Rachel parked up a short distance from the small modern block of apartments at the top of Kilbowie Road. She retrieved her laptop case and overnight bag before walking to the block. A few seconds after pressing the button for Flat 6, a low buzzer sounded and the external door lock clicked.
The lift looked clean and serviceable but it was against Rachel’s nature not to use the stairs for such a short climb. She went up the few flights of stairs and arrived on the top floor of the three.
“Rachel, you’re looking good.” Stella Kavanagh’s green eyes sparkled as she appraised her friend. “Come in here.” When Rachel stepped inside and put down her bag, the door was closed behind her.
The two women hugged each other which brought a fresh reminder of how many special people existed in the background of the BTL Enterprises ventures.
“I haven’t seen this place yet, Stella and I know it will be ideal.”
“If I’ve learned nothing else about you guys, I think I know what’s needed when you use a phrase like ‘a bolthole for one person—any creature comforts appreciated’.” She stepped forward and waved an arm. “On the right is the bedroom. To the left, we have the bathroom and toilet, and next to a small utility room. Straight to the front is the kitchen-diner and lounge, which is all open-plan.”
The two women walked along the short hallway and stopped in the main accommodation.
“It’s perfect, Stella—thank you.”
“You take your coat off and have a proper look around while I make tea.” Stella’s shoulder-length copper hair shone as she moved under the bright spotlights in the kitchen area.
Rachel left her laptop case on the sofa and took her coat and overnight bag to the bedroom. She stood for a moment and took a breath. The windows were double-glazed so when she did have to use this place she’d be assured of peace and quiet.
Five minutes later, after checking out the other facilities, Rachel stood at the lounge window. She surveyed the areas she recognised from left to right in the distance outside the Clydebank area. “Far left I can see the Old Kilpatrick Hills, and straight ahead a few miles away are Hardgate and Drumchapel.”
“Yes, and what you see to your immediate front and right is Clydebank.”
“What’s the view like from the kitchen window?”
“There’s a great view of the rest of Clydebank and how the Clyde runs through the town. You have a small balcony and from there out to the right you can see the Erskine Bridge and how the river widens towards the estuary.”
Stella placed the tray on the table in the lounge and poured the tea. “The person who owns this apartment is away until early in May, so if you need somewhere else by that time, let me know.”
“I will, but I’m hoping by then that I’ll have my main business done.”
“I’m scared to ask what you’re up to, so I won’t.” Stella laughed. “Since I met Phil back in 1996 I caught on that his attitude was right. The less I know, the better.”
“I remember once back in my early days with the team I asked Phil about you.” Rachel gave a brief smile. “He was smitten by you, but he knew you would never be able to live with his methods, whatever his motives were.”
“I was lucky enough to experience another side of him a couple of times, but back then he was only partly human.” Stella gazed at her tea and smiled at the fond memory of waking up with Phil.
“Did you and Phil … you know—”
Stella nodded and grinned. “Don’t say a word to anybody. I know one thing for sure—Annabel is one lucky lady, but as you know she’s pretty damn gorgeous too, so they were meant for each other.”
“Don’t knock yourself, Stella, you’ve still got it all going for you.”
Stella laughed. “Well, at least if I don’t find a decent guy I’ll know I can give you a call.” She winked and gave a brief laugh before sipping her tea. At forty-five, she looked ten years younger.
“Don’t knock it.” Rachel drank some tea to avoid saying more.
“I take it you’ve settled in to your place in Pitlochry.”
“Yes, it’s old on the outside and exactly what I wanted on the inside. As soon as you got the deeds arranged I went in and started the conversion.”
“How much did you do yourself?”
“All of it. I had to do the basement myself, by necessity. I won’t tell you what’s down there, but it wasn’t the sort of fitting that you ask your local tradesman to come in and organise. By the time I’d dealt with my operational area down there I was ready to fit out the upstairs. Apart from the basement, the rest of the house would look normal to any visitor.”
“I take it you’re not afraid of anybody breaking-in when you spend a night or two here?”
“There’s nothing of any great value in the main house, and if anybody attempts to break into the garage or the basement, sadly they won’t survive.”
“Oh my god. I remember when Phil first asked me for two apartments on one floor, he told me never to let myself in.”
“As you’ll appreciate, we tend to enjoy and jealously guard our privacy.”
Stella topped up the drinks and for a few minutes, the two women sat drinking tea in silence. She noticed Rachel gazing at her. “Are you okay, Rachel?”
