Meet and greet, p.1
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Meet and Greet


  Meet and Greet

  Ian Rankin

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  Meet and Greet

  Ian Rankin

  The arrivals hall was mid-morning busy. Peppard walked around for a bit, checking the uniforms and cameras. There were armed cops elsewhere in the airport, but not here. Chances were, no jihadists would arrive in the country locked and loaded. If anywhere, they’d be in departures, trying not to look nervous. Peppard, too, was doing his best not to let the nerves show. He usually only wore a suit at weddings and funerals. When the doors slid open, he caught glimpses of the beyond—luggage carousels, sniffer dogs, immigration officials. Weary travellers emerging, toting trolleys. Nicely laden trolleys. He had to hope for one of those. The greeters had a stoical look to them, used to delayed flights and hour-long queues at passport control. Their clients would be ready to offer an apology which was also a complaint.

  “Welcome to England,” they’d be told with the thinnest of smiles.

  The greeters held up clipboards or scraps of paper. The more expensive seemed to use iPads, with the surname capitalised on the screen. Bit of a pain that though, with the thing powering down every so often and needing to be refreshed.

  Peppard was happy with his clipboard. For the sake of appearance, it held half a dozen sheets of paper, as if his shift were busy. He held the black marker pen in his other hand and paced the floor one more time. When passengers emerged, they could turn left or right. Greeters lined the route. Most were professionals, but there were kinfolk and lovers, too—young women busy on their phones; kids holding WELCOME GRANNY! balloons. The pros checked their own phones or held one-sided conversations with their Bluetooth sets. Some, with time to kill, had retreated to the seats and were sipping from takeaway beakers of coffee. To the far left of the line of greeters stood a harassed-looking young man in a suit that he might grow into one day. Still, the key-fob he played with boasted the Mercedes insignia, so his bosses had to be charging top-whack. The name on his unfolded sheet of white paper was BULLIMER. There was a company name, too, but printed in much smaller type, so that Peppard couldn’t make it out without getting up close. He didn’t want that. Instead, he walked to the opposite end of the line, and wrote down the name as neatly as he could, holding the cap of the pen between his lips.

  BULLIMER.

  Okay, so now it was fifty-fifty—Bullimer would either turn left or right with his luggage. One way and he’d meet the young man, the other and he would belong to Peppard.

  “We need the first one to be a good one,” Jarman had stressed. “If it’s some old dear or somebody’s secretary, point them in the direction of their real ride. Grab another name and try again.”

  “Right.”

  “Know why?”

  “Tell me.”

  “It’s because this isn’t a stunt we can pull more than once or maybe twice. I say ‘twice’ because we can switch roles—once they’ve clocked you on their CCTV, it’s my turn. But after that, it’s too risky.”

  “There are other airports.”

  “Agreed—but not all are as busy as Heathrow. It’s that melee that helps disguise what we’re doing. Two or three greeters and we’d have no hope—see what I’m saying?”

  Peppard saw all right. Jarman had all the brains. It amazed Peppard that his partner still hung around with him and hadn’t taken up some legit career. His head was full of so many great schemes. All the years he’d been operating he’d only served one stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure. That spoke of something. That spoke of skill as well as luck.

  Peppard’s phone vibrated. It was a text from his partner, telling him patience was a virtue. Funny, Peppard’s mum had said the same thing to him when he was growing up, usually when his stomach was growling. She’d be sitting there staring glassily at the TV, a mug of gin and orange in her hand. A few quid from her handbag and he’d be off to the chip shop, knowing there’d be a slap around the head later.

  “That’s me.”

  Peppard blinked. There was a short, dapper, middle-aged man right in front of him. He had a good-sized roller-case and a shoulder bag big enough for a laptop and other bits and pieces. Tailored suit, crisp shirt, silk tie. And polished shoes—Jarman had tipped Peppard off to that. Polished shoes were a good sign.

  “Yes,” Peppard said.

