2. Daylight Robbery
Jenny Turner waited by the coffee shop window. She waited in the same spot every weekday morning between ten and five minutes to nine, until she spotted her boss Chris Jenkinson. For Jenny it was a fifteen minute walk from her parent’s house on the Weston estate to where she was waiting in the High Street. She knew that Mr Jenkinson had to drive from the next town and then find a parking spot in the busy little car park a hundred yards up the road.
It was colder this morning. Those long summer days with glorious sunshine were behind them; the nights were drawing in fast and this week a cold easterly wind had whipped up too, dropping the daytime temperatures by five or six degrees and meaning that her parents were itching to turn the central heating on. Jenny was wondering whether she ought to go shopping at the weekend and get a couple of thicker jumpers to wear into work. She almost missed Chris Jenkinson arriving at the security door of the jewellers in which they both worked. He waved out to attract her attention. Jenny looked left and right to check the High Street was clear for her to dash across.
‘Good morning Jenny! Daydreaming were we?’ said Mr Jenkinson. ‘Ever so sorry’ Jenny said ‘I was miles away; thinking about shopping for clothes now that autumn has got its chilly fingers on us.’
Chris Jenkinson took his bunch of keys from his jacket pocket and unlocked the security grill. They both helped to lift it up to the top of the windows and Chris secured it in place for the rest of the day. As they stood together in the shop’s entrance, out of the wind, first Chris and then Jenny used their key to unlock the shop door. Once inside they locked themselves in and started to get the place ready for business.
The time lock on the large wall safe clicked over to nine a.m. and Chris and Jenny span the wheels and the almost floor to ceiling grey steel doors gradually opened to reveal the narrow corridor in the safe between the hundreds of trays of jewellery and watches that were securely stored for Shatner and Sons (Purveyors of Quality Jewellery since 1889).
‘Which trays shall we display today then Mr Jenkinson?’ asked Jenny.
Chris Jenkinson checked his computer print out and called out the numbers. Jenny pulled the trays out part way and once the selection was complete, she and Chris Jenkinson transferred the items to the various display cabinets. This ritual was repeated every morning. Head Office ensured that a different selection was offered to their discerning clientele every day; the value of the items in the floor and wall cabinets was always balanced out to provide a display with a purchase price value in the region of six million pounds.
The safe doors were then closed securely and fifteen minutes later the shop was ready to receive its first customer. Jenny let herself into the staff room and made a cup of tea for Mr Jenkinson and a coffee for herself. They had five minutes to drink up and have a chat before the final member of staff would join them. Daniel French was a craftsman. Daniel was single and lived alone in a flat above Coleman’s the butchers which overlooked the High Street. The word ‘oddball’ could have been coined just with him in mind.
As Jenny Turner and Chris Jenkinson made their respective ways towards the front door of Shatner and Sons each morning, Daniel would be watching them from behind his faded lace curtains. He would look at the old clock on the mantelpiece and check that they were on time. Once they were inside, he would shower, get dressed and fill his large flask full of hot sweet tea; then he would leave his flat and walk down to the door at the rear of the building. From there it was a brisk walk up the alleyway between the butcher’s and the Western Counties Building Society, into the newsagents for a copy of The Times and then Daniel would cross the High Street and ring the imposing brass door bell of the jewellers. His two colleagues would open the door, let him into the shop and the business day could begin. Daniel French would take up his position in the back of the shop to carry out his duties. Through the large one way glass window which afforded him a perfect view, Daniel could see everything.
As Jenny Turner picked up the empty cups on this particular morning, she heard the bell ring. She smiled at Daniel through the glass door and quickly deposited the cups in the staff room, then joined Chris Jenkinson and they opened the door. ‘Good morning Mr French’ said Jenny. ‘Good morning Daniel’ said Chris. Daniel gave them a brief nod, and then disappeared into his inner sanctum, flask and newspaper in hand.
Jenny looked at her boss and giggled. ‘Nothing changes much around here does it?’
