The Trojan Towers (CH2)

Harry didn’t look up from the newspaper. That was Harry. He knew, saw and felt things going on around him without showing any emotion. Raithe stood on the quay and looked down at him.“Am I going to stand here all day or are you going to invite me aboard?” He tried to sound a little jocular, but the tremble in his voice betrayed the nervousness.

Harry put the newspaper down on his lap and waved a hand. “Get your backside down here and don’t get cocky, dear boy. You and I have things to discuss.”
Their last face to face meeting had been two weeks before the robbery. Harry warned him not to attempt it. Banks were for idiots, not educated professional thieves like Raithe. The risks were too high. He should have listened.

He climbed down into the well and sat opposite Harry on one of the padded bench seats. Harry’s eyes narrowed behind the thick lens glasses. He pointed a chubby finger. “I waited nine years to tell you what I think of you, and now I can’t be bothered. Have you learned anything? Do you think about the little girl?”

Raithe looked out across the water. “Of course I do. I’ve thought about her every day.” He sighed and looked the other way toward the buildings, avoiding Harry’s stare. “I miss Natalie and Terri, God knows how I’ve missed them.”

“God also knows how much that little girl’s mother misses her too.”

The words stung Raithe’s conscience. His eyes began filling up. He wiped them with his fingers.

“Liberty is a wonderful thing, dear boy. You lost it through ignorance, nothing else.” Harry shifted in his seat and stared hard into Raithe’s eyes. “You didn’t listen to Terri. You didn’t listen to me. You thought you knew best. Ignorance, Raithe, is a terrible thing. Ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand, and you displayed plenty of both. If prison and the shit that is housed in it knocked some sense into you, then I’m glad. Whatever happened to you was nothing more than you deserved.”

Raithe stood up, rubbing his eyes. “I didn’t come here to listen to this, Harry. I’ve been punished enough for Christ’s sake.”

“Punished enough. Your punishment hasn’t even started yet, dear boy. It starts today and every day for the rest of your life. You’re still arrogant…now sit down!”

Raithe sat with bowed head, looking at his feet. “I’m sorry, but I can’t change anything.”

“No, you can’t.” The tone in Harry’s voice changed. “And now you are free, what do you plan to do?”

Raithe shook his head. “I don’t know, Harry. I keep thinking about that little bastard.”

“You mean Danny? I doubt he’s the man you want. He may have fired the gun, but you should be looking elsewhere. Anyway, is that more important than your daughter?”

“No, of course not. I need to find Natalie.”

“Silly boy, you should have known I’d look after Natalie.”

Raithe sighed and sobbed at the same time. “You know where she is? What about Terri? Is she with Terri? I got a card from Spain.” He got to his feet, smiling.

The big man got up and opened the door to the saloon. “Come and have a drink and don’t thank me.”

They moved inside, and Harry crossed to the bar. “Scotch?”

Raithe nodded. “Thanks.” He sat down in one of the armchairs next to the bar.

Harry pulled a bottle of Scotch from the cabinet. “You let Natalie and Terri down, not to mention me. They’re the ones who’ve suffered, not you. I’ve spent a long time trying to understand why you took that job on. It will take me even longer if ever, to completely forgive you.” He pouted. “After all, I taught you, dear boy.”

He placed two crystal tumblers on the table between them and sat down on a large brown leather sofa.

Harry seldom showed emotion, and when he did, Raithe kept quiet. It had nothing to do with intellectual or physical superiority but the respect the man commanded. He was larger than life, always understanding and fair, with a quiet but authoritative voice that one listened to.

“Now get that down you and listen to me.” Harry picked his glass up and took a sip. “You gave Terri my telephone number shortly after you were sent down, as I told you, in case she needed help. She didn’t call until a few months later. Perhaps she thought I was like you and couldn’t be trusted, eh?” He waved a hand through the air. “Anyway, we arranged to meet over lunch one day. She wanted to get rid of the money…your money…from its hiding place. It became a constant reminder to her of the child’s death, not that she needed reminding. That poor girl has lived every day with the memory of the tragedy. A neat and tidy girl, and good looking too. But very unhappy, Raithe, very unhappy. A boy like you shouldn’t do that to a lovely girl. And your daughter too.” He raised his eyebrows and shook his head slowly.

Raithe reached for the bottle and topped up Harry’s glass. “I know about the money,” he said. “She sent me a postcard a few days before my release.” He was silent for a moment, trying to find the right words to say as Harry stared at him, waiting. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever regret anything so much in my life. Believe me, if I could turn the clock back.” He gulped some Scotch. “I have nightmares about it. I miss Natalie and Terri. I’ve missed you all. God, I’m so sorry, Harry.” He rubbed his forehead. “My head hurts with all the worry. I don’t know what to say or do.”

