I have written, and write, verses on different subjects,including politics. Some are satiric and some, I hope, amusing. Feel free to comment.

July 17, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

London. A sunny early July afternoon. The television had said overcast but one of the bright intervals beloved of weathermen had broken through and looked as if it was set to stay. Brian Manners had spent the morning at a job interview and planned to go straight back to his parents’ house in Essex. With the change in the weather, he decided to stay and have lunch in Hyde Park. He bought a piece of sharp Cheddar, a baguette, a half bottle of wine and a couple of apples. Whatever was left of the baguette would be welcomed by the birds or the ducks in the pond.



Provisions in hand he headed for the park and, with few people around, found an empty bench, sat down and from his shoulder bag took out the picnic utensils he used on his travels around the continent. It was only after he spread a large paper napkin on the bench with his plate, plastic cup and knife and fork that he suddenly realized how hungry he was.

He broke off a piece of baguette and was about to put cheese on it when the sun was blocked out. He looked up and exclaimed: “Mark, what on earth are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be persuading people to buy things they don’t need or want? But here you are in the park in the middle of the day dressed up like a dog’s dinner.”

Mark Dawson had been Brian’s schoolmate and, like some other chums, waited to take his gap year on the continent until after university instead of before. Brian won a Cambridge University scholarship and stayed on to get a Master`s in physics before setting off on his continental journey when Mark was back in London and looking for work.

“Yes, I am with an ad agency but I’m surprised you know. As you seem unable to answer emails I was never sure whether you read any of mine. I’m all togged up because I had to stand in for my boss in making a presentation to a Japanese drinks company. He said the Japanese would be very formal so he told me, as he put it, to ‘put on something decent’. I’m in the park because it’s a short cut back to the agency.”

“And were they very formal?”

“Far from it. They looked a bit taken aback when I turned up. I pretended I was taking the boss’s place at an embassy do in the evening. But I might ask you the same question: What are you doing loafing here in the middle of the day. I didn’t even know you were back”.

“I got here a couple of days ago and this morning I had an interview with a temp agency. They sent me to H.M. Customs where I’ll be working for a month replacing their computer bloke who’s on special leave”.

“A temp agency? I know you did a lot with computers at university but that hardly seems the perfect job for someone with an M.A. in physics.”

“It’s not as crazy as it might seem. My ambition is to get a job at CERN. I went to see the head of human resources when I was in Geneva and he said my chances would be better if I had a PhD. I need temporary jobs that don’t demand overtime, pay quite well and will leave me enough time to study. My Cambridge tutor is helping me and I go there as often as I can on weekends”.

“CERN? The Nuclear Research Centre? At least you have the languages.”

“My dad’s five years with his bank’s Zurich office did me no harm. He’s now at the Milan branch. And yes, CERN is the European Nuclear Research Centre where they are doing incredible experiments”.

“And you hope to do some of those experiments?”

“If I am lucky enough to get taken on I’ll probably start off by running errands but I wouldn’t mind. It would be a fantastic opportunity. But where are my manners? Wouldn’t you like a snack?”

“Nothing I’d like better but I’ve got to get back. Where are you staying? Today I’ll leave the agency early for a change, about 5.30. It’s very near, and you could come home with me, have a drink or two, we’d get some Chinese or other take out and catch up. Here’s my card”.

“Thanks. I’d love to but I am not staying anywhere. I looked around this morning at a few lodgings and made a couple of calls. Anything halfway decent was beyond my means. And what was within my means was, frankly, uninhabitable. So it’s back to the parents’ place where my mother’s sister is house sitting. When I get my first pay packet I might be able to afford something”.

“You can stay with me for the next week or so. I’m in Fulham, quite close, and I have a spare room. That will give you time to look around.”

“A spare room? You are doing well. Thanks. That will definitely take the pressure off.”

“Good. I’ll see you later. Bon appetit”.

“Thanks. See you”.