Chris Jenkinson shook his head ‘Our Mr French isn’t a people person I fear, but he’s an excellent craftsman and has worked here ever since he left school. After his parents died, he sold their house and bought the flat over the road, apart from coming here to work during the week, I’m not sure that he gets out that much. His only interest appears to be the theatre. Mr Singh at the newsagents mentioned to me one day that it was Daniel that always put the posters in his window advertising plays put on by the Weston Amateur Dramatic Society.’
Just then a young woman entered the shop, looking for a watch for her husband. The day’s business had begun!
Harry Gascoigne stood in the doorway of the travel agents. The collar of his fleece was raised against the cold. A stiff easterly wind was blowing that reminded him of something his late mother used to say ‘It was a lazy wind; it went right through you, rather than have the decency to go around.’ Harry could see the young girl, waiting outside the coffee shop. She always stood in the same place and always at the same time. This was going to be easy pickings for someone as experienced as Harry.
Harry looked further along the street to see the manager emerge from the car park. It was as close to five to nine as made no difference. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the two middle-aged ladies who were heading for the travel agents, waddling down the pavement on the other side of the road. Harry could set his watch by those two as well. The shorter one with the permed blond hair came into town on the bus from the local village and her taller, heavier dark haired colleague waited for her to arrive, then they called into the newsagents before crossing over to open the shop. Every step of the way was spent chatting as if they hadn’t seen another human being for six months.
Harry moved on down the street to look in the windows of a sporting goods shop. There was someone moving around inside already. ‘Probably lives over the shop, poor sod!’ thought Harry. To any of the people he was watching or indeed any other early morning shoppers passing by he would have appeared to be looking at the displays of sports equipment, replica football and rugby shirts and the like. In fact Harry was checking the movements of the Shatner and Sons staff in the reflection of the large plate glass window. The manager and his young female assistant had used their sets of keys to get inside the shop and had locked themselves inside.
Harry Gascoigne moved back towards the travel agents and because the two ladies had left the door ajar, he could hear their animated conversation continuing as they made their final preparations ready for their first customers looking to fly away to warmer climes. Harry wasn’t interested in those two though. He was keeping an eye on the jewellers. He knew they were getting lots of beautiful things out of the safe and into the display cabinets.
Harry crossed the High Street and walked slowly along the pavement looking in each shop window, pausing now and then to convince any nosy parker that he was just browsing, killing some time. He hoped they might dismiss him as someone waiting for a bus; perhaps early for an appointment at one of the solicitors’ offices or the dentist. The time ticked on towards half past nine. Harry was impatient to get inside Shatner and Sons and relieve them of a sizeable amount of the stock they had on show.
He thrust his hands further down into his pockets. The metal of the replica gun was cold against his left hand, the ski mask warm and comforting against his right; the large canvas bag which was tucked away inside his fleece, made him appear a little heavier than he really was, but was keeping him warm on a day like today.
‘C’mon!’ muttered Harry ‘why don’t you open that bloody door!’
As Harry made his final pass of the jewellers he saw the manager and the assistant nearing the door to open it. A smartly dressed gentleman had just marched up to the door and rung the bell. At last! Harry knew that this third member of staff always arrived in the nick of time before they were officially open. He had deduced he was in the back somewhere, mending watches and resizing bracelets, rings and so on, but he was no match for Harry Gascoigne, with or without a gun!
Harry deliberately stopped to look in the jeweller’s window. ‘No point being a shrinking violet’ he thought ‘they’re more interested in what’s going on inside anyway, they haven’t got time to worry about me.’ A young woman brushed by him as he moved away from the window towards the door.
‘Sorry’ she said ‘after you.’
Harry swore under his breath and turned away. He made as if to cross back over the High Street. The young woman tutted at his rudeness and went on into the shop. ‘Typical’ thought Harry ‘weeks I’ve been casing this place and their first customer is never before ten o’clock, sometimes nearer half past!’
