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Vertical Challenge

Chapter One


The security guard looked up from his newspaper and glanced across at the five monitors stacked on the side of his desk. The views on the screens before him covered the factory compound, loading bay, main entrance and large car park. Not that there was much to see, especially in the gloom at this time of night. Most of the area was covered by bulkhead lights and showed little beyond the pool of glow that emitted from the wall-mounted fittings. The guard turned up the contrast to scan the dim shadows and confirm that nobody was lurking around outside. On one screen, he could pick out the shutter doors into the factory, which were better lit by an overhead incandescent light mounted within a cracked, white shade that swung each time a breeze drifted past, rocking the sphere of light on the ground back and forth. The wire mesh entrance gate was similarly lit, but the remaining views in his monitors consisting mostly of outlines. Brick walls of the two-storey main building were partly visible and also, by the one and only floodlight, was a car park, almost empty save for a couple of wrecks dumped in one corner that, it seemed to him, had always been there.

With nothing untoward to grab his attention, the guard returned to reading his newspaper and attempted to complete the Sunday crossword. This was not the most exciting job he had tackled, and the pay was not very good, but it was steady work, close to home and did not entail much effort or brainpower. He poured himself another cup of coffee from his flask and re-read the clues. In a few minutes time, Roy, the only other guard on duty that night, would arrive and, after a drink and a natter, they would swap tasks and it would be his turn to stretch his legs and walk the rounds, checking the offices. He looked forward to that part of the job, it gave him the chance to nose about and search other people’s desks and benches. It was surprising, the things that some employees left lying about. He had even found a £10 note once, thrown with a handful of loose change and a bunch of keys on a desktop. The owner probably left in a hurry that Friday evening and forgot them. By Monday morning, he would have been unsure what he had left behind, and by then the guard had enjoyed a few extra pints in the local pub.

With his pencil poised above the newspaper, he was pondering about the answer to 27 across, when his thoughts were interrupted by the throaty roar of a 100-tonne low-loader disturbing the night air on its approach to the main gate. Headlights blazed through the wire link fencing, illuminating the entrance compound, turning night to day as the vehicle shuddered to a halt with the air brakes giving a long hiss as if to say, we are finally there. The guard looked up through the window, noticed the trailer was empty, except for a tarpaulin tied to it, and wondered what the driver wanted. He had not been informed of any equipment that was to be collected, and anyway, it was far too late and the foreman would have to be present to manage all the paperwork involved. He was probably at home, tucked safely in bed. The whole place, the guard knew, was empty, except for him and Roy. The driver was more likely to be looking for one of the other factories on this industrial estate in Crawley, and wanted directions. Usually, this happened because he had either taken a wrong turning and lost his way, or his vehicle had broken down and he was late, making it difficult for him to find his destination at night, with few or no people about to ask. It was always easier for a driver to stop at one of the factories and ask the night guard; it saved the bother of trundling around the estate looking for the premises he required.

The guard closed his newspaper and dropped the pencil on top of it. He rose wearily and slowly; it was approaching midnight on this Sunday evening and his twelve-hour shift was not yet half-way through. The chair screeched on the bare wooden floorboards as he pushed it away with the back of his legs and grabbed his flat-topped cap from a peg on the back of the door. Donning his headgear, he trudged down the three steps from the wooden security hut, banging the door behind him, and wandered along to meet the baseball-capped driver who was descending from his cab with a clipboard grasped firmly in his hand.

Questions and answers concerning directions to his destination were never given the opportunity to resound in the night air. Before a word could be spoken, the driver produced a gun from behind the clipboard, and bullets ripped into the guard’s chest from a silenced weapon that puffed twice in quick succession, barely making a sound. With a look of incredulity, the guard sank to his knees, and by the time he hit the ground, five other baseball-capped members of the gang had appeared from the lorry, and with precision and silence they sprang into a well-rehearsed move.
Heavy duty cutters were produced, and sliced their way through the padlock with ease, opening the way for the low-loader to move into the compound. Connections to the cameras, videoing the entrance and loading bay, had their wires cut while the guard’s place was taken by one of the gang after his uniform was removed and his body dragged behind the hut to hide it from any prying eyes, in case anyone should arrive.

