A Wing and a Prayer

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Chapter 17

The Post Office and general store in Whiting Bay was set back from the main street and sat on a banking that afforded it a good view of the open estuary and the mainland beyond, where George would spend many an hour in the summer, watching the activity on the mainland through a large telescope he had. The house that George and his wife, Beverley, lived in was attached to the side of it. Beverley had originally come from the mainland, near Glasgow, where her farmer parents bred horses, moving over to Arran when she and George got married. She was still a keen horse rider, but there was little opportunity for it on Arran, now, and most of her time was spent running the Post Office with George. She too, however, shared her husbands’ curiosity and knowledge of the telephone exchange, and could repair it as well as any engineer.

The original telephone system was first installed in a shed at the back of the shop, but George moved it into the store room soon after it was installed when his technical knowledge got more proficient and his reliance on engineers from the mainland became less and less. George was always fascinated with it and sat for many hours listening in to messages going back and forth between ships, ’planes and the mainland. He intercepted many German messages from U-Boats, but, at the time had no idea of their significance, or even recognised how close they were until he heard that one had been sunk just off the island. After discovering this, he made a point of studying morse code as he found it interesting and also began studying German in an attempt to translate the messages. He was always tormented by the guilt that he felt at being able to intercept these messages and not telling the authorities, although his lack of skill at translating German, made the exercise of little worth, anyway - Also, to do so would have meant admitting to something illegal, so he tempered the guilt by convincing

himself that he wasn’t hearing anything new, or hearing anything that the authorities wouldn’t know already.

When Klein, McCulloch and Andy went to see George the next day, they were initially coy about the reason for wanting discretion about the bank account and the amounts that it would be required to hold. George, peered at them over his glasses and shocked them by saying,

“You found a buyer for your ’plane, then?”

Andy was aghast and turned to McCulloch and Klein in turn and said incredulously,

“How the hell do you know about that?”

George smiled and replied,

“I just guessed. We saw the ’plane coming down and from where I was, I could see it probably landed here, either in the sea nearby, or possibly even on your land. Then, of course, a day or so later, I see you and a strange, Aryan-looking face, trundling down the lane with bits of metal in your trailer. I had a look through the ’scope and took a closer look - The swastika on the tail fin gave it away, really.”

George laughed and added,

“I know you lot too well. I just knew you were up to something. Once ’phone calls started to jump between McCulloch and Iain, the scrapman on the mainland, it didn’t take a genius to work it out.”

Andy, impressed at George’s intuition, but feeling as if he had been ‘caught’ and was confessing something, replied,

“Aye, well done, Sherlock. This is the strange Aryan face!” as he introduced Klein to George.

George shook hands with Klein and then said,

“Presumably you want me to either ensure the security of your calls, or ensure that the funds you received are handled with the utmost discretion?”

McCulloch laughed and replied,

“Aye, George. Right on both counts! And naturally we would like to pay you for this service.”

“That’s very kind of you, lads. But you know you don’t have to do that,” George replied.

“I don’t want to look like a blackmailer!”

“We know,” replied Andy,

“But it’s only right we share our good fortune with our friends.”

George smiled again and said,

“So how much are you looking to get into this account?”

They all looked at each other before Andy said,

“Twenty eight thousand pounds.”

George laughed loudly and said,

“Aye, right. What is this, April Fool’s day?”

McCulloch anxious to ensure George it was not a joke said,

“Straight up, George. Iain has a good contact that desperately needs it and has paid top money to get them out of a difficult situation they have – Twenty eight thousand.”

George had seen the serious look on all their faces and thought back to the telephone interceptions he got when Iain and McCulloch were arranging the deal,

“Who in their right mind is paying twenty eight grand for bits of a ’plane?”

Andy replied,

“Harkiss and Woodleigh. They’ve ballsed up an order with Short’s over in Belfast and they need metal fast in order to keep the Inland Revenue and our good friends at Customs and Excise, away from snooping into everything else illegal they have done in the past.”

George furrowed his eyes and said,

“Harkiss and Woodleigh? They’re a dodgy lot, alright. Old man Harkiss was always flying by the seat of his pants in business. It doesn’t sound like the son is much different. He’s a big gambler and unfortunately gambles with the business’ money as well as his own. Nothing dangerous, mind, but his business acumen is as good as his dubious skills at the ‘bookies’ and of course he’s not fussy who he deals with.”

George then added,

“Well, you’d better hope you can get this money before they fall apart. I hear that the Revenue and Customs are on to them already.”

The three of them set up the account in all their names, including George’s and he was thrilled to hear that his involvement was going to pay him £4000.

“And there is the parachute, of course” Klein added.

“I keep forgetting about that!” Andy exclaimed.

“Parachute?” questioned, George.

“Aye, the lad here, didn’t bale out, so the ’chute is still in the barn. That must be worth something, too!” replied Andy.

McCulloch was quick to point out the unique selling point of Luftwaffe parachute manufacture,

“It’s a yellowy- white silk, too. Not like our boys’ own ’chutes that are an ivory-white colour. That should ensure that it won’t look too familiar to anyone.”

