Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 8 March 2013

Parallel Lives chapter 68

Martin and Sam sat outside the home of Jack and Karen Howells, noting the dark rooms through the open curtains. It was now early evening, rapidly changing from half light to darkness.
'You might find this difficult,' Martin said, 'I'll wait until it is fully dark to give us some cover when we enter. Basically,' he continued, reaching over to the back seat and lifting a clip-board he had extricated from his briefcase earlier, 'we'll try to look like door-to-door canvassers. It’s best not to try and avoid being seen completely; it’s rarely possible and tends to raise suspicion.
'I can probably pick that lock within twenty seconds, unless they have one of the newer high security locks. In which case I may need thirty seconds, thirty five tops. Its unlikely though, those locks are expensive and have to be fitted by professionals.
'You ready?' he asked.
'Sure,' replied Sam, feeling the sweat form on his face as his heart started to pound.
'As soon as I open the door we slip in, no messing, and I want you to stand just clear of the door. Give me enough room to close it smartly without it catching on you, but don't start wandering off. Don't touch anything unless it's for a purpose, those surgical gloves tear real easy so don't waste them on non essential items. I want us out in under ten minutes and that includes the time it takes me to close the curtains. No main lights, use the pocket torch I gave you sparingly, and only when the curtains in that room are drawn.' Sam looked at his new mentor.
It's a fucking pain in the arse for you, taking me in, isn't it?' he asked. Martin nodded, but allowed a rare smile.
'I'm not used to working with anyone on this kind of mission, its not how we operate,' he explained, 'but as long as we keep to the ten minute schedule we should be okay. Generally that's the quickest the police will respond to a phone call from the public, and usually much slower.' Sam pulled a face.
'Unless they're on the way to a different call,' he said, remembering the events of a couple of hours earlier. Martin shook his head.
'World of difference, armed robbery and domestic burglary, police put them in completely different boxes. We'll be alright,' he said, opening his door, clutching the clipboard. As they reached the Howells' front gate he passed the clipboard across to Sam while looking around the street, noting the shadow in the bay opposite.
'The ten minutes,' he said quietly, 'begins now.'
The two men strode confidently up to the front door, Sam flashing the clipboard purposefully in front of him while Martin slipped the skeleton key so that the smooth handle nested into the cusp of his palm, running his gloved index finger carefully along the serrated edge, confirming it was facing uppermost. As they reached the door Sam leaned across Martin, pushing the door bell and shielding Martin's activity, while Martin slipped the skeleton into the front door lock.
'Thirteen seconds,' he thought as he probed the first few millimetres, waiting for the first obstacle. Sam was impressing him, doing exactly as requested, standing just a fraction behind and to the side. Anything closer and he would have hampered the lock picking, further back would have sent alarm bells to any passer by. The skeleton stopped, Martin twisted right a fraction, shifting his weight to just above, forcing it down while maintaining a parallel attitude to the lock.
'Nineteen seconds, maybe twenty,' he thought as the skeleton slid in further. Reversing direction it slid even more. 'Nearly there,' flashed through his mind as he felt the lock yield. Then it stopped, solid. 'Twenty-two seconds,' rang in his ears, silently.
'On my mark, knock, not too loud,' he whispered. Pulling hard on the door handle with his left hand, he pushed in, twisting the skeleton with his right while pushing firmly with his right foot on the base of the door, flexing it against the rigid frame. 'Now,' he said, making the final effort as Sam knocked.
'Twenty five,' he said, almost silently as the door slipped open. Both men entered, with Sam standing aside to allow Martin to close the door behind them.
They stood silently, listening while holding their breath, confirming the absence of a pet or the Howells themselves. 'Not beyond the realms,' as Sam had suggested earlier. The possibility that they had doubled back to the house and were now lying low upstairs had occurred to Martin, and despite the fact he desperately wanted to locate them, this was not the venue to do it.
'Thirty eight,' he calculated, refusing to cross check with his watch until the first sixty seconds had passed. Sam stood rock solid while Martin moved swiftly towards the door leading to the front room, dropping rapidly and moving smoothly in an incongruous manner for a man wearing a business-style suit. Crabbing across to the window, using the small amount of light being shed by the street light twenty feet away, Martin reached the curtains. Pulling them carefully, feeling them drag as he pulled, he closed them.
Standing up and cupping his right hand over the end of his flashlight with the torch tail protruding under his right wrist, he switched it on. Shining onto his left hand Martin read the time off his watch.
'One-O-thirteen,' he mumbled, 'I was slower than I reckoned. Must be losing my touch.' He swung the beam swiftly around the room, looking for anything that might indicate where the Howells had taken Staples to; a map, notepaper on a coffee table, anything.
