To serialise or not?
A number of my fellow authors have serialised their stories and I've wondered about trying the odd chapter to try and gauge reaction so here is the first chapter of my first book.
Ever since I was at primary school there were indications of character traits that would shape my life. When in bed if I turned over to the right I would have to turn to the left. What a nutter - but I was only seven! I can remember asking my Dad why. He told me that it was nothing and not to worry. This was his usual answer to the minor stresses of life.
I was destined to develop a career that requires attention to detail. I believe people who think they know me would be surprised at what I do when they don’t know where I am. It pays to be quiet and ‘shy’. So my day job is working with figures, amounts, balances and transfers. A situation where I don’t have to relate to people! However, I moonlight doing something completely different but needing every bit as much care if for no other reason than my own personal safety. These were the thoughts that were going through my mind while I sat in my car shivering.
The windows had started to steam up! I looked at my cheap watch and its 05:32 on what promises to be a warm early Spring Day. Just at the moment it is frosty as it often is in early April. Dawn is breaking but it will be a while before there is any warmth in the sun’s rays. I dare not risk drawing attention to my presence by starting the car so for now I ease the front windows down a little and pull my padded jacket round me a little tighter. It has taken too long to get here from Yorkshire! It took long enough to find the house, in this enormous new build estate on the edge of the city, once I arrived in Durham the land of the Prince Bishops. A small but beautiful county with rolling hills and an interesting coastline interspersed with the fossils of a bygone industrial age. No decent sleep and a long day ahead. I need a good start to the day.
The red bricks of the houses glow in the early dawn. They don’t have many stone built houses in this part of England. The windows were all blind curtained against the wakening sun that means another 8-hour shift. The neat and tidy lawns of the semis were glistening with the dew and still no-one stirring.
It had taken a couple of days to find my target. James Thompson, aged 45, married with three children. The eldest two were at University at different ends of the UK. It must have cost him a fortune keeping them there and doing all the visiting Janice, his wife, demanded. My access to the banking system enabled me to find out quite a lot about him once I had his address. God Bless the computerised world!
He seemed a surprising target. I was often surprised at the direction my principals took and where they obtained their information. They were meticulous in their preparation and demanded the same from myself. I don’t find that a chore. A pillar of society our James worked in the planning department of the City Council. They attended church a couple of times a month, were members of the Rotary Club and holiday in Minorca every year. I can never understand people who go to the same resort year in and year out it wouldn’t do for me! I suppose it was the safe option going back to what is familiar.
My instructions were to discover why he had suddenly paid off his increasing debt on his credit cards; a substantial lump sum to his mortgage and cleared his gambling debts. Oh yes my search of his accounts came up with a habit. Internet gambling! Betting on anything and everything from the comfort of his own study while Janice was fast asleep. He was running up huge overdrafts on two accounts that were in his name only. I didn’t think Janice had any idea, then about two weeks ago all gone, pure as the driven snow, squeaky-clean! So where had the money come from? My job was to chase the money and ‘fix’ the problem. That’s what I do I fix problems and get paid for it. Anonymously! How I do the fixing depends on the nature of the problem. I have developed a number of skills both legitimate and not so some from a very interesting three weeks learning to be a bodyguard at Officer Training School. Also my time at university in the gun, sailing and climbing clubs. How I got a 2:1 in Maths I don’t know.
The courage to take action! I was 16 when my Uncle was killed. I had been a regular visitor, spending holidays. He was an interesting man and I enjoyed his company. But one afternoon someone walked into his house and robbed him of his wallet and frightened him so much he had a stroke. He fell against an armchair, which was then pushed against the gas fire and it started to smoulder. My Uncle died of smoke inhalation. To cut a long story short I found out who he was and went after him with my Dad’s golf club – the driver! I was young and got away with a non-custodial sentence, but the dye was cast.
At 06:15 there were signs of life in the form of lights on in some houses across from me. Parking on suburban estate roads was difficult. Everyone knows all the cars. Mine was non-descript but a vehicular stranger. I parked in a cul-de-sac out of direct sight of Jim’s house about 50 yards from the door so that I could see but not easily be seen.
No cars moving as yet.
