day.
“There is no reason for you to say no, and I am going to have to insist this time. If I pull this off we will be made for life, and then if you want you can come back to England and live anywhere you like. But you do have to go. Do this for me, please sis”. She slid the glass over to him. “If we are having a drink to celebrate something, then you can finish this. I’ll get meself a gin and tonic”. Alan watched her leave the room, then breathed a sigh of relief.
When they had finished the pie, Gloria was pleased that he had eaten so much. “I am going to have to renew my passport though, Alan. I will go to the Post Office tomorrow to see about that”. As he handed her his plate and cutlery, the doorbell rang. It was Reg and Graham. He showed them into the front room, and didn’t offer them a drink.
Looking at Carly’s boyfriend, he wondered what she saw in him. He had to be a fair bit older than her, and he didn’t have much about him. Too meek and mild for Alan’s liking. He came straight to the point.
“If I do this job, you have to be driving the lorry. I need to know I have an inside man I can rely on. And the coppers will be all over you after. Give you a right grilling, threaten you with all sorts of shit. And there’s a good chance the company will sack you, even if you don’t get arrested. So I will give you two hundred and fifty grand, as long as you promise to be sensible with it, and splash none of it about. But like I said, you have to be in the lorry, preferably driving it. That, or the job’s off and I walk away”.
Reg nodded at the man, and Graham finally answered. “Okay, Mister Gill. Whatever you say”. Alan stood up, giving them their cue to leave. He put his hand on Graham’s shoulder by the front door.
“And if you grass, that will be the end of you. Someone will come for you. You got that?”
As Gloria was going to bed, Alan popped his head around the door of her room. “Glor, is Teddy Henderson still about?” She shrugged. “Last I heard he was living on the Packington Estate, Danny will know where”.
Daniele Ricci was from an old Italian family in Clerkenwell. His dad had run an ice cream firm, with mobile vans touring all over north London. But that was a dangerous game at one time, with others trying to muscle in on the trade. Danny had been roughed up bad. They took a sledgehammer to his ice cream van, then to him. He had been in a wheelchair ever since. He smiled as he pulled the door open, scooting his wheelchair back to let Alan into the ground floor flat.
“Danny, I’m looking for Teddy Henderson. Gloria told me you know where he lives now”. Wheeling across to a chest of drawers, Danny took an address book from the top one. “He was on the Packington until last year, but now he lives in a flat in Golden Lane, Barbican area. It’s above a shop, so I’ve never been there. Hang on, I’ll write down the address for you”. Alan took the post-it-note, and turned to leave. “Thanks, Danny. Good to see you mate”. The less Danny knew about anything, the better.
The cab didn’t take long to get down to The Barbican at that time of day. There was no reply from the doorbell marked ‘Henderson’, so Alan waited, pretending to browse along the windows of the row of shops. Three cigarettes later, he heard a familiar voice. “Fuck me! Is that a ghost? No, can’t be, ghosts don’t have tans. Alan, you old bastard, you found me. Come on up, I’ve got some decent brandy in the flat”.
Teddy still looked fit, but his face was old. He served the brandy in two mismatched glasses, and sat on the bed. Alan took the small armchair, trying not to look around the shabby studio flat. He came straight to the point. “Teddy mate, I’m looking to put up a team. I need someone like you to sort out five reliable blokes who don’t ask too many questions, and can handle themselves with shooters. And nobody just out of jug, or wanted by the Old Bill. There’s a nice earner in it for you, get you out of this shit-hole”.
Twenty-nine years earlier, Alan had taken Teddy on a job. They used motorbikes and raided a posh jewellers in Knightsbridge. In and out, with a good haul, but Teddy didn’t know the area. He had got himself lost in some back street, and been cornered by two police cars. He decided to shoot his way out, and injured a copper in the leg doing so. Five minutes later, another police car rammed his bike, and put him in hospital.
He went to court for sentencing on a day when the judge was in a shit mood, and got thirty years. Armed robbery, and attempted murder of a police officer. He wouldn’t grass up the others, so got hit hard. Paroled after twenty-two years, his wife had left him, and his flat was gone. Alan had given his wife fifteen grand when Teddy got sent down, then Pauline told him to fuck off, and slammed the door in her face.
He felt he still owed Teddy.
“I was living with my old nan on the Packington, Al. But when she died, I didn’t qualify to keep a two-bed flat. This was the best I could get from the housing trust people. I do know some people who would be up for that, but not me. I’ve had enough mate”. Alan swallowed some more of the cheap brandy. “I just need you to do the recruiting, Teddy. No need to be on the job”. Teddy nodded. “Yeah, I can do that. Got a number where I can contact you, once I set up a meet?” Alan shook his head.
“No phones, Teddy. Come and find me at Gloria’s flat in Highbury Grove when you have something solid”. Reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket, he handed over five hundred pounds. “This is for your time and trouble today, and for using cabs. No hire cars, and like I said, no phones”. He stood up to leave.
“And there’s enough there for a decent bottle of Cognac. Treat yourself”.
Teddy turns up unexpectedly.
Once Gloria had left for work that Sunday morning, Alan got the jiffy bag from the spare room, and checked over the .22. He stripped it, reassembled it, then loaded 10 rounds into the magazine. The long-barrelled Ruger was a very nice pistol, and even with the silencer attached, it still fitted inside the padded jiffy bag. He went back into the bedroom and hid it under his empty case in the small wardrobe. That reminded him that he would have to buy more clothes soon.
It was getting colder in London.
Alan Gill had always used firearms during his relatively short career as an armed robber. They made a lot of noise, and stopped most people wanting to even consider fighting back, or resisting. He favoured revolvers, as they retained the cartridges in the cylinder. Automatic pistols ejected the spent cartridges, and that meant leaving evidence behind, or having to scrabble around to find them. Even weapons that were supplied as untraceable might well have been used in other robberies. So if you got nicked, you could be sure the cops would fit you up with every other crime where the same weapon had been used.
Trouble was, ballistics was getting more accurate every year. That made it harder to be a criminal, no doubt.
During that time, Alan had only ever shot three people deliberately. The first had been a cash-in-transit security guard. The man thought to have a go, by grabbing Alan from behind as they threw the cash boxes into a stolen car. Without hesitation, Alan fired his Bulldog .45 into the man’s right foot, straight through his boot. No chance of killing him, but he definitely released his grip.
The second time, they had been jumped by armed detectives as they came out of a bank with bags full of cash. The nervous young detective had followed procedure, shouting “Halt! Armed police! Drop your weapon!” Alan hadn’t dropped the .38 S&W. He shot the cop in the thigh instead, and they made good their escape.
Following the bank job, they knew they had been grassed. So Alan shot the man who grassed them. And this time, it was fatal.
Lawrence Toomey was known as Larry The Limp. He had been a crappy cat-burglar in Northern Ireland, just about earning a living. Then one day, he burgled the house of a widow in the countryside near Londonderry. She came home from the shops to find a strange man in her house with a calico bag full of her jewellery. Larry thought he might as well rape her while he was there, so threatened her with his crowbar, and told her to strip. But she was made of stern stuff. She spat in his face, fought back like a crazy person, and Larry legged it back to his car parked in a lane nearby.
He had to drive past her house to get away, and she spotted the car. Not many bright red mark four Cortinas in Londonderry back then.
Larry had made a huge mistake. The widow was the wife of an IRA man who had been shot by the British Army while on active service for the cause. She made a phone call. They found him trying to sell some of her Cameo brooches to a fence on the Dungiven Road. In a remote lock-up, he was kneecapped. One shot in the back of each knee, then dumped on the main road. Once he got out of hospital, he did the sensible thing, and left for London. The right knee never healed properly, and left him with a permanent limp.
Nobody in the Irish community in Kilburn or Cricklewood would tolerate him, so he went east, and ended up in Islington. One night, he got Teddy Henderson drunk on cheap brandy, and learned about a bank job that was happening. Better to tell the cops and get a reward, rather than keep trying to burgle basement flats in Barnsbury.
Someone told Alan Larry had been seen talking to Teddy in a pub, and Teddy was drunk as a sack. That was enough for Alan.
The Irishman was easy to find. When Alan knocked on the door of his flat in Laycock Green that night he looked nervous, but let him in. Seeing the old Webley come out of Alan’s coat, he started to plead his case. But it was far too late.
One shot, through the top of his head. He was done. The pistol went into the canal that night, never to be found.
Gloria’s doorbell sounded. It was Teddy Henderson, with a geezer who looked like Arnie, in ‘Terminator’.
Carl becomes number two.
The kitchen was going to be too small for three of them with a bloke that size, so Alan showed the two men into Gloria’s living room. He didn’t ask them to sit down, and there was no offer of any booze. “Who’s this then Teddy? And why have you brought him here?” Teddy knew he should never have brought the big man to Gloria’s place, and sounded sheepish.
“Sorry, Alan, but he insisted on meeting you in person. His name is Carl, and he’s very experienced”. Alan took the extended hand the size of a gorilla’s paw and shook it briefly. “You’re here now, so you better sit down and tell me your story”. Teddy did the talking.
“Carl has been on some good jobs, Al. Never been nicked for any of them either. He is ex-army, did some mercenary work in Iraq, and he knows some blokes who might be right for your project”. Alan smiled at hearing the word project. He had definitely been away too long. “Let Carl speak for himself then”. The man seemed too big for the sofa, and leaned forward awkwardly. Obviously some sort of body builder, with his cropped black hair a little bit too neat. There was a nasty scar puckered above his right eyebrow that looked like he was lucky to have kept the eye.
“Mister Henderson tells me you need men used to guns, and disciplined enough to follow orders, Mister Gill. I can be one of those, and I know two others I can vouch for one hundred percent”. His voice was surprisingy quiet, and a bit squeaky, more like a girl’s. Trying not to smile about that, Alan nodded. “You do everything through Teddy. You never come here again, and tell nobody about this flat, or use my name, got that? And no phones. They can trace those things too easily. You meet Teddy in person somewhere, and he will tell you what the plan is. Okay? And no names used on the job. From now on I am One, you will be Two, and so on. remember that”.
Teddy was nodding and smiling, and so was Carl. Alan didn’t care for too much nodding and smiling. “I asked if you got that”. Carl swallowed before replying. “Yes, got it all”.
He stood up to let them know it was time to go. Gloria would be back soon, and he didn’t want them seeing her. “I will be in touch, Teddy. No more uninvited guests though, yeah?” The men left the flat, both still nodding and smiling. Alan lit a cigarette, wondering when nodding and smiling had replaced conversation. If Teddy spoke for him, then that Carl must be alright. But having three ex-mercenaries on the job was a bit worrying. That type was known for being a bit gun-happy, to say the least. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and he didn’t know many villains who were still around.
