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STORYLINE 26: DEAD CERT, A Soldier's Story , The Big Fish Hooked
First stop is Edinburgh's Waverley Station for a ticket to Darlington Bank Top
Rush went back to the Barracks, packed as much as he thought was needed to tide him over for the next few days.
When he was established in a B&B somewhere near Richmond he would take his time to make sure the stranger had followed him. He made sure he had enough cash for his ticket and sundry expenses. .
What would he use for a 'cover - seeking out old ruins? There were several around Richmond including the abbey on the river bend at Easby. Her knew nothing of birds and the railway had been lifted not long safter he was born , leaving the station a garden centre. So ruins it would have to be. A shop he knew in Richmond sold Ordnance Survey maps that would make his 'cover' credible. A guide book would make it more conviincing to the casual observer
Making sure he didn't bump into anyone he knew would be tricky. If Jeffrey still knew him there would be others around who would pick up on him and give the sniper the means to get sat him through them. He had a re-think. Maybe he ought to steer clear of Richmond and get what he needed in Darlington before boarding the bus onward? Would the sniper know to keep up with him? He had been shadowed to Edinburgh and been shot at. Judging by that the sniper had to have done his homework, or been helped. That Edinburgh solicitor, for all his protestations, was possibly the sniper's unwitting helpmate. He had the means, after all.
Rush took the local bus to Waverley Station, overshadowed by the castle. In the booking office he waited patiently, queuing and watching out for the sniper. Looking around, he saw the fellow idle within earshot, pretending to check train times. At last, at the front of the line of waiting would-be passengers Rush told the clerk audibly,
"Single to Darlington, thanks... Yes, for today".
The clerk, a pretty young thing with large lens glasses lookede up at him and smiled fleetingly as she ran the ticket through the machine.
"There you are, Sir", the Edinburgh lilt was endearing, but she was way too young for George Rush. He preferred older women anyway, for experience. "Enjoy your journey, Sir. The one-thirty train for London King's Cross is due soon".
He looked at his watch. The stranger would have to be served soon for this to work.At least he knew where to ask for, unless he was as deaf as a doorpost. To be certain Rush idled near the door where timetables were displayed in a rack. As he pushed his wallet back into his shirt pocket he heard the heavily accented voice at the ticket deesk,
"Darlington, single - next train". No 'please' or 'thank you'.
The clerk who served him was a russet-haired male with a striking goatee beard dyed blue. He handed oveer the ticket to the stranger with a blank look and turned to his pretty colleague, telling her "Some folk have nae manners".
The sniper wasn't interested in anyone's opinion. He followed Rush to the southbound platform through the ticket barrier and waited at a distance. All he carried was a small back-pack and a heavy-looking black bag. He stood astride the bag as if afraid someone would snatch it.
Shortly before the train was due an announcer gave notice of its arrival within minutes. Midweek trains were usually on time, Rush understood, not that it made much difference at this stage. As the train slid noiselessly past the platform at Berwick Rush made his way forward from the back of the train to the buffet car. The sniper was seated in the middle of the same carriage by the aisle. Rush caught him look up as he passed, then down again at a thin newspaper printed in Arabic.
So, the 'game' was on, Rush told himself as he bought a can of Stella lager, a whisky miniature and a sandwich. He stuffed the plastic bottle into a side pocket in the flak jacket he wore, the sandwich in the other and carried the can whilsat keeping himself upright on the train as it lurched through points toward Alnwick...
As he passed the sniper he knocked deliberately against the newspaper, saying, "Sorry, mate". The man looked up without looking at Rush, but the gesture registered. This would turn into a grudge match. Rush grinned as he walked on to his seat, swaying with the motion of the train as it rolled past Alnwick Station without stopping.
Finally, Darlington Bank Top. Several passengers stood up to get their luggage as the train rumbled into the main 'Up' platform. The sniper struggled to ease his long black bag down, helped by a fellow passenger who scowled when he failed to thank them. Rush alighted onto the platform and watched as at the front end of the carriage the sniper thumped down, bad-tempered onto the platform.
Rush lost sight of the man on the way out, through the subway to the main entrance under the clock tower. He looked around as he strode out into the sunlight. Then he saw the black Audi with blackened side windows. As he walked towards the town centre he thought he saw the rear nearside window close slowly. On turning the corner he saw a daerk-skinned male dressed in a smartly tailored grey striped suit. The 'suit' would shadow him, Rush knew, as he went shopping for what he needed. The time would come when sniper himself followed Rush again..
His passage.down the main street in Darlington led to the bus stand where he checked the times for Richmond buses. Being fairly frequent, the timings allowed some freedom of choice, so to annoy his 'shadow' he entered one of the public houses. Some time later, having downed a couple of pints of lager and a black coffee, Rush emerged and made his way back to the bus stand. The 'shadow' withdrew back to the Audi and showed again just as the Richmond bus drew up.. .
