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Chapter One

Surbiton Bank

When he stepped onto the pavement from his Surbiton flat, Mike Randle screwed up his eyes at the bright sunlight and slipped on his sunglasses. He took a leisurely walk down St Mark’s Hill road into the shopping area of Surbiton town.

It was late in August, and the good weather had persuaded him to take a stroll to his bank to keep an appointment with the manager, instead of driving his car or riding there on his motorbike. He knew it was never easy to park close by, and anyway, his partner Suzie Drake would be proud of him making the decision to walk rather than ride, or so he hoped. She had bought a flat in nearby Tolworth, and the pair had been busy looking for a house to share on the Sussex or Hampshire coast, and they were close to finalising a deal on a four-bedroom isolated property on the outskirts of Bosham in West Sussex.

Mike, a bronzed six-foot-tall rugged individual, had served in the Falklands conflict when he was in the Army. He had met Suzie when both of them were mercenaries fighting with government troops against rebel forces in the African jungle. Their friendship had blossomed, and developed into a loving partnership. Recent good fortune had enabled them to change their lifestyle and take on a less hazardous job while looking for a home to share. Along with their friend, Jim Sterling, they were also negotiating to purchase a boat building business on the south coast boating Mecca of Hamble. The company had sunk into a cash flow crisis, and needed an injection of capital to remain solvent. Mike and Jim could provide that cash, and were hopeful of securing ownership of the business very soon. A few details still needed to be worked out, and Mike was confident that a visit to his bank manager would resolve the few outstanding issues, and enable them to complete the purchase.

Approaching the glass-panelled, wooden-framed door to the bank, Mike heard a commotion coming from the inside, followed by an alarm bell clanging its warning signal and a shot ringing out. Three African-American men came crashing through the door, the first of them careering into Mike, the force knocking both men to the ground. Mike picked himself up and turned to see the villain pointing a gun at his face.
“Get outta my way, you dick,” the man screamed, getting to his feet.
A car screeched to a halt nearby and his two accomplices piled into the vehicle. The engine revved furiously, the driver anxious to speed away.

As an ex-soldier and mercenary, Mike was not perturbed at facing a man with a gun. He reacted quickly and lashed out a foot, kicking the weapon from the man’s hand. As he stood in disbelief for a brief second, a straight right from Mike smashed into his face, sending him reeling to the ground.
Gunshots sounded and bullets flashed past Mike, peppering the ground around him as one of the robbers leant from the car window and let loose with a volley of shots. Diving for the villain’s weapon on the pavement, Mike grabbed it, rolled over to face the gunman and returned fire hitting the back window and smashing it as the driver stamped on the accelerator pedal. The vehicle sped away with the two occupants in the rear continuing to blast away as it accelerated down the road in a haze of blue smoke issuing from the exhaust pipe, with screaming pedestrians forced to dive for cover.

Jumping to his feet, with blood from a broken nose oozing down his face, the villain pulled a knife from a sheath strapped to his belt and charged at Mike. A woman bystander screamed, and Mike turned to see the man almost on top of him with the glistening blade a few inches away from his body and rapidly approaching. He instinctively swung the gun round and pulled the trigger. The blast stopped the man in his tracks as the bullet ploughed into his chest, bringing a horrified look to his face. The villain staggered back, and crashed to the ground. He spat groans of agony and swearing for a few seconds as he shook uncontrollably before stiffening and exhaling his final breath.

Mike lowered the gun as the portly manager hurried from the bank and looked at the body. “They shot one of my tellers and got away with a lot of money,” he croaked, in a very shaky voice over the deafening alarm bell.

“Well this one won’t be enjoying any of their ill-gotten gains,” replied Mike.
Police car sirens wailed in the background, becoming ever louder as the vehicles raced to the bank. Two police cars screeched to a halt and four men piled out.
Mike handed over the gun and was grabbed by two policemen. “Hey! What are you doing? I’m not one of the robbers,” he protested.
The bank manager stepped forward. “Mr Randle is not one of the robbers, Officer. This man lying on the ground is one of them. Mr Randle is one of the bank’s clients. He has an appointment with me this morning.”
“Nevertheless he was in possession of a gun, and he will have to come to the police station and give us a satisfactory explanation,” the policeman replied.

More police cars and an ambulance arrived. Policemen scrambled into the bank and cordoned off the entrance. Tellers and customers alike had to wait patiently while the police took statements from each of them before they were allowed to leave. Frightened, crying women who saw the teller shot were comforted by policewomen until they could be escorted to Surbiton Hospital for checks and counselling. The two bodies were covered over to await the police photographer to record the scene.

