It was cold, and it was dark, and she was beginning to wish she was somewhere else. Crouching behind the tail of a small airplane parked about 30 yards from where he was, she watched him busily removing the canvas cover and guy ropes from a similar aircraft. He was working by the dim light that spilled from two distant security lights and a head torch he was wearing.
She thought he was maybe preparing for take-off, but why was he working in the dark? Surely he would need more light than this. At the very least, he would need runway lights, wouldn’t he?
Ten minutes ago, she’d thought about giving it up as a bad job, and leaving him to it. She had been thinking maybe following him hadn’t been such a brilliant idea, but then it had occurred to her that whatever he was doing out here, he had to be up to no good. If she could just find out what it was, maybe she would have some leverage; something she could threaten to use against him. Then he would have to listen, wouldn’t he?
As she concentrated on watching him, she was taken by surprise as a small figure appeared beside her. She felt the sharp stab of a hypodermic needle plunged into her neck, and then, remarkably quickly, she found she couldn’t move and everything was going black…
The pilot was not a happy man. Carrying an unconscious passenger all the way to France wasn’t part of the deal, and she certainly shouldn’t be in a heap on the floor of the tiny cockpit. But when the boss points a gun at you and insists you are going to do as you’re told, your options become severely limited, and he had no doubt the threat was genuine. So here they were, bumping along the runway, struggling to get off the ground because of the additional weight he hadn’t bargained on carrying.
The engine was screaming as they felt the wheels lift from the ground and they were airborne at last. The pilot focused his attention on the controls as they lifted away from the airfield and began to climb into the darkness. He’d done this plenty of times before, but it was always risky and required total concentration.
He thought he heard a grunt from the body curled on the floor, but the boss would have to deal with it. He had his hands full flying this thing in the dark. Such was his focus, he was suddenly shocked to hear the aircraft door bang open and feel air rushing all around him. The tiny airplane jerked violently to one side and it took all his skill and attention to keep it under control.
By the time he was able to look across to see what was happening, all had become calm again and the door had been closed. To his horror, he realised the unconscious girl was gone.
“I think maybe better this way,” shouted the boss above the engine noise. “Say nothing to anyone now.”
“But you can’t do that,” screamed the pilot. “It’s murder.”
“Is done.” The boss smiled, and the pilot caught sight of a pistol. “You have problem?”
The pilot had plenty of problems with the way things were going, but the sight of the pistol made him swallow his words before they got him into trouble. He chose to say nothing.
“No?” asked the boss, smiling broadly. “Is good. Is ver’ good.”
The Phantom Flasher had been at large for four weeks now. Or, at least, DS Dave Slater was told reports had been coming in for four weeks. Of course, the guy could have been waving his willy around Tinton for years without anyone even noticing, but whoever he was, and however long he’d been pursuing this particular hobby, he’d now officially become a nuisance.
The most likely scenario was that it was some sad case with too much time on his hands, but there was always the outside possibility that it could escalate into something much more serious. This was why Slater had been chosen to carry out an investigation – and hopefully apprehend the villain before the outside possibility had a chance to develop into reality.
Slater had not been best pleased when Murray had passed the case on to him.
“But, Boss,” he had protested. “This isn’t me. I want something I can get my teeth into.”
“That would probably be a very effective way of stopping a flasher,” growled Murray, returning to his paperwork. “But I’m sure it wouldn’t meet the approval of the health and safety people.”
Slater looked at Murray in amazement. His boss wasn’t noted for his sharp sense of humour, and his face very rarely showed his true feelings. Slater couldn’t be sure, but he could have sworn that was supposed to have been a joke.
It had taken Slater a further five minutes of futile protests, steadfastly ignored by Murray, before he reluctantly accepted that he had indeed been lumbered with solving the case of the Phantom Flasher. Then, just as he turned to go, Murray had added to his burden.
“I’m told we have an outbreak of dogging in the area,” he’d said, without looking up from his desk.
“Dogging?” echoed Slater.
“Yes, dogging. I don’t have to explain what that is, do I?”