The way leads to Richmond by the River Swale, home turf
The ride across country was uneventful. Rush ensured he had a corner of the back seat.
A look back down the road from Darlington showed the black Audi in traffic a few cars back behind. As they went along the Audi came closer until, crossing a tributary of the River Swale near Gilling West the Audi was right behind.
Rush felt his throat dry. How long would it be before the sniper made his move? The bus halted just before the junction where the road from Brompton joined the main road and Rush alighted. He thought he would play with them and walked back along the road, past the Audi, and crossed the road. As he reached the far pavement he turned in time to see the driver's door window slide shut. He turned a corner and began his ascent up the long street to a B&B. He knew eyes were still on him but they were unable to move as the head of the queue of cars was held at lights. They would nevertheless know where he was, but could do nothing until he left the security of town. Being at the eastern end of Richmond Rush knew the likelihood of bumping into old friends or acquaintances was minimal if he kept to the fringes..
Luckily the B&B had a single room free. He would only need it for a week at the outside before he was ready for the sniper to make his move. This would be 'cat and mouse' now. If the sniper failed in his mission he would be dealt with by his own kind. His masters or associates would not take kindly to being used in a personal vendetta if it turned out to be for nothing. As long as he seemed 'business-like' he was safe.
For George Rush it meant he had potentially more than one stalker. However, he knew the lie of the land. They were in his back yard, so to speak. He had played in the streets nearby, in the woods and around the surrounding villages such as Scorton and Hipswell. The sniper would not dare to expose himself at nearby Catterick Garrison. Should he become so desperate to avenge his kin close to the garrison town, the risk was reduced for Rush - just as long as he didn't meet anyone he knew. The 'game' would turn deadly if he so much as exchanged pleasantries more than 'Good morning'.
Then the sniper would have the upper hand. His helpers would not stop short of using them as hostages. Rush meanwhile worked at finding the best place to lure the sniper into making his first mistake. Across the Swale, over the old bridge was a sports ground, the Earls Orchard site. When he came here often as a lad with his dog or with friends there never seemed to be anyone about during the week. It would be right for what he had aforethought... Providing his timing was right.
Now when he arrived on a warm spring Sunday afternoon a football match was in progress. No-one he knew was about, so he ambled up to the touchline where folk leapt animatedly when one of their team scored.
"Living up to their name, aren't they", he heard one say.
"Oh, what's that? Rush heard himself ask out of idle curiosity.
"Scorton Slayers", the man grinned toothily. Rush grinned back and, after a pause where nothing seemed to happen during a throw-in he asked,
"Is the ground used a lot these days?"
"Thinking of booking a fixture for your own game, then?"
"Something like that", Rush smiled.
Another spectator put in,
"There's only a few teams use it now we're coming to the end-of-season finals, usually on Saturdays and Sundays. A few times you'll see a weekday match, but that's likely to be a Wednesday afternoon school game".
So, Rush figured Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday were clear. He fished in his jacket pocket for gum, offered some to his informant, but the man shook his head - and unwrapped some for himself. He'd got into the habit of chewing gum to help his concentration when a young recruit, and kept up the habit. It had stood him in good stead over the years, so he saw no sense in giving it up now.
When he made back for the bridge along with the Richmond supporters the Audi was parked on the slope down to the river road, although strangely facing the main road. The windows were all closed, but as he strolled along the bridge, heading for the castle wall path, he noticed a rear passenger window slide down just enough to allow cigarette smoke to drift out. Almost as soon as it was opened it rolled up again to prevent him seeing inside.
He figured it would take the driver some time to turn the car on the narrow road before being able to follow him. There were supporters still crossing the bridge and the sniper's associates wouldn't want to be seen following him. By the time the car reached the bottom of the steps up to the castle wall path he would be well on his way up the slope. Rush took his chance and left the mass of supporters and descended to the riverside road. From the corner of one eye he saw the black Audi pull away. He reached the footpath then and began the steep climb, stopping only to look back when he reached cover. He looked down to the road but could see no further than the trees and bushes. A car door opened and was immediately slammed shut. They must have left a window open as he could hear their angry exchange. Angry at losing him the occupants chattered animatedly. They were out of their depth here, Rush knew.
He followed the path around to the old part of the town nearest the castle walls, along the steeply graded street that linked the riverside car park with the market square. As he reached the square he looked around and followed the bottom road to the roundabout before taking a bus two stops. There would be no-one on his tail, he knew, although he knew they would be waiting for him as soon as he stepped from the front door of the B&B.
Rush stayed in that night, idly studying the Ordnance Survey map of the area. There was no question, the sports field was the best place for a confrontation, with enough cover and trees along the river bank. The dry weather ensured the Swale was not swollen, so at a pinch he could cross to the castle hill over the flat limestone slabs on the riverbed, brought down by heavy winter rains. They would be sore at that, being outfoxed again and, wearing their town shoes, unable to follow. They must know by now, he chuckled, that he was in his element and leading them on. However, outsiders that they were, they were still a threat.
