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Signature Fifteen

CHAPTER FIFTEEN 

As evening drew in, the farmhouse stood gaunt against the surrounding trees. The clouds massed, the strength of the wind grew steadily and then the storm broke, the second in a week. Inside Bill Hadley sat in a pool of light, thrown by his desk light, hunched over his laptop. Jim Duggan occupied the seats in front of the fireplace, gripping his second can of beer. Outside the wind howled and the patter of rain developed into a roar. Lightning flashed, followed by a peal of thunder. Bill continued to tap away at the machine. The lights flickered and recovered. The front door crashed open and then slammed shut. Bob Mitchell stepped in from the hall, shaking off the water like a dog. He slung his green hunter’s jacket back into the hall onto the stone floor.

“Any news, guys?” he boomed as he stepped into the room, thinking, your last chance to come clean with me, Bill. Come on, Bill. Juanita’s? Broads? He was answered by a weary silence, in this case very expressive in his view. The next party to be the target of my surveillance talents is you, Bill, he promised himself, and chuckled aloud.
“What’s the joke, Bob?” Jim asked.
“You’re the joke, Jim.” He bellowed with laughter at this joke, which did not amuse Jim, but then Bob’s witticisms seldom did. The lights flickered, again recovered and failed. The room was faintly lit by the glow of Bill’s laptop, now on battery power. Bill continued to type. With a reluctant sigh, Bob felt his way into the hall and extracted a couple of camping lights from a cupboard, the sort that function when you unscrew the top. A halloween green now lit the room. Jim struck a match and flicked it into the fireplace. The dry wood sparked, caught and flamed. A flickering yellow joined the Halloween green.
“When shall we three meet again,” Jim cackled, “ In thund…”
“We are meeting, you idiot,” Bob interrupted. “Get off your machine, Bob, and get your arse over here.”
“Sorry, just sending my mom an email. Asking her if I can bring these two nice guys home, I just met. OK, OK, I’m coming. Cool it.”

As Bill brought them up to speed on how he saw his plan developing, omitting the bit about Jenny, the private bit, Bob listened with detachment. This guy really does not know, Bob thought. He’s lost the plot, and I am not telling him; not about who the blonde girl is, nor about her meeting with the Ralphs. From now on I take control of my life. I’ll step in when the time’s right.

The entry bell went, and Bill crossed into the hall. He came back in followed by two females underdressed, overmade-up, underdeveloped intellects, overdeveloped busts. Bob stood up and moved across the room, in the greenish flickering light. He stood in front of the tall blonde woman ran his hands down her sides, tracing the outline of her figure.
“Your choice next, Jim.” Bob laughed, eyeing the sleazy brunette in a tight red dress and thigh-length boots.
“I’m not exclusive,” she said, looking across at Jim. “Depends on you guys. Two suits me. We’ll take whatever you’ve got.” A thin, nervous laugh belied her bravado.
“Bill, you dreaming of your little Jenny?” Jim taunted, realising why there were just two whores tonight. Bill contained the psychological explosion this triggered, but not the physiological one as his face turned red and his limbs quivered with rage. It took half a minute to pass, and he turned back to his laptop. Jim set about pouring a couple of drinks from the cocktail cabinet, but Bob took his number straight through into the guest room.
“I’ve seen you before,” Bob said.
“Seen? Hmm, I remember you as the guy with the firehose stuffed down his pants.”
“Don’t they educate you girls? Like how to talk nice.” Bob unbottoned her blouse from the neck down.
“Only it was like some jerk filled the water tank with kerosene,” she continued regardless. “Like you wanna put out my fire with jet fuel.” Bob was beginning to enjoy the direction the conversation was taking as his hands moved down to the zip of her skirt, and she released his pants.
“This time, lady, I’m gonna use the afterburners,” he growled.
“This time,” she laughed, grappling him to the floor, “I’m Saint George slaying the dragon.” Rolling on top of him, she joined battle, narrating the story as she went. “I clasp my trusty lance. Firm in my hands, I grip it with my thighs and thrust down on the beast. My lance drives deep into the beast’s belly.” Bob was panting by now. “I thrust again and again. The beast struggles, it moans, will it not die? I thrust again.” But the dragon was more powerful than Saint George anticipated. It rolled over and picked Saint George up with it. Now the dragon was banging Saint George rhythmically against the door to the lounge.

