They were a good hundred miles away from home, which made Bob Mitchell uncomfortable. It was a long way to get back after the raid, particularly if it ended up in a shoot-out, and they were not on home territory. This meant they might have to explain what they were doing there, if anything went wrong and if they were stopped. The jeweller’s shop belonged to the man whose fingers Bob had broken in the bar three days before. Wincing with pain, he had threatened Bob with retribution, and Bob, for all in the bar to hear, had said: “Little guy, I’m takin’ your shop out. Next time, no tricks with me.” The idea behind Bill’s plan was to broadcast a message that they were serious and wanted serious prices for their merchandise. Pour encourager les autres, Bill had said, and Bob didn’t know what the hell he was on about. Still, here he was, and the plan was first to inflict maximum damage, and then steal what they could of value, in that order. If the owner turned up himself, and Bob thought he would, then Bob would shoot him, in the legs this time.
Bob cruised to a stop fifty yards from the store. Ahead, just beyond the store, he saw Jim Duggan get out of his vehicle, that is to say his stolen vehicle, and saunter across to a drug store. He was to be lookout today. Bill was already in the store, posing as a customer. Bob was beginning to feel good. This looks like fun, he thought. Let’s get in there. Let’s get going. He felt the adrenalin surge that he remembered from his younger days in the football team. He fingered the revolver in his left jacket pocket and then the automatic pushed down the back of his jeans and felt the thrill of impending action. He stepped out of his vehicle and looked up and down the street - calm, peaceful, not a sign to cause concern. He crossed the road and moved down the sidewalk towards the store, listening to the sounds of the street, alert to anything unusual. The traffic was sparse at lunchtime. There were a few young girls out to shop in their lunch break; otherwise, it was sleepy, small town sleepy. Whistling softly to himself as he walked, Bob thought, they need a bit more action around here. Let’s hot things up a bit, inject some Latin American rhythm maybe.
Bill was a fussy shopper, or so it seemed to the assistant, who had brought out for inspection one tray of rings after another, followed by necklaces and then earrings. Then Bill complained that she was rude and asked for the manager. As Bob entered the store a furious row was raging between Bill and the store manager. Bob extracted the assistant and told her that if he was to shop in this place, she had better get the owner, and now. She needed little incentive to get away. The owner came down the stairs with the assistant close behind, heading straight for the disturbance that could kill his lunchtime trade. Then he saw Bob, and his good hand moved inadvertently to his bandaged broken fingers, but by this time Bob had slipped round between him and the stairway, and Bill had moved across to the door from the street and released the bolt to lock it. If there were an alarm button, none of the staff, as a result of the dispute, were in reach of it. Right on cue Jim Duggan pasted a “closed” sign on the glass entry door from the outside and moved back to his lookout position. No one moved. No one dared move. The raiders kept silent. They were in no hurry and happy to let tension build. Silence.
Slowly Bill reached for the trays of jewellery. One by one, he took the items out of the display and dropped them into his shoulder bag. Silence. He moved to the open displays and repeated the process. Silence. Wordlessly, he signalled to the owner to have the manager unlock the other displays and cabinets. Unhurriedly, he picked up items, examined them and dropped them into his bag, one by one. Bob reached across to the phone behind the counter. Very deliberately he tapped in Jim Duggan’s number.
“All OK outside…Thank you.” He hung up. Silence. Bill continued with his examination and appropriation of the jewellery. Time stood still. Silence. Except that every five minutes Bob repeated his phone call to Jim.
Finally, Bill zipped his bag shut and turned to the owner.
“How much do I owe you?” Silence.
“I enquired of you, how much I owe you for these jewels I have selected.” Bill spoke in a firm tone. Bob was not surprised by the silence, but it did strike him that nothing had happened other than Bill selecting jewellery and his walking into the store and asking for the owner, (apart from Jim sticking on the closed sign). He thought he should join in the discussion.
“Excuse me, Sir. I believe you are the owner of this store.” Bob spoke with the utmost courtesy. “I assume you are the owner, Sir, because the gentleman asked the girl to get the owner and she brought you. Are you the owner, Sir? If so, would you allow this gentleman to pay?” The owner found himself in an extremely awkward situation. He watched Bob’s left hand slip into his jacket pocket. He looked at the manager. He looked at the assistant. He turned back to Bill.
“It’s on account,” he said. “For this volume of purchase you can take your time to pay.”
“What’s your rate of interest?” Bill asked. There was a sense of menace in the store. The assistant shuddered. Bill thought, in a detached sort of way, I wonder whether Bob will appreciate the changed scenario. We came in here to cause maximum distress and expected little value for ourselves. Now we have a huge amount of jewellery and have no need to shoot and maim these people. Will Bob just shoot anyway, because that is what he does? As it stands, we can sell the whole lot straight back to this bent jeweller, who will have claimed on his insurance by then. He realises this, which is why he is offering to give this to me on “account”, hoping I understand the double meaning. What will Bob do?
