Claire the bodyguard
“What do you mean the concert has been cancelled?” Claire stared at the outside of the Glasgow Hydro building in disgust. Even though the massive screen over the door clearly stated that the concert wasn’t on anymore, she still couldn’t believe her eyes. “I’m supposed to be guarding a pop princess. I came all the way from Invertary to do it.” On a motorbike she’d ‘stolen’ from her twin. A motorbike she could barely ride.
She was seriously considering just leaving it at the Hydro and getting the bus back to Invertary. It was a miracle she’s made it to Glasgow in one piece.
“There was a burst pipe,” Jeremy, the office manager for Invertary’s branch of Benson Security said in her ear. “The gig is off. Which means your gig is off too.” He sounded amused.
He was the only one. “But I’m supposed to be a bodyguard,” Claire whined then remembered she was supposed to be her much rougher sister and cleared her throat. “There must be some other body I can guard while I’m here.” That sounded more professional.
Claire often bumped into Jeremy around Invertary. He was a retired army guy who had taken the job with Lake Benson as a favor, then found he enjoyed it. He treated most of the security specialists the same way he treated his grandkids—only with a little more tough love. Claire and her husband had been to dinner at Jeremy’s place a few times now. His wife was a great cook. Which meant he knew her well enough for alarm bells to go off if she didn’t sound Megan enough.
“All I’ve got is a routine job as security for a guy who needs to deliver a package. He requested a woman, because he thought a couple would be more covert than two guys travelling together. I was going to send Violet since she’s in Glasgow bu—.”
“I’ll do it!” Was that too eager? Too cheery? “I mean, I might as well, seeing as I’m already here,” she added in a bored tone. Great. She was swapping personalities so fast he’d think she was schizophrenic.
“Okaaay.” Jeremy sounded suspicious, which wasn’t good for either of them. “The client wants someone to drive him to a drop off point where he intends to hand over a package. You’re to drive, provide protection, and ensure nothing happens to the package.”
Wow! Total James Bond stuff.
“What’s the package?” Claire tried to sound professional.
“I don’t know. Nothing illegal though, the background search on the client came up clean.”
Well, that was disappointing. “Okay, what are the pick up details?”
Jeremy rattled off an address in Glasgow’s west end. “Are you using your bike or your car?”
“Bike.” Claire glared at it.
“Better hire a car then, Mr. Baird says his is too recognizable.”
Curiouser and curiouser. “Is he a spy?” The question slipped out and she hoped it was one Megan would ask.
“Nope, just your garden variety paranoid guy with money to burn. He’ll give you the destination address when you pick him up. Oh, and the password is Lampy. Say that when he answers the door, so he’ll know you’re with Benson Security.”
“Can’t I just show him my ID?”
“You would think, but no. Client wants a secret code, client gets a secret code. Good luck.” Jeremy hung up before Claire could ask anything else.
Wasting no time, Claire Googled local car hire places. The nearest one was a ten minute walk away, which was good because she had no intention of getting back on Megan’s bike. She just hoped the wheels were still attached when Megan came to retrieve it.
The client lived in a basement flat, in a blonde sandstone tenement building, not far from Glasgow University. Unlike the other flats in the Victorian building, the basement didn’t share an entrance. Instead, there was another gap in the iron rails, just along from the impressive stone entrance, that led down to a little moat-like area and the door to basement dwelling.
Someone had taken great care of the moat-like area, paving over it and placing large glazed pots filled with flowers beside the door. If Glasgow ever got any sun, it would be a great place to sit.
Claire rang the bell beside the blue paneled door and waited. Technically, she wasn’t sure the flat could be called basement. Really, it was kind of half out of the ground and half in, with nice big windows just like the homes above them. The only difference she could see was that everyone passing by could look through these windows, while all the others were too high up.
Although nobody could spy on her client. His windows were dressed with heavy net curtains.
“Who is it?” a rather high pitched male voice came through the solid door.
“It’s Megan Raast from Benson Security, here to take you to your appointment.” Claire was pleased she’d remembered to give her sister’s name and not her own.
“What’s the password?” he said suspiciously.
“Lampy.” Which was a really dumb word.
Several locks turned over and the door swung inward. A small round man, barely more than five foot tall, stuck his head out and scanned the area around her. His thinning grey hair was neatly parted to the side, and he had a longer than fashionable white beard that’d been carefully groomed.
