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Signature Three

CHAPTER THREE

 

When Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti performed in Rome on 7 July 1990, they probably did not consider the assistance they would be providing the Police Department a decade later. It was this CD of the three tenors that John sent across to Chris the next day for the acoustic profile, to set bounds to the range of frequencies of the voice they were seeking.

 

As Chris had suggested, they started with a very tight profile that listed numerous characteristics including that the raider lived within ten miles of the bank. This profile generated very few telephone numbers, just over five hundred. With the software ready for testing three days later, they chose to call between seven and ten in the evening. Including redials for busy numbers, it took just under two hours to complete the process. Just five calls of the five hundred plus were unsuccessful in getting a voice. There were no voices that fitted the profile for John to listen to.

 

Over the next few days they progressively widened the profile and voice matches began to come in. Chris also introduced a system for second calls where females had answered the phone in the hope of catching a male voice second time. If the townsfolk were tiring of unsolicited calls, they did not show it. Mostly, the PC cut off as soon as a match failed on the first syllable. They were soon extending their geographical reach and accessing telephone directories outside the immediate area, and they added in the hours of seven to eight in the morning for making calls, giving them four hours of calling a day. Chris decided to speed it up further by hooking up to a second telephone line. They had thought the overload would be on John listening to voices, but it turns out that there aren't so many tenors around, or at least not tenors who answer the phone.

 

In a farmhouse forty miles outside town three men had gathered. Bill Hadley was just bringing beers up for them from the cellar, when the phone went.

"Hello," Jim Duggan answered in his shrill, almost female voice. Then he hung up.

"Who was that?" Bill asked.

"No one," Jim replied.

"What do you mean no one?"

"They just hung up, if there was anyone there to start with," Jim whined.

"Look. I answer my phone. You got that." Bill's anger came through, sharpening his usual melodious tone. He turned to the third of the men from the warehouse, from the bank raid.

"Give me a beer," commanded Bob Mitchell in his usual booming tone.

"The way I see it," Bill said, "handing each of them a beer, " is we need cash and that means we need a new plan."

"I lost three weapons," Bob stated. "I need weapons as well as cash. I feel naked."

Bill interrupted. "I was thinking we should go north this time after the bloodbath down south, but I've changed my mind. The last thing they will expect is that we do the same bank."

"I like that," agreed the falsetto.

"Yeah, it was real fun last time. Count me in," boomed Bob.

"I say, let's hit 'em now, while they're down. Next week. Agreed." Bill looked round to nods of agreement.

 

It was three days later that the fallibility of Chris's software resulted in the breakthrough. It had mistaken Jim Duggan's sex, confused by his shrill voice. The second call, made when females answered the first, was automatically programmed and yielded: "Hello, Bill Hadley - No, I don't need tableware." An acoustic match, as in this case, triggered a telephone sales pitch to catch an extra line, if possible, and it had. The next morning John was running through his routine listening schedule, when he stopped dead at the third voice: Hello, Jim Duggan - No, I don't need tableware. In his head he heard the echo: We want to negotiate. One false move and the first of these two workers gets his brains blown out. If I go down they both go down. John did not even bother to replay it. He called Ross instantly.

 

Ross climbed the stairs to John Ralph's apartment. If he felt deflated, he had no idea of how John was going to feel. He rang and Jenny answered.

"What's wrong, Ross. You look like you've been - don't know what," she said.

"Is John here? Please join us too, Jenny." Ross suggested as, John came out of the lounge, beaming.

"Hey, Ross, come on in. Have a drink. Good news. I can't believe it was so quick. Chris is amazing." They sat down and John produced a couple of cold beers.

Ross began, "So you're sure about the voice, John?"

"I am 100% certain," John replied. "No doubt whatsoever."

"I heard him just like you did, and I would have agreed with you." Ross acknowledged.

"What do you mean would have?" John's surprise showed.

"I saw him in the flesh today. They sent me to interview him as one of the guys who saw him at the warehouse. I heard that same voice," Ross continued.

"So you've taken him in?" John queried, but a touch nervously.

"He lives forty miles north on a farm. I met him in his office twenty miles north. I couldn't have recognised him physically, but it sounded exactly like the guy. Outside I had armed back up. But listen, John. He's an investment advisor. Quite a successful one. So I asked him where he was on the morning of the raid. Outside the office probably, he says. Most mornings I am."

"It's sounding good," John commented.