Mike was taken to Surbiton Police Station, where he was placed in an interview room where he waited to be questioned. Over half an hour passed before Superintendent Donovan, a stocky man with close-cropped, thinning white hair and a small, greying moustache, entered to talk to him. His chubby cheeks reverberated each time he spoke, with a voice that was much like a growl.
“I am Superintendent Donovan. You are Michael J Randle of Flat 4, 20 Avenue Elmers, Surbiton?” he asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, Mr Randle, it is not usual for a member of the public to pick up a firearm and start shooting bullets all over the place. You could have easily killed a bystander,” the policeman complained.
“I was aiming at the getaway car, not members of the public, and I do know how to handle a gun, Superintendent,” Mike protested.
“Except when you blatantly killed the only man who could have given us the information we require to catch the rest of the gang.”
“Perhaps you’d rather I let him stick a knife in me, and hope that he waited around for your men to arrive and arrest him,” Mike stated sarcastically.
The superintendent ignored the jibe. “Where did you learn to use a gun?”
“In the Army. Am I a suspect, or do you always treat people this way when they try to help if they see a robbery is taking place?”
“I need to establish exactly who you are, and make sure that you are not a part of this gang.”
“What! You must be kidding. Why on earth would I shoot that robber, then?”
Mike questioned, hardly able to believe what he was hearing, after doing what he thought was his duty as a concerned citizen.
“To stop him from talking to us.”
“I don’t believe this crap.” Mike stood in frustration.
“Sit down! Can anyone vouch for your good character?” the policeman asked.
“How about Detective Inspector Colin Brooke of Special Branch? Or better still; try telephoning Sir Joseph Sterling MBE at the Foreign Office in Whitehall. He’s a troubleshooter for the government on security matters. I can give you his telephone number if you wish. You may not be ranked high enough to get through to him.”
Mike’s sarcasm annoyed Superintendent Donovan. He pressed his tongue into the side of his cheek when he heard those important names, which he knew he could not ignore. “I’ll make enquiries,” he stated, leaving the room.
Mike sat and fumed. He turned to the policeman guarding the door. “That’s the last time I do anything to help. If I see a crime being committed in future, I’ll let the robbers and murderers get away.”
The policeman looked at him with a blank expression and said nothing.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Donovan, with some difficulty, had managed to reach Sir Joseph Sterling by telephone. “Yes, Superintendent, I am well acquainted with Mr Mike Randle. He is an ex-soldier as he has told you, and he has assisted me in the past with my enquiries. I can assure you that he is not a bank robber, and I can well believe that he would take action to stop such a crime if he was on the spot and able to do so.”
“And he would shoot to kill someone out of self-preservation.”
“Oh, I am sure that he would. He has spent much of his life as a soldier, and killing would come quite naturally to him if his life was threatened.”
“I see. Well, thank you for your time, Sir Joseph.”
“Not at all. Please ask Mr Randle to contact me when he is free. I would like to hear his side of this unfortunate event.”
“Of course. Goodbye.”
The superintendent returned to the interview room to talk with Mike, this time in a more pleasant tone of voice. “Sir Joseph Sterling has agreed that he is acquainted with you, and has vouched for your honesty in this matter. He has asked if you would contact him when we have finished here.”
Mike nodded, but did not reply. He could sense the policeman’s discomfort at his realisation that he was telling the truth, and was not the stupid gun-slinging bystander he had first taken him for. He was still angry at his treatment, and said nothing to soften the policeman’s unease.
“Let’s get your statement on what happened this morning, then you can go home,” the policeman stated.
Mike related the details, which were taped, and after almost two hours in the police station he was allowed to leave, agreeing to return the following day to sign his statement when it was typed up, after extracting a promise from the policeman that his name and all the information he gave them would be kept in the strictest confidence.
“There are at least three more members of this gang, and I don’t want any of them seeking revenge and come calling on me,” he stated.
“Of course. This is a police matter, and only enough information to catch the gang members will be released to the media,” assured the superintendent. “You are free to leave.”
Back in his flat, Mike downed a glass of whisky as soon as he entered his dining room. He plonked himself down in a chair and rang the bank manager to confirm that
arrangements for their boatyard purchase were in order, after being unable to discuss them with him that morning. He cleared up a few outstanding points and made a further appointment with him to sign the papers. Afterwards he rang his partner, Suzie Drake, to let her know what had happened.
“… and the cheek of the man, he only though that I may be in cahoots with the robbers.”
“It must be the shifty look that you have, Mr Randle,” smiled Suzie.
“Me? Shifty?”
“I’m only joking, Mike. But, on a more serious note, do you think those gangsters might come after you for killing one of their men?”
“I hope not, for their sakes.”
“On an entirely different subject, I received a telephone call from our solicitor today. The deeds to our new house are due to be signed tomorrow. After that, we can move in straight away.”
“At last!”
“So that means we should go shopping for carpets and curtains etcetera, and ask for the new furniture that we’ve bought to be delivered.”
“Oh good,” Mike muttered in an unenthusiastic voice. “Can’t you do it? You’ve got a much better idea of what’s needed than I have.”