********************
Natalie Saunders was having lunch alone in a small French bistro in Shepherd’s Market where she was a regular. In her mid-forties, she was attractive without ever having been what could be called pretty. Of middle height, a good figure, an oval face with features that were not totally regular, a flawless, or at least very carefully made up complexion, thick blue-black beautifully cut hair with still no signs of grey and, her best feature, startlingly green eyes. Waiting for her coquille St. Jacques, she was glancing at a glossy magazine, turning over the pages without really seeing them. Her mind was on her next trip across the Channel, a trip she thanked the lord she would never have to repeat.

She began life as Nancy Sanders in South London where her parents kept a greengrocers. Her elder sister Margaret married locally, had two children and was very happy working in the newsagents owned by her husband’s parents. It was a fate that made Nancy shudder and at a very early age she made up her mind to leave the neighbourhood at the first opportunity. Like her sister, she left school as soon as she legally could. Knowing she had to learn a skill, she took a course in bookkeeping and passed with flying colours. She found a job in the West End and, good worker that she was, always ready to take responsibility and quick to learn, she got on very well. After moving from one office to another she finally found her dream job.

Her accountant boss told her his friend Colin Gramley, well known as the owner of a private club in Mayfair just across from Hyde Park, was looking for an assistant and arranged an interview for her. Although it had a very upscale restaurant, the club’s main business was members-only gambling. It was a very discreet operation with never a hint of scandal, Colin took to Nancy right away and offered her the job at a salary less than she was earning. The attraction was a tiny rent-free flat with a small terrace at the top of the building. She jumped at the chance, hardly able to believe her luck. She would finally have a good address!

Nancy had a talent for getting on with people, especially her supervisors or any others she thought might be of use to her. She very quickly made her new boss believe he had found the ideal partner. It did not take her long to learn all about the business and Colin had no problem letting her stand in for him when he was not around.

Now that she had left South London behind her and was ensconced in the West End, she decided her name did not quite fit and in future she would be known as Natalie Saunders which, she thought, sounded less “common”. That was the name she used at her interview with Colin.

She left the restaurant and crossed Park Lane for a quick walk before heading back to the flat. Her coming cross-channel trip was preying on her mind and, distracted, she almost bumped into a young man who was looking at what seemed to be a timetable. It was Brian, on his way back from picking up his

provisions. She stopped, looked at him without really seeing him except for his extraordinary mop of red hair, said “Oh” and continued on her way.

********************

In late July Colin told Natalie he would be away for two days visiting his old school pal Chris Dunstan in Sheffield. He said very little about his private life although his mother occasionally had dinner at the club, and Natalie had never seen him with a girl friend: She got the impression that Chris may have been more than a just a school chum.

At her interview Colin had told Natalie that gamblers were mugs but he thanked the lord there were so many of them. So when he came back from Sheffield and said Chris, his good friend, had persuaded him to have a flutter just for fun and he fell into the trap Natalie thought he was joking. But then she saw his face and knew he was dead serious: He confessed that he lost -- a lot. She asked how long before he had to pay. A month, as a special favour, was the answer. Then it was pay up or else.

Natalie, who kept the books, knew the club was mortgaged to the hilt and no payments could be skipped, now felt her whole world was about to implode. She hardly dared look at Colin who seemed to be in a kind of vacuous trance. She went over to the cabinet, took out the brandy bottle and poured them both a stiff shot. Colin somehow pulled himself together and told her he had been offered a way out. All he had to do to clear his debt was to pick up a few packages somewhere in Belgium and deliver them in London before the end of the month.

“A few packages? Please tell me they are not the kind of packages I think they are.”

“It’s just a small consignment. Four packages of three kilos each.”

“Consignment! You make it sound like something being delivered to Harrods Food Hall. So what is it? Heroin, cocaine?”

“They didn’t specify. Anyway, I think I have to do it or I’ll lose the club”.

Colin had a horror of drugs of any kind and always made clear to new members that at the slightest hint of drug use on the premises they would be out. So Natalie knew there was no way he could act as delivery boy. His guilt would be so palpable he would be nabbed at once. No, if she was to go on living in the style to which she had become accustomed, she would have to do the job herself. She told Colin she needed time to think and they would talk about it in the morning.