  “And you’re my driver?”

  Peppard cleared his throat. “I’m here to take you to him, sir. Good flight?”

  “Pretty good.”

  “Can I take your…?”

  The handle of the suitcase was relinquished.

  “This way then. I’ll just let the driver know…”

  Peppard got busy with a text, risking a glance over his shoulder, but no one was paying any attention. The trickle through the door from the luggage carousels was becoming a flood. The young guy waiting for BULLIMER was holding his sign expectantly.

  “What if they make me?” Peppard had asked Jarman.

  “How do you mean?”

  “Spot that I’m waiting for the same passenger.”

  “You say it’s a coincidence. Have a laugh about it. Good point though—try not to go for really unusual names—those might seem too much of a coincidence…”

  Jarman: always thinking, always with an answer.

  “Are you here for long?” Peppard heard himself ask. They had role-played this—the conversations he might be expected to have. Keeping it light. Nothing that might make the mark begin to doubt.

  “A few days.” Bullimer was looking around. “Ah, just what I need!”

  And what Bullimer needed wasn’t coffee or a newspaper—it was local currency. He used a machine and seemed to take out a decent amount, which he stuffed into a wallet that didn’t exactly look barren. Peppard puckered his lips, almost as if he was about to whistle a happy tune.

  “Now I feel better,” Bullimer said, patting his pocket.

  “Yes, sir,” Peppard agreed. Then: “If you’ll follow me, please.”

  The car was already waiting at the kerb. It was as good as they could manage—a four-door Vauxhall. They’d even given it a bit of a valet service the previous night, though the smell of cigarettes lingered. Bullimer didn’t look overly impressed, but Jarman was wearing a grey chauffeur’s uniform and peaked cap, which he touched by way of salute as he opened the boot.

  “Case in here, sir? Management sends apologies. They had a Jaguar for you but it broke down first thing this morning. All the other quality marques were already out on the road, so we were left with this. By way of recompense, your return journey will be on the house. It’s the very least we can do, and again we do apologise.”

  All of which was said at a rush as the case was loaded into the boot, the boot slammed shut, the rear door pulled open. Jarman stood there with a smile, gesturing with a hand.

  “I suppose that’s all right,” Bullimer muttered. “It’s only forty minutes or so, right?”

  “Traffic’s sticky but this old trooper can shift—three-quarters of an hour tops.” Jarman patted the roof of the car. It was Peppard who closed the door once Bullimer was in. Jarman got in the driving seat and put the car in gear. “Seat belt, please,” he said with another smile. Bullimer complied, then turned his head sharply as Peppard cl
imbed in and settled next to him. The car lurched into the roadway.

  “My colleague needs a lift,” Jarman was explaining. “Hope you don’t mind.”

  “I was hoping to get some work done,” Bullimer complained.

  “Tough shit,” Peppard growled.

  They left him on a patch of waste ground. They’d taken everything they wanted, including his address.

  “You might go and report this,” Jarman had warned, “but we’ll always know where your wife and kids are.”

  Just a few punches to the head, when he’d tried opening the car door at a set of lights. After which Peppard had held him tight, forearm around neck, watching the face redden and the eyes turn tearful.

  Now, three hours after leaving Heathrow with their cargo, they sat in Jarman’s kitchen and emptied everything out.

  Cash: two hundred pounds, four hundred dollars, four hundred euros. Three credit cards. A Rolex watch. Laptop computer, mobile phone, Kindle. One pair of gold cufflinks. Fountain pen…

  “Not bad,” Peppard commented.

  “Not good,” Jarman sighed, rubbing a finger across his forehead. “I thought we might get more than this. I hoped we would.”

  “It’s the luck of the draw.”

  “Would it have hurt if he’d been a jeweller or something? A nice big bag of cut diamonds? A couple of dozen watches?”

  “We got a Rolex.”

  “One Rolex.”

