Action adventure story with twists and turns
Taking the long way home is a humorous, tongue in cheek, adventure story with action, crime, passion, and romance,involving two ex soldiers in their late fifties. Mitchell Jones, an out of work ex soldier and his friend Alistair 'Haggis' MacGregor, an ex S.A.S. soldier, are recruited by Annie Norton,to undertake a rescue mission that goes wrong. During the botched rescue, MacGregor is badly wounded, and, believing him dead, Jones leaves him behind and runs. He hopes to escape and meet up with Annie Norton with a view to still receiving his payment. He is befriended during his escape by Ingrid Nozaynoski, a woman detective, who uses him to help solve the murder of her parents, thirty year previously. Inevitably romance blossoms between Jones and Ingrid Nozaynoski as their journey takes them from Eastern Europe to Italy, and on to Chattanooga in the U.S.A. where Jones involves the F.B.I. in a sting to to get a confession from a murderer.
Gullible me. Everybody's soft touch. Five feet nine inches of shaven head, blue eyes, big red hippy beard, and not an ounce of extra fat. Well okay; maybe a few ounces. Ex-Royal Engineer, ex-landscaper, ex-husband. Fact is I was pretty well ex everything. All I'd had going for me up 'til now was being a wacky, all singing, all dancing, guitar playing nutter, and a weekend dad to an eight year old girl who I absolutely adored.
Oh yes, I'm also the life and soul at christening and retirement parties the world over, and as I'm pushing close to sixty I'll be doing a gig at my own retirement party before long. If I can find a job to retire from, or at least get over the one my mate got me into. Doddle of a nice little earner he said. Yeah right!
"As easy as lifting a wee bairn from a pram, Mitch," the Scottish moron told me when I asked him what the threat level might be if we attempted this job. Some best pal he turned out to be.
Alistair 'Haggis' McGregor, aka Braveheart. Ex 'who dares wins' S.A.S. trooper, a year older than me and also jobless. A no nonsense, short arsed, skinnyGlaswegian with a wicked sense of humour, a vitriolic mouth half hidden by a thick black Mexican moustache, and a penchant for being slightly economical with the truth. At that point I hadn't realised how economical he'd actually been and, unfortunately, Murphy's Law did not influence my thinking as it should have done. I lost all presence of mind and believed him.
Didn't work out the way he said, did it? Oh no. Not the way things happen for me. All my friends will tell you, not that I have so many, if something is going to go pear shaped, Mitchell Jones will be odds on favourite to cop for the friggin' fruit basket. Only this time the feeling was more like I'd copped for the whole friggin' orchard. Pears, apples and whatever else fell off the bloody trees.
Anyway, not so long ago I got a phone call from Haggis telling me he needed some help, and the sort of people he normally turned to weren't available. I hadn't seen him for a few months, and he sounded in a bit of a dither. We'd worked together on and off for a little over twenty-five years, on various building sites, and doing occasional body guard jobs, but when I asked what the full S.P. was, he wasn't prepared to go into details over the phone. He suggested a face to face would be better.
Being out of work and low on the folding stuff I agreed to a meeting. Probably not the best decision I've ever made but never the less, we met the next day at the Hard Rock Café in London, not much more than the width of a gibbons goolies from Hyde Park Corner.
Inside, after the formalities of, 'how's it hanging', and 'what've you been doing with yourself', we got a beer, walked past a show case containing a John Lennon plectrum – as a musician it interested me but I didn't stop to check it out – and sat down at a corner table.
"Okay Haggis, what's the problem?" I asked, not being one to beat around the bush, unless I'm invited.
"An easy one Mitch, very easy and it's going t' be done wi' only the two of us. At least the walk in and lift will be. If ye want in there's a big, big pay day for ye. If not, ye walk away and keep your gob shut."
"Okay mate, fill me in and we'll see if I think I'm up to the job, 'cos knowing you there's possibly going to be more walking than I'm used to, and more than likely sticking our fingers up at Mr. Plod."
"A bit more than sticking our fingers up at the Old Bill, my friend, and wee bit of travel involved."
"How much wee bit of travel are we talking about 'aggis?"
"A three thousand mile round trip, gi' or take."
"Only one and a half thousand miles each way. Hmm. So we're not invading the good ol' U.S. of A. That's a result. Yanks're all twice our size, and usually play with nastier hardware than we do. They also seem to practice by using friendly fire. Helps keep their own casualty numbers down."