The next morning she left a note telling him she had to get away and would be back in a couple of days. She took a train to Dover and booked into a bed and breakfast for three nights. For the next two days she studied the ferry traffic in and out of the port and took a couple of trips. There were a number of lines and almost non-stop crossings. Because there were so many passengers she decided taking a ferry from Calais would be better than leaving from a Belgian port. It was unlikely that Customs did much checking there, if any. The odds were close to 100 per cent that no-one would ever ask to look at her suitcase, especially in August when the traffic was at its heaviest. Back in London she told Colin she would pick up the packages.

********************

Mark appeared at the entrance to his office building about ten minutes after Brian arrived. “O.K. Brian, we’ll take a bus and have a couple of Pims before we go and pick up the take-out”

“Sounds good to me. I can’t remember when I last had a Pims”.

They took a bus to Fulham and after a short walk arrived at Mark’s place.

“You said you had a flat. I didn’t expect a house”.

“Well, it is and it isn’t. It belongs to Timothy Clark, Gary Harris’s uncle who years ago got permission to convert it to two flats, one for his unmarried daughter. When she was forty she got married, very unexpectedly, and went to live in Croydon. Mr. Clark, who lives with his wife nearby, tried renting the flats but it was a total disaster. He swore he would never again let to anyone he did not know. When Gary graduated he took the ground floor flat, the bigger one, and suggested me as a tenant for the top floor. The rent is very reasonable but we keep the flats in tip top shape and Mr. Clark has the use of the garage – his wife uses the one at their house.”

“What does Gary do, by the way? When will he be home?”

“He won’t, not for a few months. Don’t faint when I tell you Gary is an accountant. He’s now with a team of auditors in Latin America as their assistant”.

“But he was always terrified of numbers. He seemed to think they’d jump off the page and bite him. So how on earth did he become an accountant?”

“Thanks to you he said. You taught him all he knows about mathematics.”

“Mathematics? A bit of an exaggeration. As far as I remember, what I taught him is that however hard he tried he would never make two and two come to more or less than four.”

“In any case, I called him today and said you were coming over and he insists you stay in his spare room, bigger than mine by the way, for as long as you like until you get your own place. His parents usually stay when they are in London but if they come while you’re here they can have his bedroom. So let’s mix the Pims and then you can tell me all about your time on the continent.”

It was a pleasant evening so they took a small table, two chairs, the glasses and the Pims into the garden. They sat quietly sipping their drinks for a while until Brian began to talk.

********************

“At first, like all our chums, I travelled around with a rail pass, sometimes sleeping on a train and sometimes in a youth hostel. My dad knew I’d be in Germany at some point and he asked me to look up Daniel Vogel a friend of his in Altona, a Hamburg district. He was in the same bank but resigned to start his own business. I called on him and he said they were in need of a bit of extra help for a month or so and asked me if I’d be interested. I didn’t wait to say yes thanks”

“Is it a big business?”

“Not at all. He describes himself as facilitator which, as far as I understand it, means he helps small import-export businesses with all the paper work so they don’t have to employ their own shipping clerks or whatever they’re called. When the companies are looking for products he puts them in touch with suppliers. So I suppose he is what we would call a fixer. Three young women – Petra, Elizabeth, or Liza, and Maarit are the whole staff. They run things very well and when there’s a lot of work stay until it’s finished. But then there are the slow periods when they can relax. ”

“They must earn heaps of overtime.”

“Not a penny.”

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“They suggested that when things were slow they didn’t all have to be there so long as someone was left to keep things ticking over. It suited them to have time off and, as Maarit told me, most of the overtime pay would go in taxes anyway. Petra, who is a kind of head girl, keeps a strict account of office expenses and at the end of the month an accountant puts the books in order.”

“And what does Mr. Vogel do all the time?”

“Travel mostly, contacting suppliers and drumming up business. I don’t think he makes a fortune but it seems to be a nice business and he has a big house. He’s very generous and, despite the time-off his arrangement, when the girls really have to go at it, working Saturdays and sometimes even Sundays, he buys them all a present with his own funds not the company’s.”

“So you were asked to help out because it was one of their busy times?”