Even with Carl and his mates, he would still need two more. But a thought had occurred.
Tony Allison had been the go-to man for motors. He could nick any car to order, make it run faster or quieter, and get rid of it when it had been used. Good with bigger things too, like heavy lorries, or the massive dump-truck Alan had once used to ram a security van. He was known to everyone as Lugs, because he had big ears that stuck out like wing-nuts. When Gloria got home from work, Alan made her a cup of tea, and asked the question.
“Glor, is Lugs still around? He must be seventy-odd now I suppose”. She took the mug, and sat at the table. “Yeah, I saw him a few days ago, coming out of the Londis shop. I reckon he will be in The Alwyne Castle later, he seems to live in that pub. I have got us some lamb chops for dinner, if that’s okay”.
Even early on a Sunday night, the pub was busy. Alan shook his head at all the telly screens around. Why did people go to pubs then sit and watch sport on telly? He would never get used to that. It was the same in Spain, in the bars that catered for the Brits. Lugs was sitting on a stool at the end of the bar, holding a fresh pint of Guinness. His ears were even bigger now, and age had given him droopy jowls that made him look like a rather sad old dog. He didn’t recognise the tanned man in the smart suit walking up to him, but grinned when Alan spoke.
“You want a chaser with that Irish engine oil, Lugs?”
Alan and Lugs have a chat.
When they had finished that first drink, Lugs produced a ten-pound note, to buy the next round. Alan put his hand over it. “Come for a walk around the block, so we can have a chat, Lugs”. On the busy main road, Alan felt happier about talking. “What’s the score with your Kenny? Is he still working? I might have something good for him”. The older man spoke without turning as they strolled along. “Yeah, he does a bit, Alan. Follows in his old man’s footsteps, you might say. He’s getting on now though, you forget. I’m seventy-six now, so that makes my Kenny almost fifty. What are you looking for?”
They stopped at the traffic lights, waiting for them to change so they could cross. “I need two plain vans. Probably white is best. There are so many white vans around, nobody notices them. They should be reliable, and have plates that will pass a road check. Then two other vans, for the swap later. They have to be kosher, and stand an actual stop-check. I would like Kenny as a driver, and someone he will speak for to drive the other one”.
Lugs took a cigarette Alan offered. “I don’t smoke so much these days, but I could do with one. I s’pose there will be shooters? My Kenny’s not much for guns, Al. He’s a car thief, a ringer”. Alan lit both cigarettes before answering. “He will have to carry one, in case he needs to show it. But my plan is for him and his oppo to stay in the vans, ready to drive. Maybe a bit of loading and unloading, top whack. I’m not saying how much for now, but there’s a lot of money involved. Reckon Kenny can buy a villa in the sun, and you and your Patsy can go and see your days out over there mate”.
They started walking again, arriving back in sight of the pub. Lugs stood finishing his cigarette. “Patsy’s in a home, Al. Dementia. She’s fucked, mate. Doesn’t even know who me and Kenny are”. Alan put his had on the old man’s shoulder. “Sorry to hear that, Lugs. But you will get a big enough bung to get Patsy into somewhere private, see her looked after properly”. Lugs threw the butt of the cigarette into the road. “Okay, I’ll talk to Kenny. You got a number so I can let you know a yes or no?” Alan blew out a cloud of smoke. “Nah. No phones, Lugs. Tell Kenny to come and find me at Gloria’s place. You know where she lives”.
Halfway home, a car pulled up next to him. The windows were tinted, but as one of the back ones slid down, he saw Frankie Toland in there. “I thought you would be back in Spain by now, Alan. What’s keeping you here? Not the wonderful architecture, or Gloria’s luxurious flat, I’m sure”. Alan leaned into the opening, smiling and acting casual. “I thought Gloria could come back with me, Frankie. Nothing to keep her here now mum’s dead. But she’s taking some persuading”. The look on Frankie’s face told him he didn’t believe a word.
“Well like I said, I can put some work your way if you need it. You know where to find me”. The window started to go back up, and the car drove off.
Stopping off at a shop to buy more cigarettes, Alan picked up a box of Lindor chocolate truffles for his sister. They were her favourite. As he put his key into the lock on the front door, it opened before he could turn it. Gloria looked scared as she whispered. “Frankie Toland’s here. I put him in the front room and gave him some of your Black Label”. Smiling to reassure her, he gave her the chocolates. “Stay in the kitchen, Glor. I’ll see what he wants”.
Alan was annoyed. Frankie shouldn’t involve his sister. He could have told him to get in the car if he wanted a serious talk. The fact he had driven straight to her flat was provocative, and a threat. He knew Toland would know he realised that. He opened the door to the front room, and strolled in, sounding cheery. “Frankie. Twice in twenty minutes, I am in demand. What is is now?” Pointing at an armchair, Frankie spoke with a very serious tone.
“Sit yourself down, and tell me what you and Lugs were talking about outside The Alwyne Castle”.
Alan gets tough with Frankie.
Taking a glass from inside the sideboard, Alan poured himself some of his own Scotch, and sat down. “I heard Patsy was in a home. Went to see Lugs for old time’s sake, and offered to bung him a wedge to get her some proper care. We had a drink, and walked round the block chatting ’cause it was so noisy in the pub with al the telly screens blaring. That’s the long and the short of it, Frankie”. Toland was sipping his drink, and he suddenly leaned forward.
“So if I take old Lugs down to my lock-up and start slicing off one of his Dumbo ears, do you reckon he will tell me the same story?” Alan shrugged. “Start slicing his ear, and he will tell you any story you want to hear, Frankie. You know that”. In the old days, Frankie had been known to favour using a cut-throat razor on people. But he was old now, so would probably get one of his goons to do the job. He leaned back again, relaxing against the headrest.
“Little birds, Alan. Little birds tell me things. Things like you have been spending a lot of time with Old Reg. Things like you have been to visit Teddy Henderson. I have a lot of little birds helping me, Alan”. Putting his glass down on the coffee table, Alan set his jaw.
Some rules from back in the day never left him. Don’t back down. Never show weakness. Never change your story. Front it up.
“Why shouldn’t I go and see Teddy? He was one of the best back then, and he did his time solid. No squawking. I owe him. So I dropped him a few quid. And Old Reg has been a family friend all my life, he was good to my mum. He will be pushing up daises before too long, so of course I will spend time with him before I go back to Spain”. This time, it was him leaning forward, and he lowered his voice to sound more menacing.
“You don’t come here and frighten my sister, Frankie. That’s fucking well out of order, and you know that. Got something you want to say to me, then get a message to me and I wil come and see you. And as for those little birds, fuck them. And while I’m at it, fuck you, and the horse you rode in on”.
Toland was trying to smile, but Alan’s aggression had unnerved him. It was well known that he had shot Larry The Limp stone cold, and without any solid proof that the Irishman had even grassed him. Even in his fifties, Alan Gill wasn’t a man to be messed with when he had no bodyguards around. Gill could be a hard man, and fearless.
“Calm down, Alan. I was just asking a fair question. You’re back on my manor, putting yourself about like you own the place, and you have hardly been to see me or talked to me. It’s a question of respect, you know that, and don’t need me to tell you”. Alan was still fronting up, no way was he going to calm down.
“If you want respect, you don’t come to my sister’s place and threaten Lugs. You talk to me man to man, ask your questions without threats, and you might get the answers you want. But they will already be the same as the answers I have given you. I’m out the game, Frankie. I have a life in Spain, and a good business. I should be entitled to visit my sister and ask her to come and live there with me, and to catch up with any old friends while I’m here. I don’t want trouble with you, but I’ll be fucked if I will lie down and roll over because you’ve got some arseholes following me around”.
The tension in the room was overwhelming. Alan kept direct eye contact with Frankie as the older man seemed to be thinking of something clever to say. When he couldn’t think of anything, he stood up, extending a hand. “We know each other too well to fall out, Alan. You know I had to ask. Thanks for the drink, I will be in touch”. After the brief handshake, he left the flat, nodding to Gloria who was standing in the hallway like a frightened rabbit.
When enough time had passed that he would be back at his car, Alan turned to his sister.
“Glor, as soon as your passport arrives, you’re off to Spain. No arguments”.
A busy day for Alan.
Early the next morning, Alan was in a cab heading for the City of London. In his former life in London, he would have had no reason to enter the financial district, other than to commit a robbery. This time, his business was legal banking.
On a narrow side street in a somewhat unimpressive Victorian building, he entered a Private Bank. Not a bank with counters, cashiers, and ATM machines lining the walls, this was the kind of bank where you gave an account number to the receptionist, and she showed you to a comfortable chair while she made a phone call. Its head office was in Vaduz, the capital of tiny Lichtenstein, a European city that Alan had visited just once.
Five minutes later, he was in a comfortable office, watching as the professional middle-aged man in the chair behind the desk arranged transfers using a computer, and made phone calls on a speaker so his customer could hear the conversation. Twenty minutes later, a young woman entered the office and handed Alan a complimentary briefcase containing fifty thousand pounds. As well as the cash, he had transferred funds to a mainstream bank that he could access using his identity as Richard Alexander.
Ten minutes after that, he was in another cab, heading for Oxford Street. He walked into John Lewis, the department store where his father had once worked, and headed straight to the menswear department. He bought a heavyweight wool suit, navy blue with a pinstripe. Then added seven brand new white shirts, four assorted ties, and finished with a wool and cashmere overcoat in matching navy. In other sections, he bought underwear and socks, and a pair of strong black lace-up brogue shoes.
All transactions were made using Richard Alexander’s completely legal credit card.
Walking back in the direction of Tottenham Court Road carrying the shopping bags, he headed to the seedier end of the shopping street. One small shop that was little more than a booth sold phones and accessories. He stopped there, and ten minutes later had purchased a refurbished i-phone with charger, and a SIM card. The phone was unlocked and unregistered, and the SIM card was of the pay-as-you-go variety. He asked the young Indian guy to make the phone call to put one hundred pounds of credit on the SIM card, and handed over cash for all of it to the happy young man who said, “Have a nice day, sir”.
As he flagged down another cab, he wondered when saying that Americanism had become acceptable in London.
Gloria had convinced him to get the phone, worried that she wouldn’t be able to contact him when he was out. He knew he would have to make phone calls to Spain too, to speak to Chrissy and Rosa. At least the unregistered phone wouldn’t be traceable back to him.
The third cab of the day took him to a letting agent in East London. He told the sweaty man who ran the place that he needed a secure premises to use to store classic cars that he was buying and shipping over to America. He presented bank credentials in the name of Richard Alexander, as well as his passport to confirm his identity. The agent sensed money, and presented a pile of papers showing his flagship rental, a stand-alone warehouse on an industrial estate in Leyton. It had an alarm, and electric roller shutter doors. There was the added benefit of a staff bathroom, and separate office. He told Alan it was up for nine-fifty a month, six month minimum. When Alan didn’t reply, he said he was sure he could get it for eight hundred.