“I’m sorry—I was staring at you as my mind wandered. A long time ago I asked Phil how he managed to access property with such ease, and he said, that apart from being a bloody good-looking woman, you could locate anything from a cabin to a castle.” Rachel nodded. “It came to mind just now—if you include the little escapade I was involved in recently, you’ve actually done what Phil said.”
“As long as I don’t know what will happen when I locate these places for you, I’ll be happy to stick to investigating and organising properties.”
“How is Craig doing these days?”
“He’s a good junior partner and puts in the hours. A thirst for knowledge has been good for the agency, because he’s got some qualifications behind him now and he has an excellent understanding of the surveyor’s role. As I told you on the phone, if I’m not there, he’ll be okay to trust.”
“Thank you, but you’ve solved so many problems for us in the past, I can’t imagine asking somebody else.”
The pair chatted a while longer before Stella handed over the keys. She told Rachel that she’d stocked up the kitchen with a few essentials, and explained about the pass card for the allocated garage under the back of the building.
Late in the evening when alone, Rachel sat with her laptop and updated the notes she’d made on her strategy. The time spent earlier with Phil and Annabel had been refreshing, but as she’d expected, also highly productive. As Rachel typed out a few ideas they’d agreed were good, she recalled how animated the pair had been. It looked from the outside as if the pair were enjoying retirement together, but it wouldn’t take much to entice them back into action.
Tuesday 1st March
Rachel awoke refreshed and with coffee in hand went out to stand on the small balcony in the fresh morning air. For a few minutes, she took in the sight of a stretch of the River Clyde which had once been a hotbed of activity. Until the 1960’s there would have been thousands of men employed along the line of dockland, but apart from the distinctive Titan crane which was being refurbished as a tourist attraction and landmark, there was little left.
The thought of long-past industrial glory went hand in hand with how the underworld had evolved too in Central Scotland—Glasgow in particular. Gone were the Glasgow ‘hard men’ of the day, and now it didn’t matter the nationality—as long as you had the firepower, and sufficient followers to bully, blackmail, or simply steal. The city, like many other places in the world was a platform for the underworld entrepreneur.
Rachel downed a mouthful of hot coffee. “It’s also a platform for the aspiring vigilante.” She would have been delighted to know how close her train of thought was to that of the BTL Enterprises founder; Phil.
Yes, there would always be activities associated with gangland types, but was there really a need to put the squeeze on people who had little or nothing to begin with—no, and that had to be addressed. Another issue which the authorities had difficulty clamping down on was the ever-increasing numbers of foreign criminals who were trying to make a place for themselves in Scotland, to increase their wealth and power.
Perhaps the police or the politicians could only remove a few of the unwanted, but the right person with a little help and persuasion, and armed with a rifle or a gun, might be able to help tip the balance.
In Rachel’s mind, there was an individual to target, but it would do no harm to the common people to be rid of a few other lowlifes along the way. The greatest problem in Rachel’s mind was how to entice her desired target into range. Grief and anger had played their part in preventing a cohesive plan forming, but the air was becoming more clear with every day.
Rachel had enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then walked through Clydebank for a while before setting off on her first recce of the day. She found a filling station with an automatic car-wash which was going to help with the day’s reconnaissance tasks. A Land Rover Discovery would fit in nicely in areas of wealth, but a clean vehicle looked so much better.
It took twenty minutes to drive to Bearsden and once there, Rachel parked in one of the streets not far from her first place of interest. She made a rapid check of her street map and set off on foot.
Stella lived in the affluent district on Glasgow’s northern boundary, mainly because as an estate agent she and her husband at the time had been able to buy. The timing had proved crucial and within two years the property price had soared, and the prices continued to rise. Stella was staying.
The house Rachel was checking out was without a doubt going to be in a class of its own, even in a district like Bearsden. Again, it would have been simple to ask Stella where the man’s house was situated but it was best the estate agent knew nothing of the operation.
Rachel had made notes from the internet and a knowledge of how gangsters surrounded themselves with security was going to help. As for any mission she was wandering around the general area to get a feel for the road system, the location of pedestrian crossings, and any area where an innocent might be injured.
As Rachel strolled into Earl’s Crescent she checked her watch. The street had fewer houses than any other street she’d seen so far in the area. Notably the further from the centre of Bearsden, the more elite and remote the houses were going to be. In the gap between these big houses, it was possible to see the foothills which were a short hop before the Highlands.
