30 - The Twisted Duck and a Missing Finger
Freddie Doogan is a guy mixed up with all sorts. He drifts happily between the legal and illegal depending on how much is involved and how much of that he can retain. Just about made it to forty so has seen his way round the block a few times and still manages to stay out of the constabulary’s clutches. Prides himself on being careful. “I’m still enjoying my freedom because I always check the already checked.” He will say. Grew up in the slums that back onto the railway line next to the old coal yard so is well versed in street law.
Freddie a six foot tall bundle of fun. Made to make the world go round in a riot of cheer. Swept back blond hair with long sideburns framing a strong and characterful face. Blue eyes that absorb a first glance in his direction. Not what could be described as handsome but irresistible to certain women nonetheless. Has a passion for boots. His favourites, the pale blue Cuban heel Chelsea's that usually cover his multi coloured socks. Many people know him but few can be named as real friends. He keeps those close but the one thing that everyone who comes into contact with him knows is that you will not have a dull time with Freddie Doogan.”
Six thirty and he is in the chip shop where he has reached the front of the queue collecting his usual Friday night supper. Lucy, the lovely chirpy chip shop Lucy has owned the chippie for quite a few years and is very popular. Thirty something he thinks and a little dark haired bombshell.
“Hi Freddie. What’s up?”
“Oh, all the usual. Bit of this, bit of that.”
“No fireworks at the moment then?”
“Naw. All quiet. Just waiting for the next job.”
“What’s it to be tonight then. Fish? Pie? Chicken?”
“Breaded plaice please sweetie and large chips. And some scraps if you’ve got any.”
“Wait. I almost forgot. There’s a note for you. A man came in last night and said “Do you know Freddie Doogan?” I nodded and he gave me this.”
“Who was he? You seen him before?”
“Don’t know him. Dead weird though. He was wearing a long dark blue gabardine mac, had on dark glasses and one of those old fashioned check cloth trilby type hats. Pulled right down. Couldn’t really see his face. Thin lips and stubble. Ordered chips then gave me the note. Said “See Freddie gets this. Thank you.” Didn’t take the chips and left a twenty on the counter. One thing I noticed. The tip of his index finger, right hand, was missing.”
“Well isn’t this all mysterious. Anyway, expect it will sort itself. Will look at the note later. Can you chuck a pickled on there as well Lucy. Thanks.”
“Let me know what it’s all about Freddie and please don’t get into trouble.”
“All will be pukka sweetie I’m sure and thanks for the fish and all. See you soon.”
Out the door, turns left and heads for his flat only one street away. It is busy. Friday night and people are off out, commuters returning home. The pavement alive with movement. Clipping heels on the slabs, stilettos slightly catching, some carrying wobbly people. Passes the mobbed bus stop. Has to slip by a laughing couple arm in arm and slightly nudges. “Sorry” the lad says. “No problem he replies.” The old lady that lives on the floor below struggling with a heavy red canvas bag and limping. He walks up behind “Hello darling let me take that.” Takes it in his right hand the plaited handles next to the paper chip shop carrier. Left arm he slips round Mary’s slightly folded right elbow and guides her to her front door. Sees her in. Puts the shopping in the meticulous kitchen that’s super clean. The shiny white fronted units reflecting light from the big window adding brightness to what would have been a dull space.
“Thanks Freddie.” Smiles as she says “do you know you have come to bed eyes? If I was fifty years younger.”
“You say that every time Mary. Have a good night. Need anything. You know.” Points upstairs.
His flat first floor, two bedrooms and a bit tired. Bought it ten years ago. Decorated then but not a stroke since. Looked like the single man’s place it was with things spread liberally about, the stained, stripped pine coffee table full of papers and empty mugs. Clothes randomly scattered. The furniture nothing special just bits he has procured from various sources, some dubious. New top of the range flat screen the only standout item and that he had bought, although with the proceeds from something just slightly less than dodgy. Cracked open a can. Red Stripe was his at home tipple. Heated the very grimy almost clapped out oven and crisped the chips and fish for a few minutes. Extractor on full blast to clear the grease induced smog.
After, he scrutinised the envelope containing the note. Nothing special just a plain brown manilla. Tore it open without too much care and retrieved the contents with a bit missing. It read “Freddie Doogan we have need of your services. Come to the Twisted Duck this Saturday at nine pm. You will be well paid.” He thinks “well paid eh, but for what. What would I have to do to be well paid? How much is well paid anyway? Only one way to find out. The Twisted Duck it is.”
Saturday night and he gets out of the cab at the front of the pub near to eight thirty. The Duck is only about three miles out of town on the coast road so the harbour is less than five miles south. A big place, old, at least three centuries and full of oak, wonky floors and bang your head beams. On Saturdays it really buzzes with live music, usually a blues band. The entertainment starts at nine so a bit of time to enjoy a couple of the foaming before the eardrums suffer.