Letting his silence do the negotiating, Alan held the man’s gaze, lighting a cigarette without asking if smoking was allowed. By the time the man was mopping the sweat off of his head with a creased handkerchief, the counter offer was made. “Seven-fifty, to include all electricity. I will take it for six months, and pay you it all in advance now. Cash. You give me the alarm code and the keys, job done”. The man smiled and nodded, and Alan turned and removed four thousand five hundred pounds from the briefcase. Handing over the paperwork, code, and keys, the man extended a hand. “Pleasure to do business with you, Mister Alexander”. Alan ignored the sweaty mitt. “Can you phone me a cab from here? I doubt one will be passing. I will wait outside”.
He smoked two cigarettes before the minicab arrived. A fifteen year-old Mercedes diesel driven by an Arabic-looking bloke wearing a little white lace cap on his head.
Gloria takes a trip.
Over dinner that evening, Alan had a question for his sister. “Glor, your mate, Angie. Does she still live in Clacton?” Gloria swallowed a new potato before replying. “Yeah. She’s divorced now though. They sold up the big house, and she bought one of those timber lodges on a residential park. Very smart it is, all furniture included, and two nice bedrooms”. Dobbing some mint sauce onto his last lamb chop, Alan smiled. “Sounds nice. I think you should contact her, go down and see her for a few days. At least until your passport arrives. I’ll book a cab to take you there, save the hassle on the train”.
Gloria was no fool. “Is this about Frankie Toland? Is there going to be trouble?” He picked up the chop, intending to bite the meat out of it. “Yes, and yes”.
When the doorbell rang later, he looked out the side of the net curtain hanging in front of the glass panel before opening the door. It was Teddy Henderson.
In the front room, Teddy declined a drink. Maybe he was taking this seriously after all. “Al, Toland has eyes and ears all over, so I have come to let you know what I have sorted. Carl has his two men ready to go. One’s called Panda…” Alan stopped him. “Panda? What sort of name is that, Teddy?” Teddy seemed surprised that Alan didn’t know why. “’cause he has dark circles around his eyes. And the other is Mickey Moon. Remember his dad, Charlie? He was useful in the sixties. Lugs’s boy Kenny got in touch, and he has a straight-up bloke called Duggie as his number two. It’s all in hand, just waiting for the word”.
Alan didn’t remember Charlie Moon at all, but took Teddy’s word for it. He gave him another five hundred. “Thanks Teddy. All quiet for now, but I will be in touch once I have got Gloria off the manor”.
The taxi was booked for the next morning, and Gloria was packed for at least a week away. “Let me know when the passport comes, Alan, and I will come back”. He gave her two hundred extra for food and drink at Angie’s. “I’ll let you know, love. But you’re not coming back until it’s safe, okay?” When her case was in the taxi, and he was waving her goodbye, he felt more relaxed.
He had spotted the teenager sitting on the bmx bike at the side of the flats, and already knew that Toland would be having him watched. That was fine, let him know Gloria was out of the picture now, see what he did next.
Walking to Old Reg’s place, he deliberately didn’t look around, or behind him. He had told Frankie he would be seeing Reg, so it seemed normal enough. In the flat, Reg seemed relaxed. Alan tried to tell if he had maybe had a visit from Frankie, but if he had, he was covering it well. “Reg, it’s all in place. Now I just need a date from your man Graham. I want to be out of here by Christmas if I can, second week of January at the latest. Obviously I need a route to study, and some info from Graham on where to pull the job. I have the bolt-hole arranged, and the shooters can be delivered after one phone call. So get Graham on that as soon as, and no phone calls, okay?”
Pouring some more whisky, Reg nodded. “Leave it with me, Al”. Well, he was still nodding, but at least he wasn’t smiling too.
On the way back to Gloria’s, there was a really cold wind, and Alan was glad of his new overcoat. He had a lot to think about, so stopped off in a pub he didn’t know, ordered a large malt, and sat at a table in the corner. One good thing about all-day opening now, you didn’t have to wait until half-five to get a drink. Halfway down the second double, he had come to a decision. Frankie Toland was never going to let it go. With him still around, the job would either never happen, or go bent after. He swallowed the rest of the drink in one gulp, and left the pub.
It had started raining, and even the rain felt cold. He lit a cigarette, sheltering the flame of his lighter against the gusts on the corner.
He was going to have to deal with Frankie. No way round that.
Alan gets mobile.
With the rented warehouse in Leyton not easily accessible by taxi, Alan reluctantly decided he would need a car. He could have gone to see Lugs and sourced a motor that would pass muster for a couple of months, but he wasn’t going to chance having moody wheels while driving around getting things in order for the job.
Using the Internet on his phone, he checked out some car sales places, settling on one just outside Chelmsford, in Essex. He packed some things into a holdall he found in Gloria’s hall cupboard, and added a wad of cash too. Then he flagged down a cab at Highbury Corner and went to Liverpool Street Station where he caught a train to Chelmsford. Outside the station there, he took a local taxi to the car dealership.
He had deliberately chosen a rather downmarket place, as he didn’t want to be seen in one of the main franchise dealers, or the huge car supermarkets nearby. The car he had spotted on the website was still on the front. It was a six-year old Audi A4 in white, and the basic model. Marked up at a quid under four grand, it showed fifty-four thousand miles on the clock, which Alan didn’t believe for one second was genuine.
Seeing him walking around the car, a man quickly exited the blue-painted portakabin that served as an office. “Lovely little car there, sir. Full service history, all the papers in order, and it has been checked for oustanding finance. Ten months on the MOT, and immaculate inside. It’s ex-company, and nobody has ever smoked in it”. As if on cue, Alan lit a cigarette. “Drive me round the block in it, and if it doesn’t fall apart, we can talk a deal”. The car ran well enough, and sounded nice and quiet. It was a common model, in an unobtrusive colour. Just what he wanted.
Back at the portakabin, the salesman started to talk about finance, stopping when he saw the raised hand. “No finance, it will be cash. I am not interested in your extended warranty, or servicing deal. Three two for cash and I will pay you now”. The young woman sitting at the back waiting to answer the phones that didn’t seem to ring raised her eyebrows, and stopped filing her nails. The sound of Alan’s voice had thrown her. He sounded like someone not to mess around with.
The salesman tried to counter. “It has got five months remaining on the road tax you know, so how about three and a half?” Alan lit another cigarette, despite the sign on the desk that indicated no smoking. “Three-three, or I walk up the street and buy someone else’s car”. He reached into the holdall and dropped three one thousand pound piles onto the desk, adding six fifty-pound notes from inside his wallet.
With both keys, and the owner’s folder containing the MOT and service paperwork, Alan checked the registered keeper. It was a company name in Solihull, in the midlands. Ideal. He wouldn’t register it in his name, and any grief would go to the company. The man wrote him out a receipt. “Just your name and address for my paperwork, please sir?” Alan smiled. “Francis Toland, number eight Stonefield Street north one”.
He had given Frankie’s name, and his home address in Barnsbury. Outside sitting in the car, he rang Rosa in Spain. He gave her the registration number of the Audi, and told her to add it to the company insurance, making sure it would be noted that it was being driven in England. She should also email him a photo of the certificate.
Then he drove out onto the main road, in a completely legal vehicle.
After filling the car with petrol in the first garage he saw, the A12 road took him to the M25 motorway, and from there he turned off into Lakeside Shopping Centre. On a trading estate nearby, he parked outside a big camping shop. In there, he bought an inflatable mattress, some gloves, and a camping table with six folding chairs. On the way out, he stopped at the Tesco supermarket, buying a bulk pack of bottled water, some hand soap, shower gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, and toilet rolls. In the grocery area, he bought a box of tea bags, a jar of instant coffee, packet of sugar, and some biscuits. It was a really big Tesco, so he was happy to find he could get an electric kettle, a toaster, six mugs and plates, and some teaspoons and knives.
With the boot of the car full, and two of the folding chairs on the back seat, he headed for the warehouse in Leyton.
Frankie gets a payoff.
After dropping off the things he had bought in Essex at the Leyton warehouse, and making sure everything inside was working, and clean and tidy, Alan headed back to Gloria’s flat. Because he hadn’t registered the car yet, and had no intention of doing so, he couldn’t apply for a council permit to park on the estate. Instead, he left the car on a single yellow line on the street behind. He would move it later, so it didn’t get clamped. Meanwhile, if he got a parking ticket, it would first go to the company in Solihull for payment, and eventually pitch up at Frankie’s house.
That made Alan smile.
The kid on the bmx bike was still on the corner. As he spotted Alan walking in his direction, he kicked the pedal, intending to leave. Alan called out to him to stop, waving a fifty-pound note that the boy could see. That stopped him. “Whoever you’re working for, tell them to get it back to Frankie to meet me here in his car at eight tonight. I’ll be outside. Okay?” The boy nodded and reached out for the money, riding off as fast as his legs would turn. Then Alan walked to the Londis shop, where he bought a loaf of bread, some butter, and four pints of milk.
Back in the flat, he packed some more stuff into his suitcase, then rolled up the duvet and pillows from his bed before stuffing them into a bin-bag. In the bedroom, he got the jiffy bag out, checked the Ruger pistol once again, and added a pile of twenty-pound notes into the top of the padded envelope. With an hour or more to kill, he sat and watched the news on TV, drinking Black Label from a tumbler. At five to eight, he was dressed in a suit and overcoat, waiting on the corner outside. Carrying the well-stuffed jiffy bag, he was wearing a pair of Sealskin brand gloves he had bought in the camping shop. Not that smart, but warm and comfortable.
One of Frankie’s many luxury cars turned up, and he walked over to it. The big black guy got out and opened the back door. Frankie was inside, sitting behind the driver’s seat. The black guy pressed a hand against Alan’s chest. “Arms up, please. You know the drill”. He was very polite, and Alan held the jiffy bag aloft as the man patted him down to make sure he wasn’t carrying any weapons. Then he nodded at the envelope. “What’s in there?” Alan smiled, peeling back the opening to reveal all the twenties. “What you boss is here for old son”. When the big man nodded, he got in the back next to Frankie. “Let’s go for a drive somewhere quiet, Frankie. Ive got something for you”.
As the car drove off, Frankie held out his hand, a smug look on his face. Alan shook his head. “Not so fast, I want to talk about this first, I want some assurances”. Obviously content that he had the upper hand, Frankie Toland pulled his hand back. “It’s obvious you are planning a job, and all I am asking for is my fair share”. The car was heading east, along the Balls Pond Road. Halfway down, the driver turned into a housing estate and drove into an underground car park that provided shuttered parking for the residents. Then he turned off the engine.
