by Andrew Foote
"I hope this pissing vehicle is road legal?"
"Relax Callum. Taxed, tested and insured only last month. The law, if they decide to give us the once-over, won't find anything unless you're smoking weed in that ciggie."
"Weed? I don't even touch alcohol! "
"So, what gives, and don't try to duck out of this or you'll find yourself using Shank's Pony to get back to Digbeth, and going down the Soho Road in Handsworth ain't a nice place to be."
Callum thought before looking at us, but the warning about the prospect of walking through one of the less welcoming areas of Birmingham loosened his tongue.
"You know I used to be on the rent. I preferred to call myself a Demolition Operative 'cos I destroyed erections pretty bloody quickly.
I was cute, and my body turned men of a certain kind into gibbering idiots and most times, they'd pop their cork before even touching me. Sometimes I had to Perform, and that sickened me, but it was all about survival and getting through the day, so I did what I had to do.
I could net myself, - fifty quid, may be tops one hundred a night, but sometimes if the weather was crap, I wouldn't turn a trick, so living was hand-to-mouth; that was until I met up with this bloke who just gave me a mobile phone and a fistful of cash for doing fuck-all, telling me to call the only number stored in its memory before fucking off.
Five hundred notes and a mobile, and I never had to get my kit off?
I called this number the next morning."
"Parties. They held sex romps for perverts. They wanted me to be one of their little boys so the customers could get their rocks off doing anything they wanted to me."
Pip put his head in his hands and collapsed onto the steering wheel.
"Oh God. I've heard about that sort of thing and some kids don't live to tell the tale."
"Shit like that isn't like an everyday thing, but you're right, it happens.
Thing was, I was looked upon as something that bit special. A young Oriental boy who was a natural bottom, cute-looking, smooth and completely hairless…… I was a prized possession for the bloke who ran this caper. He saw me as his meal ticket plus fuck loads more, so no way was he about to have me snuffed…… unless the price was right."
By this time, I was also getting to the point where I wanted to throw-up but I persevered enough to keep Callum on track.
"Look. I'm not going to ask what exactly you had to do, but give us a break here? You're telling us that he, whoever he was, was willing to sacrifice you?"
"There's a price for everything, and if you have the dosh then you can buy and sell pretty much whatever you like, and if you are sadistic enough to want to kill a kid while forcing him or her to perform whatever sex acts necessary, then there'll always be people around who are in a position to provide that service, and also, clear up the mess afterwards."
"So you were……"
"Up for sale. Highest bidder takes all...... in this case, my life with no come-backs.
£200000, more if the buyer wanted it put on video, more again if he wanted an audience. A simple strangulation is at the going rate, but if there's blood, they pay a premium for the clear-up. Bodies are stuffed into a lime pit on a farm, and give it a few weeks…… no evidence. Another street kid gone with no one giving a toss, so no police – no problem."
I threw open the car door and vomited into the gutter, retching my guts up until there wasn't anything else to give. Memories of earlier conversations about Callum's lifestyle just served to prove how naïve I was, how depraved humanity could be, even in England.
It took Pip to calm me down, or at least, try to put some perspective on things.
"This is our problem Ed. None of us know what's a good deal or what's bad. We're lowlife and there are people who'll take advantage of us knowing there's fuck-all we can do about it. We can't allow ourselves to trust anyone; the police are corrupt – a lot of the time they're in the pockets of criminals, and people who appear to be charity workers might be on the lookout for vulnerable kids to sell on for whatever needs are out there.
Take your copper as an example.
On paper, he seemed okay, but have you heard from him since handing over that charge card? How can you be sure he didn't go straight to the bank and pocket the lot? You can't, so now do you understand? He might've been one of the good guys, but then, if there were no records of the conversations you had with him, and with that Vincent bloke out of the picture, and your Mum…… sorry, but do you see what I'm trying to tell you? If he was bent, he could just take the money and fuck off with no one the wiser."
"Yes, I hear you.
Where do we go from here?
You talked about heavy stuff going down but that part of your life is over isn't it Callum?"
"Over yes, but not forgotten, either by me or the arsehole who ran the operation.