That brought enough of a smile to the little Glaswegian's face to entice him to go to the bar and fetch another couple of beers. It also gave me a few minutes to wonder where the hell this was going.
I tried to imagine a one and a half thousand mile radius around where we were now. Russia and bits of Eastern Europe sprang readily to mind. Dodgy, very dodgy. Toys of choice over their end of the Northern hemisphere were normally A.K.47's, the odd R.P.G.7, and designer semtex waistcoats, and as the only weapon I'd played with in the last ten years was a catapult, on Woking common, things did not bode well.
This was of course, the moment when pears and fruit baskets first came to mind. You couldn't help but be drawn in though, by the way the little moron smiled as he imparted, piece by piece, snippets of information to fire one's curiosity. Snippets like easy, travel, and lots of readies. Guaranteed to spark interest.
I used the time he stood waiting at the bar to go use the little boy's room, and while looking at my weary old worn out self, reflected in the mirror as I washed my hands, I couldn't help feeling that I was really going to regret whatever I was getting into. Basically, apart from speeding now and then, I'm a law abiding citizen struggling to make a crust just like a lot of other boring old farts.
I have though, at times, been known to lose all presence of mind and have moments of completely rational irresponsibility. By that I mean I do think first whether things will end in tears, and then just go right ahead anyway, while having tissues at the ready, just in case.
Back at the table, we were sitting comfortably. Well, as comfortable as you can be on those Hard Rock chairs.
Haggis took a large swig of beer, put his glass down, placed his forearms on the table, and continued. He spun an intriguing tale about a kidnapped politician for whom he'd once worked as a bodyguard. Plausible enough. We've both done that kind of work. Apparently our government washed their hands of it, and the nice chaps from 22 S.A.S. Regiment in Hereford would not be doing one of the things they're very good at. Namely pulling off covert rescues in exotic places.
So the good lady wife turned to my oppo in her hour of need, and pleaded with him to go and get her husband. She told my aged, ex S.A.S. friend, within reason, money was not a problem, and to let her know what was needed. He told her he would put a team together.
After a few days and more than a few phone calls, I was the final choice on his list. Whether that was because we were mates, and he didn't want me to become damaged goods, or whether everyone else he knew told him to piss off, I don't know, but here I was about to become one half of that team. Well, the team that would be doing the grunt work at least. There would be other people involved, but not on the ground where we were going. The details would be worked out later. I'll bet ten quid to a wombat's winkle she expected him to find a couple of young, well muscled Rambo types, and here he was asking me. Pushing sixty, and not much fitter than a paraplegic parrot.
"Okay, I'll give it some serious consideration," I said, in what was my finest hour of completely rational irresponsibility. I did however, tell him I would want to meet with the good lady wife to discuss the financial side of things. I especially wanted a water tight deal that would see my kid all right, should I become surplus to somebody's requirements, and have my breathing arrangements terminated. The Muppet meant the world to me.
"Nae problem," he said, "I'll give ye a bell tomorrow."
With that, we finished our beers shook hands and went our separate ways. His towards Kensington, and mine to the nearest tube station. A short ride on the tube and then a train from Waterloo station to Woking in Surrey.
I didn't know why I agreed to team up with Haggis really.
Yes I did. I was out of work and needed money, but there was more to it than that. Boredom maybe. Watching too many Indiana Jones movies? Lack of real purpose? The desire to see my kid have the kind of life I always wanted but never quite managed? Who knows? Whatever the reasons I knew that I would go ahead if the price was right. With the odds on winning the lotto being millions to one, this was the best chance I'd get of making some serious pension money.
Sleep that night was hard to come by as I lay tossing and turning, unable to switch off my mind. How much more convenient it would be if we came with a bloody on-off button.
Haggis, true to his word, called me the day after our chat at the Hard Rock Café and asked me if my passport was up to date, and how soon could I travel. Well that threw me somewhat, so I said to him. "I'll be having my kid with me for the weekend, which means there's no way I"ll be free until Monday at the earliest. Plus I won't be going anywhere until I've seen the hostage's wife and sorted the formalities, and besides, I don't have any spare cash for travelling."
The truth was I didn't even have any spare cash for not travelling.
"That's nae problem," said Haggis, "but the thing is we've tae meet her in Rimini."