Earl’s Crescent was tree-lined, and every house seemed to have an elaborate wall, rather than a fence. The buildings were set well back from the road as if the owners couldn’t bear to be viewed by the public—not that there were many people around.
“Very few cars,” Rachel said aloud. It was perhaps that these people had such long curving driveways that they had no need to park at the kerbside. Of course, it would also spoil the appearance of the quiet road if there were a large BMW, Jaguar, or Bentley parked outside between the trees on the wide kerb.
As it was, in a three-hundred yard stretch there were five cars and two vans. One of the vans was an electrical contractor and the other was a broadband installation truck. Rachel made a few mental notes as she continued along the road, and the target house stood out like an international embassy.
The house was at least fifty yards back from the main road, serviced by a long curving driveway, but what caught the covert operative’s eye was the man standing back among the trees near the house. He was wearing green overalls but was no more a gardener than she was.
Rachel walked past and then spent ten minutes studying the trees in the nearest houses opposite her primary target. She stood against a high garden wall to stay out of sight as she referred to her book of trees and shrubs. A glance through her binoculars confirmed what she was hoping to see. Recognising the tree might be hit and miss, but being able to see the shape of the leaves gave her confidence. A plan was forming as she looked around the area.
Rachel was dressed in a smart black jacket and skirt with a white blouse. She parked the car not far from the end of Doune Gardens, lifted her briefcase and set off on the short walk. The target house, in this case, would not have armed men around the place pretending to be gardeners or whatever. This was an upmarket area, but not quite as far up the housing ladder as Bearsden.
Five minutes after leaving the car, Rachel saw the house. It was nice but hardly a mansion. Importantly, in the drive was the family car—a red BMW X5 estate. From the pavement as she approached Rachel could see scratch marks on the front wing—no doubt caused when the lawyer panicked after she’d left him with the dead man in the woods.
Rachel walked up the short driveway and pressed the bell-push. The sound of a young child shouting was followed by the clacking of heels on a hard floor before the door was opened.
“Hello,” the woman said. “How can I help you?” She was tall, dark-haired, slim and if anything, plain.
Rachel had a good figure with obvious curves, but Mrs Elliott made the operative feel buxom. She fished inside her dark jacket and lifted out a business card. “My name is Sarah Stuart and I wondered if I could have a word with your husband.”
“Is it about the car respray?”
“No, it’s boring old work I’m afraid—we have a mutual interest in a client and it’s all very hush-hush.” Rachel glanced at the pride and joy which she knew was serious money. “What happened?”
“Oh, apparently when it was parked up the other day a couple of rowdy teenagers ran along a line of cars scraping branches on the paintwork of expensive cars.”
“It’s terrible when you can’t even park your car, and it’s such a nice model. It’s nice to see the tyres have got some mud and grass on there.”
“Oh yes, too many owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles never treat the tyres to anything but tarmac. It’s good that he found country tracks to drive on. Anyway, if you let Mr Elliott know, I’ll be in Glasgow until tomorrow morning so I’ll call him. It’s rather urgent that I see him in person.” Rachel looked at the car again as a thought struck her. “Have you got it booked in for respray yet?”
“My husband said he’d take care of it, but you know what men are like?”
“Oh, yes … well, thank you for your time.” Rachel winked at the three or four-year-old standing beside her mother clinging to her shapeless dress. The child licked chocolate from her lips and smiled at the stranger.
Rachel left her car and walked the two miles to her next destination. It had taken twenty-five minutes to stroll to this area from the Elliott’s Kelvinside home, and Rachel wondered if the lawyer usually walked to work—probably about half an hour or forty minutes worth of effort for him.
As she ambled along Byres Road she knew the name of the offices but not if they were on a ground floor or upstairs. It was a pleasant surprise to see that it was a double-window, ground floor unit, and the office was probably converted, having at one time been retail premises.
“Stroud and Elliott, here I am again.” Rachel stood beside a nearby bus stop so that she’d be able to observe the business unnoticed. A red-haired woman in her twenties was sitting at a desk near the front of the place, and she was easily seen between the gold lettering of the company name on the windows. She’d been the only receptionist on shift on any of Rachel’s covert visits.
A few minutes passed before Elliott made an appearance carrying a sheet of paper. He stopped beside the redhead’s desk and gave her a broad smile. As he talked he moved around her so his back was toward the window. When the girl turned from her computer it gave Rachel a better look at her.