Word is, he's looking for me and if he finds me? I don't think you need brains to figure out that he doesn't just want to say Hi. I'm a loose cannon and he'll only be safe once I'm tied down and put out of action."
"Why? How can he know that you know this client of his was looking to snuff you?"
"They sedated the kids to make absolutely sure they co-operated. They were like zombies, but I have a tolerance to that shit, and once he'd finished with me, I overheard that conversation about being taken out. I was taken back into town – everything cool, but I switched the phone off and went to ground, and to be honest, I didn't really think about it until that drug thing and the charge card."
"What's that got to do with child prostitution!"
"Nothing. But do you remember finding that phone and listening to that voicemail? Vincent being a very naughty boy and how he'd end up propping up a motorway bridge somewhere if he didn't cough up the cash?
I recognised that voice. It was Carl's voice, the guy who hosted those parties."
"So, he's into trafficking drugs and child prostitution, but that's no proof he's looking for you?"
"There's been words on the street. He's looking for me alright, but the bit that scared the crap out of me was this afternoon at the museum.
Did you notice a photo on the wall of this curator's office? A bloke and about four kids making it look like a family photo?"
"Yes, I saw it. What of it?"
"The man in the picture was Carl, and one of the boys was me. That's What of It Ed!
This curator bloke is a fucking pervert and was one of the fuckers who attended the parties. I noticed him staring at me, he recognised me Ed, and you fucking-well told the bastard where to find us!"
"Solihull NOW, and fuck the speed limits! Just GO!"
" Solihull? You're having a laugh right?"
"No one knows you there – you'll be out of harm's way."
"Oh yeah, okay. 'My name is Edward Anderson.' Your mother shacked up with a guy who fucked off with a tidy fortune that was due to Carl, lived at your place for God knows how long, and you're telling me Carl's not about to go adding up the sums?
I'm safer in Digbeth!"
"Alright. Dumb idea.
Where else is there?"
Mitch, who had remained quiet throughout, spoke up.
"The boat I uncovered. See if it floats, and if it's sound enough, Callum could doss on that. You never mentioned it at the museum, so it's like our secret hideaway."
"Yeah, but it's in the shed and anyone might go poking around."
"Not if it floats they won't. There's a mooring behind Ronny's joint, so if we parked it there? Who's to suspect?"
"It might work but it isn't very welcoming."
Callum giggled for the first time that afternoon.
"I've been in worse places!
Who else knows about this boat Mitch?"
"No one so far as I know. I told Tiny about me trashing the padlock, but never said anything about what was inside apart from it might be interesting to you."
"That's something at least. I don't mind disappearing for a bit, but how will we know when it's safe for me to come home? A few nights – a few weeks is fine, but I do have a life."
Pip got out of the car and stretched himself before getting back behind the wheel and starting the engine.
"Impossible to say. I'm thinking of ways we can turn the tide on him; make it him that has plenty to worry about rather than us.
Where did he operate out of?"
"If you're talking about where he held those parties, then it was some up-market pad in leafy Warwickshire. I don't know the name of the village; they gave me a shot of something as soon as I got into their car plus I had to wear a blindfold, but like I told you, I have a tolerance to the stuff, so it was easy to dislodge the blindfold, pretend to be totally out of it and watch the route they took. Get us onto the A45 out of town towards Coventry, and I'd probably be able to figure out where we went."
"Well, it's all we have to go on, so let's see if your memory is up to the task."
"No, sorry. It was that turn back there. The one on the left just after that pub."
"Good thing we've got a full tank of fuel or we'd be in Shit Street!"
"I can't help it? I was drugged and obviously didn't have my wits about me."
"Never mind. Do we have much further to go?"
"No. We're close now; at least I think we are, but I'm a townie, not a fucking sheep-shagger so all these hedgerows look the same to me!"
"Upper Wootton Magna. Mean anything to you?"
"Hey! Wootton Park. That's the name of the house!"
"Don't get too excited Callum. We've still got to find the place."
"Can't miss it. Fuck-off massive iron gates; locked of course. The driver had like a button he pressed that opened the gates then closed them once we were through. Then there's this long drive through a wood before reaching the house."
"Sounds as if your pal Carl was doing okay for himself!"
"Hey guys? Now this is what I call a pad, and it's up for sale!"
