Phil (philipstorry) wrote in pennydreadfuls,
Phil
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The Peculiar Path of the Peregrine's Picture - Chapter Three

Chapter Three
Evening was descending upon the land, and a summer evening in the British countryside can be a wonderful thing. The crops blazed with colour in the fields, and the clouds began to light the heavens with the sun's reflection.

Ashe was in no great hurry to get back to London, and was taking the back roads through the countryside rather than any larger thoroughfares. He'd turned off his satellite navigation system, and was instead navigating by a combination of a memorised map  he had an uncanny memory for such things  and using the sun as a rough compass.
Small country lanes have more advantages than just prettiness, though. With fewer cars about him, Ashe felt safer.

For starters, there wasn't anywhere to hide for that Mercedes that had been following him for the last twenty miles.

It had appeared shortly after he'd left for home, turning out of the driveway of a home in a small village nearby. It followed Ashe at a distance, like a silver shadow in his rear view mirror. Ashe had taken some random turns, and but they were still there. And in Ashe's experience, unwelcome followers were rarely good news.

As it is in central London, indicators are optional in the middle of nowhere. After all, who are you indicating to? A sudden turn into a lane is hardly the concern of the cud-chewing cattle who are the only spectators. And as soon as he had turned down the leafy lane, Ashe applied some power. A second turn, and more power. Another turn, then he raced down the road looking for a passing point. Soon, the road widened, and "Slow" was the word of the day. Ashe smiled, feeling that this was even more suitable. He complied, and slowed. Then he quickly puzzled a homeowner by nipping into their drive to make a quick three-point turn, before waiting just outside their house at the side of the road.

A minute later, the silver Mercedes appeared.

To the analytical mind of Ashe, this could only mean one thing. Someone had attached some kind of tracking device onto his car.

A tracking device is most unsportsman-like, felt Ashe. He pushed the cigarette lighter in, and the radio facia slid back to reveal something that was most definitely not factory-fitted.

Ashe didn't feel it was necessary to race off. He pootled at a mere fifteen miles an hour past the Mercedes, which was forced into a rash and rather crude three point turn as it realised its mistake. It was as it turned that Ashe felt the need to use speed  vanishing round the corner. Ashed pushed two buttons on the newly revealed panel. In front of him a large glass panel slid up in front of the windscreen.

On it was projected an overhead view of the car. A small light pulsed at the rear wheel arch, then faded - to be replaced by a little red dot. Moments later, another pulse nearby occurred, again replaced by a red dot. When a third dot appeared, lines linked them into a triangle. For the fourth dot, a box was drawn around the edges and then all dots linked together forming a rough cross. With each new dot, the shape changed - a pentagon, a hexagon, a heptagon... Soon, it simply became a slightly irregular circle, at the centre of which it could reasonably be expected that the transmitter sat.

Ashe thought about his options here. The tracking device was going to make it difficult, but could be worked to his advantage if he played this correctly. But what had made him safe a few moments ago was now his biggest problem  the vast emptiness of the countryside. Anything could happen here, and occasionally did. And when it does happen, you're miles away from any assistance. No, the countryside may feel safe  but the constant companionship of a town is , ironically, always the safest option when you know you're in trouble.

At the next junction, Ashe headed for the next large road. It didn't matter which town he went to, just so long as he got there directly.

With twenty miles to the dual carriageway, Ashe decided it was time to see if that Mercedes had any optional extras. Another twist of the cigarette lighter had the display in front of him showing an overlaid map of the road ahead. He applied the accelerator mercilessly, the Mondeo showing a surprising response. The supercharger may have fallen out of favour in comparison to the turbocharger for most modern drivers, but Ashe was not the average modern driver. His car took off at a rate which commanded even the attention of the otherwise lackadaisical horses in the fields.

The Mercedes disappeared slowly from sight, troubled by the sudden lunatic tinge to Ashe's driving. They were either unwilling or unable to keep up, and Ashe didn't particularly care which it was. He had an edge anyway  they probably didn't have a navigation system a rally driver could envy in front of them... Ashe powered forwards, his display giving him useful warnings of upcoming corners and straights. He took the bends at 70 and the straights at considerably higher speeds, sending birds in bushes flying into the air as he passed. Ashe slowed only for the occasional hamlet, not wishing to risk mowing someone down  the to-do caused by such a thing wasn't quite worth it even at this pressing time.

Soon Ashe joined the dual carriageway, confident that his shadow would be catching up as best it could when it reached the same point. He kept dutifully to the posted speed limits, to ensure that they managed to find him. But the advantage was still his, especially as he came upon the nearest town.

The name of the town doesn't matter, really. All that matters is that it's a town of some size. All towns of a certain size or larger have what Ashe was seeking - a place where a car can be anonymous and unnoticed by others on the road. A place especially good for those with radio tracking devices affixed to them.

A push of the cigarette lighter, and the glass display panel slid back down  Ashe didn't want to attract any attention, and lights dancing in front of the windscreen tended to catch the eye. Besides, he didn't need the maps anymore. Now he needed to follow the road signs. He turned towards the town centre, and glanced into his rear-view mirror.  No sign of his shadow yet.

He turned right, and went down the ramp. The long barrier arm rose upwards, indicating there was refuge inside. This multi-storey car park was his welcoming saviour. He turned left, then followed the arrows to go down into the basement level. Not that it mattered - anyone listening to a radio could tell you that no signals ever penetrate a multi-storey car park. Ashe was counting on the fact that they're often the largest Faraday cage for several miles...

Ashe parked up, and then brought up the display again. Again, it located the transmitter. Ashe stepped out and looked under the wheel-arch. He prised the small transmitter off, and looked at it briefly. A small 9v battery, a printed circuit board, and a tiny ariel. Nothing special, yet certainly effective. He disconnected the battery, and then closed the car door.

Five minutes later, Ashe had paid and displayed, and was sitting in a pub which had a fairly handy view of the approach to the car park. The silver Mercedes pulled up slowly, stopping by the side of the road. Ashe sipped on his drink, whilst he mentally noted the number plate. Then he almost spat out his drink in surprise.

Something was clearly not right. Swiss number plates do not grow on trees in England. Inside the car, the driver and the passenger were engaged in heated debate, wondering whether or not they should explore the car park and its surrounds. Ashe was betting they wouldn't  a multi-storey car park is a maze, and an ambush is easy to plan in such a place. Discretion is the better part of valour, and caution the preserve of the living  Ashe would certainly be more inclined to stake out a car park than to go into it.

Then Ashe's view was blocked by his food turning up. This, thought Ashe, is what distinguishes a good plan from a great plan. A good plan keeps your opponent reacting, and you commanding. A great plan does both of those, and keeps you fed as well. He took his time over his meal, knowing that the Mercedes would be moved on by the Police soon enough.

Having finished his gammon steak, Ashe contemplated the dessert menu. Before he'd chosen his strawberry ice-cream, the Mercedes was still there. After he'd chosen it, a Police car was sitting near where it had been, the officers radioing their status back to the station. Ashe had tasted victory before, but in this case he was surprised to find that it was so very strawberry-ish...






This text copyright (c) Philip Storry 2005, some rights reserved.

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