Southport, Merseyside. Yesterday
Bordering the Irish Sea, Bob Bainbridge patrolled the Coastal Road linking Ainsdale with Southport. His floppy ginger hair stopped well short of his broad shoulders and seemed to strangely compliment the crooked nose dominating his face. A former Royal Marine Commando, lean and mean, Bob was a fairly new addition to Merseyside Constabulary’s finest. But he was no stranger to callous streets and violent unforgiving conflict.
Glancing at the mirrored serenity of the Irish Sea nestling close to the road, Bob wondered if the kindly residents of Southport would be peaceful and pleasant today. Would he need his new found policing skills, he contemplated, or was he destined for a quiet shift on a sunny day? Snatching lower gear, Bob guided his patrol car though the bend towards Birkdale Golf Club as a dark blue Nissan 4 x 4 cruised by in the opposite direction.
In a building society on the outskirts of Ainsdale, Shona and Marion were the only two counter clerks on duty. The relief manager was in an office at the back submerged in paper work allowing his two employees to gossip about the latest goings on in their favourite soaps. The queue before them consisted of no more than half a dozen customers and included a retired couple waiting to bank some cheques and an eager group loitering patiently to do their business. Both in their late twenties, Shona and Marion chatted to their customers, smiled at the regulars, and slowly pruned the queue.
Outside, traffic was light with only a few pedestrians gracing the streets. On the Coastal Road, a silver coloured Mercedes sped respectfully along the tarmac and cruised past the Royal Birkdale Golf Club before turning inland towards Ainsdale. When the building society came into view, the driver slid the Mercedes into a lay-by outside the premises and waited.
Peace! The up market, wealthy suburb close to Southport merely basked in the sunshine and ignored the interlopers in the Mercedes. Traffic came and went as did pedestrians, dog-walkers, and a couple of elderly gentlemen heading for a round of golf.
A hand in the front passenger seat of the Mercedes eagerly reached for a walkie-talkie radio and pressed the ‘talk’ switch. A voice croaked, ‘Clear! Come!’
Moments later, a dark blue Nissan 4 x 4 cruised into the street and parked in front of the Mercedes. The two vehicles faced each other when the driver of the Mercedes acknowledged the Nissan’s driver.
Two masked men alighted from the Mercedes. Simultaneously, two masked men stepped from the Nissan. They were dressed in dark blue overalls, black leather gloves, black boots and balaclava masks with eye holes cut into the facial area. All four men walked quickly towards the building society. Each man was armed with a black canvas holdall and an AK-47 assault rifle loaded with 7.62 x 39mm cartridges.
At the door, one of the gunmen turned round and checked the street for onlookers. The scene was clear.
Inside the building, Shona was carefully counting out crisp new bank notes to a young customer, ‘One hundred and sixty, one hundred and eighty…’
‘Pay day!’ cracked the happy youth. ‘Once a week isn’t enough, is it?’
Shona nodded, licked her fingers, refused to be distracted and continued, ‘Two hundred, two hundred and twenty….’
Peeling notes from a pile of twenties, she looked up when the front door burst open.
A salvo of gunfire ruined the genteel composure of the day.
Two hundred and twenty pounds in twenty pound notes scattered across the counter and then tumbled to the floor.
The leader of the masked men vaulted a counter, pulled a trigger, and watched the bullet-proof glass disintegrate in surrender to the power of the assault weapon. The sound of the bullet discharging was awesome. Shouting and screaming rent the air when customers dived for cover and staff tried desperately to hide behind the meagre furnishings.
There was another rattle of overwhelming gunfire that reached a deafening crescendo when the deadly cartridges sprayed across the society’s walls and ceiling.
Within seconds, the building was a battle zone.
He was over the counter and into the back offices with his colleagues again raking the ceiling and walls with a barrage of gunfire.
A fluorescent light tube exploded and crashed to the floor bursting into a hundred tiny pieces of razor-sharp menace. A streak of gunfire blasted security cameras from their housing and a display stand hosting dozens of pamphlets was shot to pieces.
Customers screamed in terror when a rabid gunman manhandled them into a corner and a second began opening the cashier’s tills. Meanwhile, a third ripped the telephone system from the wall sockets and raked a thunderous barrage of fire into the computer screens.
In the back, with a gun to his head, the distraught relief manager opened a safe.
Screaming for all she was worth, Marion eagerly opened the cashier tills and bundled handfuls of banknotes into the holdalls provided. Hiding in a corner, an elderly man punched 999 into his mobile ‘phone and then dropped to the ground when another deafening crescendo of gunfire exploded around him.
Then it suddenly went quiet. Silence governed the atmosphere for a moment or two before being challenged by the sound of a woman weeping in fear.
They were gone as quickly as they had arrived leaving only an empty safe; empty tills, shattered glass, splintered woodwork, and Marion and Shona weeping uncontrollably. Dust clouded the atmosphere and part of the ceiling hung loosely from its holding. The MDF interior structure of the building had taken a beating and lost.