"Yeah. Nice enough house if you like the idea of wandering around empty hallways at night, paying for all the electric, gas and heating for something around half the size of Buckingham Palace with no nice big family to share it with.
"We're going to take a look around though right? We can't come all this way just to look at a pair of gates; what we need is something to swing at this Carl bloke, and standing around outside ain't gonna get us anywhere."
"I just know I'm going to rue the day I agreed to this. C'mon, what's the hold up?"
The gates, being secure, meant we had to find another way to access the property but we persevered finding a gap between the fence that spanned a dry ditch so now it was Game On, and a very risky trespass onto someone's private land.
I'm sure I wasn't alone in looking out for CCTV cameras or other bits and pieces of stuff that might suggest surveillance, but the wood we walked through almost seemed inviting with trail tracks clearly signposted like a trim-trail or a more-gentle nature walk, but the neglect we saw as we came to the edge of the tree line spoke of a property uncared for and left to nature.
The once well-tended lawns were overgrown and a haven for meadow flowers and butterflies, the formal gardens were untended and sad; the driveway had weeds growing up through the tarmac, and I doubted this house had been occupied for at least a year if not more.
There were internal shutters at the windows, and again looking for security cameras but finding nothing obvious, we skirted around this very impressive building and first took a look at the extensive outbuildings which included a garage block containing three black Rangerover 4.6 litre Sport SUV's each with keys in the ignitions.
"Not very security-conscious this Carl?"
"Yeah well, would your common thief run the risk of getting past locked gates, a half-mile trek to an old house on the off-chance he might find a vehicle decent enough to nick Ed?"
"I suppose not."
"But it does give us an exit strategy if we're sussed, so no wandering off okay? We keep together at all times."
"So you think there's someone else here?"
"Who knows, but it's always sensible to plan for the unexpected, and for us to get split up for whatever reason is a bum idea."
Callum awoke from his trance. "Those are the vehicles they used to collect the kids and he probably thought it was too much of a risk to have them out cruising the streets. The number plates are most likely duds anyway.
If there is anyone here, we can easily tell as there are only three ways into the house. One at the front, one at the back and another on the side of the building which leads into the old servant's quarters. They put bars across the doors to stop people from getting in, so if the place is empty, all the bars will be in place as you can't fit them from the inside."
"So we won't be able to get inside either. Great!"
Pip grinned. "Where there's will, there's a way boyo."
Having circled the house, and finding all the doors very securely blocked off, we went for another sortie.
All the ground floor windows had security locks fitted on the inside plus they had steel bars bolted to the walls with the screw heads filed away so they would be a pig to remove even if you had the time to give it a go.
Uninvited guests obviously not encouraged at Wootton Park.
We met with more success at the rear of the property. I found a set of two trapdoors angled out of the wall at about forty-five degrees, and they weren't locked.
On opening them, we looked down into a cellar which housed empty beer barrels and cases of various spirits together with a well-stocked wine rack. We listened carefully for any noises, and on hearing nothing, we lowered ourselves down and onto the floor below. Callum found a light switch and switching it on, a line of bare bulbs on ceiling roses flicked into life.
Pip took a closer look at one of these that had failed to light up.
"Fifty volt and battery powered which means there has to be a generator somewhere.
Find that and we've solved another mystery."
We found it lurking away behind a door on which was pinned a notice. "Authorised Personnel Only. High Voltage." We took a look purely out of interest. The manufacturer's label indicated a maximum output of 250 kV at 415 volts AC. I traced the output feeder cable to a huge inverter and a separate industrial battery bank and charging equipment labelled "50 Volt DC at 10.000 kW. Extreme Danger to Life."
"Okay then. Let's see if we can get access to the house from in here shall we?"
We carefully retraced our steps back to where we had managed to get in and took a look around. A pair of doors directly in front of the pile of barrels looked as if they might be promising, but naturally, they were locked but then Pip took out a pen torch and peered through the keyhole.
"Eureka! They left the key in the lock! How bloody careless can you get. Find something like a thin piece of cardboard and a bit of wire and I'll net the thing."
