WHATEVER HAPPENED TO LARRY BLAKESTON?
Elly Chandler had been fielding calls all morning. Where the bloody hell was he? Typical!
Men! Always let you down!
Even his landlord turned up. He was two months behind with the rent.
Dammit! She'd have words when he got back.
Evening came. He still hadn't returned. She tried ringing Misty, others she thought might know where he was.
No one had seen him.
The takeaway she'd bought went cold. She threw it in the bin.
Elly felt lost somehow.
Half his clothes were still there, she wrapped his big blue jumper around her neck. It smelled of him.
She breathed in the scent.
Where the hell are you Larry?
The following day she found the slip of paper. In a jacket pocket, amongst his things.
With the note was a set of passport pictures.
Elly was flummoxed. Had he gone away? Why had he said nothing? Surely he would have told her, not just run away?
Three days passed. She got on with her work. A new case. Working alone.
She slept, she ate, she didn't go back to her flat, she slept in Larry's bed. She thought about him all the time.
Then the letter arrived.
By the time you get this I'll be in Bogota.
I know you have feelings for me Elly. No one can make love the way you do without them. The way we were heading.....well I just got tired of it. Tired of you sneaking around, after hours, after dark, for solace or sex.
It's not true what they say about half a loaf being better than none, it just leaves you hungry for more. I want the big C Elly, commitment.
But I could grow old waiting for you to make it, so when this job came up I grabbed it.
Feel free to use the place well and all, I'd like to picture you there.
I'll be in touch.
PS........there may be a tad owing on the rent. "
Sitting in the car on a stake out, she read the letter through for the umpteenth time.
So that was it then.
There was no return address. No way to contact him. No guarantee she'd ever see him again.
He was gone.
She couldn't even cry.
Just felt numb. Empty. Confused.
There was nothing else she could do but get on with her life.
Larry lay on his back on the narrow cot in the bedroom of the small place he rented.
La Candelaria wasn't the most salubrious part of town by any stretch of the imagination, but it had to do. It was all he could afford.
The walls had a stickiness about them, an unknown substance that faintly nauseated him, but he'd got used to it.
An ancient air conditioning unit that chugged and hummed. Not really doing its work.
Hot and stuffy.
Flies buzzing. His skin with a sheen of perspiration as he languished on top of the sheet, in just his underwear.
Although night, the city never slept. Voices, music, traffic, all filtering in through the tatty, peeling, wooden lattice shutters, which lay open, the muslin netting over the window stirring slightly in the night air.
His friend Julio, whom he met on his trip to Brazil, had offered him the job.
He hadn't really looked back. Or had he?
The picture he'd lifted from Elly's apartment that day, the day he and Misty had gone there to fetch her some of her stuff, to take to the University. He'd filched it, made a copy and replaced the original back in its ornate frame. It hung on his wall now. Already crinkled and yellowing slightly.
She was smiling, a school tie wrapped around her head. The woman who traded herself in.....for Robocop. It was never going anywhere. He told himself that every day.
Just solace and sex. That's what he was to her.
It wasn't what he wanted.
So he left.
Working for Mr. Rodriguez.
Larry had actually never met his erstwhile employer. He met minions.
Suited and booted, usually wandering around the house with a wire coming from one ear, or a walkie-talkie, a suspiciously holster shaped bulge under their jackets.
Mr Rodriguez was evidently a rich man. In amongst all the poverty in Colombia, he seemed to have made his mark.
Drove a Merc. Or rather, was chauffeur driven.....in a Merc. The house was enormous. Pool. Terrace. Palm trees. Everything of the very best.
A business man, he'd been informed. Friend to politicians, church dignitaries, the great and the good.
Lavish parties, dinners, designer clothes, handmade Italian shoes, the finest champagne.
Larry was put in charge of his security needs. Nothing to do with the heavies he employed.
Surveillance, protection. Apparently Mr Rodriguez had enemies. In a world of turf wars, you kept your friends close......and your enemies closer. Circling each other warily. A fragile truce.
My patch, your patch.
It was all distinctly disquieting. Julio had mentioned none of this in his job offer.
Apparently he was family, so taken on trust. Any friend of his was friend of Mr Rodriguez.