It seems a long way from the meeting in the country house on the outskirts of Yarm on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. That was on a hot summer’s day in July two years ago. Ostensibly to discuss investments with a Mr Sumisu! We did do some work and then I was wined, dined and quizzed extensively. I never saw the honourable gentleman again. I was told he had returned to his homeland, Japan. But it was a few weeks after that I received a very unusual request in a rather unusual way. If I hadn’t been bored and underpaid I probably would have thrown the mobile phone away that arrived by parcel post at my flat in Mirfield it was of good quality though!. There was a typewritten note that said simply – ‘Turn it on’
I opened a bottle of claret and drank a glass staring at the mobile sitting on my coffee table. It was small neat and a high quality sort of model. I found the instruction manual and turned it on. Nothing! I had another glass and turned on the TV and started trawling for a film to watch. I found an old Clint Eastwood re-run and settled down to watch it.
I jerked awake some time later. The affect of the wine and a long day in the office in Leeds! An unfamiliar noise! I glanced at the phone and the screen was lit up. There was a message. Hilton Hotel, Leeds, Saturday – expenses paid. That was all.
What would you do? My initial reaction was ‘What on Earth!’ So I rang the Hilton and asked if there was a reservation in my name for this coming Saturday. There was and I was informed that the room was already paid for. So what did I have to lose? In light of the fact that I had nothing else to do! Why not? Nightlife in Leeds is good and I would be able to enjoy it to the full. One or two from the office might be up for a night on the town.
To cut a long story short that was what happened. The only off beat occurrence was a large brown envelope that appeared under my door during the night. Again there was a very cryptic message. ‘Keep the phone. Thank you for your help. Your Swiss Bank Account number is ……………….. We have deposited £10,000 please use the money, as you will. Arigato
I didn’t understand or believe what I was looking at. Japanese - it could only be Mr Sumisu; he is the only Japanese person that I know. A gift out of all proportion to what I did for him. It wasn’t a gift! That was the next surprise. There was another sheet of paper in the envelope. It had a photograph of a man and a ‘thumbnail sketch’ of someone who seemed to be a thoroughly bad character. But what was that to do with me? That’s just me being my usual naïve self! Apparently he was causing a problem for an associate of Mr Sumisu upsetting the family and threatening the business. Did I have any ideas about fixing the problem? Could I use my financial connections to offer a solution? Would any of my ‘other’ skills be of value in this instance?
It was this last question that stayed in my mind for the next few days. I kept going back to the envelope once I was home. I took the name into work and did some research. On the face of it there was no evidence of unsavoury activities that I could see. I also kept going on to the Micheloud & Cie website to look at my £10,000. I still couldn’t believe it. I dare not touch it. What do I do?
Nothing! So I thought, but then another text on the mobile. ‘+£40,000 when solved.’ What could I do? I found out that the ‘villain’ lived in Osaka, Japan and worked in the city. He had interests in different parts of the world including Europe. I took a few days holiday and went to Japan flying to Schiphol and after about eleven hours Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. I arrived not knowing what I was going to do but that I needed to fix this guy and I was going to get paid for it. All I was doing was helping an acquaintance. It’s amazing what you will convince yourself of if the price is right. After some confusion and a couple of frustrating days I ‘fixed’ the guy! He was a crook and got what he deserved and ended up in the harbour. Careful when eating sushi in Osaka!
How on earth had I got into this? Jim Thompson was hardly my usual type of target. A real Mr Suburbia with some minor sins to his name. Not the same instructions and a higher price. I didn’t like the fact he was a family man living on my own little island either. So far I had straightforward cleaning up jobs. I have the impression that my employer wasn’t sure. Who pays Johnson is my initial instruction? I wondered what would follow up!
How am I going to find that out? I would rather not have to beat it out of him but I have come against a financial dead end. He must be getting his ‘second salary’ in cash. So I am sat here in my car freezing my nuts off at 06:30 in a cul-de-sac in the north east of England waiting to follow this guy to get a flavour of what he does. I am not a sleuth so I don’t know whether this could be a pointless exercise. Still I am here now.
Hello!! Here we go. The curtain over the glass door was being pulled back. Ahhh!!! Trim little body our Janice and jet black hair with a bit of a suntanned look about her! Possibly because she went jogging every morning and maybe she had been on holiday. She was wearing navy tracksuit with Nike trainers and standing about 5’ 3’’ and 8.5 stone nicely proportioned for a forty something mother. Hope hubby appreciates her! Off she went down the road. There were loads of routes she could follow. It would be interesting to see how long she was out for. I would guess about half an hour, home for a shower and breakfast and then take the youngest off to school. I didn’t know whether she worked. No sign of a wage in the joint account. James was netting about £2500 a month.