Cardboard we had bucket loads of, but wire posed a problem until I went back to the generator room where I found a reel of the stuff beside the bank of batteries and ten long minutes later, Pip had teased the key from the lock where it fell onto the slip of cardboard he'd run under the door and gently pulling it back underneath, we had ourselves a key, but before we could use it, we heard the distant chatter of helicopter rotors.
"Cut the lights, get the fuck out and shut the doors. Time we left I reckon."
One by one we scrambled through the trap doors, closed them behind us and looked for cover between the garage block and the many other outbuildings grouped around the area. Safe enough for now, but with Pip having taken it upon himself to lead us out of trouble, we followed him closely as the 'copter swung in a broad arc before coming to land on the front lawn.
The pilot kept the powerful searchlight switch on and the rotors turning as if the occupants were nervous about something, but then another SUV, not a Rangerover but an ML Series Mercedes Benz 4x4 tore up the drive, turned facing the way it came in and the two occupants stepped out of the vehicle and waited until the helicopter's motors were silenced and two more men appeared, the pilot was dressed in a flashy Bermuda short sleeved shirt and cut-offs, his passenger sporting a lounge suit, collar and tie similar to the two guys from the SUV.
"Fucking hell. The Main Man and his three wise monkeys.
The twatt with the shirt is Carl, the other three are his henchmen, but importantly, the guy who arrived with Carl, is the same guy who recruited me. Nice enough on the surface, but one nasty bastard otherwise. We tread very carefully around them."
Pip turned to him. "I'm not about to stick around long enough to find out how mean or otherwise they might be. We need out of here, and right now."
"Oh yeah? And how do you propose scamming that trick? Can you fly a chopper? We can't just walk out of here all casual-like? "Nice place you got mate! Shame about not cutting the grass?
Get real Pip!"
"I'm not about to take up flying, but what I can do a passably good job at is driving!
That beast in front of us is an ML 65 AMG All Terrain 4x4 and for my money, the best of the best. A fuck-off massive 6.5 litre V8 with a drive pack to trash anything currently on the market, so we nick it, bugger up the chopper and do a runner. They'll have to fire up one of the Rangerover's in the garage before they can think about chasing after us, and by the time they've got over the shock of being had, we're in the Astra and long gone."
"You're a fucking headcase. Do you know that?"
"Quite possibly. Have you anything better to add to the mix? If not, just shut the fuck up and do what I say when I say it. I'm going try to get over to the vehicle unnoticed, but if it goes tits, you're on your own, but if I manage it okay, then I'll wave you and you can come and join me. Hopefully Braindead left keys in the ignition and we're home and gone, otherwise we leg it through the woods.
Pip crept along by the wall nearest to the garage then paused, almost unsure what to do next, but then he stood up and took a look around before rolling up his sleeve to the elbow and shattered a pane of glass in the window. He paused again then satisfied it hadn't been heard from the house, popped the latch and let himself in emerging moments later, waving three sets of keys at us before pocketing them.
Still no movement from the house, he sprinted over to the Mercedes and took a look inside. A wave from him and we followed, running towards the car and with still no movement from the house, we climbed in to the back seats as Pip started the engine.
"Strap yourselves in and hold on to your hats. I'm going to try and hit the rear rotor on the 'copter, but if I miss it, then I'll smack the nose cone which should bugger its aerodynamics enough to make it difficult to get off the ground."
He hit a switch that, as he explained later, disabled the traction control or on older 4x4's, effectively served to lock the differential gearboxes enabling all four wheels to rotate at the same speed giving much needed grip across the damp grass.
He gunned the accelerator and the Merc took off like a rocket, slithered across the grass before digging itself in and hurtled towards the back of the helicopter. It hit the rear rotor with a thump which was hard enough to lift the offside wheels of the car off the ground and Pip momentarily losing control. The Merc slewed around before he managed to regain steerage then went for the nose cone, clipping it sufficiently enough to rip off some panels.
"Let's get out of here and now! That had to be heard miles away."
"Gate. What about the gates? They'll be locked shut. Any sign of an activator?"
Pip ran his fingers behind the sun visor. "Nothing here. He must've put it in his pocket."
"So how do we get out?"
"Ram the gates and hope this baby has the power to bust through them. From here on, I don't have a game plan, but if we break through, we get back to the Astra, you guys get into the boot and leave the rest to me."
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