His first task had been to sweep the place, for bugs. Mics hidden anywhere in the house or grounds.
Then he'd spent a month installing his own equipment.
His employer had been pleased. Paid him well.
Larry didn't have much to spend his money on. So he saved it. Kept it safe. Put it in his bank account in the UK where neither he, nor anyone else could touch it, until such time as he returned.
If he returned.
Rising, pulling on khaki trousers and a cotton shirt, he wandered down to a bar, a couple of streets from the seedy apartment block where he lived.
A couple of cold beers.
The place was a dive.
Ceiling brown, stained from decades of nicotine.
Prostitutes plied their trade on the kerb outside. Dark haired, voluptuous, with beautiful skin like mocca.
So far he'd avoided the dubious pleasures they offered. Their pimps were thugs, ruthless and unforgiving.
The streets here weren't safe after dark. Tourists were a target. There were often muggings, even kidnappings. But no one paid much attention to him. Grubby grease spot that he was.
He had naught but a few peso's in his pocket. That was all. His passport and papers were well hidden at his tenement.
Never carried them on him. No credit cards either. He didn't even wear his wristwatch.
The months passed slowly. It was just an ordinary day, when he was called in out of the blue, to see his employer's top right hand man.
Mr Rafael was a short, portly man. With a face the colour of weak coffee. Gold fillings in his teeth.
Mr Rodriguez had a job for him. It would be worth his while.
There was a house, in the nicer part of town. Owned by a certain government minister. A Mr Sanchez. Larry had seen him on the TV.
He was required to find a way to get into that house. Lay a few strategic listening devices. A couple of discrete cameras.
It was up to him, how he went about it. But he mustn't fail, and he mustn't get caught.
Larry felt a little thrill of fear go through him.
"It's not really my area. I'm all about security. I'm not a spy. I don't think I can do it. Sorry!"
"That's a pity. Mr Rodriguez will be disappointed. Still.....if you're certain?" Mr Rafael picked his teeth with a wooden cocktail stick, and sucked in alarmingly.
Larry felt decidedly uncomfortable.
Later that day, he took the TransMilenio home to his place, staring out of the dirty glass at all the little wooden shacks perched on the hill in the distance. A shanty town, which was often washed away when the rains came. Eroding the subsoil and making the whole lot slide. Only to be rebuilt again a month or so later. They had nowhere else to go.
Reaching his apartment, he fumbled for his keys. Then noticed.......the door was ajar.
Larry Blakeston was frightened.
He pushed the door with one finger, it swung open on its rusty hinges with a squeak.
Almost scared to walk in, in case someone was there.
There was no one.
The place had been turned over.
Larry surveyed the carnage with dismay.
All his clothes were strewn upon the floor. The bed turfed over, mattress slashed. It's stuffing spilling out like entrails. Every drawer of his chest stood open, contents spilling out of each one. All his correspondence and surveillance equipment had been thoroughly searched. Ripped open, flung aside.
The lamp on the bedside table smashed.
Everything in his little kitchenette had been hurled out of the cupboards, plates, cutlery.....the fridge emptied. Flies buzzing busily, like a small army, onto the exposed foodstuffs. A puddle where the ice box had melted.
As he turned towards the back wall, his eyes widened.
Elly's picture......impaled against the wall, with a six inch kitchen knife and a note.
"Warning. Do as you are told."
He rushed to the loose floorboard in the very corner. Prised it up. His little hiding place.
Passport, cash, papers. All still there.
He didn't have a choice.
What in Gods name had he got himself into?
Staking out the house. Heavily disguised.
As himself he stood out like a sore thumb. Pale and interesting. Amid all the dark, dusky Spanish colouring.
Sea green eyes.....in amongst all the chocolate brown. Bloody hell!
It took him a week or two of careful surveillance. Comings and goings.
Quiet times, busy times. House empty, house full. Mr Sanchez was a busy man. Larry saw a lot of women, usually in various stages of undress.
All of a type.....young, attractive, tall, leggy, big tits.
Posing as a telephone engineer. With Julio alongside him to speak the lingo. False ID cards. Overalls. A telecom van Julio nicked from the depot. He kept well and truly schtum. Just the 'mate', the assistant. He heard Julio explain he was 'un poco loco' to the guy on the door.