“Mr. Beard, I mean Baird?” Claire said, blushing.
His eyes shot to hers. “Come in before someone sees you.” He reached out, grabbed her forearm and tugged her through the door, shutting it firmly behind him.
“Who would see us?” Claire asked, wondering if this was the sort of situation where any normal person would run.
But then, he was a few inches shorter than her, not to mention several years older, and she had a stun gun in her pocket. Really, he was in more danger from her than she was from him.
“You can never be too careful,” he said primly as he led her down hallway to the living room at the back of the building.
The old tenement windows had been replaced by floor to ceiling glass that looked out over a small, but private sunken garden. At the end of the garden, there was a wall up to the communal garden and someone had planted right along the top of it with hedges. Unless you were hanging out of a window above and looking directly down, he had his own private oasis.
“This is a very cool set up,” Claire said, impressed.
“Thank you.” He sounded distracted and she turned to find he’d pulled on an olive green padded jacket and was handcuffing a hard shell silver briefcase to his wrist. It was a little disconcerting as he looked like he’d be more suited to carrying a grocery bag.
“You take the keys,” he said handing her a silver key ring with the keys to the case and the cuffs. “That way, if I’m taken, they won’t get into the case.”
Eyes wide, Claire took the keys and zipped them into one of the many pockets in her jacket. Her eyes took in the room, hoping for some clue as to what the man was transporting in his very serious case, but all she saw were porcelain figures sitting on crocheted doilies, overstuffed leather sofas and a large flatscreen TV.
“Um, this isn’t something illegal, is it?” Claire felt the need to ask. “Benson Security doesn’t deal in illegal stuff.” At least she didn’t think they did. Grunt could be very tight lipped on his business and Megan’s stories were so over-the-top that Claire was never sure what was real and what was her sister’s imagination.
Mr. Baird’s chin snapped up. “Of course not!”
Great, now she’d offended him. “I apologize, but you have to admit, this is kinda strange. I mean,” she waved a hand to indicate his home, “you don’t live in a spy’s lair, you don’t look like a drug dealer or a money launderer, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t diamonds in your case. Should I be worried here? Just how dangerous is this job?”
She was all for having a bit of fun in her sister’s life, but she didn’t want danger. She had five kids to get back to, and who knew what state they’d be in after twenty-four hours with Megan.
He straightened himself up to his full diminutive height. “I would never do anything illegal. And you don’t need to know what’s in the case in order to help me deliver it, do you?”
“We got off on the wrong foot, I’m sorry. I’m new to this business.” She gave him the same smile she gave wary toddlers and took a step toward him, holding out her hand. “I’m Megan and I’ll be your security today.”
For a second, she thought he was going to leave her hanging, then his cheeks flushed red and he took her hand. “Harold Baird, antiquities expert.”
Claire smiled wider. “So, we’re delivering an antique.” She eyed the case. “A vase?” Her eyes rested on the bookcase behind him. “A rare book?”
His lips tipped up into a smile. “Shall we go?”
It was clear he wasn’t going to open the case and flash his wares at her. “Sure, where are we going?”
He handed her a slip of paper with numbers on it.
Claire looked at it blankly. “Uh, should I know what this is?”
“It’s GPS coordinates. That’s where we’re meeting my buyer.”
She studied the paper. Nope, still just numbers. “Do you have a street address or even just a general direction?”
“You really are new to this, aren’t you?” He said with a sigh. “You type them into your map app and the location will pop up.”
She beamed at him. “You learn something every day. Let’s go.”
Mr. Baird did the whole “scan the area” thing again before he’d let her out of the house. What he thought he’d see from below street level, she didn’t know, but doing it made him happy.
“My rental car is parked down the street.” She pointed toward the old sandstone church.
“Good, good.” He nodded, still looking around for any threats while he clutched the briefcase tight against his chest. “We couldn’t take mine. Too many people know it and they’ll be looking for it.”
Okay, paranoid much?
“They?” she asked.
He gave her a look that clearly signaled he wasn’t impressed with her intelligence. “This item is incredibly valuable. There are many collectors who would love to get their hands on it. And some of them won’t take no for an answer. That’s why we couldn’t take my car.” He pointed to a bright blue minivan, parked across the road from his building. It had Baird Antiques—if it’s old, I’ll get it sold! written on the side.
“Not sure how I missed that,” Claire said.
He eyed her carefully. “Did you get any training for this job?”