Preparing the ground: Rush decides on his strategy
Next morning Rush saw the Audi parked across the road, obviously waiting for him to show his face at the door.
The car crawled downhill a hundred yards or so away along the road to the junction behind him. It had a wait again whilst traffic cleared the lights, to turn right into town. Meanwhile he sauntered easily down to the first roundabout opposite the supermarket, and crossed the road to go into the town centre. No-one had yet recognised him and things seemed to be in his favour as he passed the row of shops and offices to the square. It was a working day and anyone he knew would be hard at it, earning their daily crust. He passed the second roundabout as the car neared. Unable to follow him along the one way street the driver turned towards the road west out of town.
If the driver had 'Satnav' he'd know to follow the road past the Cricket pitch on the right, the filling station on the left and up to the left turn-off beyond the narrowed stretch of road. They could head down to the bridge past the end of the Regency square. If they had any 'nous' they'd know he was leading them back to the sports ground.
Rush looked back across the square as he neared the bus stand and headed for the castle gateway. Here he would head for the castle walk. A feeling he was being followed made him look back. One of the two men with the sniper had been dropped off and stood near the door to the auctionn't far house, a mobile phone held to his right ear. Rush grinned and strode on, the Afghan followed along below the towering castle curtain wall.
When he next turned at a bend in the path Rush could see no-one. He was quick to drop down into the undergrowth below the path and peered up through a gap in the foliage at his 'tail' when he came to the bend. The man looked clearly non-pllussed and stopped. He lifted the pork pie cap, scratched his tousled iron-grey locks and slapped the cap back on again. He took out his mobile phone and made another call. Annoyed with him at losing Rush someone at the other end barked into his phone and the Afghan held his phone away from his head as a blast of invective poured out.
The man strode on down the path, probably told to meet the others. Rush wasn't far behind when he saw the car pull in from the steep hill towards the riverside road. When they had gone far enough down the road to the car park he dropped down the steps to the road. Someone in the car must have seen him, as it screeched to a stop. He made the bridge, looking over his left shoulder at the Audi jerking through a turn in the road, and strode purposefully over the bridge to the south bank of the river.
He reached the changing rooms to the sound of the car engine whining past the end of the bridge, and screeching to an abrupt stop. Doors opened and slammed shut. Shouting followed him to the sports ground and as he turned he saw the sniper take aim. The tell-tale puff of light smoke let him know to duck and a bullet whined over his head, thudded into a tree and the sniper steadied himself to take aim again. Rush strode in and out between the trees and looked back as another puff of smoke showed. He ducked again.
A police car siren wailed, then another . Someone in one of the houses overlooking the ground had seen the sniper raise his gun and made a call to the local constabulary. Rush had forgotten about those houses. From the opposite direction down the wooded bank from Hudswell came an Army personnel lorry carrying armed men. Rush looked back at the sniper, taking aim again.
A police officer called on his loudhailer for the sniper to lower his gun and drop it to the ground. The sniper ignored the warning that he would be the next target, and fired. Rush ducked again but the bullet caught him on his left shoulder, spinning him around. Another shot rang out and the sniper lay sprawled, face down in gravel and dried mud. His associates ran to the Audi, the first to reach it gunning the engine. He reversed, his door swinging open as he slammed into the nose of a parked police car. The driver leapt from his car to be rugby-tackled to the ground by a burly young police officer. The other associate, the one with the pork pie cap, pulled out a Beretta pistol and brandished it in the air. Another warning was made with the loudhailer as the Afghan stood wobbling, unsure. He seemed to take aim but instead of firing a shot threw it down onto the grass and pressed his hands onto his head to show he'd had enough without firing a shot. The police officer who cuffed him grinned and told him,
"I hope you like the bracelets". The throwaway line was wasted on the Afghan and he was led away.
"Did you know these men, Sir?" another officer asked as an ambulance paramedic saw to Rush's shoulder.
"No I didn't", he fibbed. "Never seen them before".
"Then why would they come after you?" another officer quizzed.
"I honestly couldn't tell you", Rush fibbed again. "Maybe they thought I was someone else. You'll have to talk to the men who were with him. Maybe they'll know".
"You led the Army and North Yorkshire police a merry dance", Harker rebuked Rush on his return to barracks after a fortnight's leave.
"They only twigged something was going on when someone phoned the cops, Sir", Rush answered calmly. "Did they get anything out of the two who were with him?"
"Hmm - Oh, you mean with the sniper? No, nothing that made much sense, but apparently they've pleaded for asylum from the Home Office where they were taken into custody. They're literally sh***ing themselves at the prospect of being returned".
"I'm not surprised, Sir... Not surprised at all".