One for the money
It’s Friday afternoon. Thanks to a leaving do at the Hi Tide, Geraint is the last person left in the office.
All summer he’s been on Surf Watch out at Rest Bay. This sounds more exciting than it is: hanging around in a yellow jacket, giving little plastic pouches to surfers so they can bring their car keys in the water with them instead of hiding the keys by their cars.
As a result local car theft is down by a third, which in his opinion is not good news. Worse, the latest stats he’s downloaded show crime down across the board: not just cars, but also burglary, robbery, and assault. Geraint feels ripped off. He’s wanted to join the force since he was twelve, and it’s not long since he finished basic training. Now he’s in role, he has had it with theory. He wants to be bombing it down the highway with the siren on, catching crims, not making bar charts to show how well Crimestoppers works, or taking endless computer simulations to boost his reaction speed. At this rate some overfed councillor will make him redundant before he even takes his sergeant exams.
He searches the internal jobs list for a transfer. Hull looks good. Hefty dollop of crime there. Bit of a flood risk, though, and although he likes windsurfing he doesn’t fancy wading through storm waters on a regular basis, so he crosses the jobs list with the crime stats hoping to find the most crime-ridden coastal town in Wales. He’s still calibrating the results when the call comes through.
‘I want to report a robbery at Porthcawl HSBC.’
This is more like it! Geraint feels a sort of rush, glad he’s in charge of this, but immediately gets a strong feeling one of the lads in the Hi Tide is setting him up. He clears his throat and says in his deepest voice,
‘Can I just take your land line there and call you back?’
It’s standard anti-hoax procedure.
‘What? I’m tied up on the floor and I’m calling off a mobile. If you call me on the land line I won’t be able to pick up. Can I speak to your manager please?
‘My manager is...’ Geraint thought he had probably got in a quick round at the Hi Tide before heading off to his holiday home for the weekend. ‘...unavailable just at the moment. I’m afraid I need to call you back on your land line to log the call. Otherwise it can’t be put in the system.’
‘I thought this was emergency services? I can’t GET to the land line because my feet are tied up.’
‘Right, you’d best give me the address. I’ll send a patrol car round.’
The woman says, like he has half a brain,
‘It’s the only branch of HSBC in Porthcawl. We’re on John Street, like all the banks. Just so you know, none of us can get to the door, you may have to break in.’
‘Hold on.’ He does a mass call-out, ‘Urgent, base to all cars, robbery on John Street. Car to the HSBC right away please.’
No one radios in from the pub, but he gets two offers from further afield and approves them both. Geraint would be quicker walking down there himself, but can’t leave until the next shift arrives. He tells the caller they’ll be with her soon, and asks if the robbers were armed. She’s not sure. One of them claimed to have a gun. They didn’t say much, they were very, very fast.
‘So did they get away with a lot?’
‘They picked their moment. The shops had just cashed up, it was more can than we see in here all week. About forty grand.’
Not bad. Out of the small change league. There’d be some kudos in solving this; could merit an early promotion. Geraint hears muffled noises in the background.
‘My manager’s signalling me not to name the sum. It’s probably not information he wants released publicly.’
‘OK. How many staff in the building?’
‘Three. There’s usually six, but we work flexi-time and three of us left early, minutes before they came through the door.’
Geraint is still taking details when sirens and breaking glass signal the arrival of the team on the ground. Reluctantly, he lets them take over.
The descriptions she’s given are a dream: these guys will be so easy to find, it’s ridiculous. But it could be awhile before the word spreads, what with it being a Friday night. As soon as the next shift relieves him, he’s going to try a bit of freelance investigation. It’s too good a chance to let go, and it could be a route to fast-tracking his career.
He has only just reached the Esplanade when he sees them. He crosses to the beach side for a closer look. It’s them: ‘Three guys in white suits with funny hair.’ Got to be. Nothing that looks like a gun or a swag bag. But that aside, could they have been any more obvious if they tried? Standing there, taking photos. Could they not at least wait until they’d left the area before starting to celebrate? Amateurs.
‘OK lads, where is it?’
The puzzled look is good. ‘Where’s what, officer?’
‘The money of course.’
The three of them start laughing.
‘I’m not joking.’