'Nothing obvious here,' said Sam, following the beam as best as he could.
'Check out the bookcase, look for address books, note pads, check the phone book inside page for details on anyone who may be trusted,' Martin said, repeating the instructions he had supplied earlier, 'I'll check through here.' Martin moved towards the kitchen door as Sam started to rummage through the top shelf on the bookcase.
'Two-O-fifteen,' he guessed to himself as he eased the kitchen door open, taking in the general lay of the room. The window was dressed with vertical blinds waving slowly left and right as a result of the opening door, shedding bright moonlight over the sink unit and onto the kitchen table. Keeping below the sink unit height, looking behind to make sure that Sam wasn't likely to be in view through the now wide open door, Martin slipped across. Popping his head up swiftly he gauged the location of the adjusting rod, located away to his right. Dropping down he slid sidewards and reached up, twisting his shoulder to minimise the amount of his body protruding above the worktop, turning the rigid pole, closing the blinds.
With the front and back windows covered, Martin felt easier. Checking his watch he realised he was almost up to two minutes and so far he hadn't started his search. Nothing on the table, the worktops clear save for a kettle, a teapot and a suite of matching caddies; no loose items lying around. A light flashing behind the door jam caught his eye. Easing the door partly closed revealed the wall mounted telephone.
Searching for and extracting a digital recorder from his jacket pocket, Martin held it up next to the speaker on the phone. Starting recording he pushed the answerphone play button.
'Jack,' said the hesitant female voice, 'you know I hate these machines.' The woman paused for what sounded an eternity, prompting Jack to look at his watch. Two-forty-four.
'A man came to see me today, he said you are going to visit him. I thought he was genuine at the time but now I don't know. I guess if you aren't on your way it doesn't matter, but I don't think you will be allowed to visit me now if you do.' Martin was aware that Sam had entered the room, drawn by the echoing sound of the answering machine. The voice continued.
'He said his name was Michael. Michael something or other, I don't remember the rest of his name. He wrote down his number, he said to call it when you got to Bristol,' she continued.
Martin looked triumphant as Jack's mother repeated the motel phone number and the room number to ask for. Sam waited for the message to finish, punctuated by two rapid beeps. 'It looks like Michael was more involved with these people than we realised,' he said. Martin, forgetting the time slipping away in his reverie, considered Sam's words.
'You could be right, it all went too smoothly for my liking for an opportunistic alliance. But then again, if you'd asked me yesterday...' Martin tailed off, aware that he was starting to talk to Sam like they were friends, a situation he was unused to. He was also talking too freely, full stop. Sam picked up the trailing words.
'You'd have put money on it being me,' he said, waving Martin's embarrassed look away, 'don't knock yourself about, I'd have agreed with you if I'd been in your shoes. I've acted like an arse since this all started up, I'm surprised you let me back in,' he continued. Martin nodded.
'Needs must, I guess. I've been working under very limited resources up to now, and are we paying the price today?' Martin suddenly realised that time had been slipping away. Five-fifty-six he thought, then corrected himself, six-fifty-six.
'We need to be moving, we're running out of time.' Sam held up his trophy, not prepared to leave letting Martin believe he had all the glory.
'I think they have known more than even I suspected, and have probably known for some time,' he said pushing the wad of photocopied pages he found slipped amongst engineering textbooks on the lowest shelf. Martin looked at the pages, recognising the hand-written notes.
'We knew they had seen the notes, but I never thought they would have put any relevance to it. If they are in league with Michael, as now sounds likely, then the whole charade may have been a plot to extricate Staples to move him to one of our competitors; the Americans or the Russians. Whoever is paying the most.' Sam weighed this up quickly.
'You could be right, and if so we need to get them intercepted before they rejoin Michael, otherwise it could be nigh on impossible to track them with the resources they would have on tap,' he suggested. 'We might have lost them,' he added, feeling a pragmatic urge to rationalise. Martin shook his head as he cupped his hand around Sam's elbow, steering him towards the front door.
'From what my people say, that can't be an option. This is more than national pride at stake, this is life and death for up to two million civilians,' he replied, seeing the blood run out of Sam's face in the dim, restricted light of the kitchen as the potential disaster looming sunk in, with Sam realising that Martin was relaying information he truly believed in. Martin looked around the door edge. 'Nine-ten, time we were out of here.'


Copyright Ray Sullivan 2011

The characters, places and events described in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, places or events, past or present, is coincidence.  All rights reserved

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