“Jesus Christ! What the hell’s going on in there?” The brunette was visibly scared by the crashing, moaning and screaming from the next room. “Take me upstairs, Jim. Keep me away from that maniac.” She chose her expletives appropriately. As the noise abated, Bill switched of the cassette recorder. I’ll play that back to them when we want a good laugh sometime, he thought. After a couple of minutes, St George emerged, naked, and made for the front door, saying she wanted to cool off and loved storms. Bob, being more prudish, came out in his underpants, and settled for the bourbon bottle in preference to the storm. Then he told Bill he wanted some spectator sport and headed upstairs.

Meanwhile, Bill tapped away on the planogram. After ten minutes Saint George reappeared from outside with water streaming from her hair and body, which glowed in the flickering green light. Then the power came back on. Bill blinked in the bright light, and saw a naked Jenny shimmering before him. As he reached out towards her, his eyes adjusted to the light and reality reasserted itself. He turned back to his laptop and planned further. Bewildered by his behaviour, she turned to the cocktail cabinet and poured herself a drink. She turned off the lights apart from one table lamp and relaxed, naked and still dripping wet, infront of the fire. She threw on a couple more logs. From the noises up above, it was evident that Bob had relinquished his role as mere spectator. Unless she was asked, she would not join in. And if she was asked? Well, it was a good living.

Some minutes later Jim and Bob came down the stairs, singing Clementine off-key. Bill typed away, and the blonde decided it was time to dress. The brunette came down the stairs, looking as if she needed a new outfit. The two women left wordlessly. Home visits were always paid for in cash in advance, and Bill, good customer that he was, was no exception to that rule.

Bob’s spirits were revived. It was still before midnight, so he told Jim that he had worked out where his blonde assailant, the special investigator, lived, and suggested they go over there and have some fun. Jim was about to agree, but then watching Bob gulp down another half tumbler of bourbon, he took the view that it was the bourbon speaking. He took the tactful way out and suggested that they have another couple of drinks first. By the time Bill turned off his laptop forty-five minutes later, the other two were both snoring infront of the fire. 

***

Giles was amazed, as he debriefed Jenny on the lunch with Hadley at Juanita’s. It was as if Hadley had thrown caution to the wind: that he should hint at her joining him; that, even in jest, he should hint at her leaving John for him. Many a true word is spoken in jest may be apt for all of us, he opined, but for the type of psychopath we believe Hadley to be it is highly revealing.
“He believes he’s closing in, Jenny,” Giles said. He looked at John and Diane. “We have to move now. Invite him in for the kill, while his vision is blurred.
“How?” Diane asked. Giles was pensive, and then finally he brought himself to express his thoughts.
“We need to stage a scene. Have Jenny break down. Draw him in.”
“But what are we looking for?” John asked. “We need hard evidence. How will Jenny get that?” The phone rang. Since John chaired their discussions these days, as senior policeman, Jenny left the kitchen to answer it. She came back into the kitchen, flustered.
“It was Hadley,” she said. “He wants to see me this afternoon. I just kind of winged it. I agreed. To be honest I didn’t know how to say, no.” She looked at them, distraught.
“Jenny, you did right,” John stated.
“You did,” Giles agreed. “See what he says and then we’ll reconvene.”
“I’ll come with you, Jenny,” Diane said. “Let’s play this safe…for once.”

Diane’s offer and Jenny’s acceptance changed the course of events. When Mitchell, tailing Hadley, saw the three of them together, Hadley, the special investigator and the Ralphs girl, his cool snapped. He rammed his foot down on the throttle, tyres screaming as he rounded the corner. All three of them started and looked round, but Mitchell’s vehicle was gone.

