* * *
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - Dover
My mobile was still ringing as I stepped out into the corridor and closed the door behind me. It was Harry Bell on the line and I didn't want Anthea to overhear. "Hello Harry, what's the news?" I asked as soon as the door was closed.
Harry didn't mess around in replying and I could tell from the tone of his voice that things were not going too well. "Woody, did you say there were four crates in that container all addressed to you?" he asked.
I hadn't exactly seen the addresses on the labels, so I couldn't be certain. But the simplest way of going about it would be to alter the paperwork from three to four. I'd therefore assumed that was what they did. "There were four crates in that container the last time I looked, but that was in Dunkirk," I explained, then asked: "Why, what's happened Harry? You sound concerned."
Harry hesitated and I think I already knew what he was going to say. Either the fourth crate was missing or was empty. "Woody, I am concerned," he replied, "for the past six or seven hours we've been keeping a close watch on your container, and no one's been near it, so I just gave the go ahead to open it up... and all we found inside were three crates all addressed for the attention of a Mr. Woods at a place called Hendry's."
"Oh shit!" I uttered. The only thing I could think of was that whomever it was that had been assigned the task of to collecting Claudette had done so the moment the cargo vessel arrived in port. So I asked: "About what time did your men get there? How long had the vessel been docked before you arrived?"
Harry gave the matter a little thought. "About half an hour I guess. I got onto it straightaway, but you didn't tell me until the ship was about to dock, so you didn't give me much time," he said sadly.
I felt a little sad too. That delay was entirely my fault. I know now that I should have phoned from France and given him plenty of warning. "Sorry about that Harry," I apologised. "I called you as soon as I arrived in England, but obviously that wasn't soon enough."
There was another lengthy pause. I could tell that I was giving Harry a few problems. He'd most probably mobilised all his workforce just on my say so, and gained nothing in return for all his efforts. "What are we going to do then Woody?" Harry asked. "Can we pack it in and all go home?"
I thought for a moment. Packing it all in wasn't that simple. Claudette remained in deep trouble, and on the face of it held by a very well organised group of people. There was no way I could just call it a day and forget all about it. "Harry, they must have grabbed the girl the moment that ship arrived," I explained. "They'll be keeping her somewhere close by, that's for certain. They'll have a safe house somewhere in the area. All we've got to do is find out where it is."
Harry gave a little chuckle. "Is that all?" he asked with perhaps a touch of sarcasm to his voice.
I thought for a moment. I wasn't going to give in now. If the past was anything to go by, then it would be a BDSM place they were using. "Look Harry, do you know of any BDSM clubs in the area?" I asked him. "If so, I think that'll be where they'll be hiding her."
There was another long pause. I could see that my persistence was giving Harry a few headaches. "I'm not from around this area Woody, I'm based in London remember? So I couldn't tell you," he answered, "but I'll have an ask around if that'll help, perhaps somebody here will know."
I gave the matter further consideration, then suddenly a thought came to me. Bruce's little black book contained all the addresses of practically every BDSM club in Europe. All I needed to do was look up Dover in that book and I would find what I was looking for. My only problem now was locating that little black book. The trouble was, I wasn't sure where I'd left it. I think the last time I saw it was back at my cottage some two hundred miles away.
With Harry still on the phone I burst back into the room where Anthea lay strapped to the operating table. "Anthea, where's my little black book? You know? The one I won off Bruce?" I asked rather hurriedly and giving no further explanation.
Anthea didn't look at all pleased. She's very good at furrowing her brow and also giving me a mouthful of verbal abuse if she was in the mood. And this was one of those moments. "How the fuck do I know?" she snapped and sounding rather irritated by all the goings on. She then added: "I think it's back at the cottage! Why? What do you want to know that for? And anyway, when are you going to fuck me?"
I had no time to argue. "Later," I told her and closed the door.
I had a sneaking feeling she was right. My little black book was back at my cottage. But I saw another alternative. I had Bruce with me. He would know.
I spoke to Harry on the phone. "Harry, stick with me," I told him. "I think I'll be able to give you an address if you just hang on a minute." And with that I set off down the stairs, leaping them at about three at a time. I burst into the bar and made straight for Bruce. He was stood in the centre of the room and applying more rope to Joanne at the time.
I stopped him. I was out of breath and panting. "Bruce, stop what you're doing, this is important," I said to him. "I need to know all the BDSM clubs in Dover? Have you been to any? I need to know where they all are?"