“Absolutely. He decided they needed more up-to-date computer programmes to keep their data and installing them was my job. When not at the computers I acted as office boy. This time Liza got luggage, Maarit a one-week package holiday in Spain for her and her boy friend, and Petra got a French perfume. I thought that was a bit stingy but Liza told me Petra had wanted it ever since she was at a lunch at the Vogels where a French businessman’s wife was wearing it. It wouldn’t have been polite to ask her what it was but Mrs. Vogel told her. It was the most expensive present of the lot. She started wearing it to the office and very nice too. According to Liza, she could never have spent so much on a scent for herself but liked it so much she started a scent savings fund just so she could keep on buying it. I even got a week’s Swissrail ticket, although I don’t know why.”

“Did the beautiful perfume make any difference to Petra.”

“In an odd way it did. She used to push off the visitors onto the other two but once she came in all scented up she insisted on greeting everyone, more self-assured. The other two were annoyed when she took the scented soap out of the bathroom and replaced it with plain. Probably didn’t want anyone to think she was using cheap scent.”

“You certainly fell on your feet. How long did you stay there?”

“Just over a month and with the pay l was able to stay in a decent B&B with a proper bathroom, quite a treat.”

“Did you work anywhere else?”

“First I made a quick trip to Milan to see the parents, then on to Switzerland. In Zurich I looked up my dad’s colleagues in the bank’s branch and I did the same in Geneva where one of them told me temps were needed for a U.N. conference. I was taken on to help at the reception where the languages came in handy. There are heaps of people in Geneva who speak any number of languages but not many of them are willing to temp. That’s when I got in touch with CERN.”

“Well, your stay on the continent was much more interesting than mine. But let’s go get the food and a bottle of wine”.

********************

Brian quickly settled into his daily routine. He had been left complete instructions as to what he was expected to do with the computers and his supervisor and workmates were friendly and helpful. His father would be home on leave in a few weeks and he planned to be in Essex for a family get-together.

One evening Brian arrived later than usual and Mark could see his friend was excited and bursting to tell him something.

“You’ll never believe it but I’ve got a new assignment.”

“I thought you still had a week to go in our job.”

“I’m still at the same job but I’ve finished with the computers. So my boss, Mr. Martin, asked if I could help out in, as he put it, “another area”. There’s been a steady flow of cocaine from the continent, nothing gigantic just small amounts but that soon add up. They seem to be becoming in through Dover and other south coast ports and are very hard to discover unless every piece of luggage passing through is checked, and that’s impossible. It’s obviously very well organized and neither Customs nor the police have been able to trace the trafficker or the distribution centre.”

“So he wants you to check people’s luggage? That’s crazy.”

“No, I said that just can’t be done. I’m to accompany a ticket inspector on the trains from Dover, supposedly as a trainee, and report anything unusual. The problem is, as I have no idea what’s usual, how on earth can I report what’s unusual?”

“How do you disguise yourself as a ticket inspector? Will you have a uniform?”

“Apparently not, But they’re giving me a cap. After all, I’ll only have to pretend to be a trainee, not a real inspector. I’m looking forward to it! The inspector had to be told why he suddenly has a companion.”

“Well, I wish you the best of British luck.”

“I don’t think Mr. Martin expects any results, but he has to show his own bosses he’s making an effort.”

********************
Natalie settled into her train window seat, relieved that she had not even seen any Customs officers when the ferry docked. She could now relax and make plans for her coming holiday. Colin closed the club in August when many of his regulars took off for the South of France, Spain, the Caribbean or elsewhere with their families. He would still be in London but not at the club. Natalie was planning to go to Villefranche near Nice this year to stay in a friend’s flat.

She looked around the compartment: two backpackers, boy and girl. An elderly man and woman with several carrier bags no doubt stuffed with their French day trip purchases. Two Anglican priests discussing the last Lambeth conference and arguing about whether women could become bishops. Only seven passengers.

For this, as for her other trips, Natalie had taken great care with her appearance and nobody at the Club or any other Mayfair acquaintances would have recognized the rather dowdy, no longer young woman holding a copy of the Daily Mirror and with a plastic handbag on her lap. She wanted to make sure she would blend in as one of the thousands of cross-channel day trippers who would not attract anyone’s attention.