"Rimini? Gordon bloody Bennett. That's in fuckin' Italy. Bit of a long way to go just for a meeting."
"Nothing wrong wi' your geography then. Aye, I know it's a ways to travel, only she's on her boat at the moment, and that's where it's anchored up."
"Her old man's banged up somewhere with a bunch of loopies, and she's taking a sunshine fuckin' cruise in the Adriatic? She must really love him then."
"She's nae cruising. She's got this thing that down there she's nearer tae where hubby is. You know what lassies are like."
Well that cracked me right up. I just burst out laughing. Totally lost the plot. I must have been shaking with hysterical convulsions for close to five minutes. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and dropping off my chin leaving little dark spots on my t-shirt.
"What the hell's so frigging funny aboot that, Mitch?" demanded the little Glaswegian.
"Haggis, Haggis, Haggis, me old mate," I moaned, when I finally got it together, "You know I've been married four times and you tell me I know what women are like. Yeah, I'm just naturally the world's biggest friggin' expert. The only time I get remotely close to understanding them is when they speak slowly."
After almost deafening me with raucous laughter he ended the conversation, promising to call with the details on the Monday evening. I hadn't even said I'd go. Deep down though, I knew I would. After all. Even though I was the last on his list of peeps to call, we were still best mates.
The weekend with my nipper was a bit of an anti-climax in a way. I just couldn't give her a hundred percent. My mind was a few hundred miles away preparing for bullets and bombs, and all manner of ways to die. There was nothing on the news over the weekend about any kidnapped politician but I figured there was probably a media blackout on it, and I never thought any more about it. Should've done really. What I didn't know then was that there was no politician, and the woman on the boat was Haggis's bloody girlfriend.
It was after nine in the evening when he called and all he said was, "I'll pick ye up tomorrow morning Mitch. Eight o' clock. Be ready tae go. All you need is your passport, and a wee weekend bag sort of thing."
Didn't even give me a chance to say no.
Tomorrow. Jeez. That was sudden. Before doing anything else I made myself a cup of coffee and sat down to think about it again. Did I really want to do it? Not really. Was I even capable of doing it? Probably not. Did I even have what it takes? Yeah right. Could I shoot straight under pressure? Could I shoot straight at all? How was I on the stamina front? Ha. The farthest I'd walked in years, was a couple of miles or so along the river to feed the ducks with my kid. She was too big though, so I fed them with bread. I know. Bad joke but all I've got at the moment.
I went to bed that night wondering when or if I'd see it again, and fell into a disturbed sleep. Did I dream? Oh yes. Me, who's never jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane in my life, dreamt I was plunging earthwards at terminal velocity with an unopened parachute streaming behind me. Haggis was screaming at me to cut it away and open the reserve chute, only I couldn't find a bloody knife. I woke up in a sweat drenched panic, only seconds before I would have decorated the scenery at a hundred and twenty miles an hour, possibly knocking three or four feet off my height.
It was not nice. Definitely not nice. I looked at the clock. Five forty five. With no point in going back to sleep it was shower time. For fifteen minutes or thereabouts, I stayed in the shower, letting the hot water beat me head to foot, and fail miserably to make me feel better. Then, dried and dressed, I ate a light breakfast, and threw a few things like spare socks, underwear, a couple of t-shirts, clean pullover and washing kit, into a small hold all. That done I drank another cup of coffee and waited for the transport to show up.
Right on the dot of eight I heard a car horn honk two or three times. On time; good. Maybe it was the musician in me but I was obsessed with time, and if he'd been late my imagination would've gone into overdrive. With a last look round, not knowing it would be a few weeks, not days, before I returned, I said to myself, "I'll do the dishes when I get back," then grabbed my hold all, locked up and went down the path to where my mate was sitting behind the wheel of a blue Ford Focus.
After throwing my bag into the back, I lowered myself onto the passenger seat, and before I closed the door, even before saying good morning, I said to him. "Haggis, my old mate, please tell me that we are not going to be doing anything to raise my blood pressure, like sky diving in from thirty thousand feet. At my age, I can do without on the job learning, so I do not want to be doing an impression of a hungry Peregrine diving after a friggin' pigeon."
"You've never lived before you've done a HALO on a dark night."
"Yes, and some people have never lived after one."
"Dinna worry yersel'. We'll nae be jumping. Now close the friggin' door and let's get going."
I closed the door and he gunned the motor.