Bruce considered what I'd said for a moment and toyed with a length of rope between his fingers. "As far as I can recollect sport, there's only one BDSM club in Dover," he replied thoughtfully. "I tried to get in there after we came off the ferry, but it was a high class joint and they wouldn't let me in."
I tried to hurry him on. All I needed was an address. "That doesn't matter Bruce," I told him. "The important thing is, where is it? What's the address? Where can I find the place?"
Bruce scratched his head. "It was up a back street somewhere?" he said and sounding uncertain.
I kept the pressure up. "Think Bruce!" I told him. "Think!"
Bruce shook his head. "I can't recall exactly where the place was sport, but I could take you there," he replied thoughtfully. "I'm sure I'd be able to find the place again if I went back there."
That was a good enough answer for me. I was already thinking of shooting off to Dover anyway. All I had to do was take Bruce with me. "Right Bruce, you're coming with me to Dover, now, this instance," I told him. "and don't argue, just stop doing what you're doing and come with me. This is urgent. It's a matter of life and death."
Bruce looked a little shocked, but he handed over his length of rope to Jenny. "Right Sport, I'm ready when you are," he told me. "Let's go to Dover."
I got back on the phone and spoke to Harry who'd been hanging on. "Harry, I'm on my way to meet you. I've got someone here who'll find the place for us," I explained, "so expect us in about two hours time. We're starting out now."
I don't think Harry was expecting me to join him in Dover, but he took the news calmly. "Give us a ring when you're closer then Woody. I'm going for a cup of coffee," he answered.
That was all I wanted to know. "Fine. See you later then Harry," I said and ended the call.
I looked to Suzette who was stood by Bruce's side. She'd been watching my antics with interest. "And you'd better come with us too Suzette," I told her. "Hopefully we'll be able to get to Claudette before it's too late."
Suzette joined me without question and we set off for the door, the three of us running fast and dodging the tables. As we reached the door to the corridor I turned and shouted back to Sandy. I'd just remembered something. "Sandy," I called back across the room, "go and release Anthea for me. Tell her I'll keep my promise another night."
A second later was I gone. I was still running as I spoke. I just hoped Sandy would know where to look. As we raced through the foyer another thought came to me. Hulk was standing in attendance on the door. If we were going to get into a fight, then who better to have by your side than Hulk? "Hulk, come with us," I told him on passing. "We might need you. We're going to rescue Claudette."
At the bottom of the steps the four of us piled into my car and we were quickly on our way. Our next stop was Dover.
* * *
Two hours later we were in Dover. I didn't think my old Volvo would go that fast. Luckily for us, except for the first few miles the journey was all motorway, and surprisingly enough, for a Friday evening, there were no major hold ups.
As I neared Dover I phoned Harry Bell on my mobile. He agreed to meet us outside the Hoverport. We chose this because I knew where to find the place. It was on the way in and I'd been there once before. It was dark when we arrived. Harry was waiting with two cars. In total he had seven men. Three in one car and four in the other. We just signalled to each other from our cars, then set off in convoy with me leading.
Bruce was sat by my side in the passenger seat. "Well it's up to you now Bruce," I told him as we rejoined the main road that followed the sea walls. "We need to find that place, and find it quickly, every second is vital."
As we approached a roundabout Bruce indicated.
"I think it was this way sport, to the left," he said and pointing.
I turned off sharply and checked in my mirror that Harry and his men were still following. They were, so I speeded up. After that I followed Bruce's directions. We took a few wrong turns. But eventually Bruce got his bearings and led us down a residential street lined on both sides by old Victorian houses. Every house was big and detached, and this looked like the high-class side of Dover.
Suddenly Bruce pointed to a big house standing well back from the road. "That's the place," he shouted. "That's it, I'm sure it is."
I pulled up in the road outside and waited for the other two cars behind to do the same. I then got out and spoke to Harry. "This is the place. If they're holding the girl, then this is where she'll be," I told him and pointing to the house.
The building had a touch of Hendry's about it. It was big and had its own private drive which was full of cars. I guess on a Friday night it would be. But I didn't care. I was convinced Claudette was inside there somewhere, and she needed our help.
Harry, being experienced at raids, took command. "You lot stay here," he told me. "Leave this to us. This needs to be handled delicately. We don't have a search warrant, but as Customs and Excise we've got an excuse. We say we're looking for drugs."