The surveillance on Bill Hadley had proved successful beyond measure. It was now clear to Bob Mitchell that the man was out of control and a liability. Not only that but in Mitchell’s eyes it appeared that the Ralph’s camp was closing in on Hadley. This meant that they were in turn closing in on him, Mitchell. The second thing that was clear was that Hadley was proceeding with his plans for the organisation, despite his and Duggan’s vehement objections. Even if the Ralphs crowd failed to pull anything off – and Mitchell could not really see what they could realistically achieve – he and Duggan were still stuck with the problem that facts incriminating to them would be revealed to other organisation members. Even if it was only the fact of their existence, that was still a threat. This neither he nor Duggan would tolerate. Hadley’s recent real estate interests had aroused Mitchell’s suspicions. He just needed to confirm these suspicions, and then, if they proved correct, he would go ahead and take them all out, every single one of them, in one fell swoop.

Mitchell called Hadley on the phone. He explained that he had had second thoughts about the organisation. Hadley was right. How was he, Mitchell, to exploit his talents if they continued to work on their own? Let the flunkies do the groundwork was the way he was thinking now, and let him, Mitchell, move in for the kill. Likewise, they should use Duggan for his specialist skills. Hadley was surprised by the change of heart, but then in the back of his mind he had always known that he would win through. His was the sensible, the rational way.
“Look, I have made some progress, Bob,” Hadley explained.
“Great. What do we do?” Mitchell asked.
“Bring Duggan with you tomorrow. I’ll get there at four. Number Five, Hunter’s view. Got that?”
“Got it. Westside. Right? We’ll be there. Four sharp. Why there?” Mitchell waited for the answer, which came after the pause.
“Surprise, Bob. Just a little surprise.”
So I have guessed right, Mitchell thought, as he replaced the receiver. 

***

Bob stopped his car beside a hedge.
“You know what that is?” he asked Jim, pointing at a two storey building, surrounded by its own lawns, edged with woods.
“This is a 1980’s building with no architectural merit, badly designed so that you can see into all the rooms right here from the road.” Jim surveyed the building and its surrounds.
“That’s our HQ.” Jim boomed, broadcasting the fact far and wide. “Bill has bought this place for his organisation.”
“We don’t want an organisation,” Jim screached, manifestly upset.
“He’s lost it, Jim.”
“So what do we do?”
“I’ve done it.” Bob started the car and drove round to the entrance, parking by the front door. “Bill wants to see us, right? Well, it’s here. This is where he told me to bring you.” Bob looked at Jim.
“Why?” Jim’s nerves were rattled.
“Because he’s done it without telling us. He wants an organisation, because he thinks he’s Napoleon. Right?” Bob gave a low chuckle.
“OK.” Jim acquiesced.
“Come inside with me,” Bob suggested, and Jim used his skill as a locksmith to make that possible. They ascended the stairs to the floor above. Bill led Jim into a smartly furnished room.
“This is where we meet,” Bob said. “The reason I know that is the room’s furnished.”
“Makes sense,” Jim said.
“If you agree, Jim, I’m gonna take them all out.” Bob turned to Jim and waited for his answer.
“If there’s an organisation, today or tomorrow, taking them out is fine by me,” Jim replied without hesitation.

Bob went on to explain his plan, which was very simple: Bill and every one else who knew anything about anything would be shot here in this very house. After that, he and Jim would leave. Go and do their thing elsewhere. The point was, Bob explained, that Bill had tied himself up in this whole thing about incriminating John Ralphs, and that was bad news. There were too many loose ends.   

So how come everyone who needed to be shot would be here, Jim wondered. That was also simple, according to Bob. Bill would be here because he had invited them, Bob and Jim. The police, including Ralphs, would be here because Bob had indirectly and discretely tipped them off that this was the opportunity for surveillance, and more, of Bill. Jim had questioned why that would make them good targets, as in people who get shot, and Bob had laughed. He took Jim through into the room across the landing. The room was unfurnished but for two chairs. “Two wives, will sit here,” Bob said. “To the minute, they will stand up and walk into the other room, where we will be with Bill. The police outside will rush in, when they see the women at risk, and then it’s down to me, Jim, and you’ve seen me in action. Boom, boom, boom.”
“I don’t understand why the women will do that, Bob.” Jim was looking around the room for a clue.
“Because they have precise instructions. Only they think they come from this psychiatrist and not from me. Right? It’s all fixed up, Jim. This is it. Trust me.”
“I agree. What would you have done if I didn’t agree, since you’ve got it all fixed up?”
“Shoot you.” Bill was as pragmatic as ever.
Jim decided he had made a wise choice.
“Come on, Jim. Let’s go. The women will be here in half-an-hour. Leave the door unlocked for them.” 