Mmm, how to answer without lying… “Megan Raast is a fully qualified security specialist. I’m just new to this kind of security work, that’s all.” That sounded good, if a little weird. She was pretty sure that narcissists and serial killers were the only ones who talked about themselves in the third person.
“So what kind of security work did you do before this?”
“Protecting children,” she said with confidence.
“A noble pursuit.” He nodded, satisfied.
And Claire breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
The GPS coordinates were for a spot in the middle of nowhere between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the drive would have been deathly dull if Mr. Baird hadn’t turned out to be good company.
“So what’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked to value?” she asked after he’d recounted a story where he’d been brought in to price the contents of a house where everything had been eaten or damaged by mice. She shuddered at the thought.
“Human remains,” he said without missing a beat.
“A body?!” Their car swerved and she quickly corrected it.
“A skull. Someone thought it was an old ceramic pen holder. It’d been painted and varnished over the years, but looked weathered and worn. The owner told me it’d been passed down through the family and she thought it was just a strange piece of art.” He grinned up at Claire. “Turned out it was her great, great Uncle John.”
Claire gasped. “Had he been murdered then put on display? Was this like that guy in Psycho?”
He shook his head, making his pointed white beard swish against his jacket. “Nope, it was one of those Victorian death mask things, but instead of just making a mask of the man’s face before he was buried, his mother had demanded that the head be removed and preserved. I can only assume that the preservation work wasn’t very good. At some point, someone stored him in the attic and he decomposed to just bone. Then another family member found the skull, thought it was fake and painted it pink.”
“Pink?” She burst out laughing then covered her mouth. “That’s terrible.”
“It was the sixties,” he said as though that explained the color. “Rumor within the family was that it was a priceless piece of art. They were very distressed to find out it was a relation.”
“I bet they were. What happened to him?”
“Buried with the rest of his body.”
“Did they clean all the paint off first?”
His eyes sparkled. “No.”
They burst out laughing but Mr. Baird quickly sobered. “Is that black car following us?”
Claire checked her mirrors. “I don’t think so.” She also didn’t want to confess that all cars pretty much looked alike to her and she wouldn’t know if the same one had been behind them all the way from Glasgow.
“You aren’t sure?” Mr. Baird sounded alarmed.
“I’m sure,” she lied. “There are lots of black cars on the road. This is just one of them. Anyway, we’re in a rental and nobody knows where we’re going, so the chances of us being followed are slim. Who else knew about your meeting with the buyer?”
“Only the buyer, but…” His eyes went wide. “I could have been hacked. My computer has been acting up all week.”
“Were the GPS coordinates on the computer?”
“No.” He relaxed a fraction. “But the time and date of the meeting were.”
Which meant someone could have been waiting for him to leave. Claire was regretting her choice of a luminous yellow car from the rental place.
“I probably should have rented something a little more inconspicuous,” she said. “But I’m sure that’s just another of many black cars that have been on the road with us since we left your house.” Crap. She didn’t sound sure. “Maybe we should get off this road and see if they follow?”
Mr. Baird nodded furiously as he clutched the case tight. “A very good idea, Ms. Raast.”
Claire slowed, signaled left, and took the turn. A few seconds later, the car appeared in her rear view mirror.
“Could be just a coincidence,” she assured her client as her heart began to race. “We’ll try again.”
This time, she barely slowed for the turn, taking the corner with a screech that wouldn’t have been out of place in any of the action movies she sat through with her husband.
Mr. Baird clung to the passenger handle and turned a strange shade of grey.
But the car was still behind them.
And it had sped up too.
“Okay, I think it’s safe to say the car is following us,” Claire said.
“What do we do?” There was a distinct note of hysteria in Mr. Baird’s voice.
Claire had no idea.
For the first time since she’d swapped lives with her twin, she was beginning to think she got the worst end of the deal. And Mr. Baird might pay for it.
“We need to lose them,” she said. That’s what they did in all of Grunt’s movie.
“Where?” Mr. Baird’s voice had gone up an octave. “We’re surrounded by fields and hedges.”
“Siri,” Megan shouted at her phone. “How far away is the nearest shop.”
“The nearest shop is ten miles away,” her phone answered. It was the only voice in the car that didn’t sound stressed.
“How far away is the nearest…” she tried to think of somewhere else that would indicate civilization. “Church.”
“The nearest church is twenty miles away.”