But as he’s saying this, two more guys in similar hair-dos and suits come along, and a third, still with the hair-do but in a military jacket. They remind Geraint of something. Or of somebody. That’s when all six of them start to sing and with a sudden lurch in his stomach Geraint knows exactly who they remind him of, even if their singing is a far cry from the original:
‘One for the money,
two for the show,
three to get ready,
now go cat go.’
While they’re singing, another half a dozen guys who could be a clones of this lot pass by, all of them heading for The Grand Pavilion. Geraint’s chance of scoring an early promotion drops through the floor as hey remembers one key fact that escaped him while he was locked in the control room: today is the opening day of the Porthcawl Elvis Festival. Which means that for the next three days there will be hundreds of guys like this all over town. Posing, crooning, and having a laugh.
Even though he’s off duty, Geraint carries on listening in to the police radio feed on his iPod. They’ve set up an Elvis roadblock around The Grand. That’s where all the Elvises were going; to take part in some sort of singing competition to pick the best Elvis. Anyone who so much as pops outside for a fag during the show will be searched, and when it’s over the entire audience will be detained and searched on-site.
Geraint is not convinced this is the right approach. What if the robbers ditched their outfits?
But the street bins have been checked and nothing found. Too keyed up to go home, he wanders around town trying to think what he would have done if he’d been planning the robbery. That’s what they invited you to do in police training: get inside the the suspect’s head, so you can second guess his moves. Whoever planned this was a more of a professional than it seemed at first. He begins to feel a reluctant admiration as more details are released: two more banks were done on the same road, all within about fifteen or twenty minutes. Audacious stuff. These guys obviously take their work seriously. The question is, are the perpetrators still here somewhere, hiding in this sea of Elvises, or are they long gone?
Geraint checks the pubs and hotels along the Esplanade that might have provided a refuge: the Seabank, the Atlantic, the Porthcawl, the Fairways, The Lorelei. Most of them big rambling old Victorian buildings. Good places to hide. Then he remembers the most remote one of all, the Rest, right up at the end by the golf course. He walks round there. It turns out the place is hosting a variety show of song and dance for nostalgic seventy-somethings. He asks the receptionist if three guys dressed in Elvis outfits have been staying at the hotel.
‘Oh, no, nothing like that. The Rest is not that sort of place. And we don’t take last minute bookings. Our guests book months in advance. Most of them come every summer.’
He glances around the balroom. The crowd is genteel and white-haired, the music unfamiliar but busy, sort of like a jazz band but with a more definite beat. On stage, three young women sing and tap-dance in high heels and shorts like they’ve leapt straight out of an old black and white Hollywood film.
Step, step, step – step like a stepper
We’re muggin’ and huggin’
We’re in the mood now.
Geraint wonders what ‘mugging’ used to mean back in the 1940s when Swing bands and the Andrews Sisters were big. Obviously something different to what it means now. The singers are cute, their shorts-and-high-heels surprisingly modern. Only their hair is seriously old-time: quiffs on top with curls at the back. Other than that, they could be any three pretty girls dressed up for a night out. He wonders, are these three really into the sounds, or do they just like having an excuse to wear beehives and bright red lipstick?
On the way out he gives the receptionist his card and asks, ‘Will you give me call if anything strange comes up?’
She promises that she will.
It’s Wednesday and the robbery case has been going nowhere since the weekend. The men assigned to it are out of their depth. Geraint too has more or less given up by the time he gets the call from The Rest.
‘Hello, you're the officer who visited us last week, after the robberies? You asked me to let you know if we saw or heard anything suspicious?'
'Yep, that's me.'
'Well, we’ve found something that could be relevant. Would you like to take a look?’
He goes around straightaway. The receptionist says, ‘I know it’s important not to touch evidence, so I asked our front of house staff to leave things exactly as they had been found until you got here.’
‘Sounds good. Uh, so where is it?’
She coughs nervously, as if embarrassed, ‘Follow me.’ She marches off to the back of the hotel. ‘Now these toilet facilities were reserved for the sole use of performers during the variety show. But most of the performers were male, and would have used the toilets opposite. Only the female singers came in here.’
The stuff is in a bin. When he sees it he understands her skittishness, because it’s a sanitary disposal bin. But she’s quite composed now.
