Make Patrick feel welcome on his debut with the mystery of...
‘So you didn’t see an armoured van?’ asked a perplexed Inspector Venn.
The foreman sighed impatiently. ‘As I’ve repeatedly told everyone who’s questioned me: no. There’s been precious little traffic and I would have noticed.’
Venn looked along the narrow road. Cutting through a wooded valley, it was flanked by drainage ditches that should have made it impossible for the van to have left the highway here. And yet, according to his information, it must have done.
His men combed the woods but his gut told him they were wasting their time.
‘Excuse me,’ said the foreman. ‘But we’ve potholes to fill.’
The foreman’s team – seasoned navvies one and all - stood beside their tar truck, shovels in hand. Their displeasure at being kept from working was all too plain.
‘Sorry to have held you up,’ said Venn. ‘Please carry on.’
Back at the police station, Venn locked himself in his office and reviewed the facts. At 7:06, the van had left London carrying gold worth £7 million. It’s tracking device relayed its position as it headed north - until it reached Franklin’s Pass where contact was lost.
Venn put his feet on the desk and checked his note book. At first nobody had been alarmed. Franklin’s Pass was a known radio black spot. They took it for granted they’d pick up the van again in a couple of minutes. But they didn’t.
He watched CCTV footage. Thanks to an out of town supermarket, he had proof that at 9:37 the van was on its prescribed route and approximately 10 minutes from the pass.
On the other side of Franklin’s Pass, a petrol station kept an electronic eye on the road and captured traffic going both ways. Venn watched that morning’s tape. At 9:50 – about when he would have expected the van to appear – a sports car hurried past. A minute later, a family saloon towing a caravan headed in the opposite direction. And then a minibus rolled by. If the van had reached the pass, the occupants of the minibus must have seen it. He made a note to have the vehicle traced.
After the minibus came a tractor, a bulldozer and a camper van.
And that was it.
Venn picked up his phone. ‘Sergeant Norris, I want the personnel records of everyone in the van and everyone monitoring its progress. If this isn’t an inside job, I’m a monkey’s uncle.’
The workmen filled the last pothole in Franklin’s Pass. Taking pride in their work, they paused to tell each other how smooth the road looked and how well the new tar blended with the old.
‘Well done, lads,’ said the foreman. ‘That’s a job well done.’
As the tar truck lumbered on to the next site, the workmen climbed aboard their minibus. The foreman sat next to the driver. ‘Off you go, Harry, and drive carefully. We’ve had quite enough bother from the police for one day.’
Inspector Venn gave up on sleep. Although his flat was the cosiest of bachelor pads, on nights such as this it seemed too large.
I’m like a bonbon rattling around inside an otherwise empty tin, he mused as he cleared the kitchen table.
From the freezer, he took out packets of convenience food – burgers, faggots, lasagne – and stood them on the table in parallel lines. These represented the steep hills of Franklin’s Pass with their impenetrable trees. A tin of corned beef made do as the armoured van.
Now what else was there? Oh yes. The supermarket. Venn placed his tea caddy at one end of the table. At the other, a carton of milk did duty as the petrol station.
Which left just the road gang (six batteries) with their tar truck (a jar of Marmite) and minibus (half a bar of cooking chocolate).
‘Right,’ he muttered, steering the corned beef past the caddy. ‘This is where you were last sighted. But your tracker says you made it to Franklin’s Pass without mishap.’
Or had they? Supposing the van had been hijacked before the pass and its tracker disabled? Then all the thieves had to do was turn on an identical tracker and drive it along the van’s route.
But if that had happened, why did the thieves effectively raise the alarm by turning off the tracker at Franklin’s Pass?
Simple. To direct attention away from the van’s actual location. In which case, the decoy vehicle would be on the petrol station’s CCTV tape. With computer enhancement, it should be possible to make out its registration.
Of course, the van might actually have made it to the pass. If so, why hadn’t the workmen seen it?
Maybe they had. Maybe they’d hijacked it, forced the guards out, blasted open the doors and hid both the loot and the van. All in the space of 20 minutes.
‘Now you’re clutching at straws, you fool.’
Someone else who couldn’t sleep was the foreman. Despite the risks, he felt compelled to revisit the crime scene.
Parking at the mouth of the pass with his headlights on full beam, he experienced a warm glow as he surveyed the road’s flawless surface and recalled the moment the armoured van had rolled over the tar-covered canvas. He’d caught a brief glimpse of the driver’s shocked face as the ground swallowed him up.
With the van occupying most of it, the hole was quickly filled in. Then the boys had gone to work, resurfacing the road, tamping down the tar and covering it with just enough dirt to make it look old. They’d finished minutes before the police arrived.
Now all they had to do was wait until the heat was off. Then they could safely return to Franklin’s Pass with an excavator and some cutting equipment.
As for the guards in the van: he’d see they got a decent burial. It was the least he could do.
Patrick Whittaker is an author, screenwriter & playwright. Find out more here...