"But it isn't," Ross continued. "He pulls out his diary and says he'll check. And right there he has two appointments in his office, at eleven and at eleven thirty, i.e. when we were at the warehouse".

"Does he have a secretary to corroborate this?" John asked.

"Only in the afternoons. He says it's the nature of the business. So I ask for his card index and I take down the names of the guys he was seeing. They were both local, so we went round to see them, Bob Mitchell and Jim Duggan. They both swear separately that they were in his office, although Mitchell had left by the time Duggan arrived."

"I don't believe it," John spluttered.

"I didn't either, John, but it's true. We'll have to go for another voice match to another guy. First, he doesn't look like he's the type to rob banks, and then he has two cast iron alibis." Jenny, in the background, sat transfixed. Had it all been for nothing?

"Did you tell them about the voice?" she asked.

"No," Ross responded, "and by the way, our seniors are not very enthusiastic about this voice thing. They say that even if we find the bad guy, it doesn't prove anything. There are plenty of crooks that we know are crooks but can't touch."

 

Forty miles north in Hadley's farmhouse they were in good spirits.

Mitchell roared with laughter. "I told them I only spent ten minutes with you, because I had to get into town to go to the bank. Then when I get there half an hour later, I find everything closed up. So I decide to go to the shopping mall and find that all cordoned off. Then he asks me how long I've known you, and I tell him you are the most serious, the most sober-headed investment advisor in the area and that you were recommended to me by the bank."

"I like that," Bill said. "A nice bit of authenticity about the bank. OK, boys, this is looking good. We'll go in on Tuesday and hit the place, this time successfully. I'm buying an air ticket to New York. I'll have someone fly for me and give me the boarding card stubs as well as a hotel receipt on my credit card. That way, if necessary, I can prove I was in New York." With that they moved on to the planning of the raid.

It niggled Bill Hadley, in the back of his mind, how it was that the police had got onto him so fast. They had prepared for this eventuality with well-rehearsed alibis, but there was still no clue as to the source of the police's lead. I'm going to have to find out about this, he thought, and then do something about it.

 

***

 

A red pick-up truck cruised along Main Street. The back was loaded up with lawn mowers and gardening equipment, and in the front sat three men, similar in stature but different in appearance from the three at the farmhouse. Traffic was light, as they pulled over to the kerb immediately opposite the bank. It was Tuesday, eleven a.m.

 

Inside the bank staff and customers alike were nervous. It is absurd, but that is the way people think: they are acutely aware of the earlier disaster, even though it is obvious that the same bank is not going to be hit at the same time on the same day just three weeks later. There were five staff at the counters, but just three customers. Then a blast of automatic gunfire shattered glass, furniture and walls. Part of the ceiling crashed to the floor, and everyone dived flat to the ground for cover. This time there was no an attempt to go for the alarm. The staff were frozen.

"Make this quick and stay alive," a deep voice boomed, followed by a second burst of gunfire. Bullets ricocheted off the walls.

"I have two garbage sacks here, which I am sliding into teller positions one and two. I'm giving you twenty seconds to fill them from when I start counting. Now move, because if I shoot again, it's with human targets and I don't count many in here to choose from. One...two..."

Thirty seconds later Bob Mitchell stepped out of the bank carrying a holdall with the garbage bags inside and turned left to the side street where Bill Hadley was parked. Opposite the bank Jim Duggan pushed the gear selector of the pick-up into drive, set the steering to take it straight along Main Street, stepped out with a goodbye wave to the driver and slammed the door. In the driver's seat sat a tailor's dummy, fully clothed, strategically kitted out with blood and body parts from a slaughtered pig. Whatever happened to the pick-up, and some kind of crash would be inevitable, it would be a valuable decoy, costing time for any would-be pursuers. Jim strolled across Main Street into the side street to join Bill Hadley and they were away, turning left on Main Street and heading north. There were no sirens and no pursuit. Outside the bank all was calm and quiet, for the moment.

"Well, this won't make us rich," Bill said.

"True, but picking up twenty grand before lunch is OK by me." Bob gave a deep booming laugh. "This time there was only one guy, me, and as far as they know I didn't even figure last time."

"Hang on. There's someone chasing us," yelled Bill, as glancing in his rear view mirror, he saw a vehicle approaching rapidly. Jim Duggan prepared his weapons. A Corvette screamed past at around a hundred miles an hour.