“Well we can’t change the past, but we can make a fresh start.” Harry took a card out of his trouser pocket. “When I saw Terri, she was upset about being pestered by the police and press over the hiding place of the money. More than that, she was concerned about Natalie. The girl was nearly seven, and a couple of reporters took photos of her while she was at school. Then she was stopped on the way home.”

“Bastards.”

“Terri asked me to help her get Natalie into a private boarding school. I was happy to help. She told me they were going away on holiday and it would be nice to get Natalie away shortly after if I could arrange things. I pulled in a few favors and got a place for her at this school. Terri asked me not to tell you where Natalie was. It would have complicated matters, and I agreed. She’s there until her seventeenth birthday.”

Raithe took the card offered. “Switzerland? Harry, I don’t know what to say.”

“Nothing. You say nothing, dear boy. I did it for Natalie. She’s something extraordinary now, don’t you know. A beautiful little girl who calls me Uncle Harry.” His chest rose, and he smiled. “After she’s taken her final exams she’s going to Zurich University to study European Law.”

Raithe’s face creased into a broad grin.

“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” said Harry, lighting the end of a corona. He puffed at it until the end glowed.

“I’m sorry, Harry. It was the thought of her calling you, Uncle Harry.”

Harry ignored the remark. “I think you should go and see her on parents day. The details are on the back of the card. Natalie knows all about the robbery and what happened. Don’t go over it again with her. She doesn’t need reminding.”

Raithe nodded. He wondered what sort of reception he would get.

As if reading his mind, Harry said, “I won’t tell her you’re coming. That way if you get cold feet she won’t be disappointed. If you take my advice, you’ll go. At least give her the chance to make her mind up about you. And she will too, believe me. She’s just like you used to be, very sure of herself but without the arrogance, you had and still have. Here, take this.” He took a photograph from his pocket and held it out. “Beautiful, isn’t she?”

Raithe looked at a beautiful blonde teenager in school uniform and saw Terri. They were so alike. Harry was right. There was a hint of a smile, a look of self-assurance.

Cigar smoke whirled above their heads as he gazed at the picture. The strong aroma reminded him of the back room in the Stepney basement apartment. Peter smoked small cheap cigars all night. In the morning, Terri would throw all the windows open. The smell of stale cigars permeated the air throughout the apartment.

“Terri asked me to take Natalie to the school,” continued Harry. “She was being followed everywhere and scared someone would find out where the school was. We let it be known that Natalie was going to a boarding school in Scotland, and that did the trick. Since then, Terri and I have kept in touch regularly. She wrote to me about things in general and how she was looking forward to seeing Natalie. She visits Natalie twice yearly at half terms and stays for a week each time.”

“Does Natalie write to you?”

“Of course she does, like her mother. She sends letters to me, and I forward them on to Terri. Terri moved a couple of times and letters got lost so I suggested I could send them on to wherever she moved to.”

“I take it she’s living in Spain? That’s where she sent the card from,” said Raithe, thoughtfully.

“Yes, about three months ago, she moved there. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure something was bothering her. I didn’t want to ask, though. She knew she could count on me if she wanted help, so I assumed it might be personal.”

“You mean she was having an affair?” Raithe’s heart sank.

“You should worry about that. What do you think your wife should do, spend her life waiting, and for what? You?” Harry held both arms out dramatically. “She knows you are out and if she wants to see you, she will find you. Natalie is the most important woman in your life and don’t you forget it.” He blew a long stream of blue smoke into the air, then sighed. “You don’t know how lucky you are, dear boy.”

“I’d like to find her before she finds me, Harry. After I’ve seen Natalie, that is. I still love her, and I want her to know that. If she doesn’t want me then fine. At least I’d have shown her I still care.”

“I disagree. You lost the right to expect anything from Natalie, and going after her will only make matters worse. Remember what she’s been through. You must let her decide your future. In the meantime, I want you to do something for me.”

“What’s that?”

Harry rose from the sofa and peered through the saloon window at the quayside. Several little groups of sightseers were ambling along the marina, admiring the line of boats. He finished his Scotch and placed the tumbler back on the table before turning back to look outside.

“I want you to deliver around eighty million in jewelry and art to an old friend of ours in Amsterdam,” he said, casually. He watched the sightseers move past. “That’s after you’ve stolen them…of course.”

Raithe sat with his glass halfway to his lips and momentarily froze, then began to laugh. “No, Harry, I’ve learned my lesson. You don’t catch me out like that. Mind you, if you like I’ll look in my diary and see what I’m doing this weekend. I might just be able to squeeze you in. How do I get into the Tower of London?’ He was still laughing when Harry faced him.