They were in.
Larry sweated profusely the whole time. These were powerful people. He could quite easily lose his kneecaps. Or worse.
Plenty of bodies had been found floating in the lake. Or been found on rubbish heaps. Unrecognisable.
The police were largely in the pay of the gangland bosses, the drug barons. Bribery and corruption were rife.
When this was done he wanted out.
Leaving proved more difficult than he'd imagined.
Mr Rodriguez always seemed to have another little job for him.
Things were turning nasty. Some business deal had gone pear shaped. Larry didn't know the details. Didn't want to know. All he knew was that one of Mr Rafael's heavies was found in the toilet of a bar in town.......with a gunshot wound.
He later died in hospital.
The word was out that it was something to do with Mr Sanchez. Feathers were ruffled.
Tit for tat attacks.
Next it was one of Sanchez's men. He disappeared off the street. A witness reported seeing him bundled into a car. He'd been on his way home to his family.
But no one was talking. You didn't. You kept your mouth shut and your head down.
Found two days later in a warehouse. Dead.
Larry sat on the bed in his apartment. Head in his hands. He raised his eyes, to the photograph still on his wall. A tell tale hole still though the centre of it.
Oh Elly! Elly!
He just wanted to go home.
Julio came to see him. To take him out for a drink.....he said. Actually it was to tell him about the next little job Mr Rodriguez had lined up for him. One of his employer's business associates, who needed watching. Who had, apparently been dipping his fingers into the till. A very foolish thing to do.....if you wanted to hang on to your fingers........
Larry noticed the two men, seated in the corner. Smoking quietly. Playing dominoes. They glanced his way a couple of times. Did he recognise one of them? From the Sanchez house?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Julio was chatting happily, didn't seem to notice. Unperturbed.
The men finished their drinks and left.
Larry didn't give them another thought.
Only a short walk back to his apartment. The street dimly lit. A few stragglers milling about.
He was hit from behind.
He was only vaguely aware of what was happening. It was all a haze. In slow motion.
Punches. Kicks. To his head. His belly. His kidneys.
Sliding down the wall, and into oblivion.
He remembered no more.
Larry's eyes opened onto a day, that by rights, he should never have seen.
Gradually he began to focus. It was daylight.
How long had he been asleep?
Moving his head slightly, he gave a wince of pain. The room was unfamiliar.
Stark, clinical. Not his bedroom.
A face appeared, leaning over him. He squinted in an attempt to make sense of who it was.
A young woman. Dark hair, pulled back from her face. Beautiful. Kohl pencil around her brown eyes.
The daughter of his landlord. Almost twenty, she worked as a waitress, and helped her father clean the apartments. He often passed her on the stairs. She would flash him her best smile, utterly beguiling. But he wouldn't go there. No. She was too young for him.
Although she didn't seem to think so. Sometimes he thought she hung around just to bump into him.
Coming home from her job. After the restaurant closed. She rounded the corner just in time to see the car speed away.
She knew these men.
She knew how dangerous they were.
She also knew Julio, and that he was a relative of Mr Rodriguez.
It didn't take much stretch of the imagination to guess what had happened.
Running to Larry's side, she turned him over. He was bleeding heavily. Unconscious.
It was she who called an ambulance. Went with him to hospital.
He didn't know it, but she'd barely left his side.
Sanchez's men left him for dead. If they knew he was alive they'd come back.
Conchita knew she had to stay.
Their reach was long.
It infiltrated every government institution, they could get to him here just as easily as on the street.
She would have to get him out.
"You okay Meester Larry?" She touched his arm.
He smiled weakly.
"I tell them, I your girlfriend. Else they no let me stay. You need to go home Meester Larry. Soon as you can walk."
He took her hand.
"Where am I ? What happened? I don't remember."
"I found you. Beaten up pretty bad. You are in trouble Meester Larry. They'll find you. They won't mess up next time." She sat on the edge of the bed, as Larry tried to sit up. Everything hurt.
"Can I trust you? Can you do something for me?" He squeezed her fingers.
"Sure. Meester Larry. Sure." Her face was soft, kindly.