I didn't argue. I left it to the experts and returned to my car. It was now a case of sitting and waiting. But I was confident Harry's boys would find something.
About an hour later Harry came out of the house. It had been a long wait just sat inside my car. I watched as Harry approached the car and I could tell by just looking at his face that all was not well. I wound down my window and he spoke to me from the pavement. "Woody... you'll get me the sack," he said and shaking his head slowly from side to side. "We've searched everywhere, upstairs and down, and found nothing... however, apart from a bishop and a couple of judges, we've also got a chief inspector under arrest and he's demanding to know under what authority we've raided the place?"
I just didn't know what to say. I was certain I was right. Claudette had to be in there somewhere. "You say you've looked everywhere?" I queried.
Harry nodded his head. "Everywhere," he answered. "We've searched everywhere."
I thought for a moment. If I could only get to see the Manager, then I would know if he was covering up something. "What does the manager have to say?" I asked. "Can I see him? I just want to ask him a few quick questions, that's all."
Harry considered my request. I could see that he was a very worried man, but he gave in and consented. "You'd better come inside and ask him for yourself," he replied, "I can give you a few minutes together, but that's all. I'm not going to be able to hold them for much longer, and the Chief Inspector is getting quite agitated."
I got out of the car, gave a sort of `I'm sorry' look to those inside and followed Harry into the house. I just couldn't figure out where I'd gone wrong. I must have missed the point somewhere along the line, but where? For once I was stumped and just didn't know the answer.
Harry led me to a lounge. The room was empty. It was all neatly furnished in a Victorian style, with large velvet and gold-braided settees, period `William Morris' wallpaper and an inglenook fireplace. There were even aspidistra plants about the place. It was like stepping back to the nineteenth century.
I was ordered to wait. "Sit down here," Harry told me and pointing to a settee, "we're detaining everyone in the next room. I'll bring the Manager in to see you, perhaps you'll be able to explain to him better and tell him exactly what we're looking for. But be quick, I'll give you five minutes that's all."
I felt sorry for Harry. I'd let him down badly. He didn't have to do this for me. He could have just said piss off. But he didn't. He took my word for it and went along with everything I'd said, and now he was in trouble; deep, deep, trouble, and all because of me.
I sat down and waited. I chose a seat as close to the door as possible. I think I was looking for a quick getaway. In fact I was so close to the door I found myself brushing against one of the plants that stood in pots to either side. I pushed the leaves away with my hand but they kept on coming back.
Then I recalled something that had happened to me quite recently. I'd had a similar experience whilst over in France. I thought back to the time when I was sat in the reception area of Meubles d'Erotique and about to be attacked by a triffid.
Suddenly I shot up from the settee. "That's it!" I called and did a little dance. "How stupid can one get? Why didn't I think of that before?"
A few seconds later Harry entered the room with the manager. I didn't hang around. I had just one question to put to him. "Where do you get you plants from?" I asked. "What company? Who supplies you?"
The manager looked bemused. "Why? A Garden Centre out on the Canterbury Road do all our plants. We're under contract to them," he answered.
That was all I needed to know. I turned to Harry. "Come with me Harry, we've been looking in the wrong place," I told him hurriedly. "I know where they're keeping Claudette. I know where she can be found."
Harry shook his head slowly from side to side in disbelief. "Okay Woody, I'll go along with you just one more time, but you'd better be right this time, and I'm not bringing my men with me. I'll be a laughing stock, you just show me first and I'll make a decision when I see what we're up against. I can't afford anymore cock-ups."
I understood. I had to be right this time. "Okay Harry," I agreed. "No more cock-ups, I promise. Just come with me and I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this quite quickly."
After that I got the manager to give me few more details on the precise location of the garden centre, then went away leaving him scratching his head. Harry squeezed into the back of my car next to Hulk, then, with five of us aboard, we set off quickly for the Canterbury Road. We had an urgent mission to fulfil.
* * *
As we approached the Garden Centre I knew immediately that I was onto a winner. I pulled up on the road outside and switched off my lights. I did not want to be detected. "This is the place, they're all here," I announced to everyone. "They'll be holding Claudette inside there somewhere."