Alan put his hand down inside the padded envelope and lifted it up level with the top of the driver’s seat. “This is just a sweetener, Frankie. Something to keep you off my back for now. I’m not sure the job will happen, but if it does, you can be sure you will earn well out of it”. He glanced at the driver, noticing the huge roll of shiny fat above the too-tight collar of his shirt, just below the base of his skull. Frankie shifted in his seat, keen to get the money. Alan reached down further, his gloved finger finding the trigger.
He shot the bodyguard twice in the back of the head. Firing through the padded envelope with the short silencer attached, it still made a loud crack inside the vehicle. The small-calibre bullets weren’t powerful enough to exit the skull, but they bounced around inside the man’s head, tearing up his brain.
Frankie was turning already, grabbing the door handle, hoping to escape. Alan shot him twice through his left eye, watching as Toland’s left leg jerked in some kind of spasm, trapping his shoe under the seat in front.
Making sure the ejected cartridges were inside the jiffy bag, Alan waited just long enough to be certain that both men were dead.
Alan goes to ground.
From his overcoat pocket, Alan removed the supermarket carrier bag he had brought with him, and placed the jiffy bag inside it. Only two pieces of the padded envelope wrapper had been blown away by the gunshots, and he picked those up and put them into the plastic bag. There might well be much smaller particles that forensics would find, but by then it would be long gone anyway. Unable to risk taking a taxi or public transport, he had a long walk back to Gloria’s, using small side streets to avoid the CCTV cameras outside most of the shops and larger buildings.
In the flat, he packed away the rest of the money into his case, and took the things he had bought in the Londis shop together with the duvet and pillows down to his car. One last trip back to lock up, and grab his case, and he was gone from the estate.
As he was driving to the warehouse in Leyton, a phone was ringing in a house in Bishop’s Stortford, north of London in Hertfordshire.
Detective Superintendent William ‘Chalky’ White hadn’t gone to bed yet. Just as well, as he was soon to be back out of the house, and driving down to Islington. Someone had shot Frankie Toland and his bodyguard, and the bodies had been found by a bloke coming home from a late shift and finding a fancy car parked across his space. On inspection, he had found two dead men inside. The first officers on scene knew full well who they were.
With less than nine months to go until he retired, Chalky wasn’t about to make much of a fuss over a couple of dead gangsters. Someone else would soon step into their vacant territory, and by next week, Toland would only be a memory, with old criminals boasting about how they knew him back in the day.
The crime scene was a nightmare. A detective inspector met his boss at the opening to the garages. “It’s a mess, guv. The local kids have been in and stripped everything portable. The wallets have gone, watches if they wearing them, and both mobile phones that they were probably carrying. If the driver had a shooter, that’s gone too. I reckon he did, ’cause we found a spare magazine in his inside pocket. Looks like a nine-mill. The car is covered in fingerprints, and there are footprints everywhere too. The scene of crime lot are shaking their heads already”. Chalky shook his head too. He needed a coffee.
In Leyton, Alan switched on the electric heater in the office. Then he walked into the staff toilet and knocked the smoke alarm off the ceiling above the door, using the handle of a mop he had found propped in the corner. Once he was sure he would not have the Fire Brigade calling, he burned the jiffy bag in one of the sinks, using some of the fuel for his Zippo lighter. When the office was warm enough, he used the built-in compressor to inflate the camping mattress, then made himself a cup of tea and some toast with the new kettle and toaster he had left there. There was no fridge, so he left the four-pint container of milk outside, where it was cold enough for it to stay fresh.
Sitting at the small folding table on one of the camping chairs, he opened a bottle of Black Label, poured a good slug and drank it from his tea mug. After returning to the toilet to brush his teeth, he got undressed and slipped under to duvet onto the squeaky and crackly plastic mattress.
Surprisingly tired, he fell asleep almost immediately.
At the three in the morning briefing for the murder squad, Chalky White surveyed the bleary-eyed group of police officers sitting around the table. He kept it short. “This is one hundred percent a contract killing we’re dealing with here. You will have to do the usual round of CCTV checks, black cabs, minicab firms, bus companies, traffic cameras, you know the drill. Check your informants, grasses, snouts, whatever you call them these days. But I will bet my left bollock that it will be an unknown hitman. Even if he’s smiling at the camera, we won’t have a fucking clue who he is”. He sat on the edge of the big table, and rubbed his wrinkled face.
“Our biggest problem is going to be the turf war, when they all try to claim Frankie’s territory”.
Keeping a low profile.
The inflatable mattress wasn’t the best thing Alan had ever slept on, but it was far from being the worst. After more toast and tea for breakfast, he used the mobile to ring Rupert Pennington at his shop.
“Hello, this is Mister Alexander. You may recall me ordering six items from you recently? I am now in a position to take delivery. I will text a post code to your phone, and if you reply with your bank details, I will arrange to have the money transferred this morning”. Rupert was savvy. “Oh yes, the Ming vases, the ones with no provenance. I remember, sir. Would around three this afternoon be convenient? I have a reliable courier who will be in an unmarked blue van”. Alan smiled. “I will be here, thank you”.
The text messages were sent, and a phone call made by Alan. Rupert’s money was in his account of choice by eleven that morning.
With time to spare, Alan washed and shaved in the staff bathroom, got dressed quickly, then walked up the street to a general store on the corner. He couldn’t live on toast forever. Buying some packets of ham and beef, he picked up some cheese snacks from the counter, and asked for six packets of cigarettes. The only other customer in the shop was an old lady trying to decide between two different chocolate bars. Returning to the warehouse, he made a beef sandwich that tasted so good, he made another one.
When the blue van turned up just after three, he opened the big front shutter so it could reverse in. The driver looked tough and stocky, probably ex-military. Alan helped him out with the long packing case, noting it was covered in some authentic-looking Chinese characters. The driver said just four words before leaving. “Nothing to sign for”. When the shutter was closed again, Alan realised he was going to need a claw hammer or crowbar to open the thing, and cursed himself for not thinking of that.
He drove the Audi east, until he found a small DIY shop on Lea Bridge Road. Risking parking on the main drag outside, he was in and out quickly after buying the claw hammer, and a couple of screwdrivers in case they came in useful later. Using both on the packing case, it still took some effort to get the lid off.
Keeping a low profile for a few days was going to be boring, but he had hunkered down in some worse places in the past. At least he could get things organised, starting with stripping down and cleaning the four pistols and two assault rifles. So far, only Rupert and the delivery driver knew where he was, and they could definitely be counted on to keep shtum.
Back on the borough, Chalky White and his team were dealing with the fallout of Frankie’s murder. Toland had never had a real number two man, preferring to run the show himself with his goons and strong-arm men to do the nasty stuff. Now everyone wanted a piece. Old-school East End gangsters were moving in on the gaming machines, and Albanians were after his girls. The big Somali gang wanted the street corners for drug dealing, and those guys were crazy. There were three non-fatal shootings and nine stabbings in two days, leaving the borough commander no option but to call in extra cops from other districts.
It was worth risking a quick visit to Teddy, to make arrangements. He lived in the City of London, far enough away from Islington not to be in turmoil. Alan parked legally on a meter some streets away, and walked for ten minutes to get to Teddy’s. “I will be calling the first meet this weekend, Teddy. I need your blokes, and you will have to get a message to Old Reg for me. Tell him to get Graham and come to my warehouse on Saturday morning. And Lugs needs to tell his boy Kenny to be there with that Duggie. I want everyone there at the same time, say eleven, okay?”
Writing the address down on the back of an envelope, he held it up to Teddy’s face. “As soon as you have passed this on, burn this envelope. And no phones or text messages, Teddy. You tell them face to face. They can write it on their hands and wash it off after. You got that?” Teddy smiled. “Count on me, Alan”. Leaving him another hundred for cabs, Alan left before his meter time expired.
As he walked back to the car, he was hoping he really could count on Teddy.
Saturday, 11 am.
First to arrive that morning were Kenny Allison and his mate Duggie. Alan had the shutter open, and waved them in. They had turned up in a newish Range Rover, and he was straight on them. “Kenny, this motor better not be bent mate. I can’t have you fucking this up before it’s even started”.
Kenny looked offended, but replied respectfully. “No chance, Mister Gill. This motor is pukka, registered to me at my business. You can think of it as a company car”. Duggie looked useful. Young, but then Alan guessed he might be. “You up for this, Duggie? Tell me now, no shame son”. The young man nodded. “One hundred percent, Mister Gill”.
Five minutes later, Reg drove in with Graham in the passenger seat. Alan had set up the six chairs in front of the folding table, and told them to take a seat. “Just waiting for Teddy and his crew now”. They had to wait for another fifteen minutes before Carl drove in. He was driving a campervan of all things, and Teddy got out with another bloke. As he didn’t have dark circles around his eyes, Alan presumed he must be Mickey Moon. He walked up to Carl sitting in the driving seat. “Where’s the other one, this Panda geezer?”
Carl looked sheepish, and his voice was squeakier than before. “Sorry, Mister Gill. He’s got toothache, abcess or summat like that”. Unable to contain his anger, Alan shouted loud enough to make the others turn round. “Toothache? What have you got a note from his fucking mum? Go and get him, and don’t come back without him. Or I will find him and knock all his teeth out with a fucking hammer. Then he won’t have to worry about them aching”.
The campervan reversed out at speed, and Alan turned to Teddy, shaking his head at him. “Go and make the teas, Teddy. All the stuff’s in the office over there”.
They had to wait a full forty minutes until Carl returned with Panda. Despite the size and build of the man, Alan was openly sarcastic. “Where do you live, Panda? Fucking Southend? Or did Carl have to get you from London Zoo”. He wanted to tell Alan that there are no Pandas in London Zoo, but instead just replied, “Sorry, Mister Gill”.
Once everyone was sat down, except Carl and Alan, he closed the shutter.
“Right then, we all know why we are here. More to the point, I want everyone to take a good look at everyone else. This is it. The crew, the team, whatever you like. Memorise everyone’s face, because if anyone grasses, you will know where to find them and what they look like. Graham, get up here and tell us us something. Like a date, a location, stuff like that”.
Graham stood in front of the table, holding a folded map. He was so nervous, you would have thought he was addressing a crowd of thousands, rather than a small group of disparate criminals in an East London Warehouse. “We have a run to Debden, before Christmas. They issue a lot of new notes for the Christmas season, so usually get rid of a lot of the old ones beforehand. The date is almost four weeks from now, on a Thursday morning. As for the place, I marked it on this map. It’s a lay-by, so there’s no address or postcode”. He unfolded the map, showing them a small area outlined with a yellow highlighter pen. Then he continued.