He goes in the main entrance and is immediately greeted with “Freddie, thought you might crop up here at some point tonight. Dave’s band’s on.” Claude is standing just inside leaning against an oak post propping the end of a ceiling timber. Actually he is Tommy Rains but they all call him Claude ever since watching Casablanca after skiving school on a wet games day. Claude is Freddie’s best mate and the only person he will trust with his lucky Irish penny that dangles from his key ring, the hole drilled when they were ten. Claude owns a boat, a 360 twin engine streamline, and they do a bit of delivering along the coast. Channel hopping. Smuggling some call it. Anything that pays but not drugs. Would never touch drugs.
“Whatcha Claude. Yeah, I knew he was playing tonight but was not going to come until I got this note.”
“Well paid eh. You interested?”
“Might be but need to check it out first. You alright for a beer?”
“Yeah just waiting for the girls and Benny then will be into the place proper.”
“OK. Catch you later maybe.”
Freddie finds a spot at the bar, orders a pint and surveys the scene. It’s alive already and obvious once the music starts it will really take off. Can see Dave and his lot setting up. Dave catches his eye, smiles and waves him over.
“Freddie over here.” Dave shouts as Freddie approaches pointing at the end of the small stage. “This bloke came in about an hour ago just after we arrived asked if I knew you and gave me this to give to you.”
“Already got one of these. Any clues who he might be?”
“None. Strange get up though. Flat peaked cap, the old gents type, mac and those old fashioned black horn rimmed glasses. Not big. Couldn’t get a good look.”
“Thanks Dave. Might not hang about for long so if I don’t see you later catch up another time eh.”
Sees Claude and Benny with the girls near the band but does not go over. Takes the only quiet spot next to the loo and opens the envelope. “Come to the car park.” He is intrigued with all the runaround. The car park is out the front and down one side so he just stands where it turns to the left and waits, nicely in the middle and close to the main flood light. After a few minutes the driver’s door of a black Mercedes saloon parked at the dark end opens and a man gets out. He is wearing a single breasted suit, white shirt showing up in the semi-darkness and tie. Neatly and expensively dressed. Tall, wide shoulders and clearly handy. Probably a minder. As he walks forward Freddie can see he has a well used face but with an alert and could be dangerous look.
“I’m Burt. Nice to meet you Freddie. Thank you for coming.”
“So what’s with all the mystery then? Burt.”
“Needed to make sure you are not followed. We cannot allow indiscretions.”
“Ok. Now is when you tell me or I’m gone.”
“We know you have access to a boat and are partial to a bit of shall we say night work. We need a small package delivered across the channel. Quietly, no fuss. We will pay fifty thousand on completion.”
“What’s the package? I don’t do drugs. And destination?”
“Diamonds to Holland.”
“And these diamonds are?”
“Hot and need to leave quickly.”
“Your boss is?”
“Two conditions. He remains anonymous and I will be coming along for the ride just to make sure things go OK.”
“Depends on the weather. The boat is big enough but in calm seas. Will need a three day window and have to check with my partner.”
“Reasonable. Do that and get in touch. Phone this number but within two days.”
He goes back into the pub. The band has started and the place is packed. Bouncing around. There is a large area in front of the stage full of dancers zipping about, people standing but no one still, toes tapping, legs shuffling, heads nodding. It’s alive alright. Claude is still close to the band, arms round the waist of the girl standing in front of him both swaying and bobbing. Freddie works his way to him and waits until the music dies between numbers.
“Hey Claude need to speak with you tomorrow. Business. Can you call round in the morning?”
“Sure Freddie. Any problems?”
“No just something really interesting. We need to talk it through.”
“Ok. Be over about eleven.”
Freddie stays for about an hour then heads home catching a ride with Benny and his girlfriend. Sunday morning and Claude falls through the door at nearly midday looking very ruffled and messed up. He is one of those people who stay at least two drinks too long, have the next day sufferings that are forgotten by midweek. Dark longish hair and very dark eyes, so dark brown they could be black. Adds a sinister touch, making him look wicked. Tall, well built and the salty bronzed look of a sea goer.
“You look like crap. Been a kip?”
“Nope. Stayed at the Duck until past too late and then back to Jill’s for night caps and other things. Coffee, several, very black, then over here. Feel like crap so there’s the look. What’s occurring then?”
“That note, the well paid thing. Fifty grand to take diamonds to Holland. Interested?”
“Sure I am. What’s the risk though? Don’t know who we are dealing with.”
“No, but one of them will be with us. Minding the cargo I expect. Small packet that can be easily dumped if there’s trouble. I see low risk. We are just out for a pleasure cruise. Bit of fishing. There’s nothing that can be pinned on us. The only problem might be if they don’t pay up. But then fifty grand is tempting. What do you think?”