Speak of the devil there was our boy just pulling the curtain in the lounge in his bath robe and unshaven so far today! Looks tall and thin! Go on get the breakfast made for the family instead of standing there stretching. Good boy. Ok not long now.
Half an hour run I was right. Good work out to she is sweating judging by the way her tracksuit is sticking to her. She is stretching the lactic acid out of her muscles to prevent stiffness and cramps. It’s as important to warm down as well as warm up. I would reckon James would move in about three quarters of an hour. There are quite a few signs that the day is beginning. Cars are starting, dogs are being walked, and people are moving around inside their homes. Welcome to Friday folks you have just won an eight-hour day – I wish! Mine is going to be twice that length.
07:55 here we go! He was driving a large Peugeot in the 400 series, dark blue with a 59 plate. They are not cheap and just over 6 months old. It’s going to be hard not to be spotted until we get on to busier roads. I had not done this often. Yet another new skill! No problems if he kept moving at 25mph as he was presently. He was headed towards the A19 north so I guessed that it would be Gateshead or Newcastle. It’s getting busy now. His office was in the Town Hall in Sunderland it’s an eyesore of a modern building which replaced a beautiful old edifice. Prince Charles would not approve I felt sure but James wasn’t going straight there today. No he was heading up north. I hope it’s not the big city because then parking and following would be an issue. I would have to explore his home if I lost him. It might come to that anyway!
We joined the A19 at New Herrington and headed north crossing the A183 after ten minutes or so. So far so good! He isn’t trying to break any speed records. He had no reason to suspect that he was being followed. It was ok this tailing folk lark! Oops! Where are we going now Jim? He had turned off at Junction 12 and was keeping left towards Washington New Town. Well it was new in 1964!
I saw that this road was rather grandly named ‘The Sunderland Highway’! It was still the A1231 to me! We went over the A195 and continue towards the town centre. Aha! Jim was signalling to come off into a minor road left into what looked like an estate. There was some parkland about. If I remembered my reccy of the area it was Glebe Park. The planners included lots of green areas in these new towns, which was just as well because the housing is so regimented and boring the inmates, sorry inhabitants, would go mad. We were on Parkway, an apt name! I had to drop back as it’s quiet on this road. Jim Thompson is slowing down and indicating left. I thought that he was stopping. I carried on and overtook him turned right on Dryburgh and parked up, keeping an eye on Jim in my mirror. He was getting something out of the boot it was a white hard hat, the type you see in coalmines and on building sites. It won’t be the former; there haven’t been any working pits in the area for many years. So what was being built round here? My mark was carrying a laptop bag. I set off after him back along Parkway and then right up Abbey Road, keeping my distance.
Looking round, the houses were neat and tidy older than the one the Thompson’s lived in which was reflected in the style. The gardens were bordered by walls not just spilling over on to the footpaths, as is the modern trend. Borders filled with daffodils and crocuses and forsythia, providing a glowing spring tribute to the steely blue early morning sky. It was just before 08:30 and the Mums were beginning to walk and drive the children to school although many kids were too old to be taken and small groups were gathering to set off for their trudge to high school. A visitor from outer space would think they were about to be executed from their expressions! Not a happy sight.
On the right of Abbey Road is Glebe Park, which is a mixture of rolling grassland and mature stands of trees. All except for a building site of significant proportions, which I guessed, was where we were heading. I thought that I would try leading from the front so started looking for a way in. Jim will go through the site entrance. There was an unofficial track that leads across the grass and I used that to get in and then head across the park and to my left to take me round the back of the site where there were some trees and undergrowth. There was a wire fence all round the site with boards advertising the company who was doing the work. McSwann & Son building a leisure centre to enhance the community. From what I could see they were putting up a two-storey building with outdoor all-weather facilities for different games. There are groups of workmen hanging around, chatting and gathering equipment. I can hear them but not understand what they are saying and it’s not because of the distance. They are not all speaking English I think it is Italian with a mixture of Scottish! Very strange! I had come across eastern Europeans on building sites and allied trades but not Italians! Well anyone can get a job in this country except for the native English! Bless the EEC!
