Read Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger Online

Authors: Stella Rimington

Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir

Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger (24 page)

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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No need to press the doorbell. As he got out of the car, the front door opened and a smartly uniformed maid took his card and ushered him into a large, square hall furnished with two sofas and an ebony table. Marble floor; pale grey sofas; mimosa-yellow cushions. Interior design job, reflected Seurat. No human hand had touched this. Expensive as well. Gauzy curtains hanging at the big windows moved gently in the air conditioning, but did not restrict the rolling view over the coastal plain towards Toulon.

Typical of Annette, he thought to himself as he waited. She’ll make her entrance after she’s given me time to take this in, and not before. He grinned at the thought of the shabby little suburban flat she’d last occupied in Paris. She’d be surprised he’d turned up here but delighted that he’d seen the luxury she now lived in. But softly, softly, he told himself. That was the way to deal with Annette.

The door to the hall opened. She hadn’t aged much; she still swept rather than walked. The tan was smooth, professionally correct like the room. She was dressed too young, he thought, looking at her short skirt and low-cut top. With Annette there would always be something not quite right.

As they touched cheeks, she put both her hands lightly on his, as if to suggest a physical intimacy which he was certain she didn’t feel. Then she stood back and lifted an eyebrow.

He said, ‘It’s wonderful to see you. I was hoping to see Antoine as well. Is he away?’

She nodded thoughtfully, as though mentally reviewing the possible reasons for Seurat’s arrival.

‘Yes, he’s away. He’s often away. He’s very busy. He doesn’t always tell me where he is. I don’t enquire.’

Seurat could not help admiring the adroit way in which she had taken the bull by the horns and wrong-footed him. Before he could respond, she advanced the conversational contest a further step.

‘Is there any particular reason for your asking about him?’

‘Well, yes. I need to talk to him.’

‘That’s obvious enough. I don’t expect you came here just to chat me up, Martin, pleasant though we might both find that. Or did you?’

‘Annette – look. He’s got himself into a difficult position. I don’t want it to get worse for him. It needn’t do that – if I could speak to him. You must know either where he is or where he might be. It would help him if you would tell me.’

She smiled, slowly took a cigarette from a silver box on the ebony table, lit it, blew out smoke, tapped her foot on the floor and said, ‘I dare say he’s amusing himself. There are plenty of places where he could be doing that. When he’s finished, he’ll let me know when to expect him back.’

Seurat ground his teeth. She knew perfectly well where the bastard was.

‘Well then, how long has he been gone? What’s he up to at the moment – I mean, business-wise? How long is he usually away?’

‘That’s rather a lot of questions, Martin – I’m glad we’re still on Christian name terms.’ She smiled seductively. ‘Do you always tell your wife what business you are on? Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot you’re divorced now, aren’t you? Fond as I am of Antoine, I do actually appreciate his reticence, even his absences for that matter. I don’t want to know about his business, so long as it’s going well. As far as that goes, I’m perfectly satisfied.’

Checkmate, thought Seurat. We’re getting nowhere. What particularly irritated him was the way she moved her head ever so slightly from side to side without moving her eyes, a bit like a snake-charmer with his eyes on a cobra.


Eh bien
. You have my card. Please tell him to call me. Tell him I can help him. Tell him I understand his difficulty.’

‘Do you? Well, naturally, of course I will tell him that. When the possibility occurs, of course. I’m sorry you should have come so far for so little. Perhaps next time you should telephone in advance. Can I offer you a drink? No?’

He now saw that she had been holding his card in her hand throughout the interview. She gave it a slight flourish, put it face down on the ebony table, and put the cigarette box deliberately on top of it.

‘There! All safe now,’ she said. ‘I’m sure he’ll get in touch. Sooner or later.’

Seurat gave up. There was no point in deliberately antagonising her. ‘It’s a very nice place you have here. Very chic, very comfortable. Rather out of the way though, isn’t it? I always thought you were a Parisian to your fingertips.

‘No, no. In fact I come from this part of the world. You never noticed my southern accent?’

He grinned. ‘That’s the only piece of information you’ve given me since I got here, Annette!’

For just an instant her eyes darkened, as though some shaft had gone home. Why? The remark had been innocent enough. Curious. He put it away to think about later.

‘I’ll say
au revoir
then. Do ask Antoine to get in touch.’

