53 - When the Tide Comes In - A twenty three chapter novel
The man with the short blond hair with grey jacket hanging over faded blue jeans was really regretting bumping into the man with blonde hair with black jacket hanging over tan chinos. Andy Cronin was slumped in a corner over a black waste basket. His grey jacket was speckled. His face contorted in pain. His nose and mouth and face had taken the four quick blows that had flown out of nowhere. The crowds avoided him and ignored the man in the black jacket and the man in the blue jacket who were paying his pockets a particular amount of attention.
Walking across the concourse, through the usual throng, Andy had watched the two men. The man in the black jacket and tan chinos standing to the far side of the kiosk quite close to the clock. A CCTV blind spot. The other man with the thick grey hair wearing a pinstripe suit and classy looking black Oxfords briskly walking away pushing through the crowds swiftly heading for the main entrance. He was clearly annoyed and harsh words had probably been said. In his rush he bumped into an old lady who stumbled. He did not stop to help her. The two men had been talking and with some passion. Then the switch. An exchange of fat brown envelopes. Quickly done and as quickly secreted away. Andy’s mark was the man in the black jacket. He had pushed his into his inside jacket pocket. Andy had seen that. The pinstripe had a much bigger package but he held that firmly with his right hand beneath the left side of his suit jacket. As he walked away he had caught Andy's eye.
It was busy. There was always a crowd under the clock. It was where people met. Congregating and jostling a bit here and there as people moved about. A lot of bumping into each other. It was Andy’s favourite spot. His mark turned his head and looked towards the exit to the taxi rank acknowledging someone with a nod. Distracted, that’s just perfect he thought. Wait until that tall guy in the black bomber jacket with the thick beard is passing close to the mark. Then squeeze in between. A brisk walk by, the bump and the hand to the inside pocket. The wallet pocket. The, “sorry mate,” and a brush down of his jacket. Lift and away. Andy smiled holding the thickly stuffed brown envelope. Lightning quick. “I’m just so good,” he thought. Wrongly as it happens.
Andy’s fast pace took him through the crowds dodging and swerving. He heard a shout then another and glanced behind in a sudden panic. The black jacket and tan chinos racing his way. Waving and pointing and shouting causing Andy to roughly push through the mass of people. Picking up speed.
He saw the lady with the long blond hair and smart blue top and cream skirt holding a paper cup standing, head tilted up, watching the tall high information boards. A deep blue carry-on wheelie bag next to her with the pull handle up. Her taxi had been early but he did not know that. A bag on the ground trapped between her blue low heeled leather court shoes. One of those Tote bags. Leather, cream and looking expensive and open. Brushing by, from behind, he neatly dropped in the brown envelope. Unloading the evidence. Easily done with the bag where it was. Then out of the exit towards the taxi rank where the crowd was thinner.
The first blow connected square on his nose, crushing cartilage with an explosion of blood spraying his jacket. The second and third each side of his mouth. A classic one two and hard. He felt teeth crunch. The fourth put him over the waste bin momentarily out cold.
The second man with blue jacket and black chinos and long lens camera heard the shout, saw his partner waving and reacted. Standing at the entrance to the exit to the taxi rank he saw the pickpocket. He was easy to spot. There was no finesse in the way he moved, just a panicked look on his face. Pushing his way through the crowd like he was parting corn in a corn field. People stumbling, turning and swearing at him. He did not care. He was focused on one thing. Escape. The second man saw him swerve a bit and brush past the lady with the long blonde hair and blue top. The lady with the two bags watching the boards. Then he slipped down the exit and waited. Tensed and ready. He put the camera strap over his head and swung the camera round to his back. The strap over his right shoulder and under his left arm. The grey jacket and jeans came around the corner. The man’s face not looking anywhere in particular. Concentrating on getting out of the station quickly. Six steps towards him. Then no hesitation. Four swift professional blows and the man was down. The crowds looking but keeping back. The black jacket and tan chinos caught up. They frisked him. No identification, just a pocket full of notes and change. Seeing the policeman heading their way talking rapidly into his radio pinned to the top of his jacket they left the cash and moved casually back onto the concourse to get lost in the throng. Empty-handed.