“There’s one thing you should have learned by now, dear boy. Knowing whether I’m joking or not.” He lent across the table, a look of serious intent on his face. “You are going to get into a vault, but it’s not in the Tower of London.”

Confused, Raithe slumped back in the chair. “Wait a minute, Harry. You must be joking. I don’t find this very funny.”

“I’m not joking,” said Harry slowly. He sat down.

Raithe felt angry. “I’ve been here five minutes, and you’ve given me a lecture on what a shit I am. Now you want me to steal a fortune. The phrase, don’t do as I do, do as I say, comes to mind. What about my daughter? Does she know her Uncle Harry is getting daddy into trouble again? I bet she doesn’t. And what -”

“Of course she doesn’t, and you won’t be getting into trouble if you let me explain. As far as your family -”

“I won’t do it. Whatever it is, I won’t do it. Who the bloody hell do you think you are? You think one letter a month, a suit, and some school fees buy the rest of my life?”

“As far as your family is concerned,” repeated Harry, “they needn’t have suffered if you’d listened to me. You paid nine years for a paltry two hundred thousand. If you’d got nine years for eighty million, I could understand it. As it is, this time, you are not going to get caught. All you have to do is listen and work with me. The reward is enough money to last you for the rest of your life and give that daughter a life she deserves. More importantly, no one except those who deserve it is going to get hurt.”

Raithe looked up at the roof, trying to keep calm. “I’ll be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life, Harry. Every police force across the world will be looking for gems worth that much.” He shrugged. “No, Harry, I can’t do it. I’m not going back to prison.”

“Of course not. No-one will know who took the gems and what’s more they won’t know what’s missing. In fact, I can safely predict the police will find it hard to speak to anyone admitting they have something missing.”

“Okay,” sighed Raithe, slapping both hands on his knees. “Where is this Utopian place full of treasures and dumb idiots?”

“Now that is very funny, dear boy. In fact, that’s a pretty good description of my next door neighbor.” He grinned and flicked a large lump of ash. It missed the ashtray and landed on a beer mat.

“You mean the Excelsior Depository? That place is a fortress.”

Harry grunted and poured some more Scotch. “Of course, it is. If it weren’t, no one would deposit anything in there, would they?”

“I’m not with you. I don’t -”

“Think dear boy, think. What did you do before you broke into a property? What was the first thing you had to do?”

Raithe smiled, remembering the checklist Harry had insisted he go through mentally before each job. “Of course, find the Achilles Heel, the weak point.”

“Precisely. Every building has a weak point. Find the weak point and in you go. That’s the easy part, and this building is no different. The hard part, as always, is getting away.”

He drew on his cigar and brushed some ash from his knee. “Before we go any further, you are going to understand that there are a couple of things that are not negotiable.” Leaning forward, he placed a hand on Raithe’s shoulder. “There will be no guns or unnecessary violence. You will not take anything from the depository other than that which you are told to take. Break either rule, and I will personally make sure you spend the rest of your life in jail.”

Raithe knew he was serious.

“I’m sorry to say that to you, dear boy, but if you take anything not on my shopping list, you will hurt innocent people, perhaps friends of mine.”

Raithe looked puzzled but remained silent. When the man talked business, he expected his audience to listen, not ask questions.

Harry got up and stepped to the center of the saloon. He moved to the window again and for a moment remained silent as he looked across the water. “You’re going to steal eighty million in jewelry from the depository,” he said, eventually, “and then put the stuff back again. Later, after the robbery has been discovered, I am going to walk back into the depository and take it all out again. Within hours, the goods will be stored safely, and you will be on your way out of the country without anyone knowing.”

Raithe tried to understand. Whatever Harry’s plan, it would be meticulous down to the last detail, leaving nothing to chance. But what was the point in putting the goods back once they had been taken?

“My dear boy, don’t look so confused,” continued Harry. “We’ll discuss the details later. For now, let’s discuss the overall picture. You’re too tired to discuss details.” He started pacing up, and down the saloon, cigar held between ringed fingers and head bowed. “We’re going to rob from the robbers,” he said, excitedly, “just for a change. I’m going to teach them a lesson. They’re going to learn they can’t cheat Harry Cohen.”

Raithe sat impassive, glass in hand. Harry always took a long time to come to the point. Whatever it was, it was worth waiting for. It occurred to him that Harry trusted few people and had picked him to do the job. He didn’t doubt that the old man loved his daughter and looked after her out of the kindness of his heart. None the less, some gratitude would be expected in return. There would be no hard feelings if he turned the job down, but it would be the end of their business relationship. He would never be asked to work again.