She had made one of her infrequent visits across the river and before reaching her sister’s house had her beautifully shaped hair cut into a straight bob, much to the surprise of the hairdresser. When she left her sister’s she went to the local M&S and bought a pants suit that did not quite fit, a pair of shoes she knew her feet would not tolerate for long, a couple of pastel sweaters and the plastic handbag. She thought she should also get an extra jacket to switch the suit top, and a raincoat. She then rented a low cost holiday flat for two weeks so that she would not have to be seen by the club’s caretaker.

The compartment door opened and the ticket inspector came in accompanied by a young man not wearing a uniform but with a cap that presumably was meant to show some sort of authority. Her ticket was the last to be checked and when the inspector reached her seat the young man asked him a question about what to do when the ticket had the wrong date. When the inspector answered him he asked him something else. Not very quick on the uptake, thought Natalie. His shock of red hair reminded her of someone but she could not think who it could be. The inspector was not particularly bright either and took ages to answer the young man’s questions.

********************

When Brian took his turn looking at the woman’s ticket, under the inspector’s watchful eye, he saw nothing out of the ordinary and hadn’t expected to. He noticed the name tag on the suitcase in the luggage rack over the seat: N. Sanders, followed by a phone number. He asked the inspector another idiotic question about people who are caught without a ticket just so he could get a closer look at the woman. If asked to describe her he would have said she was a living chain store advertisement. When his parents were home they often invited him to the West End for a Saturday lunch but first his mother insisted in going into Marks and Spenser or other similar store where she said good underwear could be had at very reasonable prices. Time was also spent looking at other things she had no intention of buying. So Brian considered himself something of an expert when it came to chain store clothes.

Brian and the inspector had a couple more compartments to check. Then, when the inspector went to the snack bar for a cup of tea Brain called the number on her name tag and asked for Mrs. Sanders. The man who answered said “You mean Miss Natalie Saunders. But she’s on holiday until the end of August like everyone else. I’m the caretaker.”

Brian then called Mr. Martin and suggested that when the train arrived he ask his people to make a spot check of the suitcase belonging to a Miss Natalie Saunders although the name tag on her suitcase said N. Sanders. He described her and gave the number of the compartment.

When the train reached London it was met by Mr. Martin and a couple of his Customs people who nabbed Nancy/Natalie just as she was getting off for what they called a routine spot luggage check. Her suitcase, besides clothes, some toilet things and a couple of magazines, had a plastic bag with what turned out to be cocaine, three kilos.

Brian got off a few minutes later and Mr. Martin left Natalie with the Customs officers and hauled him off to have a drink. He couldn’t wait to be told about what had put Brian on to the drug smuggler. Brian simply said he had a hunch that the woman he saw on the train would hardly have a Mayfair phone number so he checked it. It was now late and Mr. Martin suggested they could go over events in more detail in the morning when the interrogators would have something else to tell him. Brian agreed and then went home.

********************

Natalie was stunned as she saw her world crashing down around her. How could they have known her name? They asked to see her passport that showed her full name to be Nancy Joan Sanders and yet they addressed her as Natalie Saunders. They had obviously been watching her, perhaps ever since she picked up the first package. They must know she had the other three packages ready to deliver the whole consignment to Colin so that he could take it to Sheffield and clear his debt. Where had she gone wrong? If she told them everything maybe they would keep her name out of the newspapers. But she could not stay at the club.

********************

The next day was Friday and Brian, after talking to Mr. Martin who said Natalie Saunders had held back nothing and they now had the name and address in Sheffield of the man who seemed to be running the drug business, took the underground to the end of the Central Line where his sister Kathy would pick him up and he would be at his parents’ house in time for dinner when Mark should have arrived.

Mark was there and so was Kathy’s friend Eileen Moir.

After they had greeted one another, Brian’s mother, Carol, suggested that her husband Stephen prepare a jug of Pims and they go out and sit in the garden where the temperature was still pleasant if a little cool.

Once they were all settled Brian suggested they have a drink before he broke his news.

No sooner said than done. Curious, they all sipped their Pims and sat back expectantly.