George peered at them over his half-moon glasses again and said,

“Parachute? I’d stick to making curtains with it. You’ve no chance of passing that off as anything but German!”

George had one major reservation about the account, however.

“This is an awful lot of money for a wee Post Office like this. I’m not a bloody Swiss bank. If the Postmaster comes over and sees this money in here, it will definitely look criminal.”

Andy replied,

“What do you suggest we do, then?”

George peered over the top of his glasses again and replied,

“Since Harkiss and Woodleigh are in dire financial straits and have the Government breathing down their necks at their accounts, I recommend you take it in cash, if it’s offered, stick it under the mattress and spend it real quick! They won’t want too many assets to disappear, so they’ll try and cash everything in.”

McCulloch, not relishing that idea said,

“Now you’re the one that’s having the April Fools joke! They wouldn’t keep cash like that, surely?”

George shook his head and replied,

“I can’t think of any other way than spend it fast. That money will be noticed whether it’s here or on the mainland. How are we all going to explain away the fact that we have suddenly come into three, or four years wages during the war?”

They all thought about it in silence for a minute and then Andy said,

“Call Iain just now – they are going to see him today!”

George ushered them into the back office and came out from behind the counter to lock the door and put the ‘Closed’ sign on the door. As they all went through, McCulloch said,

“Where’s Beverley?”

George replied,

“On the mainland. She’s getting some stationery supplies and stuff. Come on.”

George sat at the telephone exchange and they called Iain at his scrapyard in Ayr. They told Iain of the plan and he said that there had been trucks picking up the metal this morning and had they had brought cash! As George suggested, they had been cashing assets in, anyway, since they were in trouble and dumped the money on Iain. Under the circumstances, the company had no choice but to pay Iain in cash and launder the money.

“They are getting a bit nervous,” he said,

“I think the Revenue are closing in on them. They have been back and forth all morning so far, while I’ve been sitting here counting the money. It’s quite surreal!”

McCulloch confirmed the state of affairs,

“The Revenue are on to them. There isn’t much time left.”

McCulloch then smiled and said,

“What does it look like, Iain?”

“Beautiful, Gordon. It looks absolutely beautiful!”

“I bet it does!” replied McCulloch.

They suggested that Iain came over on the next boat with it and told him to be careful.

“Don’t worry,” he said,

“See you soon!”

McCulloch turned to Andy and said,

“Trouble is, how do WE launder the bloody money!”

George hung up and they all went back out to the front of the shop and George opened the door again, much to the subdued annoyance of one of the elderly lady residents who was

standing waiting and wondering why the Post Office was closed. Klein, Andy and McCulloch made their way home to wait, nervously, for Iain to come over with their money. After lunch, Mags suggested they show Klein around the island, being as he had never seen anything of it while he was here.

“We’ll just go around Whiting Bay, Lamlash and maybe Brodick, where the ferry docks. What do you think?” she said to them.

Andy replied,

“Aye, that’s a good idea. Now that the work is over!”

Klein was also enthusiastic and they all piled into the little Austin van and the familiar smell of Sandy’s cooking oil puffed out of the exhaust as it reluctantly coughed into life. They drove through Whiting Bay, pointing out to Klein all the houses and businesses and even showed him the route he took when he flew over and crashed. Klein was amazed to see that the palm trees he saw from a distance were, in fact, real and was still amazed as to how they could possibly survive here.

“The Gulf Stream,” Mags replied,

“It’s a warm air current that comes up from Jamaica, or wherever. We can grow some fruit here and all sorts because of it.”

“Ah, yes, herr McCulloch mentioned this before,” Klein replied.

“He also says you can grow tobacco.”

Mags turned her head slightly with a look of minor scorn towards Andy and replied,

“Oh, Aye. THE tobacco! Aye that was a right bloody laugh, wasn’t it!”

Andy seemed to sink his head a little further into his shoulders and Klein smiled as he recalled the tale of the home-grown tobacco!

They went down through Lamlash and into Brodick and they had a brief walk around both towns before heading back in the late afternoon. As they drove back into Whiting Bay, they were driving along the main street, when they saw George and McCulloch run out of the Post Office, waving them down frantically in the street. Andy stopped the van and said to Mags and Klein,

“What’s wrong, here, do you think?” and got out the van to meet them.

“Big problem!” said McCulloch,

“Iain can’t get over with the money!”

“What do you mean?” asked Andy.

“He got as far as the ferry at Ardrossan and the harbour was swarming with police. He called George about half an hour ago.”

George added,

“And guess who was directing operations and searching vehicles - your old friend Jake! Iain just had to do an about turn and go back before they spotted him. He couldn’t possibly explain having twenty eight grand in used notes on him, now could he?”

Andy looked upwards and exclaimed,

“Aw, shite! What happens now?”

McCulloch replied, adamantly,

“Well there’s no bloody way we’re cutting him in!”