From a rear office, a dishevelled bank manager emerged and whispered nervously, ‘Ring the police.’
Ignored, he screamed in anguish, ‘For God’s sake! Ring the police!’
In the far distance, a lone siren sounded. The Mercedes took off at a steady controlled sprint in one direction whilst the Nissan took off in the other.
Bob Bainbridge lost no time in making the building society and rushed inside to find the mayhem. There he found a group of terrified customers still huddled together in one corner of the room.
‘Guns or grenades?’ yelled Bob.
‘Where are they?’ cried Bob.
‘Gone!’ cried Shona.
‘Which way?’ demanded Bob.
There was a shake of the head from the gathering.
‘At scene, shots fired. Repeat shots fired,’ radioed Bob. ‘Offenders made good their escape. Assistance required! Standby for update!’
Rushing outside to find an empty parking area, Bob looked up and down the road but there was no-one present other than a couple of scruffy looking youngsters on bikes.
‘Hey, guys,’ shouted Bob. ‘Did you see anything?’
‘You mean the robbers, Mister?’ suggested Tom, the slightly older boy poking his nose.
‘Yeah, which way did they go?’ asked Bob.
‘That way,’ pointed Tom.
‘No, that way,’ declared Mickey.
‘Very funny,’ offered Bob. ‘Now tell me again, which way did the robbers go?’
‘Tell him, Mickey. Tell the copper,’ suggested Tom straddling his bike and picking his nose like there was no tomorrow.
Mickey scowled at his pal but then turned to Bob and said, ‘There were four of them. They had guns. Big rifles! Machine guns even! Two of them drove off that way and the other two drove off that way.’ Mickey pointed over his shoulder.
‘Did you get the car numbers?’
‘No, but one was a big Nissan jeep like my dad’s and the other was a blue sporty thing with a sunroof.’
‘What did the robbers look like?’
‘They didn’t have faces,’ replied Tom.
Perplexed, Bob squinted.
‘He means they were wearing masks,’ offered Mickey.
‘Okay, stay here, boys. I need you to help. Is that alright?’
‘Yeah, will we be on the telly?’ queried Mickey.
‘Of course you will,’ suggested Bob.
‘Wow!’ the kids beamed.
Yelling details of the incident into his radio, Bob pushed open the front door of the building society and approached Marion and Shona.
‘Girls, are you alright? Is anyone hurt?’
Snivelling, cowering behind a counter redesigned by gunfire, Shona eventually managed, ‘No, I don’t think so.’
Turning to the rest of the company, Bob shouted, ‘Anyone! Anyone hurt at all?’
There was a shake of heads before Bob updated his radio.
‘Thank the Lord for that then,’ he laughed. ‘Relax, it’s all over.’ Bob threw open his arms but the faces before him were stone: frozen solid in a moment of terror that would lurk in their minds forever.
‘Tell you one thing though,’ suggested Bob rubbing a finger through a layer of MDF dust enveloping a computer console. ‘You need to sack the cleaner!’
Marion giggled and then began to sob.
Looking at the battle-scarred ceiling above, Bob queried, ‘Upstairs? Is there an office upstairs?’
‘It’s the Benefits Office,’ replied Shona. ‘It’s closed today.’
Shaking his head, Bob offered, ‘Benefits office? Pity! Still, you could always borrow their cleaner, I suppose.’
Suddenly, the ice was broken. Shona laughed in relief and Marion’s face relaxed.
‘Let’s start again, shall we?’ suggested Bob. ‘Does anyone remember anything that might help us find these people: anything at all, folks?’
The relief manager stopped shaking, studied the ceiling and the cartridges littering the floor, and offered. ‘I can. I can, officer.’
‘And what do you remember, sir,’ enquired Bob.
‘Their leader, he called me Kafir.’
‘Kafir?’ probed Bob.
‘Yeah, Kafir! What kind of name is that, officer?’
Stunned, Bob Bainbridge felt sick to the bottom of his stomach and shuddered at the very thought of the word. He’d never heard the term as a police officer. But Bob was very familiar with the continent from which the word originated from his days in the armed services.
‘Kafir, surely not,’ replied Bob, bewildered. ‘Kafir!’
‘Don’t you believe me, officer?’ asked the manager. ‘It Was Kafir. What does that mean?’
Puzzled, Bob replied, ‘If memory serves me well, sir, it means disbeliever.’
Fifteen minutes after the crime occurred, the robbers dumped two stolen vehicles in a layby, switched vehicles, and entered the motorway heading towards the Pennines to make good their escape at high speed.
And so the scene is set but it isn't long before the action starts to boil over and the plot thickens. Tighten your seat belts and hold on tight as a nationwide high speed, fast moving criminal enterprise is tackled by Britain's elite. They are going to win aren't they? .... You presume to much, more twists than a snake on ice in this one.