A Wing and a Prayer

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Chapter 16

The next day, work continued on moving parts of the ’plane back and forth to Clark’s place, where he had his furnaces burning constantly, melting metal down, while shaping out the false metal floors for the next run. They made sure they never had anything stockpiled, just in case someone noticed them. They were careful to have the furnace going and one set of floors made, waiting for McCulloch and Iain Menzies to come back from the mainland.

The first trip of the day included the set of railings from the engine block of the ME109 and a few blocks of aluminium concealed in the engine bays of both vans. The blocks were made from house brick moulds and could be hidden easily around the vans. As they drove off the ferry, sure enough, there was Jake to meet them! He flagged them down again and as McCulloch wound down the window, Jake said, referring to the little Austin van,

“So, going for another try at killing it? It’s the most merciful thing to do!”

McCulloch smiled and replied,

“No, no. We’re trying to get a new back door and window for it.”

Jake, glared at McCulloch for a second, and, not convinced, said,

“Right. Open them both up. I just know that you two are up to something!”

McCulloch, in mock protest, replied,

“Aw, come on! This is harassment, this is! Whose side are you on, Jake? As if it’s not enough that we’ve got the bloody Germans wanting to control us! This is no flamin’ different.”

McCulloch got out the van and opened it to reveal, as usual, nothing to the policeman. Once again, Jake never noticed that the floor was two inches thicker than a normal van of this type.

Disgruntled at his suspicions not being realised, and fast losing face, he turned to see Menzies already opening up the larger van. This time, there were the railings that had been made by Clark, propped up against the side.

“What’s this?” Jake asked.

“Just some old railings,” Menzies replied.

McCulloch stepped forward and added,

“We’re giving them to Iain as a sort of ‘thank you’. After all money is scarce and you know how we can barter and pay in other ways.”

Jake looked suspiciously at McCulloch and sneered,

“Aye, I know exactly how you lot operate! So help me, Gordon McCulloch, if I find that you are transporting illicit booze over to the mainland or taking it over there and fiddling the tax man, I’ll have you!”

McCulloch, again in mock protest, said,

“This is ridiculous! Menzies here has been helping us out with a few things and the railings are our way of payment. That’s all!”

The Policeman, foiled again by the publican and the scrap metal merchant, had only his suspicious mind and actually questioned his own sense of perception as he looked at the empty vans and could find no explanation for what they might be up to. He had no option but to let them carry on.

McCulloch and Menzies got back into the vans and they headed to the yard to unload the floors and the railings.

As they prepared to leave, Menzies said,

“Maybe we should take something back with us for the next run?”

“How do you mean?” replied McCulloch.

“Well, if Hitler’s evil twin is there when we get back, at least we have a reason to be going back and forth,” Menzies said.

“Aye, you’ve got a point there. What will we take, though? We can’t take anything heavy over here as the vans will be fully loaded with the false floors. It would all be one – way.”

Menzies had a glance around the yard and spotted a large pile of broken, wooden pallets and suggested them.

“We could take some of them, each time, and give them to Clarky for the furnace fires?”

“Good idea!” exclaimed McCulloch, and they immediately set to loading four of the pallets into the larger of the two vans.

They set off home again and as they approached the harbour at Ardrossan to catch the ferry, they constantly scanned the area looking for the familiar figure of Jake prowling around. They waited at the jetty but as they looked around, there was no sign of the Policeman anywhere to be seen. When they got on the ferry and got out of the vans, they even had another look over at the harbour area, but there was still no sign of Jake.

“Christ, I hope hasn’t nipped over for a look himself!” Menzies said, with more than a little trepidation in his voice. McCulloch wasn’t convinced he would do that since his ‘patch’ didn’t include Arran and it would be too risky for him if his Inspector knew he had gone over and left his area unattended.

“Naw, I don’t think he’ll do that. He knows he could catch us doing something if we were coming off the boat. That’s one advantage of him being suspicious about us over here – he knows we would be too crafty to get caught on home soil!”

“I hope you’re right!” replied Menzies.