"My passport. Money. Papers, they are under a floorboard in the corner of my place. Can you get them? Bring them here?"
She nodded eagerly.
"I'll be back in one hour."
After Conchita was gone, Larry swung his legs out of the bed. Pulled the revealing hospital gown around him.
So weak. He could barely stand, support his own weight. His stomach felt like he'd been hit with a wrecking ball. There was an ugly gash on his head, the hair had been shaved and it was stitched. Two black eyes. Swollen lip. Mouth cut inside.
He tried a few steps, but could only walk bent over, he couldn't straighten himself at all.
It was slightly less than an hour before his little friend returned. She bought him trousers and a jumper.
His papers, and documents, as requested. She'd grabbed what she could and run back. There were suspicious looking people hanging around the apartments and she dare not tarry.
She'd taken a circuitous route back to avoid being followed.
The photo of Elly, she produced from her pocket, where she'd stuffed it, folded roughly.
Spreading it out she pointed to it.
"Thees lady. You love her? Go home to her Meester Larry. Don't come back here no more.
You have to get going. They will get word. They will know you are here. They know everything."
She fetched a wheelchair from the corridor.
Larry heard her speak to the male nurse, saying something about wheeling him out for a smoke.
Putting on his own trousers was quite a feat. Achieved only with much grimacing.
Going commando......for the love of.......!
She helped to ease his jumper over his head, then dumped him into the chair, unceremoniously.
Outside in the street, a large car drew up. Two men got out, hands nervously held against their breast pockets. They entered the hospital foyer.
Conchita wheeled Larry out and down the corridor.
They waited beside the lifts.
One lift was on its way up to their floor.
Another coming down at the same time. It stopped with a 'ding'. Doors slid open and they entered.
As the doors closed behind them, the 'up' elevator stopped on their floor. Conchita was just in time to see the two men get out, and head down the corridor towards the room Larry had so recently vacated.
She knew who they were.
Reaching ground level, she set off, at some speed, still wheeling the hapless Larry down towards the loading bays and a back entrance. She couldn't risk the main door.
Finding Mr Blakeston's room empty, it took a few moments to enquire after his whereabouts before the henchmen were running back towards the lifts again.
Out onto the street. Hailing a cab.
Larry eased himself into the back seat, almost laying along it. In agony. Conchita jumped in beside him.
"Okay. Meester Larry. Not long now."
By the time Sanchez's men reached ground level. The two were gone.
It was a mighty close shave.
There were no flights to the UK that day. But there was a small business flight leaving in the next couple of hours, to Mexico City, with seats available.
Larry purchased a ticket.
Conchita sat with him until his boarding gate call came through.
He turned to her.
"Can't ever thank you enough. For what you've done."
She smiled gently.
"You take good care of yourself Meester Larry. Stay out of trouble. Si!"
He ferreted in his pocket, and pulled out all the peso's he had. Pressing them into her hand.
It was probably the equivalent of three months wages.
She looked down at the money and protested.
"I can't take this......"
"Take it. If I had more I'd give it. You've saved my life.....how can I ever pay you back for that?"
"You have to go Larry. Your call is up on the board. Be lucky. Go see your girl. Have a safe journey."
She hugged him briefly, it hurt like hell, then broke away from him, turned, and walked away across the concourse, never once looking back.
How Larry made his way to the boarding gate he never knew. He was in so much pain.
"Just let me get home." He thought. "That's all I ask."
Settled into his seat, he watched the earth slide away as the plane took off.
He was free.
Sleeping deeply. He dreamed of Elly, of that first kiss.
She'd asked him to kiss her.
He'd said....."don't even think of running out on me...."
When he'd come downstairs, she'd done just that. Taken her bag and gone.
She thought all men were shits. Including him.
He wondered what she'd even been doing in the last eight months.
Sod it all! She might have a boyfriend. He couldn't blame her if she had. After all.....he'd just upped and left without a word. In a sulky huff pretty much. The injured party.
He couldn't think of that now.
What he must do is concentrate on not dying, before he could get back to Gatwick.
Because right now that was what he felt like.......he was going to die.
So much pain.
The flight to London was not till next morning.
Larry booked into the Marriot. At least then he had a bed. There was a pharmacy, he bought analgesics. Took a load of them.