As I spoke everyone turned their heads to look out of the car windows towards the Garden Centre. This was late at night and everything was closed down. Everywhere was in darkness except for the orange street lights out in the road. There was a big car park outside for customer parking and it was empty, except for three vehicles. I recognised them all, and I think Suzette and Hulk were of the same opinion about two of them at least. There was a red Renault van with the name `Fleuriste Jean Bart' on the side; Claudette's car which I'd followed through Paris; and a third I knew to be Fernando's.
We all got out of the car and stood looking over some bushes at the various buildings dotted about the Garden Centre. To the left, and set well back, was a small building with a single light on. This looked like the main offices and administration centre for the business. It was a low, single story building with a central doorway. There were offices to the left and right. As far as we all could see the only source of light was coming from the doorway and the corridor beyond.
I whispered to Harry Bell. "Well, are we going to take a closer look?" I asked. "Are we going to investigate?"
Harry gave a little nod. "Must be sure. I'm not going to call in my men until I know for certain," he said. "They can be here in a few minutes if we need them."
I understood. There were to be no more cock-ups. "I'd best go and have a look on my own first then," I suggested.
Harry shook his head. "No you're not! I'm coming with you," he told me.
Suzette had been listening and I don't think she wanted to be left out. After all Claudette was her problem not Harry Bell's. This was a case of illicit smuggling of a young woman and had nothing to do with drugs. "I'm coming with you," she announced.
Then Bruce piped in. "And I'm not stopping here either sport," he added. "I'm coming in with you. I've wrestled kangaroos in the past. So this should be a piece of cake."
I shook my head in despair. It seemed everyone wanted to get involved. In fact this only left Hulk and he was the one man I'd prefer to have by my side in a fight. However I was also well aware that Suzette could handle herself in a difficult situation. It would all be part of her training.
I thought of a way out of this. What I needed to do was team up Bruce with Suzette. Bruce was the one unknown quantity in this group. He talked big, but I had the feeling that when push came to a shove he'd bottle out. So I put my suggestion to them. "Okay, seeing that everyone wants a slice of the action, let's get the place covered properly. Suzette and Bruce, you two go round the rear and cover the back door, and Hulk you stand guard at the front. Don't let anyone pass. They'll most likely try to make for the cars. Me and Harry, we're going in," I told everyone.
There were a few fleeting glances amongst all those stood there, but no one disagreed. It seemed like a good plan, which made me feel good, except when I began to consider the repercussions. I'd proposed myself as one of those brave enough to venture inside.
We all crept up to the building, keeping low and under cover of a row of bushes. Suzette and Bruce then disappeared off around the back. We gave them a few minutes, then, the three of us remaining, moved to the front entrance. Being very quiet, I tested the door handle. The door was unlocked and I opened it in a little way.
I whispered to Hulk. "Don't let anyone pass," I reminded him as I pushed the door open a little further.
Hulk raised up a hand to signal that he understood. I then opened up the door completely and stepped inside. Harry followed me in. The interior was lit by a single bulb so I could see the layout now. The corridor was short and ran straight through the centre of the building. Down at the opposite end there was another door leading outside to the rear. I just hoped Suzette and Bruce would be in place by now to prevent any escape.
There were four doors leading off the passageway. Two to either side. I could see a light coming from under the second door on the left. Slowly Harry and myself crept up to it. I then put my ear to the door. I could hear voices. I signalled to Harry and mouthed the words: "They're in there."
I followed close behind. Let me tell you what I saw for a few fleeting moments before all hell broke loose. Inside the room were four men. I recognised them all. There was Fernando and Pierre sat to either side of a desk, and the two van drivers I'd seen in Dunkirk were seated on a couple more chairs over to one side of the room.He understood, and I guess took control. He moved to one side, listened for himself, then turned the door handle and stepped inside. Naturally there was chaos. Obviously no one inside the room was expecting any visitors. "Stop! Police! You're all under arrest," shouted Harry as he entered.
I also saw Claudette. She was still inside her crate, but the lid was off and I could see her pale face and skin. She looked very ill, if not already dead, and her naked body remained cocooned in clingfilm.
There was however one further occupant in the room whom I must say I wasn't ever expecting to see again. Fatima was there too. She was tied to a chair with tape about her mouth. She too was naked. The moment we burst in her big eyes opened wide. There seemed relief and hope there. I just prayed that we could provide it.