For the next three days, the movement and processing of metal parts continued, and anytime that Jake was at the harbour, he passed small conversation with them, but still regarded them with suspicious contempt. All he ever saw in the vans were either wooden pallets or iron railings. Andy and Klein had the transport of the correct amount of metal down to a fine art and Clark had the melting down perfected. It began to amuse McCulloch and Menzies as they baited Jake at the harbour with each trip and soon the last of the metal was delivered, melted down and formed into a false floor for each van. At the end of the second day, they had done their last trip with the scrap metal. The remaining parts that couldn’t be disposed of discreetly, such as the instrument panel, and various other parts, including the cockpit canopy and camera, were to be broken up and dumped in the sea. Andy and Mags had finally decided that the canopy was too obvious and that the camera was difficult to hide and unable to work unless installed in the aircraft. They certainly

couldn’t sell it on, so reluctantly, Mags decided it had to go. Later on, just before dusk started to shroud the island, Andy and McCulloch took Clark’s motor boat out from the bay and headed out towards a spot just off the Holy Isle with the camera equipment and the parts of the canopy from the 109.

“Well, there shouldn’t be any chance of this crap turning up on a beach somewhere!” Andy said, in reference to his last attempt at hiding unwanted items into the sea. McCulloch groaned as they hauled the parts of the canopy into the water and added, “I hope all this is worth it”.

They hauled each piece overboard with a loud splash, and as the last part fell into the water, they wasted no time in getting back to the shore and checking that there was nothing left in the barn that would incriminate them.

After the last haul was dropped off at the yard, Menzies came back over the next day to the island for a meeting with the little island consortium, to arrange the transfer of payment with his ‘customer’. The next night, they all gathered in the MacLaren’s kitchen, with a large supply of ‘B17’s’, and fish suppers provided by Sandy from his fish and chip shop. They all congratulated each other on a job well done, and discussed what they would each do with their share of the cash! Iain Menzies had spoken to the buyers that day and had told them that they were nearly finished. They were keen to complete the transaction and get their hands on the top quality aluminium that the islanders had gathered. Menzies then waited for a natural silence as the food was being unwrapped and said,

“We also agreed on a price.”

Without a word, every beer bottle was put down on the table in nervous anticipation of the figure that Iain was about to reveal.

“I reckoned that anything between £18,000 and £20,000 would be a realistic estimate for what we had, however, I was wrong.”

Menzies was clearly playing to the pessimistic expectations of the assembled group as he looked at their vacant faces and revelled in the silence of anticipation. He then smiled broadly and said,

“They are offering £28,000 flat. Cash!”

There was a muffled sound of sharp intakes of breath all around the room as each of them tried to take in the enormity of the sum that was being offered for a pile of scrap metal! Sandy broke the silence,

“Christ, they must be desperate for it!”

“They are,” said Menzies, repeating quietly,

“They really are. It’s a small price for them to pay now to avoid paying a heavier one later.”

“Bloody cash, though!” added Mags,

“That will fill Ian’s van!”

“Who the hell are they?” asked Andy.

“Harkiss and Woodleigh,” Menzies replied.

McCulloch laughed and said,

“The biggest cowboys in the wild West . . . of Scotland! I’m not sure if I’m going to like this. At least we’ll benefit from it, I suppose.”

“I don’t understand how any company can be so desperate as to pay such an amount for this metal?” said Klein.

“Simple, really,” replied Menzies,

“They got a contract ages ago, to supply sheet aluminium for the Shorts aircraft company over in Belfast. The problem was, they didn’t have anything to actually sell them, but they got the money up front, spent it and gambled on having the material in time for the first order, by some way or another, and possibly via the black market. Shorts were a bit too bloody efficient in their production and so they called the order forward and left my contacts in the shit. If they couldn’t get the aircraft quality aluminium from any source in time, they would go under. Since the company wasn’t adverse to having it’s raw material come by unorthodox routes, it would have really dropped them in the shit when the receiver started poking around their books, if they went tits up. As a result, after a request to me to keep my eyes open for anything that could even remotely pass for aluminium, Klein here, had the decency to drop in and pay for his keep.”

Menzies picked up his beer and took a sip,

“It really is a small price for them to pay, to keep official auditors and receivers off their backs and keep their reputation

as an honourable company to deal with! There were even rumours that they were selling material to the Germans that would be classified as contributory to their war effort as recently as 1940! It keeps their crooked arses out of jail. Plus, it buys our silence, of course!”

“Of course!” Andy agreed.

McCulloch, with more practical matters on his mind, said,

“So how do we actually get the money from them?”

Menzies replied,

“They could pay it into an account in Ayr that we can withdraw from George’s Post Office, here. I suggest we then make discreet trips to the mainland every now and again to make transfers to other banks.”