He paced up and down while the customer looked at several trays of watches, dithering over which one to buy. ‘Get on with it woman!’ seethed Harry ‘some of us have got work to do!’
After what seemed like an age to Harry, the customer eventually decided on a watch and after her card transaction was finally completed, she left the shop carrying a distinctive little maroon bag carrying the S&S monogram in gold gothic lettering. Harry scurried along the pavement as the young woman made her way back towards the town centre moving slowly but steadily away from the way Harry was approaching.
After years of practice Harry Gascoigne had his ski mask on and his gun in his left hand in a couple of strides. He burst through the door of Shatner and Sons and closed it behind him.
‘Nobody move a muscle. Keep your hands in the air away from any alarms.’ said Harry in a Geordie accent.
Chris Jenkinson and Jenny Turner were dumbstruck. They were frozen to the spot. Anything they had learned on their training courses about how to react in an armed robbery went clean out of their heads.
Jenny Turner started to whimper.
‘Shut it!’ said Harry retrieving the bag from inside his fleece ‘Start filling this with these trays.’ He had moved across country now and his Welsh lilt seemed at odds with the seriousness of the situation. Jenny nervously did as she was told; tray after tray, cabinet after cabinet.
Chris Jenkinson thought Harry’s attention was momentarily drawn to the filling of the bag and made a move towards the silent alarm button under the counter a couple of yards from where he was stood. Harry Gascoigne saw the movement out of the corner of his eye. He spun around and as Chris lunged towards the button, the armed robber smashed the butt of the gun down on the manager’s hand.
‘Don’t be a mug mate! They don’t pay you enough to be a hero.’ Then he called out to Jenny Turner in a broad Cockney accent ‘Okay sweetheart, that’ll do. Give me the bag and come and see to your boss.’ Jenny put the bag down on the floor. It was heavy. At least a third of the trays had been emptied, probably a few more. She was upset, angry and confused. She had no idea where this man came from let alone what he looked like. ‘Where are the police?’ she wondered ‘What the hell is Daniel doing in there!’ She hurried over to comfort her boss, whose hand was broken and bleeding.
The robbery had been in progress for just over three minutes. Daniel French watched events unfold before his eyes. The CCTV cameras were all loaded and working; so the police would know exactly what had happened, even if the ski mask prevented them from identifying the armed robber. Trust Chris Jenkinson to be a ‘have a go hero’! Daniel pressed the silent alarm button.
Outside in the shop Harry Gascoigne had the bag over his shoulder and was backing away towards the door. With a final regional accent, this time a trip to the Emerald Isle he said ‘Sorry I can’t hang around any longer; your man in the back will have pressed the alarm anyway. Don’t follow me out, nice doing business with you!’
With that he was out of the door, removing the mask and stuffing it and the gun deep into his jacket pockets. He was walking quickly, not running or panicking, just making his way steadily to the small car park down the road. He threw the canvas bag in the boot of his Honda Jazz and drove out onto the High Street. Harry looked left and right. There was still no sign of the police. ‘Must be busy today? They usually respond to a silent alarm inside five minutes.’
Harry Gascoigne turned right and took the road out of town. He was happy with his morning’s work. All he had to do now was contact an old accomplice and offload this haul in exchange for some hard cash.
Meanwhile, in Shatner and Sons, everything was in turmoil. Jenny Turner was in tears and trying to see what she could do for Chris Jenkinson’s damaged hand. There was a lot more blood, broken skin and bone, than Jenny was comfortable with seeing, but it wasn’t going to be fatal thank goodness. The emptied trays were scattered around the floor and several other cabinets were open their valuable stock still at risk of being pilfered by all and sundry. Chris Jenkinson was trying to be brave, but his voice was pretty weak and squeaky when he asked Jenny ‘What the hell is Mr French doing? He could see everything from in his workshop. Why didn’t he press the alarm?’