"Jesus! Just some joker in a hurry," Jim squeaked from the back seat, "but I've got his number just in case we need to feed in any information on unusual behaviour."

 

Sitting at home eating a sandwich, John Ralphs flicked on the news at one o'clock. He stared in disbelief as the newsflash came up: another bank raid, same place, same day, same time. They're smart, the thought. That we would not have guessed. He reached for the phone to call Ross, but stopped himself. Ross would be busy. The phone rang. It was Ross.

"John, we're clutching at straws." Ross was clearly under high stress. "There's nothing to go on, except a wrecked pick-up truck, stolen from some contract gardeners. There's going to be a big meeting to look for links between the two raids, and I think you are going to be invited.

 

***

________________________________________________________________________

THE HERALD AND COURIER

 ________________________________________________________________________

 

WHO ARE THESE EVIL MEN?

_______________________

 

Fellow citizens, at eleven a.m. yesterday, three weeks to the day, three weeks to the very hour and minute of the day, these evil men were back in our town. This time their bank heist was successful, if small, and mercifully there were no casualties. Who are these callous creatures that visit their horror upon us as we still mourn our lost friends?

At exactly eleven a.m. a large man entered the bank branch on Main Street, firing an automatic weapon indiscriminately. Within less than a minute he had forced two of the three cashiers to load the cash they held behind the counter into bags and was gone. No one dared move for some minutes, remembering the events of three weeks ago. Then the alarm was activated.

In a bizarre twist, shortly after eleven, a red pick-up truck, loaded with horticultural equipment veered off Main Street and ploughed into Duncan's Hardware Store. The store manager called the ambulance service immediately as the driver looked in a bad way. And this is bizarre: there was no driver, just a dummy stuffed with animal body parts.

The police have connected the bank robbery and the pick-up truck, which was stolen. The police appeal for witnesses of yesterday's events to come forward. There have been reports of a vehicle heading north at high speed shortly after the robbery. The police seek information to identify the vehicle and its occupants.

_________________________________________________________________________

 

Once again, like deja vu, Jenny was sitting in her kitchen looking down at the newspaper, an article about a bank raid. This time John was there with her.

"They have nothing, Jenny. Not from first time and not yet from this time," John was saying.

"They have your voice, John," she said.

"But it was wrong," he answered. "I was mistaken and that's it. If I was mistaken once, what hope is there for a second match?"

"I can't get this one idea out of my head," she said.

"What idea?" he asked, still mournful, dejected.

"Well, I wasn't at the crime scene, the warehouse," she explained, "so I just have this abstract image of one man and two hostages. I don't visualise them. They're just an idea."

"And?" John was not following her yet.

"And I wasn't at the interview with the man with the voice, the investment advisor. One man with two alibis." She looked at him. "Do you see what I mean?"

"I don't think I do, Jenny," he answered.

"Listen, John. One man with two hostages, but they weren't hostages. One man with two alibis..."

"You mean," John started, but she interrupted him.

"Yes, John. Two alibis from two men. Three men at the warehouse. What are these alibis, John? Are they like the hostages, fake?"

 

The problem was that they had no evidence. In fact, the evidence was against them in the form of sworn alibis. They took stock of what they had: one voice identification, assuming they had it right, which was in question. It had not been accepted at the police meeting John had been invited to in the morning. Jenny pulled out the first newspaper article from three weeks ago and the reference to the shrill voice of the raider in the banking hall caught her eye. Several of the witnesses in the banking hall must have heard it. She proposed that they get the voices of Duggan and Mitchell on tape and try it on a couple of the witnesses, to see if they have any sense of recognition for either of them. Then she proposed that she should pose as an investor and visit Hadley. They could put together a script and try to prompt him into using the exact words as had been used at the warehouse, when he came out with the hostages. They could dub that onto a tape to get the words in the right order and try it on Ross, and if he responded positively, a couple of the other officers who were present. It might not be evidence, but maybe it could point the finger.

 

They agreed to work on both approaches and John's despondency began to lift, as he saw constructive work to be done, but he was outclassed by Jenny's enthusiasm. She obtained the numbers from the directory. She put the phone down on Mitchell as soon as she heard his deep baritone. She could not help but give a little gasp when she heard Duggan's shrill voice on the line. She played him along for a bit asking for an unknown Philippa, and then put the phone down beaming. They were on target. Now they had to prove it.

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