“I’ve been offered a permanent job with Customs. You all know I’ve been temping with them and, as at least some of you are aware, for my last week I’ve been helping out as an assistant ticket inspector on trains from Dover. Kathy, for heaven’s sake don’t choke!”

“What do you expect me to do when you drop that on me? I don’t think you went to Cambridge to check train tickets.”

“I was supposed to see if I noticed anything out of the ordinary and, if so, report it. There’s a steady flow of drugs coming through Dover and other ports but they haven’t been able to spot how they are getting here. I didn’t see anyone bearing a label that said drug smuggler.”

Stephen shrugged: “Just like the bureaucrats to think someone with no experience whatsoever would be able to spot what their trained Customs people couldn’t.”

“As I told Mark, I don’t think Mr. Martin, my supervisor, expected me to come up with anything. He was just pleasing his own supervisors by showing them he was putting all hands to the mast as it were.”

“So you’ve been offered a Customs job. May we ask why’” said Eileen.

“I’m coming to that. You all know about my stay in Germany and what I did there because I told Mark and sent the rest of you an email account, except Eileen but I asked Kathy to keep her up to speed.”

“Which I did. So, yes, we all know about your stint with the Three Graces.”

“Well, as I think I was saying, or was about to, yesterday was my last day and I went into a compartment where there were two backpackers, two Anglican priests, an elderly man and woman and another woman sitting in a window seat. She was the last one whose ticket we looked at and I stayed in front of her as long as I could while I asked the inspector some idiot question about dates on tickets. You see, she was wearing Petra’s perfume and I was suddenly back in Altona.”

Kathy rolled her eyes and sighed. “Honestly, Mark, Petra isn’t the only woman who uses that perfume.”

“You didn’t let me finish. It was strange because she was dressed entirely in chain store togs that didn’t fit very well, cheap shoes, hardly any makeup, no hairdo or nail polish, plastic handbag. Even her suitcase was cheap. Everything about her was cheap, and it all seemed to be new. One small bottle, or do they call it a flacon, would cost more than her whole outfit. It was incongruous.”

Carol: “Someone gave her a present.”

“She’d hardly be likely to have friends who’d give her presents worth a king’s ransom. A bottle of eau-de-cologne would be more likely. No, there was something out of whack and I thought I might have found Mr. Martin’s unusual or out of the ordinary. And then I noticed her luggage tag that had no address, just N. Sanders and a telephone number. The number was like the one at the London branch of dad’s bank, so I knew it was in Mayfair. And that also seemed unlikely.”

“Maybe her husband works there, or maybe she does” was Mark’s contribution.

“She didn’t seem like one of dad’s colleagues and if she did work there it would probably be as the cleaning lady by the looks of her.”

Eileen piped up: “Did you arrest her on the spot?”

That caused so much laughter they had to take time out for a few more sips of Pims to pull themselves together.

“When we left the compartment and the inspector went to have his tea I called the number. A caretaker answered and when I asked for Mrs. Sanders he said her name is Natalie Saunders. I asked him if that was her home number. He said it was the number of Mr. Colin Gramley’s club where she worked, but she also had a flat there although he did not have her private number. I telephoned Mr. Martin, told him what I discovered and suggested he get his people to check her suitcase. To cut a long story short they found three kilos of cocaine.”

There was an outburst of “wow’s”, “well I never’s” and one “strike me pink” from Mark who continued “Now I see why they want you to stay.”

“Before you ask, I’ll tell you I said nothing to Mr. Martin about the perfume that put me on her track. I just told him about the phone number. So now he thinks I’m a genius. And of course it’s kudos for him.”

Carol: But the credit ought to go to Petra. By the way, what’s the perfume called?”

“No, actually, it should go to Liza who told me how expensive it is. Otherwise I would have just thought it was a nice scent. I can’t remember what it’s called except it’s one of those ridiculous French names.”

“Any mention of a reward?” asked Mark’s father.

