Authors: Nick Oldham
âNearly?' she quipped, âyou've been snoring for ten minutes.'
âThis is just shit,' Jo griped. âNeedle in a bloody haystack. Why?' she demanded. âWhy, why, why?'
O'Brien yawned. âCould be worse. Could have to work for a living.'
âI'm going for a walk.'
She hoisted herself out of the car, feeling her bones starting to ache. Her senses told her that tonight was going to be one horrendous waste of time. The mixed and exciting aroma of Indian cooking reached her fine nostrils as she sniffed in the Rusholme night air. Suddenly she was ravenously hungry.
Beads of sweat from eating a hot curry as opposed to sweat from beating a man senseless dribbled down Andy Turner's forehead. He wiped himself with a napkin and took a draught from the new pint of lager which had just arrived at the table.
It was 9.30 p.m., about time someone showed up.
As if on cue, the door of the restaurant opened and a figure entered the establishment. It was not the person he was expecting, unless the person happened to be a woman, which he did not think would be the case. Turner watched her as he sipped his beer. A waiter showed her to a table near the window and left her with a menu.
Turner liked the look of her. Very pretty, short dark hair, a little snub nose and nice wide lips which he immediately imagined working on him.
The waiter returned to her with a bottle of water and took her order. She sat drinking the fizzy water, glancing shyly around the restaurant, checking out the other customers. She seemed to look at him for a fraction longer than anyone else and Turner allowed himself a grin, but she seemed not to notice. Her eyes dropped and she stared at the table cloth, then looked out of the window at the busy street beyond.
The smells had been just too much for Jo Coniston. She had not eaten since coming on duty and she was famished. She turned into a decent-ish-looking restaurant â there were several on the strip which looked highly suspicious and should be avoided at all costs â with the intention of having a quick drink and a starter. Maybe a mixed kebab, she had thought, just to fill the gap. Maybe spend ten to fifteen minutes inside, then head back to the car.
The waiter was all over her, his eyes spending too much time hovering in the vicinity of her boobs. But at least he was attentive. He brought her a drink, took her order and promised speedy service.
Only as she took a sip of her mineral water and let her own eyes do a bit of roving, did her heart nearly stop.
Because there he was, large as life and twice as menacing. Andy Bloody Turner. Sitting not twenty feet away from her at the back of the restaurant.
Stay calm, she instructed herself as her blood coursed through her veins like fire. She hoped her face did not register surprise, but thought it might have done. She realized her gaze had stayed on him for more than a split second, a contact often long enough to alert a switched-on villain. But had he seen that? She prayed not.
How had they missed him coming into the restaurant? Her team was crawling round the area like lice and somehow their target had walked straight through them, sat down, ordered a fucking meal.
Christ. What to do? Having herself ordered food, she had trapped herself. If she got up and left before it came, would it draw attention to her?
She turned to the window, pretending to look out. She pressed the flesh-coloured transmit button affixed to the palm of her hand, tilted her head slightly to move her mouth a little closer to the button-shaped mike on her collar. Trying desperately not to move her lips â why were there no miming sessions in the surveillance training programme? â she said, âAnyone hearing me? I have an eyeball . . . repeat, I have an eyeball . . . Star of India.'
Outside a big four-wheel-drive monstrosity pulled up and double parked. Jo noticed that the steering wheel was on the left-hand side and the man who was driving was able to get out straight on to the pavement.
No one replied to her transmission. She spoke again, urgently. âDale? Ronnie? Ken? Anyone hearing me? I have an eyeball . . . repeat, eyeball.'
The driver of the 4x4 entered the restaurant. He looked at her as he walked past. A very bad feeling, something akin to the pain she had endured when her appendix had to come out, creased the pit of her stomach. Somehow she knew this guy had come to meet Turner. And pick him up â otherwise why leave the car outside in such a ridiculous position? She fumbled in her pocket, pulled out her mobile phone and started to dial frantically.