  “That’s one more than I had before. I know what you’re saying though—there were some costs involved and we can only do this one or maybe two more times. But at least now we know it works.”

  Jarman nodded slowly. “You know what? Right from the off, the guy wasn’t a good enough bet—you should have sussed that, told him you were waiting on another Bullimer. Sometimes the first fish you hook, it needs to be tossed back.”

  “So it’s my fault?” Peppard was glaring at his partner.

  “Okay, I shouldn’t have said that.”

  “But when it’s your turn, you’ll land a bigger fish? That’s what I’m hearing.”

  “I said I’m sorry.” Jarman picked up the Rolex and checked the time. “We need to get to the pub, offload these cards before they’re cancelled.”

  “And the rest of the stuff?” Peppard was checking the inside pocket of a suit-jacket. It was empty.

  “Tommo will take it.”

  “This is a nice jacket.”

  “Lose two or three stone and it’s yours…”

  They bided their time for a few days. If Bullimer had spoken to the police, it hadn’t made it to the news. They’d left him, for the most part, in the clothes he was wearing and with his passport in his hand. They’d treated him pretty well, considering.

  Now it was Jarman’s turn with the clipboard. He was wearing the chauffeur outfit, cap included—he liked that it screened him at least a little from the security cameras. Peppard sat in the driver’s seat, running his hands up and down the steering wheel. You couldn’t loiter. Best thing to do was just drive a circuit of the airport. That way the parking attendants and uniformed cops didn’t give you any grief. When the lights turned green, he followed the exit signs until the first roundabout, then started back in towards the terminal building again. It was early evening—Jarman’s choice. He’d argued his case, though Peppard could not remember what those arguments had been. The car radio was tuned to some classical station—again, Jarman’s choice.

  “Music to soothe the savage beast,” he’d said on the drive in, which didn’t stop it sounding like squawks and squeaks to Peppard’s ears. What was wrong with a bit of Springsteen—music to get the blood pumping? For the tenth time, he checked his phone for a missed text. Jarman was taking his time. Cars had their lights on now. Not that darkness was necessarily a bad thing—maybe that had been one of his partner’s arguments.

  It was a further half hour before the amplified chime told Peppard he had a text.

  COME GET US.

  “Don’t you worry,” Peppard told the phone. “I’m on my way…”

  Twenty minutes later, they had the cargo on board and were speeding away from Heathrow. The man on the backseat next to Jarman looked wealthy enough—a lot wealthier than Bullimer, anyway. Chunky gold wristwatch, immaculately groomed hair. His suit was shiny and his shoes brand new and bespoke. Tanned face. Maybe in his late fifties. Tall and broad-shouldered. Peppard had hesitated for a moment—if it kicked off in the back of the car, would Jarman be able to take this guy? The peaked cap sat on the passenger seat along with the clipboard. The name was still there: VOLLERS. The name looked German but the man himself spoke with an American burr. So far he had offered no resistance. His gloved hands were on his knees. Gloves! You didn’t see them much these days—not when they were for show rather than to keep out any actual chill.

  “This is a mistake,” the man called Vollers repeated.

  Jarman was busying himself with the briefcase. It looked metallic. It was also locked.

  “Open it.”

  “There’s nothing inside that would interest you.”

  “Mind if I decide that for myself?” Jarman was giving the man the stare.

  It was a combination lock. Vollers took the briefcase and laid it on his lap. Peppard’s eyes met his partner’s in the rearview mirror. He couldn’t help smiling.

  With the case open, Jarman snatched it back. He tossed a paperback novel onto the passenger seat. The toiletries bag was the sort of thing they gave you on airplanes. It fell into the footwell.

  “This is everything?” Jarman was asking. He was holding up a large brown envelope. There was just the slightest hesitancy in his voice. He had chosen Vollers, maybe turned down one or two possibles, waiting for the jackpot.

  The envelope didn’t look like a jackpot.

  “What’s in it?” Peppard asked.