‘If it had been the main litter bin chances are we’d have found it same day. But these bins are emptied less frequently. It was only today that the janitor opened it. Here’s what he found.’
The bin has been left open. All he can see is a lot of dark hair: some of it in curls, some in the generous swoosh of a quiff.
Curls and quiffs. Like the three retro singers, Geraint thinks.
‘The night I came by, you had some girl singers onstage who had hair like this, didn’t you?’
‘And I take it performers wouldn’t as a general rule discard their costumes at the end of a show?’
‘Certainly not. If they were regulars they’d need them again. And these wigs probably cost more than their fee.’
Geraint is doing a different kind of maths: start with an Elvis, take away his white suit but not his wig, add some curls and high heels, and what do you get? An Andrews sister. In about thirty-five seconds flat. This is why the police manhunt got nowhere, they were looking for three men when they really needed three girls. Quite cute girls, at that. In some ways Geraint is relieved the three girls got away. They did such a neat job, and not a soul was hurt. When he lifts out the wigs and bags them, he also finds a toy gun. An old-fashioned ladies gun with a mother of pearl handle, the sort that lady film-stars used to keep in their handbags to get rid of bad guys. It’s quite realistic except that it’s so extremely light-weight.
Afterwards he walks along the beach, putting off the inevitable return to the control room where he’ll have to hand over the evidence. He wonders where the three singers have got to now. Europe, is his bet. They could have had a private boat lined up to take them across. The water looks so calm right now, as if he could windsurf around to France on his lunch break. Geraint thinks how nice it would be to spend summer in the south of France, eating good food, staying somewhere far from the crowd up in the hills, learning to play boules and only occasionally bothering to hit the beach for a day. Is that what the three girl singers are doing now?
The oddest thing about this robbery is, he's gained the distinct impression that the manager of HSBC would have pretended far less cash was taken, had the teller not named a figure while he was gagged. As if the bank had an unwritten policy to discourage theft by pretending most robberies are ill-planned failures. It makes Geraint wonder, have the three girls done this sort of thing before? And will they do it again?
When he gets back to base his own manager calls him in to his office. ‘Sorry I can’t approve those transfer applications for you, Geraint,’ he said. ‘You’ve not been with us long enough to transfer out.’
To Geraint, it already feels like forever. So that afternoon, after handing over the wigs to the guys who are working on the banks case, he gets on the computer and opens a new line of attack.
This time he searches not for job transfers, but for Elvis festivals in France. And before long he finds one: at Fontet’s Base Nautique. He books as much holiday as he’s due for the week of the festival, buys a spangly outfit, and spends his free time in the intervening weeks learning to sing like Elvis. At times, he practises twirling the toy gun left behind by the three girls, which he kept as a souvenir. His mum says the noise coming from his room is deafening. She can’t hear her TV shows properly with him prancing around.
‘Why do you keep singing those old songs over and over? Anyone would think you wanted to sing professionally.’
He smiles. ‘You have a point, Mum. Maybe that is what I want.’
What he really wants, though, is to sing with those girls, be part of their band. He has a hunch they’ll show up at Fontet navy base: if they do, he’s not so sure any more that a citizen’s arrest would be his first option. He’s even memorised the Bing Crosby part to the songs on ‘Christmas with the Andrews Sisters’, in case they let him sing along. And if his hunch is wrong? If they stay away from Fontet, and he has to go it alone — will he push ahead with it anyway, now that he knows the steps? Geraint is not sure yet. It may come down to what mood he’s in on the day. Sometimes you just have to be there and see.
His mother's giving him this look like she can't quite believe what he just said. He tries putting it differently,
‘Maybe I’m not cut out to be a cop after all.’
‘But Geraint, love, you’ve wanted to join the police for ever. It took years to get in. And all that training. Why drop it now?’
‘I need to get away awhile, think it over.’ Seeing the pained look on his mother’s face he adds, ‘I’m not saying my police training was a waste of time. On the contrary. Even if I leave the force, it’s taught me some useful skills.’
Geraint kisses the top of his mum’s head and smiles at her. He goes back upstairs in a good mood and for the rest of the evening he sings only very softly, under his breath. But he’s still singing.