Daniel French emerged from the back of the shop. ‘Sorry about that’ he said ‘I was in the toilet. The gunman was lifting that heavy bag onto his shoulder before I knew anything. I called the police immediately I realised what was going on. It must have been very frightening for you both.’ He looked around the room. ‘Shouldn’t we lock the doors until the police get here? If you are fit enough to open the safe Mr Jenkinson, I believe we should secure the remainder of the stock, so that an inventory can be carried out. Then Head Office will know how much they’ve lost.’
Chris Jenkinson started to recall all the steps he should have taken during and after a robbery such as he had just experienced. The things that had flown clean out of his head when facing that gun. ‘Yes Daniel, that’s exactly what we should do.’ They were interrupted by the sound of several police cars screeching to a halt outside the shop. The High Street was cordoned off; the busy shopping day was put on hold while the various police personnel went about their business.
Locking the shop door was delayed until half a dozen people, two in uniform, two in plain clothes and two covered in what looked like blue crepe paper from tip to toe, blundered in. Chris Jenkinson, with his damaged hand supported in a makeshift sling, did his best to regain some degree of control. Jenny Turner sat down on a chair wringing her hands and sobbing dejectedly. Daniel French stood with his back to the safe door and watched the movements of the newcomers with interest.
The Detective Inspector in charge, Tom Roberts looked around the room, taking in the three members of staff, the empty trays and the unsecured jewellery and watches ‘What happened?’ he asked.
Chris Jenkinson’s hand hurt like hell. He had just seen his shop robbed of a couple of million pounds worth of stock by an armed man who came from all corners of Great Britain, but whose description was likely to be given by himself and his colleagues as ‘fairly tall, anything between forty and sixty, wearing a dark fleece, dark trousers and a ski mask.’ This excuse for the strong arm of the law had been summoned by a silent alarm, only used when a robbery has taken place in a shop such as Shatner and Sons, then seeing the evidence of a burglary in front of him asks ‘What happened?’
‘What the hell do you think happened?’ shouted Chris. ‘We’d hardly opened when a guy barges in waving a gun. He was wearing a ski mask. Miss Turner tipped the contents of as many trays as she could into his large canvas bag until he told her to stop. He probably thought you would have been here sooner!’ He stared at Daniel French. Tom Roberts looked at Daniel French also.
Daniel thought perhaps they expected him to add something. ‘I was in the toilet.’ he replied ‘call of nature. Couldn’t be helped I’m afraid. I pressed the alarm as soon as I returned to my work place. You can see the whole robbery on the CCTV if you wish.’
Tom Roberts thought this was a good idea. He wanted to get statements from everyone but Chris Jenkinson told him they would have to wait. ‘We want to lock up, get the stock secured in the safe, then from our schedule we can determine exactly what’s missing. If you come through to the back, we’ll show you where to view the footage we have. While you’re watching that we’ll carry on sorting out this mess.’
The blue crepe duo continued dusting and inspecting things wherever they thought was pertinent. The uniforms had stationed themselves outside on the pavement. Jenny and Chris locked the shop door, and then unlocked the large wall safe. Tom Roberts and his youthful companion DS Miles Edwards sat in the back room watching the CCTV.
Daniel French asked Jenny to see if the policemen wanted tea or coffee. ‘I should get one for you and Mr Jenkinson too, lots of sugar. It will help with the shock. I’m fine thank you I’ve not opened my flask yet this morning.’ He followed Jenny through to the staff room after she had got nods and thumbs up from their guests and retrieved his flask as she busied herself preparing hot drinks all round.
Daniel went into the safe and found Chris struggling with a tray, trying to slot it back into its position. His damaged hand was making it nigh on impossible. ‘Chris, for heaven’s sake let me do that!’ implored Daniel ‘You and Jenny collect them up and bring them to me. I’ll note down the tray details and the odd items that were left scattered around. Then you can match that to the schedule for Head Office.’
‘Thanks Daniel’ said Chris. Jenny soon joined him and in ten minutes they had got everything back in the safe. Chris could confidently tell DI Roberts that goods to the value of two million six hundred thousand pounds had been stolen. The policemen had viewed the CCTV footage; the scene of crimes officers had collected their data. The uniforms were frozen stiff outside the door in the teeth of that easterly wind.