  “Photo and a bit of biography.” Jarman was sounding even less enthusiastic. “You interviewing this guy for a job or something?”

  “I told you you’d be disappointed.”

  “Sod that—we’ve still got your suitcase to go. And that watch—what make is it?”

  “I’m afraid it’s fake. Seventy-five dollars in Hong Kong.”

  Vollers had removed it and was handing it over. “Feel the weight.”

  Jarman did so and cursed under his breath. He could no longer meet his partner’s eyes.

  “I have about a hundred US in cash in my pocket,” Vollers was saying, “plus a credit card with a two-fifty limit.”

  “We need more,” Jarman barked at the man. “Or else I swear to God we’re going to do you in. Someone you can call—someone local you can get money from.”

  A moment’s thought, then: “That might be possible.”

  “It better be.”

  Vollers nodded slowly. “Do I use my phone or yours?”

  “I’m not paying for your sodding call!”

  “That’s a fair point. Do I do it now?”

  “We’re stopping soon. Wait till then. And we’ll take a look at that suitcase of yours while we’re at it.”

  “You’ve done this before?”

  “You better believe it.”

  “Good—I’d hate to think I was dealing with amateurs.”

  “We’re not amateurs,” Peppard assured him.

  “That’s reassuring.”

  Jarman gave a cold chuckle. “Some balls on this old bastard.”

  “Thank you,” Vollers said.

  The same piece of waste ground—a calculated risk. Even if Bullimer had reported the crime, no way the cops had the resources for a stakeout. Time had passed, the crime unit would have moved on.

  Even so, Peppard drove past, just to be sure. Then he did a three-point turn and parked at almost exactly the same spot as before. You could hear the motorway and see that glow in the sky that was Greater London. But there were no buildings and no hiding places. He wondered where Bullimer was. Probably back home, vowing never to travel anywhere again.

  “O
ut,” Jarman ordered.

  Peppard opened the boot and hauled out the case. It was big enough for a few days’ stay in a new country. Metallic casing, probably the same make as the briefcase. Vollers knew what was expected of him. He laid the case flat, unlocked it, and flipped it open.

  “There’s a little clock radio,” he said, reaching beneath the neatly folded clothes for it. “It’s digital—tells the time in different countries. You might be able to sell it.”

  He stood up, handing it to Peppard while Jarman crouched down and started sifting.

  “And here’s the cash,” he added. Peppard held the cash in one hand while studying the black plastic box, wondering how to switch it on.

  Vollers turned his attention to Jarman, leaning over him. “Please try not to crumple the shirts.”

  Next thing, Jarman was clutching at his neck, and liquid was spouting over the contents of the case. Peppard’s mouth dropped open and he took a step back. Vollers was pointing the knife at him. It was an incredibly thin strip of shining blade. Jarman had collapsed, head falling onto the clothes, the lid closing over him, his knees and feet spasming.

  “My money, please,” Vollers said.

  Peppard handed it over.

  “And the clock.”

  Peppard almost dropped it, his fingers were shaking so much. The man tucked it into his pocket. Then he took out a cheap mobile phone and tapped in a number, his eyes never leaving Peppard.

  “There was a problem,” he said. “But I’m fixing it. I might be a little late, however.” He listened for a moment. “The job isn’t compromised,” he assured the person at the other end. “The job goes ahead.”

  Peppard glanced towards the back seat of the car, the photograph there, a head and shoulders shot of a man in an open-necked shirt.

  Vollers had ended the call. He tucked the phone back into his pocket.

  “Everything goes in the trunk,” he said. “Including your friend.”

  “Then what?”

  “You’re my driver, aren’t you?” Vollers offered a thin smile. “You’ll drive me.”

  “And after?”

  “Your friend is the one who made the mistake—and that’s been dealt with. You already told me you’re not an amateur. I’m not either, and that means I only do what’s necessary. Can I take it you agree with that?”

 
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