“If one more button was undone, love, he’d be able to reach in and adjust your Double-D cups.” Rachel slowly shook her head as she watched the two in the office. There was no need to hear a word because the expressions and body language of the girl at the computer suggested flirting. It went on too long to be a one-off incident.
After the lawyer had his ego boosted by the girl he left her to carry on the filing. Unfortunately, the only things she seemed to be filing were her nails. The nail file rapidly disappeared when a man in his fifties appeared and approached from a door further back in the office. Unlike Elliott, this man’s tie was undone and his shirtsleeves half-rolled. The conversation with the redhead was brief and a large cardboard box file was deposited on her desk.
It had occurred to Rachel to visit her friends in the Mental Riders Motorcycle Club a mile along Byres Road, but this wasn’t the time. It might be that she’d call on the guys for information or help, but she was still in the planning stage for this operation.
Rachel watched the office for a while longer, checked the time and then left the immediate vicinity to watch what happened when the office closed at 17:30. She crossed the road and walked along a few yards, again using a bus stop as her cover for loitering.
A few lights were switched off in the office, and Mr Stroud left, a briefcase in one hand and his suit jacket hung over his shoulder and gripped with a crooked finger. Judging by his expression he’d had a hard day at the office—even if he was the senior partner. He turned along a nearby alleyway. Five minutes later a blue Mercedes coupe came out of the alley, paused briefly at the main road and roared away.
Elliott and the redhead came out together. He was wearing his suit and looking every bit the lawyer, hair immaculately brushed and everything about him in order. The girl was all hair, eyelashes and lipstick. The long, wavy hair hung halfway down her back and was longer than the miniskirt she was wearing. Her bolero jacket accentuated her impressive chest.
The two people walked along the road together, making eye-contact often and as Rachel crossed the road to follow she noticed more than a few light touches made by the young woman. When the pair turned right onto Great Western Road it would be the way for Elliott to walk home, but where was the girl going?
For five minutes the colleagues walked together and Rachel noted that three bus stops had been passed. Between the three of them, there had been the option of seven bus routes. It was good in the respect that it cut down where the girl was going but the next bus stops would help.
The couple stopped and stepped back between two shop doorways.
Elliott was almost backed up to the wall and glanced left and right at the passers-by, whereas the redhead moved close enough to kiss him, but didn’t. Whatever she said, elicited a rapid and continuous nodding from the nervous solicitor. The redhead looked both ways, kissed a fingertip and placed it on Elliott’s lips before she turned and left him.
The man stood for a few seconds gathering his thoughts and then set off in the direction of home.
The redhead walked back the way they’d come and as she passed Rachel she was smiling like somebody who’d just been given a substantial pay-rise or been made a promise. It was easier to follow the girl because she had no knowledge of Rachel.
Five minutes later the girl climbed aboard a number 20 bus to Drumchapel. Rachel went on behind her and told the driver she was going to the terminus. The fare would be the same however far she went—Rachel knew the estate was only about four miles distant.
In Drumchapel, Rachel left the bus along with the girl and four other passengers on Dunkenny Road. There were apartment blocks on one side of the road, while on the opposite side were some individual houses. The redhead crossed the road and went directly to a house with a burgundy door. She let herself in and a light was switched on in the front room. It had to be a habit because it was still daylight.
Rachel crossed the road and waited for the next number 20 bus which would take her back, not only to Byres Road but about two miles further—where her car was parked.
Following a meal at a local restaurant, Rachel walked back up Kilbowie Road to the apartment and pulled out her large notepad. With coffee to hand, she started a brainstorming sheet to help her get things clear in her mind.
For two hours she played around with routes, timings and alternatives.
“Remember the ‘what if?’ scenarios,” Rachel murmured as she recalled that according to Phil and Annabel, ‘what if?’ was usually the key to success. Yes, it may work out that the original plan is good and the whole thing slides into place, but if questions are not asked in the planning stage it can all go pear-shaped.
Rachel watched the late news and was happy to see that her friends in Pitt Street Police HQ were keeping to their word.
“… and the latest from Police Headquarters in Glasgow suggests that there is no more information available regarding the body found by two birdwatchers in the forest near Loch Earn. A police spokesman has admitted that without a weapon or identification the investigation is being hampered. The spokesman denied rumours that a special operations team had taken responsibility from the Perth HQ—the investigation is a joint operation.”
Rachel watched for a few minutes and then switched to the weather channel. It was looking bright and warm for the next week at least and that was good enough.
When she considered how her day had worked out, the rest of the week was looking good for her immediate plans.