“Who are ‘they,’ Harry?”

“Criminal scumbags who have cheated me in one way or another over the years, whether it is gems or money they owe or have stolen from my fellow dealers or me.”

Raithe remembered Harry telling him that a small group of international gem dealers was organized to receive and fence beautiful pieces of jewelry and art. They bought from recognized introduced sources and supplied to a select clientele. If a thief wanted to do business with any of them, he would have to be a known professional and come recommended by one of the others in the group. It was a worldwide trade and very profitable. Raithe had been a one-off exception but only because he’d shown he could be trusted. Harry’s reward for Raithe’s act of honesty towards a fellow dealer was to handshake him into the business.

“I want to retire, Raithe. I don’t need the money, but I do need to teach certain individuals in our trade that they don’t steal from their own. This little job will give me a great deal of satisfaction.” He rubbed the side of his nose and smiled broadly. “Now listen and learn. Some of our more unsavory colleagues in London have boxes in the Excelsior Depository. They store their valuable stones and other items of worth in there. I have kept an ongoing record of what jobs have been credited to them and what property has been taken. In most cases, the valuables are taken out of a box and brought to one of my colleagues or myself here in London. If there’s no deal, they go back into the box. At any one time, I estimate there to be around eighty million in their boxes collectively. We are not interested in the contents of any other box except these. I obviously don’t know who owns what box. I do, however, have a list of items that you will look for. When you come across an item listed, you will empty the entire contents of the box it is in. That box will belong to a ‘dumb idiot.’” He chuckled and held his glass up. “Cheers.”

“Cheers, Harry.” Raithe smiled.

“You’re not quite sure about this, are you?”

“I don’t know, Harry. I’ve got other things on my mind, Terri, Natalie and…”

Harry became serious again. Looking absently at the tumbler of Scotch in his hand, he said, “There is a way you can flush out the grass as well, don’t you know?”

“How?”

“It could have only been one of five people, and we can rule out Terri and myself. Personally, I think you can rule out Danny too. There again it might have been someone who had it in for you and made a lucky guess, but I doubt it.”

“Peter or James?”

“That’s right. I guess that it was one of those two. Whoever it was may also have changed the blanks in that gun. How they did it without you knowing, I don’t know. Why they did it is also a mystery.”

“I still think it was Danny. He loved guns. That’s why he swapped with me when we were on our way to the job. I reckon he changed the blanks to live rounds outside the bank. He’s the grass, Harry. He got scared when he found out the girl was dead. The police arrested me the next day. There wasn’t time for a whisper to do the rounds.” Raithe downed the rest of the Scotch in one gulp.

Harry stepped across the saloon and opened the door. “Well, let’s reserve our judgment shall we until we know for sure.”

A thick cloud of smoke drifted out of the door into the sunshine. Harry stood in the well and threw his cigar butt overboard. “I could find out where the others are,” he said, in a disinterested voice.

“Of course you could, Harry. I’m surprised you haven’t already.”

“I didn’t know you’d be interested, dear boy.”

“Yes you did, Harry.”

Harry put his hands inside the pockets of the sou’wester and grinned. “Good, I’ll get to work, and you can get some sleep here.” He stepped back inside without shutting the door. “When you’ve got your head together you can ease yourself into the job by solving one or two little problems. You have to think of a way of balancing on a sloping roof while removing a few tiles. You’re the expert, you can sort that out.” He handed Raithe a piece of paper. “These are the details of the roof.” He scratched his head. “Oh yes, one other thing. There’s twenty thousand in the forward cabin. I didn’t think you’d want all the money at once.”

“Thanks, Harry, that’s fine.” Raithe watched as a sparrow landed in the well and pecked at the decking. “Nice boat.”

“It’s a friend’s. I don’t want us to meet at mine. We have to be careful. Now get some sleep, and we’ll speak again tomorrow.”

“I want to find Danny. I’ll go and see his sister.”

“All right, but be careful. Here, take this.” He handed Raithe a mobile phone. “I’ll call you in the morning.”

“What was the other thing you wanted me to sort out?” asked Raithe.

“The escape, dear boy. You know the City as well as I do, probably better. However you do it, make sure you’re clear of the City within thirty minutes. Your rendezvous is Benfleet Creek, a few miles downriver from here.”

“Thirty minutes to clear the job and the City?”

“Yes, I don’t care how you do it but make sure you are. By then, I shall be helping the police with their inquiries.”

Raithe frowned at him.

“Details, dear boy, details. Don’t worry yourself.”