‘So lovely to see you again. I’m so sorry there’s been nothing I could tell you.’

As the front door closed behind him, Seurat swore. Why didn’t I hold that taxi? He started on his long walk back down the hill.

40

 

‘We were the first,’ Otto Perkins declared, and it took Judith Spratt a moment to understand what he was talking about. ‘Concrete barriers, armed police patrolling the terminals, sniffer dogs checking the luggage – we had them all years ago. It took 9/11 for the rest of the world to catch up.’ Judith wondered if this was a lead to be proud of, but Otto’s enthusiasm made it seem churlish to demur.

 

The little man was full of irrepressible energy, waving his arms about when he talked, and walking around his tiny office in the Portakabin in the car park so it vibrated with transferred energy. With his prominent upper teeth, which a bushy moustache did nothing to disguise, and his chin sitting at the bottom of his face like a small hard pear, Otto was such a pixie of a man that Judith had to resist the urge to pat him on the top of his head.

Otto had been manager of the Davis Hire car rental agency next to Belfast Airport for eleven years, he told Judith, and before that he’d worked at the adjacent airport as a supervisor in the terminal. Throughout those years he had also been on the books of the RUC Special Branch as an agent, transferring his services to MI5 when they’d taken over the old police force’s counter-terrorist duties.

Otto was a useful source; he seemed to know everyone who worked at or around the airport. More specifically, the rental car depot was a convenient location for parking cars safely when MI5 officers travelled. It also served (in the form of Otto) as a conduit for messages, a temporary repository for keys, and a fount of information on his customers when, as now, that was needed.

At last Otto paused to draw breath and Judith managed to get a few words in. ‘You had a customer from France last week called Antoine Milraud, who hired a Renault Megane.’

She gave Otto the registration number, and he began to tap at the terminal on his desk.

‘Got it!’ he crowed suddenly, like a man whose horse had won the race. ‘The maroon Megane – I know it well.’ He swivelled in his office chair and pointed out of the grimy window towards the car park behind, where two or three dozen cars were neatly parked. ‘It’s over there at the back.’

‘It is?’ asked Judith dubiously. Somehow she had expected the car to be missing – just like Milraud. ‘When was it returned?’

‘Hang on,’ said Otto, resuming his manic attack on his keyboard. ‘It was the day before yesterday – early in the evening. Just when it was due. No damage to the car and the petrol tank was full.’

‘You don’t remember who brought it back, do you?’

He looked slightly puzzled. ‘I assume it was Mr Milraud himself. But I can’t say for certain – I was off duty at the time,’ he added, sounding slightly guilty that he wasn’t there round the clock.

‘Who would have served him when he returned the keys?’

‘It might not have been anyone. An awful lot of people use the express service – they write the mileage on an envelope, put the keys in, then put it in the box outside. We never see them. Let me look—’ and he quickly flipped through a large file box of recent receipts until he found the right form. ‘You’re in luck; the keys were handed back in person.’

‘Who would have dealt with it?’

Otto looked again at the form. ‘It was one of the mechanics in the garage.’

‘What garage?’

‘Our garage. Over there.’ And he pointed to another low building on the edge of the car park. ‘We do most of the servicing for the cars ourselves. Right here. And any minor problems – dents, broken wing mirrors, that sort of thing. Believe me, it saves us a packet.’ He picked up the phone on his desk. ‘Let me give them a ring.’ Someone answered right away, and Otto said, ‘Danny, you worked the evening for me day before last, didn’t you? You know, the evening I was off.’ He listened for a moment. ‘I thought so. Listen, can you come over for a minute?’

Judith waited while Otto regaled her with tales from his past years at the airport. He was explaining at length some aspect of luggage conveyors when a tall young man in blue overalls pushed open the door and came in. Motor oil was streaked down his cheek and his sandy-coloured hair was flopping in his eyes and over his forehead. His face was unmemorable, except that Judith remembered it, though she didn’t know from where.

‘This is Danny,’ said Otto.

‘Hello. Have we met before somewhere?’ she asked, trying to place him.

‘Don’t think so.’ He looked at Otto. ‘You wanted to see me?’

‘That’s right, Danny. The maroon Megane. It was rented out last week by a customer who brought it back two nights ago. I was off, and you would have dealt with him. A man named Milraud – he’s French.’

‘Don’t remember him. He might have used the express service.’