Jane Somerton was not ready when the toot from the street made her look up. She was in her bedroom sitting on a soft padded stool at her dressing table in front of the large bay window. She was leaning forward, finishing her face and brushing through her long blond hair. Her makeup mirror was covered in finger smudges. One of those large rectangular swivelling ones with lights each side and magnified on the back. She was looking at the back which she had swung over to the front with cream covered fingers. She looked out of the window and the private taxi sitting there. A silver Mercedes. Clean but old. Facing the wrong way with the driver against the kerb. His window down. He was leaning out and peering up. A smiling tanned face and mop of black hair. Another toot. She leant over the dressing table, pulled the curtain aside and waved through the closed window. Held up a fully spread hand against the glass and he saw. He knew where to look, knew he was early and knew she would not be ready. That was the advantage of a regular fare. Why did he not come ten minutes later? Because he was there and if by some miracle she was ready he would gain ten minutes. If not maybe five because she would rush. He knew she would. She was that sort.
The building looked impressive from the street. In a terraced block of similarly imposing houses. Big sash windows. White painted render. Slate roof. Steps leading to an overly large front door painted glossy black with brass furniture. Georgian or maybe Regency and once a grand person’s residence. A Lord somebody perhaps. Certainly someone wealthy. Maybe their town house. Now it was split into four. Her first floor apartment spanning the depth and width. Luxurious and tastefully decorated. The sort of place spotlighted in one of those fancy magazines with articles about swanky houses. Holland Park was a great place for swanky houses.
On the bed was a dark blue wheelie bag zipped up tight and bulging. She had put on a cream jacket that matched the cream skirt but decided she would be too hot on what was going to be a long journey on a warm spring day. Taking it off she unzipped the bag and pushed down the contents to make room. Then carefully folded the jacket. Inside she had made room to put it on top of the mustard coloured folder that bulged on top of the tightly packed contents. Enough things for maybe ten days. She was planning a week and although she had over-packed the forecast was warm so she had packed light. She zipped it back up. Slinging the last couple of things and her phone into a large cream leather Tote bag she picked up a pale blue silk scarf.
With the pull handle down she picked the wheelie bag up by the top carry handle, swung the Tote bag over her shoulder then went out of the door. She turned the security key then down the stairs through the main front door and onto the street. “Hi Pete,” she said smiling. “Thanks for being on time.”
“Morning Jane,” he replied with his naturally chirpy character evident, “no problem. And thanks to you for getting down quickly.” He had saved five minutes and that was a lot on a busy taxi day. He was already out and ready. Lifting the boot lid he slid in the wheelie bag. She took the Tote bag into the car with her placing it on the seat next to her with her scarf.
His once favourite client was looking as good as always, he thought. Just recently a new face had popped into view. She was not as tall, had dark hair, was not as leggy, about the same age and just as good looking. The only real difference between them; she paid him more money. And he liked the feel of money more than most things for sure. Rubbing his hair and pulling down his sunglasses he slid behind the wheel. She was looking so good it made his day. He loved her long blond hair a bit wavy but not too manicured. A real good looker. A striking face, the sort you would naturally look at twice. Tall and leggy. His type alright. Sighing at what was so far out of reach. He looked in the rear view mirror and saw her smiling, looking out the window and thought what a great look this lady has. It made him smile. And he sighed again at what he wished might happen in his dreams. Wondering how old she was he thought she was the sort of lady with that sort of look that would just get better as time went by. Late thirties is what he was thinking although he suspected that the reality might be mid forties. But either way it did not matter. She did have a great look.
“Station then?” said Pete.
“Yes please,” she replied.
“You said on the phone you were catching the Exeter train. So where’s it to this time?”
“Sidmouth for a few days. The Exeter train to Honiton then a taxi.” she said, moving her hair a bit with her hand. A casual instinctive movement. It had crept over her eyes.
“I’ve been to Sidmouth. It’s a nice place. You there for anything special?”
“Not really. There’s a few things I want to check out. Family type of things.”
It was a thirty minute drive to the station. Thirty minutes that he could chat to her about nothing in particular and fantasise about how great life would be with a woman like her.