Bloody heathen farmers…
“Okay, Siri, how far to the nearest pub?”
“One point eight miles.”
“Typical,” she muttered. “I need directions to the pub.”
“Turn left at the next corner,” Siri started.
Megan took the corner so fast she had to fight to get the car under control.
“Why are we taking them to a pub?” Mr. Baird squeaked.
“People. We can’t lose them in fields, but we can where there are people.” She hoped.
The long, narrow road stretched out in front of them and Claire floored the accelerator sending Mr. Baird back into his chair.
“I don’t want to die,” he shouted.
“Neither do I,” Claire shouted back.
She followed Siri’s instructions, taking the next right, then a left. The road curved and then the pub was in front of them. There were cars and motorbikes parked outside it, and people dining on the patio. Busy place.
Just what they needed.
She drove straight into the carpark and slammed into the first available space. “Out,” she ordered. “Inside the pub. Now.”
They threw open their doors and ran for the pub, just as the black car appeared around the bend. Claire didn’t wait for it, she headed straight for the bar and the bartender.
“We’re being followed by a big black car that tried to run us off the road,” she told the guy. “We’re terrified. They’re out in the carpark right now. We had to abandon out rental car. We need help.”
The middle-aged guy, with balding head and shoulders that were almost as wide as her husband’s, frowned at her. “Who’s in the car?”
“We don’t know.” She batted her lashes at him, going on the theory that anything might help.
“Stewie!” He raised his voice and called across the packed pub. “The lady and her dad are being forced off the road. Bastards are outside.”
A massive man, bigger than Claire’s husband Grunt, which was saying something, stood slowly. He wore biker leathers and had a pint of beer in his hand. “You ride?” he asked Claire while eyeing her leather jacket.
“A Ducati,” she gave him the make of Megan’s bike. The bike she hated and abandoned in Glasgow.
The big man nodded at her then glanced at his friends. “Outside,” he ordered.
Several men stood and headed for the exit. Beside Claire, the tiny antiques dealer shivered and whined. She patted his shoulder in the hopes it would reassure him.
“You.” Stewie pointed at her. “Show me the car.”
“You stay here,” she told Mr. Baird. “Don’t move from this spot. Okay?” He paled. Claire eyed the barman. “Could you get him a whisky?”
“No problem,” the guy said, reaching for a glass.
With one last glance at her client, Claire rushed for the door and joined the bikers on the patio. She scanned the parking lot. There were several black cars, but only one parked right beside her rental—in a spot that’d been empty five minutes before. There were two men sitting in it, staring at the pub.
“That one,” Claire said, pointing at it.
“You heard her,” Stewie told his crew and they turned toward the car.
The men inside were so busy staring at the pub that they didn’t notice a group of bikers bearing down on them until their line of sight was broken.
“We’ll deal with them,” Stewie told her before taking a long drink from his beer. “You single?”
“Married.” She waved her left hand at him and smiled. “But if it’s any consolation, you are totally my type.”
His lips twitched and his eyes sparkled. “Get your old man and get out of here. These guys aren’t going anywhere.”
“Thanks.” She went on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to his rough cheek, then hurried inside.
Mr. Baird had obviously downed more than one whisky in the time she’d been gone as his cheeks were now ruddy and he swayed in place.
“How much do I owe you?” Claire asked the bar tender.
“Your dad already paid. Is Stewie dealing with your problem?”
“Yeah.” She hesistated. “They won’t do anything bad to the guys and their car, with they?”
He grinned. “Don’t think so. Stewie is with the police.”
Well that explained the attraction. Claire soooo had a type!
“Thanks for your help,” Claire told him. “We need to get out of here while the black car is held up.”
“No problem,” the guy said and turned to serve another customer.
Megan half dragged, half propped up, Mr. Baird as they made their way across the patio, through the crowd of people watching, and past the bikers to her car. Stewie winked at her as she climbed in and she felt her cheeks flush.
“That’s Maurice Shirkland,” Mr. Baird said in outrage as they backed out of the carpark. He wound down his window and stuck his head out. “I’m never selling to you again! Your name will be black listed in antiquities circles. Mark my words!”
Claire didn’t think Maurice heard him, but Mr. Baird felt much better once he’d finished shouting. He closed the window and let out a huff of frustration. “Can you believe he tried to kill us to get his hands on this?”
“I don’t even know what this is,” Claire pointed out.