“No. This is a home for both of us, and you should have a say in how we furnish and decorate it,” insisted Suzie.
“Okay.”
Mike and Suzie spent the next week buying what they needed for their new home, while the decorators were busy papering and painting. At the end of the week they finally moved into their new residence, and put their two flats up for sale.
The following weekend, Mike and Suzie held a house warming party and invited their friends. Jenny Jones was accompanied by her father Ken, her partner Jim Sterling, and his father Sir Joseph Sterling, along with Mr and Mrs Charlie, a Chinese couple they had met in Africa and who now worked for Jim Sterling as housekeeper and chauffeur. DI Brooke from Special Branch also attended, and although it was a small party and the house was by no means completely finished, the occasion was enjoyed by everyone.
Jim Sterling, a round-faced, clean-shaven, slightly overweight man approaching forty, with an arm around the waist of Jenny Jones, stepped into the centre of the room. “Could you turn the volume down a little please, Mike? I’ve an announcement to make.”
Mike lowered the volume.
“Jenny and I have been seeing each other for many months now, as I am sure you are all aware, and we have decided that the time is right for us to become engaged.”
Cheers and clapping erupted in the room, and a smile was brought to everyone’s face.
“We have been discussing this for a few weeks now, and we plan to get married in about a years’ time.”
“Congratulations,” said Suzie, giving them both a kiss. “We must celebrate. Mike, there’s a couple more bottles of champagne in the refrigerator. I think we should open them.”
“Quite right. I’ll get them,” he said, stepping across the hallway into the kitchen.
Ken Jones, who had immigrated to England in the 1960s gave his daughter a kiss and said, “I’m sure your mother would have approved of your engagement if she was here.”
“I know, Dad,” she answered, with tears glistening in her eyes.
Jenny, who was the same height as Jim, had been born in England of Jamaican parents. Her mother had died of cancer when she was ten years old. Now in her mid-thirties, she had grown into an attractive woman, with long dark hair, piercing black eyes, smooth features and a wide, but very attractive mouth.
To celebrate the occasion, the music volume was increased and more champagne was consumed. Drinks were enjoyed by everyone except for Sir Joseph Sterling and Colin Brooke, who both only sipped a small amount to toast the happy couple. They had busy jobs, and paperwork that required their attention, necessitating the need for them to stay sober and drive home that evening. The other partygoers were happy to accept the invitation to stay the night, in order to be able to drink without the worry of driving afterwards.
During the evening, Sir Joseph spoke to Mike. “I received a telephone call from Superintendent Donovan, the Surbiton policeman, yesterday.”
“Oh, yes. What did he want? Not trying to put me behind bars again, is he?”
“No, nothing like that. He did not have your new telephone number, so he couldn’t contact you directly. He asked me to let you know that a policeman at the station has given a local newspaper details about the robbery and inadvertently supplied them with your name, which was against his orders. It seems that he accepted a small gift for the information.”
“Great! That’s something that I wanted to avoid.”
“So I understand. The man has been reprimanded, but your name was printed in a local newspaper at the end of the week. As it only has a relatively small circulation, I don’t think it is anything to worry about.”
“I hope not. Has he made any progress toward catching the thieves?”
“It seems not. I asked him how his investigation is progressing, and he told me they are not making any headway at the moment. They are unsure who the other members of the gang are, but he told me that the man you killed settled in this country a few years ago, and he and his brother had previous convictions for robbery with violence, both here and abroad.”
“Not nice men, then?”
“No. He also told me that forensics has confirmed that the gun you used to shoot the robber with, was also the gun used to kill the bank teller.”
“So, the man I shot was a killer.”
“Yes, he was.”
Changing the subject, Mike said, “It’s good to see that Jim and Jenny have got on so well together. Did you know about their engagement?”
“Not officially, but I had my suspicions,” Sir Joseph admitted.
“I thought you might. Good for them.”
“How about you and Suzie? Are you thinking of getting engaged or married?” Sir Joseph enquired.
“No. Not yet anyway. We’ve only just bought this house, and we are near to closing a deal on the boatyard … with the help of Jim, of course, who’s kindly lending us some of his lottery winnings to complete this purchase,” replied Mike.
“Yes, quite. I hope that it works out for all of you.”
“So do I.”

* * *

In the following year, Mike and Suzie settled down in their new house near the coast, and the deal was completed for them in partnership with Jim to take over the running
of the boatyard, which they renamed SMJ Boatyard Ltd after their initials. Jenny continued to live with her father until she and Jim were married, but spent much of her time at his Weybridge home, introducing subtle changes there to her taste. She was counting down the days until their wedding, and organising all the necessary preparations.
Apart from a brief period of less than two weeks when Mike and Suzie were engaged on an important job for Sir Joseph, which needed both their combat and her flying skills, much of this time was spent learning to get the boatbuilding business back on a profitable course. They relied heavily on the yard’s foreman Reg with his assistant George to guide them, along with many of the office staff and workshop employees who had stayed on.
The busy year passed quickly.

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