“Err, no, Boss, of course not. But I thought that sort of thing was frowned upon rather than prosecuted?”
“Yes, it is. We prefer to deter, rather than waste time on pointless prosecutions, and in this case, I’d like you to be the deterrent. Try to find out where it’s going on; take a couple of uniforms along and carry out a raid. That should frighten the crap out of the buggers. Tell them to go and practice their dirty little hobby somewhere else.”
Murray looked up at Slater, gave him a nod, and the barest hint of a smile, and then returned to his paperwork once again.
“That’ll be all, David, thank you.”
As he closed the door behind him, Slater’s first instinct was to feel indignation at being handed such a shitty little job to do. He was better than this. He’d recently solved a murder and cracked a big corruption ring. Then his better side came to the fore and a little humility started to shine through. After all, he hadn’t actually solved those cases all on his own. There had been three brains working together…
Then he remembered he was supposed to be working on changing his thinking. During that particular case, he’d been made aware that he had a tendency to focus on negative thoughts and he’d resolved to try to become much more positive in his outlook. Maybe he needed to take another look at the job he’d just been given and view it in a different way.
Yes, it’s true it was a bit of a come down after the recent murder and corruption cases he’d been involved in, but they couldn’t give him big cases when there weren’t any, could they? He was here to do a job, and if finding a flasher was all they had for him to do, then he’d just have to get on with it. It didn’t matter if a case was big or small; he was still going to be pitting his wits against someone else. He was good at that, and he would catch this guy, whoever he was.
As he ambled back to his office, he recalled he’d read somewhere that some people found it helpful to give a name to their opponent, and that name then became the name of the case they were working on. He thought he could try that idea himself. So, he wondered, what could he call the flasher? The name came into his head so fast he felt it had to be a sign. A good sign. He was going to solve the Dick Waver case.
When he got back to his desk, he gathered together everything he could find related to his case. He hadn’t realised the flasher had been so busy. No wonder Murray wanted it sorted – in the last four weeks there had been nearly 20 reported incidents. He grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and made a quick note of the dates. There was no doubt about it, the guy was definitely escalating.
Just then, the phone on his desk buzzed.
“I’m told you’re the ‘go to guy’ for the flasher case.” It was the duty sergeant from downstairs.
“How did you know that? I’ve only just this minute been given the case.”
“Well, perhaps I’m psychic, or maybe it’s just that I take the time to read the memos the boss sends me. Whatever. There’s been another sighting.”
“Swimming pool down at the leisure centre. Ladies changing rooms.”
“Christ! That’s bit brazen isn’t it? And risky.”
“Apparently it’s OAPs’ morning. There were only two old biddies in there, so it wasn’t that much of a risk. They’re waiting there now. I told them Tinton’s finest was on his way, so off you go.”
“Right. Great. Thank you so much. I suppose I’d better get down there.”
“That’s the general idea, Sherlock.”
There was a dull click as the call was ended, followed by a crash as someone tripped on their way through the office door.
“Arsehole,” muttered Slater, as he put the phone down.
“I hope that’s not me you’re calling names,” said a voice behind Slater. It was DS Norman Norman, one of the few people Slater was happy to exchange banter with. He looked as crumpled as ever, and his hair seemed to be even curlier than normal.
“I see you still haven’t found that iron,” said Slater, with a grin.
“As you’re so worried about it, and you have nothing better to do, maybe you should take on the job of trying to find it,” said Norman, heading towards his own desk. He had several folders tucked under one arm, a plate of doughnuts in the same hand, and a cup of dirty grey liquid, that was impersonating a cup of coffee, in his free hand.
“Sorry, mate,” Slater said, sighing in mock regret. “I’d love to help, but I already have a case to solve.”
“Really?” said Norman. “What is it?” He reached forward and managed to slide the plate of doughnuts onto his desk. As he did, the folders spilled from under his arm, disgorging their contents onto the floor. Inevitably, as he lunged for the folders, the coffee from the other hand followed in the same direction. He looked down sadly at the pile of soggy, brown-stained papers. Then his face brightened.
“The good news,” he said, “is I didn’t lose my doughnuts. Now that would have been a disaster.”