“I came in here to look for something for my wife,” Bob said. “If you remember we met in the bar the other night.” He grinned and the jeweller clasped his bandaged hand. “Now it seems that this gentleman has cleaned you out. It’s unlikely I will find what my wife wants. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll go now, but you just take a good look through your storeroom and see if you have any exceptional items. I’ll be back in half an hour to see what you’ve got, if I’m not otherwise engaged. After half an hour, I repeat half an hour, why don’t you just go and do whatever it is that jewellery shops do in circumstances like these, you know, when they’ve been cleaned out of merchandise.” Bob turned to the door, unlocked it and left. Bill followed. They left town in the vehicle Jim had “borrowed” for the occasion. With each operation Bill was becoming more impressed with Bob Mitchell’s savvy approach and ability to think on his feet, despite the gun-slinging image he favoured.
“One heavy bag. One hell of a load of jewellery. We’re rich.” Jim Duggan was sitting on the rear seat, examining the contents of Bill’s bag. He slipped an Omega watch onto his wrist and liked the look, all five grand of it.
“Bob, call him tonight,” Bill instructed. “Tell him to get his abacus out and work out a price for us.”
“It has to be a no-brainer for this guy. He knows what his stock’s worth, insured for.” Bob answered.
“Yeah, tell him to put the price into a couple of lines in the personal section of the Herald and Courier,” Bill suggested. “Give him a code word.”
“I’ll tell him to put it under broken finger.” Bob roared with laughter. “But why the Herald?”
“It’s local to us. The scent trail leads to our town,” Bill replied.
“You crazy!” Jim piped up from the bank with a porcine squeal.
“It won’t lead to us.” Bill glanced behind at Jim and turned back to his driving.
“John Ralphs, Jim, John Ralphs.” As Bill spoke, a soft whistle escaped from Bob’s lips. He was beginning to understand where this was leading and it looked very, very smart. Bill turned off onto a track to make the switch to their own vehicle that was parked there.
Turning into his driveway, Bill saw a patrol car outside the farmhouse, waiting. It was too late to stop and definitely not the place for a shoot out, from his own car at his own house, so he drove up and parked behind the vehicle. At least it was blocked in. An officer got out of the patrol car. Bill remembered him as the officer who had come to his office with John Ralphs. On his side, Ross could see no one through the smoked glass windows of Bill’s truck, a Yukon. Then he saw Bill get out and asked if he might have a few words, just routine stuff. Only then did Ross realise that Hadley had not been alone. Hadley turned to the truck, gave a friendly waive and it reversed and pulled off along the driveway back to the road. Ross made a mental note that Bill had been driving and someone else must have slipped across into the driver’s seat. It was just his way to remember detail, just in case.
Hadley offered Ross a seat in the lounge and sat down opposite, expectantly.
“We met at your office some time back, Mr Hadley.”
“Yes, I recall that.”
“We’d like your help, Mr Hadley.”
By all means.”
“We are trying to get hold of your brother. To save time, I thought I’d ask you.” Ross looked across at Hadley, who looked perplexed.
“I really don’t know how you know about my brother. Even I didn’t until last year.”
“Just his address will do,” Ross said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Officer, I don’t even know his name. I’ve never seen him to my knowledge. All I know is what my mother told me before she died.” Bill maintained his air of perplexity.
“But you went though her papers?” Ross raised his eyebrows.
“Nothing. You know what I think. I think this was a hushed up family scandal. Knowing the kind of man my grandpa was, it wouldn’t surprise me if they even had the child recorded as someone else’s. No way would he have stood for the faintest whiff of scandal. He was a judge. Wouldn’t tolerate wrongdoing by anyone, except himself, of course.”
“So you mean, he could be anyone?” Ross asked.
“Same father and mother as me, but she said he took after him and me after her. Best I can do is give you a picture of my father,” Bill offered. Ross grunted and Bill continued, “There’s a chance he doesn’t even know he was adopted. Certainly, he never looked for his mother. She saw him locally. Said he was a hoodlum.” Bill enjoyed ramming home this tissue of fabrication. I should have been a scriptwriter for soaps, he thought. Ross felt the ground sinking beneath his feet. Bill broke the silence.
“Look. I’ll give you a photo of my father, same age as my brother would be today. Stick it in the Herald and ask people to identify him.” As he spoke, Bill realised that if they did this, this was how he would specifically link the name of John Ralphs with the raids. Ralphs didn’t look anything like Bill’s father, but Mr Anonymous would still write in and claim they were one and the same. That would create confusion. Ross registered Bill’s smile, which seemed out of place to him.
“I’ll take you up on that, Mr Hadley, and we’ll see what we do.” And they did take up Hadley’s suggestion.