“We go up the M11, then turn off. On the London Road, a few miles from the works, there’s a lay-by. I will tell my number two I need a piss, and stop in there, leaving the door open for a while. I can switch off the tracker/locator, but that would alert security. Best to leave it on, as they won’t query me being in the same place for at least twenty minutes. Could be stuck in traffic, something like that. Your vans should already be in the lay-by. When I get out, you jump us. Threaten me with a gun, and I give you the code to disable the alarm when you open the back. But you will really only have about fifteen minutes to be safe. Then when you’ve gone, we can call it in as a robbery, on the radio in the lorry. I will be in the shit for that, and might get sacked. But there’s enough money in it for me to take my chance”.
Reg was nodding, but fortunately not smiling.
“Before everyone goes today, I want to mention one last thing”. Alan was wondering how much everyone had taken in, and had gone over the details so many times he was sick of listening to his own voice. “On the day of the job, there will be no names used. If you need to say anything to someone else, use a number. That should be easy enough to remember, so get used to it. I am One, Carl is Two, Panda Three. Mickey, you’re four. Kenny is five, and Duggie six. Get those numbers inside your heads, and from the time we leave on that morning, no names at all”.
Panda’s hand was raised, like some kid in a classroom.
“What is it, Panda? Alan was in no mood for his nonsense after the toothache thing earlier. “Well, could I swap with Mickey? Only I don’t like odd numbers. Reckon they’re unlucky”. Alan lit a cigarette, shaking his head with exasperation. Then he shouted his reply. “No! You’re three. Grow up, and live with it! First the teeth, now this! Come on, for fuck’s sake!” He turned to the others. “And while I am talking about people being late and no-shows, remember this. If anyone doesn’t show up on the day of the job, take it from me you will be in deep shit. I don’t care if your old mum has dropped dead in front of you, or your house is on fire. You will be here, okay? Right, that’s it until next time”.
As they were leaving, he pulled Kenny to one side. “Can you get me a parking permit for Gloria’s estate, Kenny? I’m fed up eating toast and sleeping on an air-bed. I need to get back on the manor next week. The reg number is the one on that white Audi parked at the back. It’s a straight motor, so the permit has to be kosher”. Kenny smiled. “Leave it with me, Mister Gill. I will put it in an envelope and post it through your sister’s door on Monday afternoon”. Alan gave him two hundred pounds. “That should cover it, Kenny”.
When everyone had gone, he phoned Gloria. She was at the bingo with her mate. “I will be back at your flat on Monday afternoon, Glor. If you want to come home next week, let me know, and I will send a cab for you”. There was a pause. “Is it alright if I stay a bit longer, Alan? I’m having a really nice time”. He was pleased to hear that. “Stay a bit longer if you want, darlin’. But remember you will have to go to Spain by the end of next month”.
Unable to face any more sandwiches, at six that evening he drove up to the High Road and bought himself some fish and chips. “Stick a wally on that, and two of those big pickled onions please, love”. They were eaten sitting in the car, while they were still hot. Fish and chips had never tasted so good, even though they served them up in a polystyrene box these days.
The last two nights in the warehouse were really boring, but Alan studied Graham’s map until he thought his eyes would bleed, and made a lot of notes so the details would get into his brain. They were all burned in the sink before he left on Monday morning. The packing case with the guns inside was covered with some blue plastic sheeting he had found up the side of the building. If anyone broke in, it should just look like a pile of rubbish in the corner.
Locking up securely, he drove east, heading for the M11 motorway. Before returning to Islington, he wanted a look at the lay-by Graham had marked. Pulling into it less than an hour later, he had to admit he was impressed. It was certainly long enough for three large vehicles, and screened from the main road by some bushes and trees. To the left of it was a field, and the nearest houses were right over the other side of that. Graham had chosen well. Alan had to consider that he had underestimated the bloke.
By the time he got back to Gloria’s and unloaded his stuff, the envelope containing the permit was on the mat. He went straight back down to the car and stuck it on the window.
One less thing to have to worry about.
Going over things.
If the police were still interested in Frankie’s murder, they weren’t putting themselves about much in the area where he used to live. Alan was relieved to see no more coppers than usual around the estate, and presumed they were concentrating their investigation on the area where the bodies had been found, off the Balls Pond Road. He was keeping away from the usual pubs, not wanting to get involved in any conversations about Toland’s sudden departure from this life.
Being in the flat on his own gave him time to think. He was about to embark on a very serious bit of work with a crew that he didn’t really know. Kenny seemed up for it, and his mate Duggie looked the part. Despite his squeaky voice, he reckoned he could count on Carl, but his mate Panda was a worry. Mickey Moon was trading on his old man’s reputation, so he was an unknown quantity. As he sat sipping a large scotch that Monday evening, he thought seriously about jacking it all in, sending the guns back to Rupert, and cutting his losses.
So far, the front-money hadn’t been too much to walk away from. He could pick up Gloria, leave the Audi at the airport, and be back in Spain by next weekend. The thought was tempting.
But not as tempting as the money he might get from that job.
Graham’s idea was basic, but very workable. They would need to drop the two changeover vehicles somewhere not too far early that morning. Fifteen minutes on scene was plenty of time. Ten would be enough, five at a pinch. But it all depended on everyone doing as they were told on the day, and after the event. Alan’s trump card was that he was unknown to the police, and that was mainly thanks to Teddy Henderson. But his name would now be known to the five others on the job, as well as Graham, Reg and Lugs. And Teddy of course. That in itself didn’t matter too much, as long as he got his sister away so they couldn’t trace him through her.
Nobody knew about Richard Alexander, except Rupert, and the letting agent. But Rupert couldn’t grass, not if he wanted to stay in business. And stay alive. As for the agent, he would get his keys back, and a nice clean warehouse with just one broken smoke alarm. No reason to think he would be any the wiser, or associate the rental with a robbery near Debden.
He woke up with a start, just before five in the morning. He had forgotten something. It was a detail, but a crucially important one. He sat on the edge of the bed and punched the side of his head in frustration. How could he have been so stupid?
The kid on the bmx bike. He had taken the message about Frankie meeting him that night.
Alan had told him to get Frankie to pick him up on the corner at eight. And he had no idea who the kid had passed that message on to, before it filtered up to Frankie himself. If that kid had any sense, he would know full well that Frankie was picking up a bloke not long before he was shot, even if he didn’t know the bloke’s name. Someone else might know it. Someone higher up in the chain of command.
After that, he couldn’t get back to sleep. No chance he could shoot a kid who was probably only about thirteen, and avoid a huge police investigation on Gloria’s doorstep. Paying him to keep quiet wasn’t an option, as he was bound to brag about that to someone. He decided to go and have a bath, despite the hour. No point dwelling over something he couldn’t change. There was no option but to wait and see if anyone came calling.
Just as well Gloria had decided to stay in Clacton for now.
Not long after ten, he was ringing Teddy’s doorbell. If his old friend had been on the booze again, he didn’t look like it when he opened the door. Upstairs in the flat, Alan went over some things he needed to be done.
“We are going to need some sort of overalls. The zip-up type, dark colour, all the same. Then boots, like army boots. Matching gloves, and some face coverings like those SAS soldiers wear. And sunglasses, each pair the same. The only thing different about any of the team on the day will be height and size. Can your man Carl sort all that, Teddy?” He removed a pile of cash from his coat pocket and placed it on the coffeee table. “This should be enough. Oh, that Panda character. You sure he’s staunch? He seems like a complete fucking idiot to me, Teddy”. Teddy picked up the money, and smiled.
“He’s as thick as two short planks, but as tough as nails. He’ll do what he’s told, Al”.
Things to do.
The following Monday, Alan was at Rupert Pennington’s shop moments after opening time. Rupert seemed surprised to see him. “Any trouble with the goods I sent, old love?” Alan turned the ‘OPEN’ sign, and slipped the bolt on the door. “Nothing like that, I need some information”.
Rupert showed him through to the back room, and poured some whisky from a decanter into two glasses. “I know it’s early, but why the hell not? What can I do for you, Alan love?”
“I am going to need to get something out of the country before Christmas. By boat, for choice. I’m not asking questions about how you get your guns in, but I’m guessing that they don’t arrive by parcel post?” The debonair man smiled as he sipped his drink. “How big might this something be? Are we talking a back of the car something, or a full ship’s hold something?”
Alan put his glass down, and lit a cigarette. “Something square, that will fill up the back of a normal light van”. Rupert relaxed. “In that case, it’s no problem. I have a contact who does reglular runs from Felixstowe to Rotterdam, and he’s sure to be able to fit that in”.
Alan was shaking his head. “Not Rotterdam. I need it to go to Bilbao, in Spain. Can you sort out the customs paperwork too, Rupert?” Waving a hand in the air, the dealer replied. “Paperwork is not an issue, leave that to me. You will be best to put your load into a small container, and hide it under something with a strong odour, in case the cargo is searched by sniffer dogs,. They are trained to smell out all kinds of things these days. Fish-meal fertilizer is a favourite, horrible pong from that, old love. But Bilbao will be a chore for my man. That will double the price, I’m afraid”.
Thinking quietly for a while, Alan risked asking another favour. “Can you do all that arranging for me? There’s a good earner in it for you”. Rupert was shaking his head. “Not all, Alan love. I can get a container delivered, and the fish-meal. The paperwork can be left up to me too. But you are going to have to go to Felixstowe and see my man with the payment. Cash only, and he won’t work for anyone he hasn’t met in person. Even on my recommendation. He will know it’s bent, whatever it is, so I’m sorry to say you are looking at fifty grand for him, old love”. Rupert might well be beefing up the price to get some bunce for himself, but Alan was in no position to argue.
“Okay, write down the contact details for me. If he is going to be in Felixstowe next Saturday, I will meet him somewhere and pay him. The date is not fixed in stone yet, so it will have to be short notice. I will ring you here at the shop and give you the date in some sort of code, like a phone number or something. What do I owe you for your end, the paperwork and such?” He swallowed the last of the scotch and stood up, reaching into his coat pocket.
Rupert shrugged. “Call it fifteen hundred, old love”. Laying the cash on the desk, Alan realised he was going to have to go to his bank again, and get the cash out for the ship’s captain. “I will give you the date when the shipping container should be delivered, and arrange to be there on the day. It’s the same address you sent the vases to”.
The men shook hands, and ten minutes later, Alan was in a taxi heading for his bank. Less than an hour later, he was back on the street holding another complimentary briefcase, this time containing sixty thousand pounds. He had got the extra ten, just in case something came up.