“Mr. Martin did say there would be what he called a gratuity but he’d have to wait to see what the drug people had to say. I’ll be seeing him on Tuesday or Wednesday. I don’t suppose it would be much, but anything will be welcome. While I was in his office he got a phone call that went on for ages. He’d been told about Colin Gramley’s gambling club and very expensive restaurant in Mayfair. When the drug boys questioned Nancy/Natalie she told them the whole story and gave them the name of Chris Dunstan and his address in Sheffield.

Mark said acting on someone else’s behalf wouldn’t get her off the hook. She was a drug smuggler and would have to pay the price.

Brian’s father disagreed. “I don’t think that’s quite the way it will work out.”

“Why not, Mr. Manners? And Gramley will probably get it in the neck too.”

“No, the way I see it is both Customs and the police have spent heaven knows how much time and effort trying to find who’s the organizer and where he is located, so far with no success. Now they have the information from Natalie or whatever her name is so they’re not going to charge her and warn Dunstan in Sheffield that they’re on to him. They must know she was in a desperate fix and neither she nor Gramley will ever try it again. It will be more worth their while to let her, or more likely Gramley, deliver the goods and, presumably, recover his IOU. In the meantime with the information they have they can put a trace on Dunstan and his activities. So they’re not going to advertise their coup, or rather Brian’s, and tip him off.”

Mrs. Manners was quite indignant. “They should be put in prison for the rest of their lives, both of them.”

“Carol, don’t get so excited. It’s more important to arrest the trafficker who no doubt has a whole distribution network of dealers flogging the drugs he gets idiots to bring in their suitcase or back packs. You know, Britain is Europe’s biggest consumer of cocaine and very few seizures are by Customs and they are mostly large amounts. Although I read of a woman from the Caribbean being stopped at a London airport with a kilo of cocaine under her wig. Most drugs are seized by the police. By the way, a kilo of cocaine is said to have a street value of $45,000.”

“So what you’re saying Mr. Manners”, said Eileen, “is that most illegal substances as I think they’re called, are brought in by people like her. I think you’re right that they’ll both get off, but it’s a shame. So I’m afraid Brian won’t become a tabloid hero.”

“What I can’t understand”, said Mark “is why she wore an expensive perfume that didn’t go with the rest of what she had on.”

“Kathy: “She didn’t wear an expensive perform.”

“But Brian just told you she did.”

“Well, yes, she did but she didn’t.”

“Now you’ve really lost me.”

Eileen: “I know what Kathy means. Our smuggler gets up in the morning, has a shower, eats breakfast, then cleans her teeth and reaches for the scent bottle and dabs it behind her ears, on her wrists or whatever. She doesn’t think of it as expensive, it’s simply the scent she puts on every day, just as she uses the same toothpaste. She probably doesn’t even remember how much it costs. It’s something she orders with a lot of other stuff and pays for with her credit card. It’s a reflex. It’s not like makeup, eye liner, a good hair style, or expensive shoes that can be seen. If you can’t see it, then it’s not there.”

Carol: “I believe Eileen’s right. I remember my aunt Elsie always wore a scent called Evening in Paris, very popular and inexpensive. She would never leave the house without dabbing it, apparently all over her. When Brian was a very small boy I had to remind him not to tell auntie Elsie that he loved her smell.”

Brian joined in the laughter but exclaimed, “Honestly, mother, do you really have to dig up family secrets? But what puzzles me is why she felt she had to pretend to be someone she isn’t. If I’d come across her in a first class compartment, well dressed, with good quality luggage, it would have been no surprise that she was wearing Petra’s perfume. Any suggestions? Yes, Kathy.”

“She’s not a professional smuggler, or even an amateur. This was a one-off job to get herself out of some kind of pickle. She probably felt that, when it was all over, she could go back to her everyday life, get rid of her smuggler’s outfit and convince herself that it was her doppelganger who had done the dirty deed.”

“Yes”, said Brian, “Although not such a one-off job as she did it four times. But an example of the best laid plans of mice and men or, in this case, woman going agley as the Scots might say, though I have no idea what agley means.”

“I think it means going askew or all wrong,” explained Mr. Manners. And in this case it’s a good thing the plans did go agley.”

“That definitely calls for a toast” said Mark. He raised his glass and they all followed suit.

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