Mags leaned out of the window, having heard the dilemma they were in and suggested,

“Where’s Beverley? Is she back yet?”

Andy gave Mags a puzzled, almost incredulous stare, thinking that there were more important things to worry about just now than the time that one of her friends was getting back for a gossip and some tea!

George saw Andy’s face and realised this and simply replied,

“Eh, she’s not due back until the next boat, Mags.”

Andy still incredulous at this seemingly pointless interruption, said,

“What difference does it make if . . .” when Mags cut him off, abruptly.

“If Beverley is still over there, then why don’t you call Iain back, tell him to find her and give her the money. Iain can then use her as a decoy and if he gets stopped and searched, or anything, then he is clean! They won’t search her because they are looking for you lot to do something daft, which, on that score he is dead right! They can search Iain, however, find nothing and the money will be safe.”

Andy, now feeling a bit foolish, said,

“Aye – good point, you could be right!”

He then turned to McCulloch and George and said,

“Get Iain on the ’phone and see if he can find Beverley! Where would she be just now, do you think?”

George replied, glancing at his watch,

“She will still be at the stationers. Iain could just wait for her to come out and catch her before she gets into the van and leaves for the ferry.”

They all headed back up to the Post Office and called Iain back and told him about the arrangements. Without any more hesitation, Iain, got back into his van and headed down to the stationers, where the Post Office van of George and Beverley sat. Iain waited for Beverley to come out and when she eventually appeared with the last of her supplies for the Post Office, Iain got out and ran over to her.

“Beverley!” he called out as he ran over to her,

“Hi Iain,” she replied,

“What are you up to this weather? Are you going over to see the boys?”

She could see that he was looking a bit edgy and he replied,

“Aye, I am, however, I need a favour, Beverley.”

She put her boxes into the back of the van and stood bolt upright and crossed her arms, always a bit suspicious of Iain’s ‘favours’ as they invariably involved something a bit deviant!

“Oh, aye! What kind of a favour?”

“I need to get back over to Arran, but Jake and his stormtroopers are all over the harbour and I have a parcel for the lads, which Jake mustn’t find.”

“Oh, right! And just how do I fit in to all this?” she replied,

“I’m going over in my van, but wondered if you could take the parcel in yours? That way if Jake searches me, which he undoubtedly will, he won’t find anything.”

Beverley was almost scowling at Iain as she knew that he and her husband, and all the rest of their friends, were never one to miss some scam or other. This one, however, sounded a bit too suspicious if the Police were interested!

“Hey, wait a minute! What’s in this parcel of yours? Why would the bloody Police be looking for it? It sounds a bit flamin’ dangerous, to me!”

“No, no, it’s nothing sinister. It’s just some money that we’ve come into – payment for some metal. I just can’t have Jake or any other copper find it as, well, you know, these things come to us via strange and unexplained ways sometimes.”

Beverley looked Iain up and down and said,

“Aye, well, they certainly come to you in strange and unexplained ways, that’s for sure!”

She then thought about it for a few seconds and then said,

“Aye, alright. Go on. If I get caught with it, though, I’m saying that you planted it in the van while I wasn’t looking, alright?”

Menzies breathed a sigh of relief and said,

“Thanks, Beverley! We can put it in among the piles of stuff you have there.”

Iain ran back to his van and came back with the brown parcel that was about the size of the boxes of envelopes that Beverley had in the van. As he handed it over to her, she looked at the size of the parcel and asked,

“Just exactly how much is in there?”

Menzies leant in and put it in amongst the other boxes and parcels and replied,

“About twenty eight grand.”

Beverley’s jaw nearly hit the ground as she repeated with some emotion, a little louder than was safe,

“Twenty eight thousand pounds? How the hell did you get that? Did you scrap the bloody Ark Royal or something?”

“Christ, Beverley. Keep it down. Jake will hear you all the way down at the sodding harbour!”

“Well, for christ’s sake, no wonder!” Beverley replied,

“I thought you were talking about two or three hundred pounds, or something!”

“Look, Bev, I know it sounds a bit dodgy, and I suppose it is in a certain kind of way . . .”

Beverley scowled at Iain as he tried to make his requests of her convincing,

“ . . .but if Jake finds out we’re all in the shit. I’ll explain it all better when we’re on the boat.”

Iain briefly explained how they had been paid for some scrap metal and that because her husband was in on the deal they stood to gain around £4000 as a result. The mention of this figure in the same breath as their names had an amazing effect on Beverley’s motivation to co-operate.

Beverley looked up and down the street, as if anyone might be listening, and said,

“Right, well we’d better get back over, fast, then!” she said, closing the doors to the van.

“I’ll go first, and that way if he does look in to the van, you can high tail it out of here. Wait about five or ten minutes after I get on the boat.”

She then took the parcel and tucked it down beside the spare wheel, ensuring that it couldn’t be seen, even if the boxes were moved. They then got into their respective vans and headed for the ferry. They agreed that Beverley would go first, and then Iain would drive on, almost at the back of the queue.

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