Turner had watched him come into the restaurant. He did not recognize him, but knew he had come from the Spaniard. Turner nodded and appraised him. He looked hard and mean and ready to move. It did not faze Turner, who said, âYeah, that's me.'
âMy orders are to pick you up and convey you to Mr Lopez.'
Turner quaffed the last of his pint and wiped his lips. He stood up and was glad to see that he was bigger and wider than the man who had come for him. But yet the man's eyes screamed danger and even Turner felt something almost tangible emanating from him.
âLet me check. Mr Lopez does not like to be surprised.'
âI said I wasn't.'
âI don't give a damn what you said. I got a job to do and if you do not comply, then I walk out of here. If you don't let me check, you don't have a meet.'
Turner rolled his jaw ruminatively, peering down his nose at a man who was, after all, only a driver, weighing up whether the issue was worth pushing. He decided to back down.
âOK.' For the sake of business he relented and lifted his arms.
The driver skimmed him quickly, lightly, effectively quartering his body within a few seconds. Turner knew he had been searched well. This guy knew his trade.
âWhat about you?' Turner sneered.
The man considered Turner and his face broke into a crooked grin. He spun on his heels and Turner followed him out to the car. As he passed the attractive woman seated alone at the table near the door, who was talking on her mobile, Turner blew her a kiss. He heard her say, âHiya, sweetie.'
There was some kind of a meet on. That much was obvious from what Jo had seen happen, having watched the interaction between the two men by means of the reflection in the window. The quick chat. The search. The exit. Turner was on his way to see someone very important.
Her phone connected at the very moment Turner came alongside her at the table and blew her a kiss. As O'Brien answered, she found herself saying, âHiya sweetie,' and almost choking on her words.
âHello to you, too,' O'Brien responded in a deep, suggestive voice. âI didn't know we had something going.'
âWe don't. My radio's down,' Jo babbled quickly. âI've eyeballed the target and he's just getting into a big four-wheel-drive parked outside the Star of India.'
âWhere are you?'
âI'm out of the car, about five minutes from it, down in the Frog.' O'Brien was referring to a pub about a quarter of a mile away, on the way to the city centre. âI got bored too.'
âShit . . . well . . .' Jo braved herself to openly watch the big vehicle muscle its way into the evening traffic towards the city, causing other traffic to brake hard with a cacophony of angry horns. The driver stuck up a middle finger and accelerated away. âHe's headed your way, Dale . . . get out of the pub and watch out for a big Yank-style four-by-four. I'm gonna leg it to the car.'
Jo rose from the table, surprising the waiter who was on his way to her with the much anticipated mixed kebab. His Indian accent failed him as he immediately â and rightly â believed she was going to do a runner, although most people did that after they had eaten.
âOi! Where the fuck do you think you're going?' he shouted at Jo's retreating back.
âSorry pal, got to rush,' she yelled as she exited, did a cartoon-like skid and hared towards the car. She dodged around numerous people now out for a night on the pavements of Rusholme, then veered into the street where the car was parked unattended â and locked. The realization that she could not drive the car away only hit her as she saw the vehicle. She slowed to a trot, then a walk, and when she got to the car, she kicked it in frustration. Dale had the keys.
Her mobile chirped: O'Brien.
âJo â the four-wheel-drive,' he panted, âjust gone past me then U-turned again, heading back to Rusholme. Obviously surveillance-conscious.'
âYeah, good â but I can't get in the car. You've got the bloody keys.'
âI'm running now,' O'Brien said, his phone going dead.
Jo went back to the main road and stood on the corner of the street to watch, hopefully, for Turner's reappearance. She decided to use the time constructively and keyed the number of one of her other team members into the phone. She was going to alert them one by one.
âHey â you!'
Jo twirled. It was the Indian waiter.
âHey, you â you order food, we cook it â you fuckin' pay for it,' he said.
âShit!' Her eyes rolled heavenwards. âLook â just fuck off, will you? I haven't time to explain, okay?'
âI'll call the cops.'
The 4x4 containing Turner and his unknown chauffeur crawled past in the traffic, which was heavy now.