‘Not this guy,’ said Otto, and pushed the folder across the counter at the mechanic. ‘See, you initialled it right there.’

‘Oh yeah,’ he said slowly.

‘He would have had an accent,’ prompted Judith, hoping she was right. ‘A funny kind of hair cut – it stands up straight in front. European-looking – he carried a leather sort of little handbag.’

The mechanic gave a snort. ‘I don’t remember anybody like that. But I don’t really look at them. I just take the keys, punch in the mileage, hand them a receipt.’

‘You’ve got CCTV in here,’ said Judith, looking up at the camera in the corner of the office. ‘Perhaps we could look at the tape for that night.’

There was a short silence. Otto looked embarrassed. ‘’Fraid it’s not working. Went off about a week ago and we’re still waiting to get it fixed.’

Judith sighed in disappointment, still trying to think where she had seen the mechanic before.

Danny looked at Otto. ‘Is that all?’ he asked.

Otto turned to Judith, who shook her head. ‘Thanks Danny,’ said Otto, and the mechanic left. Otto looked at Judith and shrugged. ‘Ryan’s a nice enough fellow, though he’s not exactly a threat to Einstein.’

But Judith wasn’t listening very carefully, for a picture was beginning to take shape in her mind. It was of this same man who’d just been in the office, standing outside a door. Her door, at her flat in Belfast. What had he been doing there? she wondered. Delivering a package? It didn’t seem likely. Then Otto’s words echoed and she asked sharply, ‘Did you say “Ryan”?’

‘That’s right. Danny Ryan.’

Now she knew where she’d met him – outside her door all right, one evening when Mrs Ryan had stayed late, and her son had come round to give her a lift home. What a coincidence, she thought. She shifted her attention back to Otto. ‘While I’m here, there’s something else I wanted to ask you about. One of my colleagues collected a car here a few weeks ago, then had a bad blowout on the A1.’

‘I heard about it. Your Mr Purvis paid me a visit.’

‘Did my colleague collect the keys to the car from you?’

He shook his head. ‘No, I wasn’t here.’ He seemed embarrassed again, as if afraid Judith was beginning to think he was always taking time off.

‘So who took care of her?’

‘It was Danny Ryan. He’s normally the one who stands in for me. He’s the senior of the boys in the garage. I know it was him, because Mr Purvis talked to him. Purvis said the car had been serviced only the week before by the mechanics at your place and he couldn’t understand what had happened. Danny told him he hadn’t touched it here and it seemed in perfect condition when your colleague took it away. Believe me, Danny would know – he’s an excellent mechanic; I’m scared I’ll lose him to another garage one of these days.’

Judith found Liz poring over reports.

‘Well, I’ve found Milraud’s rental car. What I don’t know is whether he returned it, or someone else did.’

Liz grimaced. ‘Since he didn’t fly from the airport, chances are it was someone else.’

‘It’s the weirdest thing. Otto Perkins, the manager at the car hire place up there, wasn’t working when the car was returned. One of the staff in the garage handled it. His name’s Danny Ryan.’

‘So?’ asked Liz absently, her mind on something else.

‘He’s Mrs Ryan’s son.’

Liz looked at her with surprise. ‘Our Mrs Ryan?’ When Judith nodded, she asked, ‘Are you sure?’

‘Absolutely. I thought he looked familiar, then I remembered where I’d seen him before. He picked his mother up from the flat one evening, not long after she started working for me. Isn’t that a coincidence?’

‘I’ll say,’ said Liz, looking down grimly at the reports on her desk. A4 had been unable to locate Dermot O’Reilly; suddenly it seemed as if the world and his dog had gone missing. She was still only half paying attention when Judith said, ‘By the way, you’ve met Danny Ryan too. It was he who gave you the keys of that car you picked up at the airport the day you arrived.’

Judith had all of Liz’s attention now. ‘The car that had the blowout?’

‘That’s right,’ said Judith. They looked at each other and Judith suddenly sat down.

‘Did you speak to this Danny Ryan?’

‘Not really. I saw him. Otto called him into the office to confirm that he’d been on duty when Milraud’s car came back. He wasn’t much help; he said it had been too busy for him to remember any individual customer. Now that I think about it though, that seems pretty unlikely. There aren’t that many evening flights from the airport and there are several other car hire firms there to share the custom. The CCTV camera in the office is broken too, so there’s no photographic record of who came and went.’

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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