What I've described was but a fleeting glance, just one brief moment before all hell let loose. The two men from Dunkirk were up like a shot from their seats the moment we burst into the room. I got pushed over by one of them as he tried to make good his escape. I grabbed him by the legs as I fell and held on tightly. Together we ended up in a big heap on the floor outside in the corridor. I wrestled with him and eventually managed to get on top.
I shouted at the top of my voice: "Hulk... Suzette... Bruce... don't let anyone escape."
This, as it turned out, was my only contribution to the events that evening. The others did the rest. All I can do is describe what I witnessed from my position on the floor in the centre of the corridor.
The second man from Dunkirk had a little tangle with Harry then managed to shake himself loose. He then immediately made for the corridor. He leapt over me and the man I was wrestling, and made straight for the front door.
I could see from my position on the floor that the door was open and Hulk was blocking the way. I don't think I need add much more. I guess you've already got the picture. The poor man didn't stand much chance getting past a solid brick wall. Not one that could hit back as well. Hulk brought a fist down on the top of the man's head like a sledgehammer and he simple crumpled to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
In the meantime Fernando and Pierre were following on close behind. They'd also managed to overpower Harry and it looked like he'd been hit on the head by something. As Harry fell to the ground, Fernando and Pierre leapt over me. They took one glance at Hulk blocking the front entrance, realised that there was no escaping that way, then sped off in the opposite direction.
Suddenly I became worried. Bruce and Suzette were out the back and it would be two against two. I called to Hulk: "Hulk... quickly... go out the back... help Suzette and Bruce... don't let anybody escape."
Hulk moved fast for a big man. He moved swiftly down the corridor, leaping over me as he ran. The back door had been opened and I could see a fight ensuing outside. Suzette and Bruce were doing their bit to contain Fernando and Pierre. I just hoped that it would be enough until the cavalry arrived in the shape of Hulk.
Well let me tell you they did manage to hold out. Hulk arrived, grabbed firstly Pierre by the collar, then Fernando, and, lifting them both up bodily from the floor, he simple banged their two heads together. It was as simple and as quick as that. The fight was over in seconds and I watched in awe as the two men simply crumpled to the floor in a big heap.
After that the only man conscious was the one I was sitting upon, and he quickly gave up the struggle the moment he realised that he had Hulk to deal with.
I called Hulk across to me. "Watch this man," I told him and pointing to man on the floor. "If he moves, break his legs or something."
Hulk smiled. I think he was enjoying his night's work. "Yes Mr. Woods," he told me, then stood with one foot on the man's chest just to make certain.
I got myself up and went to the aid of Harry. He was holding his head but I could see that he was fine. It was just a little bump. "It's all right, we've got everyone," I told him.
Harry struggled to his feet and took out his mobile phone. "I'll get the boys here straightaway," he told me.
Whilst Harry was making his phone call I moved to Claudette who was lying in a crate at the centre of the room. I used a knife to cut the wrapping from about an arm and felt for a pulse. She looked pale and felt cold, but I could sense a faint beating. "She's still alive," I called to Harry, "you'd better call an ambulance whilst you're at it."
I then moved to Fatima. She was naked and tied to a chair, but she was conscious and aware of all the goings on. The first thing I did was remove the tape from about her mouth. She spat out a pile of wadding and took a deep breath before speaking. "Thanks, they were about to kill us both," she informed me.
I could believe it. These men were ruthless and would stop at nothing. The only thing that surprised me was the fact that they hadn't disposed of her before now. I undid Fatima's bonds then draped my coat about her shoulders. "Here, cover yourself up," I said. "there'll be police officers swarming all over the place shortly."
Harry joined me. He'd finished his call. "An ambulance and my men are on the way," he told me.
I shook his hand. I owed him a great favour. "Thanks for everything Harry," I told him. "In the end you saved the day."
Harry laughed. "I guess that puts us even now," he said. "I did owe you one from the last case."
I smiled and looked around. Harry had no need to pay me back, and I think I had another favour awaiting him anyway. "Harry, why don't you have a little look around outside whilst we're waiting? I think you may find a few things of interest amongst the flower pots," I told him.
Harry laughed again. "I've already beaten you to it there Woody," he told me, "I've got a sniffer dog on its way, and I think I know the very thing you're talking about."
I laughed along with him. I guess it was the relief of finally coming to the end of this case.
Now all that was left for me to do was explain how it all came about, and finally reveal what happened that night Fatima became abducted.
* * *
End of Chapter Seventeen