Slater watched as Norman sank to his knees and began to gather his mess together.
“So what’s this case?” he asked Slater from the floor.
“Dick Waver,” announced Slater.
“Dick Waver. The Phantom Flasher.”
“Ah! I see that razor sharp sense of humour of yours is hard at work,” said Norman. “I see what you did there. Dick Waver. That’s very good, but I should leave it at that. You don’t want to use up all that amazing comedy in one day.”
“What have you got there?” asked Slater, ignoring Norman’s dig at his sense of humour. “Apart from a bloody mess all over the floor.”
“Oooh! You’re so sharp today I might sustain a cut.” Norman grinned up at him. “What I have here is a case of genius counterfeiting.”
“Genius?” asked Slater dubiously.
“Apparently they’re selling Gucci bags. That’s Gucci, spelt G-U-C-H-I. It seems Tinton counterfeiters are illiterate. Or stupid. Or probably both.”
“Any leads?” asked Slater.
“Does the name Allison Beatty mean anything to you?”
A wicked smile raced into place on Slater’s face. Oh yes. He knew Allison Beatty. He thought probably everyone in this station knew Allison, and everyone in this station who had met her the first time hoped they never had to cross swords with her again. Everyone, that is, except Norman, who had only recently arrived in Tinton and hadn’t yet had the pleasure.
Slater wondered if he should warn his friend about Allison, but then he recalled how no-one had given him advance warning and decided it wouldn’t hurt to keep quiet. Norman was a big boy. He could take care of himself.
“Allison? Sure, I know her. She’s a real sweetie. You’ll love her,” lied Slater, knowing Norman couldn’t see his face from his position on his hands and knees on the floor.
“Any leads with the flasher?” asked Norman.
Slater looked at his watch, and began moving a bit faster.
“Apparently he’s just been pointing Percy at the pensioners down the swimming pool. I’m supposed to be on my way there now,” he said, gathering his mobile phone and notebook.
“Oh well.” Norman sighed heavily. “You run along, now. I guess I’ll just have to carry on being the only style icon in the country without an iron.”
As Slater headed out of the office, he glanced at the sticky paperwork that Norman was scraping off the floor, wondering idly how on earth his friend was going to manage to read any of it.
On his way out, Slater stuck his head into the main office and looked around. He was hoping to find Steve Biddeford. With any luck, he wouldn’t be too busy, in which case he just might fancy taking a ride out to the swimming pool. He finally spotted him standing over the printer, impatiently grabbing each printed sheet as it emerged.
“You looking for me?” Biddeford asked Slater as he approached across the office.
“If you’re not too busy,” said Slater, optimistically.
“If you can just hang on while this finishes printing,” he said, “I’ll be with you. Are we going somewhere nice?”
“OAPs’ swimming session,” said Slater. “Apparently the Phantom Flasher’s struck again. Dick Waver’s been entertaining the ladies in the changing rooms.”
“Can’t we pick him up if we know who he is?” asked Biddeford.
“Sorry?” said Slater.
“If you know his name, we can get an address and pick him up, can’t we?”
“But we don’t have a name.”
“I thought you said his name was Dick somebody.”
“Yeah. Dick Waver.” Slater sighed, heavily. Sometimes he wondered how Biddeford was ever going to survive out on the streets.
“No,” he explained. “That’s not the bloke’s name. It’s just what I call him, because it’s what he does.”
Biddeford looked blank.
“Oh come on, Steve,” said Slater, slowly and patiently. “What does a flasher do? He waves his dick at people, therefore he’s a dick waver. Yes?”
“Ah! Right.” Biddeford smiled, and then bent down to pick up the final piece of paper, which the printer had spat out onto the floor with some violence.
“It’s a sort of play on words, isn’t it?” He grinned at Slater. “Dick Waver. Clever.”
“It is if you get it, I suppose,” said Slater, shaking his head.
“Can I bring this with me?” asked Biddeford, putting his papers in order. “So I can have a quick read in the car.”
“Yeah, I don’t see why not.” Slater nodded, wondering what his colleague was working on.