After getting back to the flat and stashing the cash, he got his phone and rang his sister. She was in a cafe, just finishing a late breakfast. “Glor, text me the address of your mate’s place. I will come and pick you up next Saturday. I’ve got a car now, so no need to send a cab. I should be there late afternoon, okay?” She sounded a bit cool, but agreed. “Alright, love. See you then”.
He had the feeling that Gloria was disappointed about having to come home.
A road trip to Suffolk and Essex.
The call came from Rupert. The ship’s captain would meet him at the old Martello Tower in Felixstowe, south of the beach. The time arranged was midday, next Saturday. Alan had a question. “How will I know him, Rupert?” The dealer chuckled. “It’s off-season, and the old tower is in a kid’s playground. I’ve given him a rough description of you, but I’m guessing you two will be the only middle-aged men there, old love. By the way, your small container is arriving on Friday morning, I trust you can be there?”
Making sure he was there by eight that Friday, he only had to wait an hour until the truck turned up with the container on the back. There was a lifting device on the side of the truck to take it off, and Alan waved the driver into the warehouse before closing the shutter. It was the same bloke who had delivered the guns in the blue van, and he connected some straps on the container to his small crane thing, and lowered it onto the floor at the back of the building.
“The fish-meal is already in there. If you give Mister Pennington a ring when you want it collected and taken to Felixstowe, I can be here within an hour after the call”. Alan offered the man two fifty pound notes as a tip, but he shook his head. “No need, it’s all covered”.
After locking up, Alan drove down and parked near Teddy’s place. He was at home, and they had a very short chat. “Teddy, I need you to arrange a meet. Sunday week, at the same place. No Reg or Lugs this time, or you. Just the team for the job, and Graham. Reg can drive Graham if he wants, but he will be staying in the car”. Teddy nodded. “Okay, Al. Carl has got the overalls and that other stuff, I’ll tell him to bring it”.
On Saturday morning, Alan got to Felixstowe early. He parked in a seafront car park that was almost empty, then walked south to find the Martello Tower. He wanted a good look around, to make sure there were no suspicious characters loitering nearby. It was so cold and windy that morning, the playground was deserted, and there was hardly anyone on the seafront except a few dog-walkers on the beach. Finding a cafe open, he sat at a table near the window, taking his time over tea and a fried egg sandwich.
He was back at the park well before twelve, and saw someone standing by the side of the old tower. Not what he expected, but then his idea of sea captains came from films and books. The man was wearing a dark padded coat, and one of those hats with ear-flaps. When he spotted Alan, he waved him over.
The conversation was brief. “I’m Visser. I wanted to see you, but I will only deal with Pennington, okay? You tell him when the container is ready for collection, and he will give me the details I need to get it on my ship. Bilbao is a pain in the arse for me. That’s why it costs more. I don’t want no trouble with you, okay? So we won’t meet again. I will tell Pennington the load number and references, and where it can be collected in Bilbao”.
His Dutch accent was strong, but he spoke perfect English. He held his hand out for the briefcase Alan was carrying. Deciding there was nothing more to say, Alan gave him the case, then turned and walked back to where his car was parked. Rupert must have told the bloke not to cross him, there was no need to threaten him twice.
The drive from there to Clacton took less than an hour, but it took him another twenty minutes to find the lodge park where Gloria was staying. He hadn’t seen Angie for over thirty years, but would have still recognised her. Gloria looked grumpy. “What’s wrong, Glor?” She shrugged. “I was having such a nice time here with Ang, and now I’ve got to go to Spain and be on my own ’til you get there”. Alan had an idea.
“Ang, you got a passport?” She nodded. “Okay, pack a case, get your passport, and lock your place up. You can go to Spain with Gloria. I’ll get your tickets next week”. Gloria squealed with delight, and her friend scampered off into her bedroom to start packing.
His sister hugged him, and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, love. You’re a diamond”.
The second meet.
Alan went to the travel agent near Islington Town Hall and bought two Iberia Airlines direct flight tickets from Heathrow to Barcelona for Gloria and Angie. One way, that was all that was needed for now. They were due to fly out on Friday, and he had managed to arrange for Chrissie to collect them at El-Prat airport and take them to his villa. Rosa had been told to make sure she looked after them when they got there, and money had been transferred so Gloria could ask Rosa for whatever she needed.
After almost a week of having them both fussing around at the flat, he was pleased to wave them goodbye when they got in the taxi that morning. Gloria had a couple of thousand in her handbag to keep the pair ticking over until he got there.
With no more to do until the next meet, he took himself into Chinatown by cab, and had a slap-up meal in one of the best restaurants there.
On the Sunday, he was at the warehouse early. Once everyone had arrived, he stood at the folding table and addressed the smaller group. “Okay, gents. Strip off down to your underpants, and put all your phones into this”. He walked around each person holding a plastic box with a hinged lid. When every mobile phone was inside, he took it into the office and left it there.
Graham was still dressed.
“Down to your skivvies please, Graham. I have to be one hundred percent sure nobody is wearing a wire. Especially you. Don’t make me come over and undress you. You won’t like that, I can tell you now”.
When he had inspected the assembled crew, he was satisfied. “Okay, get dressed, and listen up”.
“We are going to work next Thursday. Kenny, what’s happening with the vans?” Kenny stood up, still buttoning his shirt. “Got them all. The two white vans are in our yard. False plates, but relating to similar white vans. We have a Post Office van and a Telephone Company van for the switch. Again, false plates, but they come back as the proper vans. They are in one of our lock-ups, and we will drop them off in a car park in Epping Forest before the job. I have one bloke extra to ferry us around on that morning, but I am vouching for him, and paying him from my cut”.
Nodding, Alan continued. “Good man, Kenny. The extra bloke is down to you, so make sure he’s solid. Graham, is it all still on as planned?” Graham stood up. “Yes, Mister Gill. We will be in that lay-by before ten that morning. I guarantee that”. Alan smiled. “Don’t forget you are guaranteeing that with your life, Graham. Stitch me up, and you won’t ever find any place to hide”. Graham sallowed hard, and sat down.
His voice hard and menacing, Alan continued. “There is going to be a lot of cash knocking around after this job, and I will be taking fifty percent before any sharing. I have put up a shitload of front money. Talking of which, Carl, I will weigh you up for the kit before you leave, okay?” Carl nodded. “So we meet here on Thursday morning, at four. You had better all set an alarm, because a no-show is not going to cut it with me. You will all get the guns then, and I will say this just once. Don’t fire them unless there is absolutely no alternative. Graham, you and your mate are going to have to be roughed up a bit, so it looks good. Okay?”
Graham swallowed even harder. He was a man who had never been roughed up. “If you say so, Mister Gill”.
Alan lit a cigarette. “Right, you can all fuck off until Thursday. Not a word about this job to anyone. And I mean anyone”.
After locking up and driving back to the flats, Alan went to the Londis shop to buy cigarettes and whisky. He decided to grab a pizza while he was there. Ten minutes to cook, and no messing around with veg or anything.
As he walked back to Gloria’s, he didn’t notice the kid on the bmx across the road.
News from Spain was good. Gloria and Angie loved the villa, and Chrissie was showing them around the town. Despite being out of season, there were still enough tourists to make the place feel lively. Letting his sister her take her friend had definitely been a good idea.
Another run out to the lay-by would have been nice, but Alan resisted the urge. He didn’t want his car showing up on traffic cameras in that area so soon before the job. Although everything seemed to be going to plan, there was so much to think about. No cops had come around asking questions, so he was fairly sure nobody had mentioned his name or description, not even that kid on the bike.
Time to be thankful for Frankie having those blacked-out windows in the backs of his cars.
By Tuesday, he had packed up all of his stuff except for what he needed until Thursday. He would leave it in the flat, then collect it that night. His flight to Spain had been booked in the name of Richard Alexander, a scheduled flight with British Airways for Friday evening. He would be travelling like a regular businessman, returning from a trip to London. If he did get a spin because of the robbery, no chance they would consider him to be a suspect. Well, hopefully not, anyway.
It was a chance he would have to take. No way was he hanging around in London any longer than necessary.
On Wednesday, he made his last visit to Rupert’s shop. The collection of the container was booked for four in the afternoon on Thursday. Rupert told him the container would go on board the ship on Friday sometime, and then there were seven sailing days to Bilbao. Once it was off-loaded, he would get a text with the container number, and a fax sent to his company in Tossa with authorisation to collect it. Then Alan would have to hire a local trucking company to do the pick up. It all seemed right.
He spoke to Rupert about the guns. “If we don’t have to use them, your man can collect them with the container. Don’t worry about the refund, that’s my present for all your help. If any are used, I will give them all to one of the blokes on the job. He’s ex-army, and will know what to do with them. If I don’t see you again, thanks for all you have done”. The dealer extended a hand. “The pleasure was all mine, Alan old love”.
Looking over some maps that evening, Alan went over routes from where they would spring the job, back to the warehouse. One of the swap vehicles would take the long southern route back, the other direct along the main road. He didn’t want them to be seen together, or driving in some kind of convoy. Kenny and his mate would get rid of the white vans, then meet the others back at the warehouse using straight cars.
Carl had his instructions to take away all the overalls, boots and disguises, as well as any maps and paperwork. The warehouse would be left completely empty. Alan would go to the office of the letting agent before it closed, drop off the keys, and bung him twenty quid for a new smoke alarm. Then give him some excuse about having to wrap up his business before Christmas, and not ask for a refund of the unused rental period.
Chalky White was briefing his murder investigation team. “Okay, two men shot, hit-man style, very clean and neat. No suspects, but obviously someone paid this guy to hit Frankie. His bodyguard had to go of course, just because he was there. Nothing worth looking at on CCTV, and a shitload of grief as other arseholes try to pick over Toland’s scraps. That’s calming down now, and it seems like the Albanians have grabbed his hookers, and the Somalis are now able to deal drugs on street corners without getting their arses kicked. Jimmy Reid’s lot have moved into the gaming machines and protection rackets, but we know about those fuckers, so that’s manageable”.
He rubbed his face, and took a sip of his coffee. Everyone watching knew that he would have a large scotch in there.
“We have to ask the question. Why? Why now, after all this time? My guess is that Toland’s lot were planning a big job. Another safe deposit caper, ot something like the Brinks Mat gold robbery. Someone else wanted in, and didn’t get in. So he took Frankie out, and now he’s going to do it himself”. The team were staring at their boss as if he was talking in a foreign language, which upset him.
“Get your arses out on the ground. Shake a few trees, and see where the coconuts fall”.
Thursday, early morning.
For Alan, the easiest way not to oversleep was to not go to sleep in the first place. So he was at the warehouse not long after three in the morning. There had been no message from Teddy or Reg that would have meant a cancellation, therefore he had to presume that Graham was going to work and doing the run as planned. Everyone knew their routes, and Kenny would show up later, after dropping the changeover vans in Epping Forest.