I continued to stroll round the perimeter getting closer to the trees where I intended to conceal myself from prying eyes and take in more detail. I could hear voices in stereo, well almost. Italian from my left and something similar tinged with Geordie in the trees up ahead.
I caught a glimpse of James talking to some ‘yellow hats’ I assume site managers. There were two of them. One wearing a very expensive looking grey suit standing about 5’ 10’’ with longish jet black hair protruding from the back of his hard hat; the other guy taller and wearing a site yellow safety jacket. They are looking at plans. I assume as a planner he is checking up that the job is on schedule and being done properly. No clue as to where all the money he had made had come from here unless of course he was taking backhanders for planning favours. That had happened before in this region! It still struck me as odd that there was a leisure centre being built in the park when the facilities in Washington were relatively new and available. Also the fact that an ostensibly Scottish building firm with predominantly Italian workers was doing the work! Could that be a clue? Certainly worth looking into! This job was not as straight forward as the others I had done. No quick visit some gentle persuasion; a financial accident; maybe a more physical accident! In fact I think James Thompson is only the blue touch paper and was probably safe from violent retribution. I knew where to find him but McSwann & Son could warrant a closer look. I thought that a return after dark was called for.
I found myself a comfortable spot in the trees, as close to the perimeter fence as I dared, and decided to observe for a while. After an hour of getting cramp and not really seeing anything but what looked like normal work, I saw Jim packing up his plans and shaking hands obviously preparing to leave. It was decision time. I thought that I may have a look round his house while he set off to the office, I hoped. I needed somewhere to stay as well and I wondered if Seaburn was still open! Okay I set off to Doxford Park to have a look round chez Thompson then Seaburn for a room and a meal and finally back here under the cover of darkness. No point in wasting time. I set off straight across the park angling away from the new construction and directly towards my car. Believe it or not it was still only 10:15. I could be back at his house in half an hour then off to the coast for lunch and a nap. It was like working a night shift.
The roads were a lot quieter going back so I was there in a shorter time than planned. I parked in the small shopping precinct car park and donned an anonymous blue overall with a photo ID proclaiming that I was a representative of United Pipes and Wiring. I wasn’t expecting to see or talk to anyone - but just in case! I can pass as an electrician and carry a circuit tester and an electrical screwdriver as well as an official looking clipboard.
I walked briskly into the estate and straight to my target. There was a door at the front but as I am a ‘tradesman’ I walked down the drive to the door at the side. Fortunately, the view from the back was obscured by the garage and from the front only the neighbour directly opposite would be able to see, and of course anyone passing by. The door was UPVC with a translucent glass panel in the middle. I would guess the burglar alarm is in a cupboard or on the wall near this door. Builders and installers are singularly devoid of imagination. Still the door could be a problem. I knocked hard – no response. Right round the back and see what’s possible. A conservatory and they provide good views and as this one was built straight out from a window wall, no heavily bolted door. Also there was a corner not observable by anyone! Double-glazing is very good unless you take units out or have a glasscutter. I removed a side panel and eased my way in. I heard the alarm beeping as soon as I set foot inside. I moved quickly inside, made my way into the kitchen and took off the panel covering the switches. I immobilised the alarm by disconnecting the power and back up battery and now to have a twenty-minute look round. That would take me to 11:40 and I would be away and on the coast for lunch. I went upstairs and looked for a study. Yes the 4th bedroom. Nice house with quality fittings. I wondered what he told Janice! A desktop computer but I hadn’t much time but there was a draw in the desk containing some receipts, warranties and statements. I photographed relevant paperwork and went to look in the master bedroom. The kid’s bedrooms were a luxury I hadn’t time for. Planning and then sticking to your plan is essential. The bedroom yielded little of interest except for very high quality everything and a tendency to the Italian – Janice likes Italian shoes. Well she has several pairs. It was time to work my way out downstairs and through the lounge. There were a bunch of travel brochures by a well padded leather chair and you can guess where they were looking to go. Yes Italy Florence in fact. Very nice!I didn’t bother with the alarm or the window. It would give them an adrenaline rush. LOL. Still. No mess or damage. I retraced my tracks to the car and headed eastwards to the coast.
I hope you have enjoyed this and would appreciate the odd comment!