He dropped her around the back of Waterloo station. By the taxi rank. Getting the case from the boot and slamming the lid. She thanked him and raised the pull handle and walked in the back entrance jostling through the crowds, mostly coming out to head down the steps to the tube. With her long stride and upright stance exaggerating her height she made an imposing figure as she hauled the case with the Tote bag over her shoulder. Walking casually but feeling she was missing something. Then realised she had left her scarf in the cab. Too late to go back she just carried on walking. She passed a well built man in a blue jacket and black chinos. She double took him being struck by the hard but good looking face that might have seen some exposure at some time. The tight cut dark hair. Looking like a military man from one of those military movies. He was standing where the entrance joined the main concourse. Kind of leaning against the wall. In full view but sort of inconspicuous. The long lens camera made him kind of stick out though. He was snapping shots towards the clock. No one was noticing. The station always rushed so no one noticed anything. She was not rushed; she was early but paid the man no more attention. Anyway he was likely just a tourist with a posh camera. As she passed he looked round. His gaze kind of stalled settling on her. He saw her looking at him and smiled. One of those hi there sort of smiles. A small child, kind of snivelling, rubbing its face and looking unhappy tripped over her foot as she jostled for space and she kept her up with a grab to her shoulder. Jane smiled at her. One of those you alright sort of smiles. Her mother dragging her along the other way rushing to the tube. The child half running to keep up.
She was early so picked up a coffee from the Italian coffee shop. Freshly ground beans with that aroma freshly ground beans have. The grinder whirring and the coffee machine hissing. The dark haired girl smiled and said, “mind that’s very hot.” The paper cup was really hot so she stood a couple of minutes leaving it on the counter until it cooled enough to pick up. The man behind having to order by shouting over her shoulder. So she said, “oh, sorry.” Then picked up the cup and walked to stand in front of the information board with the bright lights in columns showing all the platforms and all the trains. Holding the cup in one hand and pulling the wheelie bag with the other with her Tote bag hanging over the handle. Her hand had taken all the heat it could so she swapped hands as she looked up at the giant board. The wheelie bag standing upright beside her. The Tote bag slipped so she picked it up and held it between her shoes. It was safe there.
The station concourse was rammed. It was 9.50am on Saturday and sunny and the crowds were heading out of town. The paper cup full of the burning hot coffee was almost too hot to hold. Black coffee and strong. That was how she likes her coffee. Black and strong and hot. To keep hold of it she kept changing hands. A kind of slow juggling display. The information boards flickered and updated. She was watching for trains to Exeter stopping at Honiton. That was her destination, Honiton. Then a taxi to Sidmouth.
Standing in front of her also looking up was a dark haired lady holding a gold coloured wheelie weekend bag. Jane was just thinking what a neat bag that was when she heard a shout then another and briefly looked round pulling back her hair with her free hand. Saw the man in the black jacket running and waving and shouting. Coming her way. Parting the crowd with a shout. Only momentarily distracted she looked back up at the board not wanting to miss her train. She did not register the other man moving fast coming close and brush by behind her heading for the taxi rank exit. A few minutes later the information boards flickered again and displayed a list with the Exeter train - 10.20 platform 4. The coffee had cooled enough and she could hold it in one hand. She picked up her Tote bag, hung it over the handle of the wheelie bag and moved off heading left along the concourse meandering her way through the crowds. Carefully avoiding slopping the coffee.
Letting go the handle but still holding the coffee she slipped her ticket into the entry slot at the gate. The flappers opened. Then snapped shut. Down the platform boarding the third carriage. Taking a rear facing window seat near the middle of the carriage. For the moment a seat on her own. Lifting her wheelie case into the rack she then sat down. With the Tote bag on the seat next to her she sat back sipping the coffee that was now getting cold. Looking out of the window back along the platform she watched the crowds collect as the barriers closed. They stood out. The two men standing there arguing with the guard and gesticulating towards the train. She thought how odd. That was the second time she had seen the man with the long lens camera.
This is the first chapter of a 23 chapter novel. The whole novel will be posted on a separate blog in chapter order for easy reading. The link will be here shortly.