It was around a thirty minute drive from Leyton to the lay-by. At peak time, most of the traffic would be heading into London, not out of it, so he didn’t anticipate any problems, unless there was some kind of bad accident on either the M25 or M11. He was feeling surprisingly calm, but then he always had been like that in the old days.
Fifteen minutes before four, he opened the shutter high enough to let cars in. His Audi was parked up the side, out of the way. No sooner had he raised the shutter when Carl appeared in his motor-caravan. He drove straight in, and Alan could see Panda and Mickey Moon in the front too. Panda got out holding a cardboard box. “We stopped at an all-night cafe near Smithfield Market. Bacon sandwich each, and tea for everyone”. He seemed surpised that Kenny and Duggie were not there. “They will have to have theirs cold then”.
The two white vans appeared just after four-thirty. The shutter was raised a bit to let them reverse in, then closed for privacy.
Alan waited until sandwiches and teas were finished before speaking. “There are bin-bags over there, everything goes in them. Get your gloves on before changing into the overalls and boots Carl has brought. Let’s try to keep fingerprints and forensics down to a minimum. Don’t put the sunglasses on yet. It’s December, and cold. But put them on before we jump the truck, and don’t take them off until after the swap in Epping Forest”.
He pointed to the guns laid out on the camping table. “Don’t touch those without gloves. Carl and Panda, you take an AK each. There is only one magazine, no spare ammo. Mickey, you, Kenny, and Duggie take a pistol. They are already loaded, so don’t play with the triggers”.
After putting on the gloves, each man took the weapon allocated to him. Ten minutes later, they were all dressed in identical overalls, wearing identical boots. Alan was stuffing their clothes, including his own, into black plastic sacks. “We will change back later, and Carl will take the overalls, boots, everything else, and burn them. Kenny, here’s a key for the white Audi. Can you arrange to have it picked up tomorrow from my sister’s estate? Crush it, or sell it, I don’t care. It’s a clean motor, but I will have no use for it”. Kenny nodded as he took the key.
Just after six, Alan put a Colt Python into the leg pocket of his overalls. “Right boys, let’s make a move. Carl, you ride with Duggie, Panda in the back. I will go with Kenny, and Mickey in the back. No need to stay in sight. There are plenty of white working vans around at this time, but let’s not look like we mean to be together. Duggie, you set off now. I will lock up, then we will see you in the lay-by”.
When Kenny pulled into the lay-by at ten minutes before seven, Duggie’s van was already there, at the other end of the space.
They just had to sit and wait. Everyone had taken a piss before leaving, so nobody was allowed to get out and walk around. The three-hour wait felt like ten hours, and Alan had to stub his numerous cigarettes out inside the van, rather than fling the butts out of the window. It was almost ten before the white lorry pulled in. It was bigger than Alan had expected, and just about had room to park in the gap left between the two vans of the robbers.
When the passenger door opened, Alan shouted. “GO! GO! GO!”.
A busy ten minutes in Debden.
Graham did his best to look surprised, even though he raised his hands a little too early. Carl pointed the AK through the open door at the driver, and Panda opened the other door and dragged him out unceremoniously.
Both men were taken behind the lorry, and Carl shouted at Graham. “Come with me! What’s the code?” Kenny and Duggie were positioning the vans as best they could as Graham gave the code to Carl, who pressed the six numbers into the keypad at the rear.
As the door was swung open without setting off any alarm, Panda smacked the terrified driver over the head with the AK, then dragged him underneath the vehicle.
Inside, they could see the wire cages full of notes wrapped tightly in plastic. Alan shouted at Graham. “How much in each packet?” Visibly trembling, Graham replied after wetting his dry mouth with his tongue. “Two hundred and fifty grand in each one. Five mill in each cage, eight cages”. Alan nodded at Carl, who cracked Graham over the head with the AK, then rolled him under the lorry next to the driver. “You two stay still, and not a word!”, he bellowed at them.
It was easy enough to work out. Eight cages amounted to forty million quid in unmarked, used twenties. Alan’s heart was beating faster now.
He turned to Carl and Panda. “We will take half. Empty two cages into each van. Any longer, and we might get rumbled”. With Mickey Moon helping, the four men got busy. Carl was inside the back, throwing out the plastic-wrapped bundles. Alan, Panda and Mickey grabbed them and ran to the vans, flinging them into the back through the open doors. As soon as one van had forty packets in the back. Alan closed the doors and shouted at Duggie. “Off you go, and take it easy!”
The second van was loaded even faster, with Kenny helping. Then the others jumped in the back, sitting on top of the stacks of cash. Kenny slammed the doors, and drove out of the lay-by, taking it steady, and using his indicator as he rejoined the road. Nobody was talking, and all of them were breathing very hard, pulling off the masks that were making their faces hot.
From the time they had threatened Graham and the driver, until they were almost a mile away from the scene, only ten minutes had passed. Panda started chuckling as he patted the stacks he was sitting on. Alan waggled a finger at him. “No laughing until we are clear, and back at the warehouse. And let’s all hope that Duggie hasn’t driven his van to somewhere we don’t know about”. That wiped the smile from Panda’s face.
Although the drive to Epping Forest was less than ten miles, they had to use back roads and lanes where possible, to avoid too many CCTV camera captures. When Kenny drove into the forest car park almost forty-five minutes after the job, Duggie had already loaded the cash into the Telephone Company van and opened the doors of the Post Office van to be ready. With all six men helping, the job van as soon unloaded. Alan nodded at Kenny and Duggie.
“Well done boys. I will drive the red van, and Carl is driving the Phone one. You lose the white vans and I will see you back at the warehouse, okay?” He turned to the others. “Panda, you’re with me, Mickey, you go with Carl. Don’t forget, you’re going south, the long way round, and we will go straight from here to Leyton”. As they drove out of the car park, Panda turned to Alan. “We didn’t need those numbers after all. So I was number three for nothing”.
Lighting a cigarette. Alan let that remark go.
There were so many Post Office vehicles on the road into East London, the van never got a second glance. They were back in the warehouse less than an hour after leaving the forest car park. Opening the heavy door of the shipping container, Alan unloaded the packets from the van and stacked them inside. Then he covered the stack with the bags of fertiliser that were already in there. Panda was screwing up his face. “What a stink!”
Carl didn’t get back for another hour, and he looked nervous. “It’s bound to be all over the news by now”. Alan smiled. “Calm down. Reg will be here soon, to collect Graham’s cut, and Teddy’s too. Meanwhile you can sort out the rest. One stack for Graham, one for Teddy, another for Lugs. One each for Duggie and Kenny when they show up. Then the rest is a three-way split for you blokes. I’ve already got my half”. He looked at the three men carefully.
If they had intended to jump him and take everything, now would be the time.
Chalky White was banging a fist on his desk as he shouted at his team. “See? What did I tell you? One of the biggest cash jobs in living memory. Twenty plus mill in untraceable wonga, smooth as a snake sliding across shit! Has to have Toland’s name on it. Everyone else capable is either too old, or banged up in clink. Get Essex on the phone for me. I will tell those country cops we will be shaking every bush and rattling every cage. I bet my left bollock that money is in London”.
As Chalky raged in his incident room, a few miles away in East London Alan Gill was tidying up. Kenny and Duggie had arrived for their cut, and to collect a packet for Lugs. Reg had already been and gone, taking the cuts for Graham and Teddy Henderson. Carl, Mickey, and Panda had stripped out the fittings in the motor caravan, loaded all the money in, then refitted them with considerable difficulty.
There had been no trouble. No hijack by the mercenaries. Alan had been relieved, in all honesty. They could have taken him out and scarpered with the lot. But they weren’t real criminals, not like him. Maybe it just never occurred to them. He had given Carl all the guns. “You take these, Carl. I’m sure you will know someone who will buy them off you”. The big man seemed touchingly grateful. “Thanks a lot, Mister Gill, that’s kind of you”.
Alan had made only one speech, and he had made it to each of them before they left the warehouse. “Don’t flash the money. Keep your cool, and for fuck’s sake, whatever else you do, leave it until after Saturday, when I am back in Spain. After that, it’s up to you. You’re all grown men, so if you get rumbled, it’s your own fault”. Truth be told, he wasn’t unduly worried about any of them being caught, or grassing. They only knew him as Alan Gill, and where his sister Gloria lived. But she wasn’t there, and he was Richard Alexander.
By three in the afternoon, Alan was alone in the warehouse. As he waited for the container to be picked up, he cleaned everything anyone might have touched. Even though his fingerprints were not on file, he didn’t want them to be found, or any DNA samples either. Carl had taken all the work clothes, gloves, boots, masks, and sunglasses. He had to be trusted to get rid of them. Kenny had left both the job vans at a breaker’s yard in Dagenham, where they would be crushed. Then him and Duggie had left in the swap vans, taking them to the same place.
He reckoned he had covered everything. Just the container collection to come. There was a niggle though. As he took a break from cleaning, and stacked the table and chairs he would be leaving behind in the warehouse, he couldn’t help thinking it had all been too easy. Even that twit Graham hadn’t messed up, and taken his clump over the head with no trouble. Panda had done okay, despite worries that he would do something stupid. He stopped and lit a cigarette, knowing he would have to put the butt in the rubbish bag he would take when he left.
Ten million was a lot of money, even now. The airport job had netted him just over a million-two, twenty-five years earlier. That was a shitload of money back then, and this was easily on a par. Him and Gloria would never have to worry about anything, ever again. As long as it showed up in Bilbao, as arranged.
The arrival of the lorry to get the container snapped him out of it. The same bloke, a bit chattier this time. He closed the container properly, and put a seal through the handle. “This should be in Felixstowe before seven tonight. I will give Mister Pennington the storage number, and he will contact the captain for you, okay?” Alan nodded, not feeling talkative. Once the small container was on the lorry, Alan put his suit jacket and overcoat on, then had a last look around.
Two of Chalky’s detectives found Teddy Henderson in a Tesco Metro near Liverpool Street Station. His was one of the few names that had come up. An armed robber, not long out of prison, with a weak link to Frankie Toland in the old days. They got him into their car, and said they were going to nick him for the Debden job. Teddy laughed. He had the best alibi they had ever heard, he told them. He was so drunk last night, he had fallen over in Fortune Street, on his way back from the pub. An ambulance had taken him to hospital, unconscious, and with a large cut over his right eye.
He hadn’t been discharged until eleven-thirty that morning. Ninety minutes after the Debden job had gone down.
To the bits of rubbish in the black sack, Alan added the kettle, toaster, mugs and everything else he had used during his earlier stay there. The bedding and inflatable mattress had already been left at Gloria’s, where they would not seem to be remotely suspicious. All he was leaving behind were the chairs and folding table, and after a last-minute sweep, he locked up, activated the alarm, and dumped the sack in the boot of the Audi.