“If you think it’s ok then let’s do it. If they don’t pay there’s a grand of fuel lost is all.”
“How’s the weather looking for the next two weeks then?”
“Four days of high pressure over the uk and the channel in three days. Should be good then. About ten hours each way plus whatever time there, so should be plenty to spare.”
“Good I’ll set it up and will let you know. Want a brightening up beer then?”
His call is answered with “Burt here.”
“This is Freddie. Can do in three days. About a two day round trip.”
“Well Freddie look forward to a pleasant holiday. Text me the boat’s location and details and I will meet you there. What time.”
“With the falling tide so be there by four in the morning and bring your seasick pills.”
“Don’t need them.”
“We’ll see. Until four am Thursday morning.”
It was a cloudless sky as dawn starts to break boding well for a long sunny day. They are heading north east with little wind and a flat sea.
“Keep an eye on the radar Freddie we are close to the shipping lanes. Burt, I need to know the exact destination now, to put into the GPS and plot our course.”
Burt is hanging over the stern but stands up long enough to pass a piece of paper. He is dressed in his normal suit and tie with leather soled shoes and wearing a life jacket.
The crossing is event less and they arrive close to their destination before sunset so moor in a sheltered spot and wait for nightfall.
“So Burt you recovered now? What’s the routine with this delivery?”
“Our contact will be waiting just inland close to that coastal village. You and me Freddie will go ashore. I have the diamonds and will be delivering them and collecting payment. We look for three brief flashes at exactly two in the morning. That’s the signal. It’s as simple as that. Get cash, back here, home for lunch.”
Freddie glances at Claude unconvinced. He is resolved to be ready. Ready to scarper. He knows Claude will be prepared to leave if things go wrong.
They row the tender ashore riding the surf to the sandy beach. Both jump out, pull the inflatable above the waterline and wrap the painter round a rock securing it firmly. There is no path so they cross the sand dunes until they find the track leading inland. They can see the village in the distance a few hundred metres away. It is one forty five so they sit and wait, staring at the distant houses.
Close to two o’clock there is a flash quickly followed by two more, punctuating the darkness with momentary brightness. They are faint but distinguishable. “That’s it.” Burt animated, already on the move. Freddie is unsure but follows close behind. The track is heading towards the village. They turn a slight corner. The startled policeman standing in front of a stone wall drops his Zippo lighter. His partner standing on his left hand side pulls his gun, raises it and points in their direction. They both turn and start sprinting back the way they have come. There is a shout then two shots fired in quick succession. A further shout and three more shots then silence.
The slight bend in the lane had saved them both, the shots wide of target. They made the beach in a few moments well ahead of the police, launched the tender and rowed towards the boat. Claude had been alert. He heard the shots, raised the anchor and drifted towards the shore with the engines running. Got as close as he could to the beach so Freddie did not have far to row. The tender was stowed and with the two of them on board Claude headed down the coast to evade any detection out at sea. The channel crossing was smooth and they were back in the late afternoon.
Burt still had the diamonds but refused to pay their fee saying the exchange was aborted. Freddie maintained that was not their fault and their job had been completed. There was a heated argument that they were always going to lose. It ended with Burt just walking away. They were both furious. Had done all the hard work and lost out big time.
About a year later Claude walks through the door of the chip shop and up to the counter.
“Hi Lucy how’re you getting on.”
“Oh not too bad. It’s a struggle but I’m managing all right.”
“That’s good. Is he there?”
“Yes he’s out back. I’ll call him. Freddie it’s Claude. Wants to see you.”
“Hi Claude what’s up?”
“Nothing really just come to check you are both ok. When’s the baby due?”
“Three months to go. Lucy’s getting a bit fed up but hanging in there. How's business?”
“Great. The money paid for the boat to be refurbished and the charter business is really taking off now the better weather has arrived. How’s the restaurant doing. Was all that investment worthwhile?”
“Absolutely. We are fully booked every night of the weekend and during the week it gets busy as well.”
“Fantastic. You coming to the Duck on Saturday. Dave’s playing again.”
“Sure we’ll come, will pick you up.”
Two days after they got back from Holland Freddie was in the Grand Hotel, a swanky four star establishment where he noticed a slim man with thin lips and stubble sitting in the foyer reading the newspaper. His right hand was visible and the end of his index finger was missing. Freddie would not normally contact the police but these people had refused to pay him. The headline a few days later read “Diamond thieves captured in local hotel and the proceeds of the recent jewellery robbery recovered.” The insurance company paid a one hundred thousand pound reward for the recovery of the diamonds.
And Freddie and Lucy. Well it was obvious to everyone and no surprise when they got married. Freddie has given up his dodgy lifestyle, investing money to transform the chip shop and adding a specialist fish restaurant. Claude similarly is now “retired” and firmly established in the boat charter business.