Diane was already on her way to pick up Jenny, exactly according to the schedule set out in her instructions. Jenny came down from her office on time. She had received Diane’s message that she should be there.
“Hi, Diane. How are you doing? Looking good. What is all this? Fill me in.”
“This is weird,” Diane said to Jenny. “After Giles left, I got this note from him. Very specific instructions. She showed Jenny a typed sheet of paper folded into a card addressed to her in Giles’ hand. We’re supposed to go and hide in this place and then come out exactly when he says. Maybe we’re reconvening like he said yesterday.”
“Sounds like John,” Jenny said. “Police work. He probably suggested it to Giles.”
“Well, everything’s here, right down to the address of the place, floor-layout and the timing. Let’s go. If you say so, Jenny, let’s go.”
“I say so.” Jenny laughed and gestured to Diane’s car. They chatted in the car on the way to the rendezvous. On the one hand, they were relieved that something was finally about to happen, while on the other hand, they both felt first night nerves. Both of them thought the instructions were strange, but these concerns were set at rest, when they arrived at the building. Sure enough, everything was exactly as described. They made their way up the stairs, and located the room where they were apparently to wait in secret. Diane turned the key in the lock behind them, and they sat down, trying to suppress initial giggles at the incongruity of it all. 

***

Spotting the police car slip in behind the trees, Bill turned from the window to Bob and Jim.
“What the hell are the police doing here?” Bill lost his normal cool. He saw that Bob was looking smug.
“It’s the final bloodbath, Bill. You screwed up. I’m fixing it.” Bob leered at him.
“Fixing what?”
“Calm down, Bill. I’ve got their wives. Any moment now, I’m taking them out one by one.”
“You’ve what?”
“They think the psychiatrist sent them here. In exactly one minute, wife number one will walk in here, followed by wife number two. And guess what? They’ll see little old me, waiting. Bang, bang. Remember: no one lives to tell the tale.”

Looking up at the building from his hiding place across the lawn, John saw a figure come into view in the window of the landing outside the room where he was observing Hadley. It was Jenny. What the hell was Jenny doing there? His heart stopped. Jenny walked though the doorway into the room and stopped dead. Standing square in front of her was Bob Mitchell. Realising what was happening, John wanted to scream out a warning, but he knew it was to no avail, too late. Through the window of the room he saw Mitchell slowly raise his gun arm and fix his aim on Jenny, taking his time. John could not bear to look. He covered his face in his hands and three shots rang out. John slumped to the ground sobbing.

It was not Mitchell’s shots that John heard. Hadley felt himself watching in slow motion as he saw Mitchell raise his pistol. He saw Jenny stricken with shock. Bob had to do this, he knew, but feelings welled up inside him that he had never felt before, as rage at Bob and longing for Jenny combined like a volatile chemical reaction. His reflexes possessed him. He drew his automatic, firing three rapid shots into the back of Mitchell’s head. In that instant Diane shot through the door behind Jenny and was on top of Hadley. She pinned him to the floor and screamed for help. Duggan scrambled clear, diving through the closed window in a shower of broken glass. Dropping one storey down onto the lawn below, he rolled over and was on his feet, running for the car. With a screech of tyres he was gone.

Ross was screaming at John that Jenny was OK and to get in there. John looked up in disbelief to see Jenny through the window, moving slowly forward. He leapt the fence and raced across the lawn, realising this is what he should have done anyway when he froze at the sight of Jenny confronted by Mitchell. Ross was already through the door and taking the stairs three at a time. He burst into the room to see Hadley on the floor, Diane crouching over him with a knee in his back. He was choking and spitting blood. He would only ever speak again in a whisper: she had smashed his larynx, resisting arrest as it was later claimed. As for Duggan, he was never seen again.


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Fourteen

Fifteen