âI am the cops,' Jo blasted him, keeping one eye on the traffic and the other on the irate little waiter. She extracted her warrant card with a flourish and shoved it into his face. The 4x4 was disappearing in traffic now.
âDon't give you a right to do what you did,' chuntered the waiter.
âLook, just fuck off, will you? I'll make it right, but just now I'm a bit busy.'
âJo!' screamed Dale O'Brien, appearing on the scene at a run. He went straight for the car, clicking the remote as he got to it, diving into the driving seat.
âWe'll settle up with you, honest,' Jo assured the waiter. She backed away from him, hands palm forwards, placating him. âHonest.' She jumped into the car next to O'Brien. âWhat a bleedin' cock-up,' she said. âGo left â he went thataway.'
She sat back and took a deep breath.
Next to her, O'Brien was breathing frantically and his hands and feet were dithering on the controls. He edged the car into the evening traffic, poking its nose out hopefully. No one was for letting him out.
âCome on for God's sake,' he muttered under his breath. âC'mon you impolite bastards, let me out.' He thumped the steering wheel.
âWe're gonna lose him,' Jo stated, feet tapping. âWhat a cock-up.'
âI can't believe this traffic.'
There was a gap a millisecond wide and O'Brien went for it, his tyres skidding and the car lurching across the line of cars, only to find there was no gap at all to get into on the opposite carriageway, thereby finding himself stuck at an angle halfway across the road, completely halting traffic in one direction. No one was feeling patient and horns began to sound, but then someone did slow for him and wave him in. He gave a relieved wave and shot into the line and started to crawl along â only to pass Turner in the 4x4 going back in the opposite direction towards the city. He had spun round again.
âThis is a bloody farce,' Jo simpered, keeping her face firmly forward-facing.
âWhere's everybody else?' O'Brien demanded.
Jo spoke into her radio again. It was dead. So was O'Brien's.
She reverted to her mobile phone again, not having completed the call she had started earlier to one of her other colleagues. She saw that her battery charge indicator was low.
âRight, right, right, if he can do it, so can I.' stated O'Brien. This time he was ruthless. He swung the car into a gap that wasn't there and completed a spectacular U-turn so he was now heading in the same direction as their target. âIf I see the bastard going back the other way again, I'll bloody cry.'
âCan't get through,' Jo said, pulling the mobile away from her ear. She pressed redial.
O'Brien squeezed in a double overtake, not recommended in such busy circumstances, but he pulled it off without damage or injury and stood on the accelerator, tail-gating the car ahead.
âNothing!' Jo spat contemptuously at her phone. âAaargh!' she screamed angrily, then screamed again, this time in fear, as O'Brien executed another daring overtake followed by a wicked swerve into a space which he alone created.
âHow the hell did you get in here?'
âI'm good at getting big things into tight places,' he boasted.
Jo chuckled, the tension released for a moment. Then she shook her phone, still unable to get through. She tried the number of another team member. This time she connected. âKen . . . it's Jo . . . we've eyeballed the target . . . he's headed towards . . .' Click. Whirr. The line went dead as the signal broke. âShit. I do not effin' believe this. Technology, I've shit it.' She watched the signal-strength bars reappear on the mobile-phone display. She redialled again.
As they hit a set of traffic lights on red, they found themselves stuck in a long queue of traffic.
âCan you see him, or have we lost him?' Jo asked.
O'Brien opened his window and stuck his head out, craning to see. âDunno.'
With the mobile to her ear, Jo opened the door and, holding the door pillar, swung herself up to get an elevated view across the roofs of the cars in front of her.
O'Brien heard her slam a hand down on the roof. He ducked instinctively. She dropped back into her seat. âAbout eight cars ahead,' she said, her phone still stuck to her ear. She pulled it away and glared crossly at it. âBlooming thing,' she said and threw it down in the footwell. âGimme yours,' she demanded of O'Brien and held out her hand.
The traffic began moving slowly.
âYou're very cautious,' Andy Turner commented, following the numerous U-turns.