Original (c) Reliant. Present copyright holder unknown.
The deal was simple enough. Meet Fingers at Hampstead Heath, switch cars with him, pick up the loot from Pete The Greek, drive the fifty miles to Belltrees aerodrome, hand over the car and its contents to The Gaffer, collect the money. Oh, and don’t get nicked. Easy.
It was all hunky-dory at the start. Fingers did what Fingers does best – the car was neatly liberated from some nice Mews flat whilst the owner slept off a slightly more potent bedtime draught than was his norm. But let’s be blunt, shall we: no-one really gives a damn about what went right, so you’ll be glad to know that I encountered a wrinkle or two on the way.
Truth is, I’d never driven a Scimitar before. Most of the people I associate with want something a little more exotic than a plastic-bodied shooting brake powered by a Ford motor. But The Gaffer said that this particular client was adamant that he wanted a Scimitar. Apparently, he planned to give it to his wife. Well, one of them anyway. Naturally, I neither presumed nor asked what he intended do with the bootful of stolen artwork…
But first I had to deliver the goods. And I nearly didn’t, after a combination of rashness, temptation, stupidity and the injudicious application of a man-sized portion of throttle caused the Scimitar to perform a moderately graceful 270 degree spin on a sharp right-hander. The result: no damage to car, occupant or cargo but an unwanted close encounter with the motorcycle cop who’d been watching from his carefully chosen lair.
I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to outrun him, but thought better of it. No point in compounding one bad decision with another. Besides, although he was a big lad on a small bike, I got the impression that he wouldn’t be easy to shake off. Time, then, for the sackcloth and ashes.
His opening gambit, delivered in a halitosic spray, was pretty much what I expected. “Who the bleedin’ ‘ell do you think you are, mate: Princess Anne?”
Resisting the temptation to immediately wipe my face, I held out my hands, palms up, in what I hoped was a universal gesture of remorse. “I’m terribly sorry, officer.” Always call them ‘officer’; they like that.
His voice was a mixture of derision and weariness. “And what’s your excuse for driving like that? Trousers on fire, were they?”
I couldn’t tell him the truth, and one look at his ruddy face told me that he’d heard every cock and bull story known to humanity. And then some. Best play it simple. “I’m sure you’ve heard all the excuses, officer, so I won’t insult your intelligence. I frightened myself half to death there”, which was true enough, if not for the reasons that he might have inferred, “and I can assure you that I’ve learned my lesson.”
Supercop, for want of a better name, pulled out his notebook, scratched the uppermost of his chins for several moments then returned the book from whence it came. “I’ll let you off with a warning this time, but don’t let me catch you driving like that again.” He waved his hands around to emphasise the point, one that was gladly taken.
“Thank you ever so much, officer. I won’t let you down.”
And I didn’t. Well, not that morning at any rate. The remaining few miles to Belltrees were driven with the care and precision of a circumcisionist’s hand. Of course, this used up all of my safety margin, but better that than end up having to try to explain myself to a dozy custody sergeant in a rural nick.
The Gaffer was on hand to supervise loading of the plane. His greeting cut through the still morning air like a foghorn. “Problems?”
I shuffled my feet, looked sheepish. “Nah. Traffic cops were out in force so I had to take it easy, that’s all.” I handed him the keys. “Gear’s in the boot. All present and correct.”
He started to walk round to the rear of the car, but stopped when he was level with the passenger door. “No need for that,” he drawled, “I trust yuh.” As if from nowhere a large, brown envelope appeared in his right hand. He smiled, showing off the results of some very expensive dental work, and tossed the envelope to me. “Check it if you like; it’s all there.”
I returned his smile. “No need, Gaffer. I trust you too. Till the next time, then.”
I walked off towards my own car, a suitably nondescript saloon as befits the sort of man who walks between the raindrops, with The Gaffer’s thanks ringing in my ears. Once safely ensconced in the driver’s seat, I checked my watch. And shuddered; I’d cut it too close for comfort. Time to get the hell out of Dodge before the cavalry arrived. I couldn’t have been more than a mile away when I heard the sirens herald the arrival of the Flying Squad’s finest at the aerodrome.
Control would give me the details at debriefing, but that could wait. Right now all I wanted was a hot meal, a large Scotch and a comfortable bed. In that order.