Sandy immediately saw a flaw in that plan and said so,

“That’s far too risky. You are talking about each of us walking away with nearly £5000 – about five years wages – how do people like us, especially from the same town, explain that sudden wealth away, at the same time? And during a war?”

There was a mass dropping of shoulders around the table as each man realised it could be very difficult to hide the fact that they had come into extreme wealth in a war torn, impoverished island. What use would any of the money be to them if they couldn’t get their hands on it? A problem that was not lost on anyone in the room.

“There is another way,” Klein offered,

“Although, it may cost us all a little of our share, each.”

All eyes turned to the young airman, to hear his suggestion.

“We could include George, the postmaster in, pay him some of the money to keep quiet and that way we can take money out here without problem. Keep it in the community, if you like.”

Sandy wasn’t keen initially,

“How much will that cost us, though, I mean if we cut George in, then how much will we lose?”

Andy thought that was a good idea to cut George in, and said so.

“Actually that may be the best way out. Let’s not get greedy here. If we got caught with this money we could probably get banged up for twenty years. We don’t know what else this company has been up to – Iain has already said they are a bit

shady, and there is the dodgy deals with the Germans, so it stands to reason we could be guilty enough by association.”

Andy shuffled his empty beer bottle between his hands on the table and added,

“No – I think we should buy George’s silence and then we keep everything on the island and among ourselves. At least we don’t have to go to the mainland all the time to get it. That would definitely draw the wrong kind of attention.”

The rest of the group thought about it for a few seconds and Andy said,

“What does everyone think? Cut George in?” adding,

“Just remember that it was George that listened in to the radio traffic to warn us that the yanks were coming that time that their ’planes crashed. If he hadn’t done that, Gordon here, would have been caught red handed raiding the ’plane and would now be sitting in jail.”

Sandy added,

“Just think of all those calls from the mainland from Iain when you were arranging for him to come over. They were free and no questions were asked, even though he must have thought something was afoot.” Clark butted in.

“Aye, and if he hadn’t tipped us off about the yanks coming over, we wouldn’t have our supply of good booze, now!”

McCulloch looked slightly perturbed that the provision of illegal alcohol seemed to be the most important thing to them, rather than what happened to him!

McCulloch, however, was first to approve,

“Aye. George is o.k. Why shouldn’t he benefit as well? He is one of us after all. When was the last time any of us paid a ’phone bill?”

They all looked downwards, contemplating George’s generosity and feeling a bit ashamed, now, that they would have considered not even including him in the first place.

Clark was concerned about the amount,

“What will we give him?”

Sandy replied,

“I say we make it an equal share – keep everything right. That way we all get about £4 000. That’s still a lot of bloody money!”

The others all nodded enthusiastically and the group all agreed that the postmaster should be cut in on their good fortune. They decided to see George the next day to give him the good, if not quite believable, news and once the money was transferred in to the account they could give him a share and withdraw their money without question.

George Urquhart, the Whiting Bay postmaster and owner of the general store was not one to miss out on any of the goings on in wartime Arran. He was the ears of the community, being able to tap into calls from the authorities and warn the islanders in advance of any ‘surprise’ visits, to ensure they were playing the game of war by the Governments rules! During the time of the American bomber crashes on the island, George was always the first one to contact the rest of the town via the island’s primitive telephone system that was installed in the back shop. It was so old and decrepit that the Post Office themselves wouldn’t maintain it now. It was only due to George’s interest in the workings of it, that it kept going. The Post Office were impressed by George’s enthusiasm and let him keep it and maintain it himself, giving him carte blanche with it’s operation in the community. By the time McCulloch, Sandy, Clark and the rest of the motley crew gathered to pick up the spoils, George would be well placed to ensure that their privacy was protected. His knowledge of the telephone system was also indispensable when it came to getting free use of the telephone lines, too. At the outbreak of war, George had closely studied the engineering behind the system and had always carefully watched the engineers from the mainland who came out to service it. By the time the war started, George knew more about the system and it’s workings than they did and had worked out a number of ways to tap the ’phone lines and to get free calls! The workings of the system sported many elaborate ‘jump’ leads between terminals that were never part of the original design! He also had an excellent knowledge of morse code and could listen in to the messages being transmitted over the airwaves that strayed into the path of his equipment. As far as Andy and the rest of the group were concerned he was a handy ally to have on

the payroll, and so they wasted no time in sending himself, McCulloch and Klein down to see him the following day.

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