The gang were well briefed on the layout, knew what they were after, where to go and what to expect. The main gate was closed, the padlock replaced, and the entrance door into the factory floor and loading bay was quickly breached. The object they were there to steal was big and heavy, contained a lot of electronic equipment, stood on hydraulic ram jacks and cost a small fortune to develop. This factory manufactured and sold aircraft and submarine simulators.
The new guard took his place in the hut, and placed his communicator on the desk, a valuable instrument with which he could talk to his boss in case of any problems. He opened the newspaper and stared blankly at the crossword in front of him. His eyes lit up at the sight of a cup of coffee on the desk. He touched the cup, felt it was still warm and drank it.

‘Find the other guard and check that no one else is around,’ instructed Ryall, to his trusted friend Alex, the tall, well-built driver of the lorry. ‘He should be on his way here to change places with the one on the main gate. I want to make sure that we’re not disturbed. Meanwhile, I want everyone else to keep quiet. Deliveries at this time of the night are not all that common, so I don’t want the other guard getting jumpy and calling the police if he hears something unusual,’ he demanded, throwing his baseball cap into the low-loader cab. His men sat quietly on the trailer and Taffy rolled himself a cigarette.

Alex threw his cap down, allowing the mop of shoulder-length blonde hair that crowned his head and flowed down the sides of his long, angular face, to drop into place. He ran his fingers through his hair, pulling it to the back of his head, before setting off to carry out the task with his usual ruthless efficiency. After all, killing was a job that he enjoyed, and he was good at it.

Ryall was himself no stranger to robbery, and more lately, murder. Nearly one- third of the 40-plus years of his life had been either spent in prison, or on the run from the authorities. In later years, he had become astute enough not to waste his time behind bars and used his enforced presence in Her Majesty’s Prisons to stay fit, and learn skills that would help him once he had regained his freedom.
A muscular man, slightly under 6 feet tall, his craggy features, prominent cheek bones and full head of darkish blonde hair, gave him a look that was a little on the hard side, but was not unattractive. His blue eyes helped to give him the appearance of being tough, yet gentle, a look which was at odds with his true nature. The only son of a poor family who struggled to make ends meet, he grew up with a chip on his shoulder. This was partly due to his parents separating when he was young, making life even more difficult. He was determined to better himself, even if it meant stealing to get what he wanted.

His dream was to pull off one really big job. He cultivated friendships that would be an advantage to him later on, contriving to get close to those who could teach him such talents that would enable him to achieve his aim of retiring very rich, and spending what was left of his life in modest luxury and comfort. This robbery was not the big job that he was waiting for, but it was the most daring one he had attempted so far - stealing a multi-million pound aircraft simulator. The handsome pay-off would help him to live comfortably for a while, and give him the funds and breathing space he needed to seek out one last, very profitable heist.

Why on earth anyone should want such a piece of equipment he was not at all sure, but he could take an educated guess. Even so, he did not much care, though he had to admit to a certain amount of curiosity about what his client’s ultimate aim was. His overriding concerned at that moment, though, was to get safely away with all the parts, complete and in working order. The ram jacks had to be dismantled from the cabin and unbolted from the floor before the simulator could be loaded on to the trailer. His instructions were to deliver it to a warehouse somewhere along the south coast, where he would receive a not inconsiderable reward for his and his men’s services. The exact location had been kept secret from him and would only be revealed when they were on their way with the goods, by the man his client had insisted on accompanying them during the robbery; the electronics expert, Mr Green.

Ryall’s client was not interested in knowing any of the details about how the intended equipment would be acquired, or who might suffer because of the methods he used to obtain it; he simply wanted it delivered to his secret location, and in full working order.

Nearly ten minutes had elapsed before Alex returned from his search, wiping blood from the blade of his knife. ‘There’s no one to disturb us now,’ he promised. ‘I’ve had a good look around and they were, as we were told, the only ones here.’
‘Good. Let’s go,’ Ryall said, clapping his hands. ‘I want this thing loaded and ready to move in four hours absolute maximum. After that we could start to get visitors, and that’s something none of us want.’

Taffy entered the factory by the side door and pressed the shutter button. Alex jumped into the cab and started the engine as light spilled into the compound from behind the massive grey shutters, slowly rising. They clanged upwards, allowing the lorry to be backed into the voluminous factory area, and such was the driver’s speed and skill that the cab slid under the shutters with barely an inch to spare before the door began its downward journey, thrusting the compound back into its peaceful gloom. By the time the doors touched the ground and stopped, on this eventful Sunday night in May, the gang’s main task had begun.


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