‘Right Sir’ said Tom Roberts ‘if we could take your statements now, then I think we’ll start chasing up our usual suspects. This looks like a local job to me. There are very few places chummy can go to get a price on jewellery and watches of this calibre. I reckon we’ll pick him up inside twenty four hours.’
Daniel French coughed quietly ‘Actually, I might be able to help you there.’ Tom Roberts looked perplexed. ‘Really Sir, well come on then, don’t keep it a secret!’
‘I enjoy the theatre Inspector. I particularly like watching the Weston Amateur Dramatic Society offerings. The only person I know who can provide such an array of regional accents is one Harry Gascoigne, who joined the Society a year or so ago. I’m not sure where he was before that.’
‘Harry Gascoigne you say? I’d bet my pension he was tucked up inside one of Her Majesty’s Prisons.’ He turned to his colleague ‘Okay Edwards get onto the station and have his picture circulated. We shouldn’t have too much trouble picking him up.’
Statements were taken, cups were washed, and the shop was cleared of happy policemen. Even Chris Jenkinson had a slight smile on his lips despite the pain in his hand. Jenny Turner rang for a taxi to take her and her boss to the hospital to get him some treatment. Head Office was contacted and they confirmed Chris Jenkinson’s decision to close the branch for the rest of the day. First thing in the morning staff from Head Office would arrive to check that everything had been done by the book and if the police retrieved the stock when apprehending the armed robber, then life would return to normal at Shatner and Sons in the High Street.
The taxi arrived. Daniel French stood on the pavement with his copy of The Times and his vacuum flask as his colleagues locked the shop, lowered the security grill and then got into the car and drove away to the hospital. Daniel walked up the High Street to his flat above the butcher’s shop.
The morning news reported that a fifty two year old man had been arrested in connection with an armed robbery at Shatner and Sons early yesterday morning. DI Tom Roberts was happy to report that a large canvas bag with over two million pounds worth of stock had been recovered.
At Shatner and Sons, Jenny Turner and Chris Jenkinson met as usual, just before five to nine. They were joined on the pavement by three officials from Head Office. Once inside the shop, the wall safe timer clicked off at nine o’clock precisely and the grey steel doors were opened. The Head Office people carried out their stock check and confirmed that once the contents of the bag were put back in their proper place, there would be no discrepancies on the stock of jewellery and watches.
Chris Jenkinson found the day’s schedule and with the help of the Head Office staff, all the trays for that day’s business were taken from the safe and placed in the display cabinets. As everything was ready earlier than usual with the extra pairs of hands, they strolled into the staff room and Jenny made tea and coffee. The atmosphere was convivial and relaxed.
‘Daniel will be along in a minute’ said Jenny ‘I’d better not sit in here.’ She got up and the others followed her through. ‘Let’s lock up the safe then Jenny’ said Chris ‘then we’ll be all set.’
‘Hang on’ said Mr Arkwright the senior Head Office official. ‘We’ve checked the jewellery and watches. I’d better just take a look at the other items.’ He disappeared into the safe. Jenny and Chris stood by the front door peering up the street expecting to see Daniel French striding towards them with his newspaper and his large vacuum flask.
An ashen faced Mr Arkwright emerged from the safe. ‘Call the police’ he said ‘there’s been a robbery! All the uncut diamonds have been taken, nearly two million pounds worth!’ Chris Jenkinson and Jenny Turner looked at one another and then looked outside in vain for Daniel French.
Daniel French was on a train. In around thirty minutes he would be on the continent, heading for Amsterdam. There was nothing unusual about his appearance. He could have been going to work at Shatner and Sons this morning, just as he had every other weekday since he had left school. He had his copy of The Times and his large vacuum flask. No one on the train gave him a second look. No one even questioned why he never took a drink throughout the journey.