He made the journey to the letting agent in good time, arriving ten minutes before the place was due to close. The man gave him no argument about the smoke alarm, accepted the twenty for it, and took the keys with a smile. “I hope to do business again when you are next in London, Mister Alexander”. In an alleyway behind the agent’s shop, Alan dumped the rubbish from the warehouse into an industrial sized waste bin.
Graham and the man who had been driving were being given the third degree by Essex cops. As the site of the robbery was on the border of a London Borough, the Metropolitan Police had been requested to execute search warrants at Graham’s house. Carly watched in tears as they quite literally tore the place apart in a fruitless search for the stolen money. The same thing was happening at the house of the driver, in Beckton. It took them a long time to make the connection through Carly to Reg, but when they did, a search team turned up at Old Reg’s place too.
Reg had been expecting it. He let them in, showing no concern or alarm. The money wasn’t there, or at Graham’s. Graham didn’t even know where Reg had hidden it. Across the borough, Chalky White turned up to watch the search team turn over Frankie Toland’s house. His still-grieving widow stared stone-faced at them. Chalky knew full well there would be no money there.
He was just sending out a message.
Alan was back inside Gloria’s flat by just after six. He had left the Audi parked conspicuously at the front parking area of the flats, where Kenny would be sure to find it when he turned up to get rid of it. A quick trip to the Londis shop had provided a couple of steak pies to warm up in Gloria’s oven, and another bottle of scotch. He would have a very personal celebration tonight.
As the pies were heating up, he watched the news on the TV. It featured the robbery, but only after some political stuff. The reporter said the usual stuff. “People helping police with their enquires”, “It is believed that in excess of twenty million pounds was stolen”. An Essex detecive was interviewed briefly, and he came out with the old classic. “Investigations are ongoing, and we are currently following up on many leads”.
In other words, they didn’t have a clue.
If Graham didn’t crack, they were home and dry. Alan had to hope that the lure of a quarter of a million quid would make him keep his mouth shut. At least until his plane landed in Barcelona tomorrow night, anyway. The pies were tasty, and the scotch was going down well. One thing about a nice drop of scotch, it made you forget all those niggles and worries. He imagined himself back in Tossa, enjoying some tapas for lunch on Saturday, showing Gloria and Angie a few of his favourite spots, and reconnecting with Chrissy.
All being well, it should be a memorable Christmas.
For the rest of the evening, he kept an eye on the news, and checked over all his packing. Leaving out the clothes for Friday, he stuffed his dirty laundry into a separate case. He would happily pay the excess baggage at the airport tomorrow. There was still a fair bit of his own cash left over, and he put some of that into his main case, then crammed his wallet full. He would walk out onto the main road tomorrow afternoon, and flag down a cab to get him to the airport early.
There were plenty of places to eat and get a drink there, and he could buy something nice for Gloria in one of those swanky shops. Well before eleven, he finished his last glass of scotch, and went into the bedroom.
Nothing like a good night’s sleep after a very busy day.
Awake just after nine, Alan had a lot of time to kill, and not much to do. With his flight departing after six that evening, he planned to get there about three. So allowing at least an hour to get to the airport, he would grab a cab just before two that afternoon. Five hours. Not too long, in the grand scheme of things.
Before ten, he was in a favourite cafe on the Essex Road, ordering a full English breakfast with extra black pudding and fried bread, and a mug of tea. He hadn’t bothered to get anything in at Gloria’s as he would have had to throw away whatever was left.
The weather was like he remembered it in London in mid-December. Very cold, but dry. There was no snow forecast, but it would start getting dark just after two, and feel like night by three-thirty. One of the things he liked about Spain was that it was rarely that cold on the coast, even though the Spanish locals complained about winter.
The big breakfast warmed him up, and filled him up too. Walking back to Gloria’s, it didn’t feel as cold as on the way there.
It seemed sensible to turn off Gloria’s electric before he left. She wouldn’t be back for some time, if at all, and it would keep any bills at a minimum. If she stayed on in Spain, as he hoped she would, she could phone the local council and give up the flat in due course. If she wanted Angie to stay with her for company, he could buy them a nice villa near his.
It wasn’t as if he would be short of money, after all. He might even give the business to Rosa. She had worked hard enough, and deserved it.
The next forty-five minutes were spent doing some cleaning up at the flat. When that was finished, he put on the sealskin gloves, so he didn’t leave any prints around if the cops broke in at some stage. Then he sat waiting for the time to leave.
Chalky White wasn’t talking to anyone. He was sat in his office pretending to drink coffee that was ninety percent scotch. There wasn’t a single lead so far. The two blokes from the lorry had had to be released without charge, after spending twenty-four hours in custody and sticking to their stories. Teddy Henderson had a cast-iron alibi, and was tight-lipped about anything else. Searches of various flats and houses had turned up ziltch. Chalky took a couple of paracetamol for his growing headache, and wondered what he was going to say to his boss at the midday briefing.
Sitting in Gloria’s now cold flat, Alan suddenly thought of something.
The Ruger.22 was still in the supermarket bag in the wardrobe. How had he forgotten that? He would have to dump that before leaving, as ballistics would undoubtedy match it to Frankie’s shooting, if it was found during a search. Before he left that afternoon, it would have to be disposed of. There were no prints on it, so he didn’t have to go to too much trouble to get rid of it.
The playing fields nearby called Highbury Fields would be good. Lots of rubbish bins, and they might well have already been searched by the cops, even though they were a long way from where Frankie had been shot. That would do nicely.
Francis Liam Toland was only a few days short of his sixteenth birthday. Despite his age, he looked younger, and could have passed for twelve or thirteen. His mum didn’t really know who his dad was, so had christened him with the first name of her uncle, Frankie Toland. After that, he was always called Little Frankie. He had no male role model, other than his great-uncle Frankie. He wasn’t that well-behaved, and had been expelled from two schools before the authorities more or less gave up on him.
Little Frankie adored his uncle. He gave employment to his mum, in an amusement arcade on the Holloway Road. And he eventually gave employment to Little Frankie too, running messages on the bmx bike he had bought for him. Old Frankie Toland believed that everyone should work for their money, even a teenage nephew. If his mum was working late, Little Frankie could go to his uncle’s house. Aunt Mary would cook a dinner for him, and if his uncle was there, he would give him ten quid, and tell him he was a Toland, through and through.
The last time he had seen his beloved uncle was a few hours before he got shot. Little Frankie had worked it out. The bloke from Highbury Grove must have done it.
The smartly-dressed bloke who had given him a fifty as if it was nothing.
When your uncle was one of the most feared villains in London, you could pretty much say and do what you liked, as long as you stayed within his area of influence. Little Frankie wasn’t silly though, he didn’t push his luck. He could get some sweets and a can of drink in most of the local shops, and just walk out without paying.The owners all knew who he was, and never said a word. The tough kids and bullies at school gave him a wide berth, and once he stopped going to school and was being seen on the streets, the minor criminals in the borough gave him no grief at all.
Riding around on his bmx, the hood up on his hoodie in all weathers, it was well-known he was one of the eyes and ears of the famous Frankie Toland, and he could go wherever he wanted, no questions asked. But now his uncle was dead, that had all stopped overnight.
Now, Little Frankie’s life was shit, as far as he was concerned.
The rest of the Toland mob had either gone to ground, or defected to some other gang. There was no protection, no more free stuff, and he was fair game for any petty thug who had a grudge against him. At fifteen, he was far too young to do much about that, and it wasn’t as if he could decide to work for anyone else. He had made too many enemies in his fifteen short years, and now he was on his own.
His mum didn’t have a job now that someone else had taken over the amusements. They didn’t want a Toland managing the arcade. Aunt Mary was already talking about going to live with her sister in Ireland, once the cops allowed her to leave the country.
Alan was on the phone to his sister, giving her the flight number to pass on to Chrissy, who was going to pick him up at the airport in Barcelona. Gloria was upbeat. “Oh, we love it here, Al. Angie says she wished we could come and live here. She’s talking about selling her lodge next year, and buying an apartment here”. He was smiling as he listened. “Glor, didn’t I tell you? I knew you would love it. Tell Ang not to rush into anything. I’m sure I can sort you out a house once I get back. You can give up the flat here, and Ang could rent out her lodge and get an income”.
Gloria rushed off the phone, keen to tell her friend the good news.
It was colder than Little Frankie liked, too cold for the hoodie. He was wearing his waist-length black puffa jacket instead, but it felt tight since he had grown a bit. He biked over to the Londis shop, then twice around the flats where that bloke was living. No sign of him anywhere, and he didn’t want to chance knocking on the door of the flat where he was staying. He would bide his time, sure the bloke would show up sooner or later.
He carried on pedalling around the same circuit, with nothing else better to do.
After chatting to Gloria, Alan went into the bedroom and got the supermarket carrier bag out of the wardrobe, still wearing his warm gloves. He put his overcoat on in the hallway, and turned up the collar. It was grey and dull outside, and he could feel the cold wind as he double locked Gloria’s front door. It was only a short walk to Highbury Fields, but he intended to go right to the far end, by the leisure centre.
Little Frankie was blowing onto his hands to warm them up when he saw the man with cropped grey hair appear on the corner to his right. He was wearing his expensive overcoat, and carrying a Waitrose shopping bag in his left hand. Forgetting his cold fingers, he grabbed the handlebars and set off after the bloke, keeping a good distance.
Toland’s didn’t grass. His uncle had drilled that into him from the time he could walk. Easy enough to make an anonymous call to the cops, then hide somewhere and watch as the squad cars turned up to nick the man who killed his uncle. But a Toland doesn’t do that. They settle things themselves. He watched as the man walked around near the leisure centre, and saw when he turned to walk back that he no longer had the bag. Then he followed him back to the flats, staying well behind him.
Stopping outside the entrance, Alan opened his overcoat to get the keys from his trouser pocket. All he had to do was collect his case and holdall, then he would be back on the street looking for a taxi.
The impact knocked him down, as he felt a blow to his right side. Looking to his left, he saw the kid righting the overturned bike, jumping back on it, and pedalling away as fast as he could. As he got to his knees before standing, he saw the handle of the knife protruding from his belly above the pocket of his suit jacket, and felt the blood running down over his body inside his clothes. Unsteady on his feet, he pulled open the outer door to the flats and walked inside. But he got no further than Gloria’s front door before collapsing again, the blood pumping from the wound was pooling on the concrete floor around him.
His legs felt cold, and it seemed to be getting darker. Pulling his cigarette packet out of his overcoat pocket, he pushed one between his lips. Then he reached for the lighter.
One last cigarette. The thought made him smile.