Some sustenance. Slept a little.
Remembered to ask for a wake up call.
People seemed to find it odd he had no luggage to check in.
Inside the airport terminal he bought pants. A T shirt. Jeans. A toothbrush.
Went into the gents toilets.
Had a rudimentary wash. No shave, but his face was so sore and bruised, he couldn't face it.
His body was black and blue. His back was killing him, and his stomach, and his head.....in fact he just bloody hurt! All over.
Lucky he had no internal bleeding. Or his head hadn't been caved in.
The flight left on time. Thank God.
He was London bound at last.
Elly had a shit day. The case she was working on backfired spectacularly. Following an errant husband, she lost him. At a crucial moment. She was angry with herself.
Throwing her keys on the table she plopped down onto the couch.
There was nothing for dinner, unless she cooked it herself.
Takeaway it was then.
No doubt she'd have to go on surveillance later. Sitting in the car for hours, outside the house of the man's alleged paramour, waiting to catch him entering or leaving.
No point yet, he wouldn't be there for a while. She had a few hours of peace.
If she was honest, she had been struggling lately. The realisation that Larry was never coming back had begun to really hit her.
In the first few months she'd quite expected him to turn up. But he didn't.
How she missed him.
She'd taken advantage of him. She realised that. It was obvious to her now, she loved him.
But it was too bloody late. Chance gone. She'd lost him. Now she'd just have to get on with it. Her own damn fault.
There was no one remotely on the horizon. Men who were nice, were few and far between she'd decided.
Larry was nice, he cared. He'd wanted her, and she'd pushed him away.
Once, he'd said to her, "Someone who won't let go of the past is just plain scared of the future!"
He was absolutely right. She knew that now.
She had been too scared, and that was Max's fault. Because he was a bastard. He made her think that all men were the same. It made her terrified of 'the big C' ......commitment.
Musing to herself, she thought she'd probably die an old maid!!
When the door buzzer went she huffed in annoyance.
Who the bloody hell was that? At this time of day. Not a client she hoped. She really didn't want another case right now.
Peering at the screen, she wasn't sure who it was.
Rather than buzz them in, she decided to go down.
The sight that met her when she opened the door, was one she would never forget as long as she lived.
Leaning heavily on the doorpost. Barely able to stand.
"Elly!" He gasped, as he fell inside the door in a heap.
"LARRY! Good God!"
The cold stethoscope on his chest woke him.
Lying in a bed, vaguely familiar.
"He should be in hospital!" The doctor looked stern.
"I'm fine. Please." Was all he could utter.
"I'll take care of him!" He dimly heard her say.
He sighed, surrendered himself, then slept.
Hours passed. No idea of time. Day or night?
Bleary eyes opening.......to what? He wasn't sure.
Someone snuggled against him.
Shit. But that felt so good.
Pain was less. His face still ached, and his head.
He puffed out his cheeks.
Her head raised, to look at him.
"Well?" She challenged.
"Elly! I'm so sorry!" What else could he possibly say?
"Don't! " she held a finger against his lips.
"Don't even.......don't you even......just bloody don't!" There were tears in her eyes.
"I don't want to know where you've been. Or what the hell happened......you can tell me some other time. Right now, I'm just so glad you're back!"
"Really?" It was extremely difficult to give your best puppy eyes, when you have two great big purple shiners!
"Really! You oaf!" She gathered him to her in a hug as tight as she dare. "God I've missed you so bloody much. I can't believe you buggered off like that! Bogota? Bogota!! Why the bloody hell did you go to Bogota? What's wrong with Cornwall? Or Scotland? Fucking Bogota!"
Tears coursed down her face unchecked.
He tried to laugh, but it hurt too much.
"And you need a bloody shower, or a bath.....you stink!" She concluded.
"So......where are we? Us? I wasn't even sure you'd still be single......there isn't anyone.....special?"
He asked bashfully.
"Well, of course I've been beating them off with a stick since you've been gone......but right now? No one......so you're in luck! God! ........Larry........you bloody idiot........!"
She held him close again.
He let out a sort of choked sob.
They'd be okay. Wouldn't they?
He loved her. She loved him.
Nothing else mattered.