Mr. Baird fell silent until they were about five minutes from their final destination. “I think you deserve to know what you’re risking your life to deliver,” he said solemnly. “Pull over.”
He didn’t need to tell her twice. The car screeched to a halt at the side of the country road.
“Is it nuclear? Top secret plans? A Ming vase? A Fabergé egg?” She angled in her seat and stared at the case.
“Better,” he said, his eyes slightly glazed from the whisky. “I’ll let you see, but you can’t touch. Do you understand.”
“Brownie’s honor.” Claire gave him the Brownie promise salute she’d learned when she was six.
“Funny you should say that…” Mr. Baird held his hand out for the keys he’d given her earlier and Claire handed them over.
Resting the case on his lap, he unlocked and opened it. For a second she was more focused than the awe on his face than the contents of the case. Then she turned her attention to its contents.
“It’s a gnome.” She blinked several times. It was an old ugly gnome, although Claire had never actually seen a cute gnome. The red painted hat was faded and the ceramic was showing in patches. “It’s a garden gnome.”
“Not just any garden gnome,” Mr. Baird said with reverence. “This is a nineteenth century Baehr and Maresch gnome. It was made in Dresden, in Germany, and it’s one of the first garden gnomes to make it to England during the Victorian era.”
“So…it’s an expensive gnome?” Claire said.
“Oh yes, my buyer paid almost three hundred thousand pounds for this gnome, although in some circles, with the right auction, it could fetch much, much more. You’re looking at the holy grail for gnome collectors.” He shook his head. “No, I can’t say that, because there are still a couple of others in circulation. The holy grail would be Lampy, but that’s in a museum and worth at least five times what this little guy cost.”
“Lampy? The code word?” Claire couldn’t take her eyes from the ugly gnome. You’d have to be insane to pay more than a pound for something like that. Hell, if it was hers, she’d give it away to anyone who showed an interest. “People collect gnomes? I don’t mean the people who fill their gardens with the plastic ones you can buy everywhere, I mean these kinds of gnomes.”
His eyes turned to flint as he carefully closed the case. “Gnome collecting is the dog-eat-dog underbelly of the antiquities world. There are collectors who would kill to get their hands on a Dresden original. One of them is obviously Maurice Shirkland.” He pursed his lips in disgust. “That man will never buy another gnome as long as I’m alive.”
Didn’t sound like much of a punishment to Claire.
Mr. Baird glanced at his watch. “We’d better get on. The buyer will be waiting.”
“Please tell me he isn’t paying for this with a suitcase of cash. This isn’t a black market gnome, is it?”
“No.” Mr. Baird looked at her like she’d lost her marbles. “The gnome wasn’t stolen. I found it in a car boot sale in Stirling. Paid five pounds for it.” He looked so pleased with himself that it was hard not to grin. “The buyer will give me a check once he examines the gnome.”
“People still use checks? Doesn’t everyone just tap each other’s phones?”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
“Never mind. How will you know the check won’t bounce?”
“Honor,” he said with his nose in the air.
As far as Claire could tell, although to be fair her experience was limited, but it seemed honor wasn’t a common character trait amongst gnome collectors. “Maybe you should get him to transfer the money into your account instead and then hand the gnome over once you see it there?”
“I’ve done this before,” he said. “Do I look like an idiot?”
“No.” He looked like his gnome.
She put the car in gear and headed for the side road where they would meet the buyer. “Does the buyer have a code word too?”
“Of course.” Mr. Baird shifted in his seat. “It’s Sneezy.”
“I should have guessed,” Claire muttered.
The buyer was a lanky man in this early thirties. He had greasy hair and a furtive look about him that Claire didn’t like one bit. When he spoke, he addressed his words to her chest, which made him want to Taser him. She put her hand in her pocket and curled her fingers around the weapon, just in case she needed it.
“Mr. Foster,” Mr. Beard said as he shook the buyer’s hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
Claire wasn’t shaking his hand or touching any part of the creepy gnome collector. Instead, she stood behind her client and tried to look menacing. It was hard. Menacing wasn’t a facial expression that was encouraged in kindergarten teachers.
“Well, let me see it then.” Mr. Foster licked his lips and images of lizards flashed in Claire’s mind.
Her client held his hand out for the keys and she gave them to him. Resting the case on the bonnet of the car, he unlocked it and opened it.
The buyer’s eyes gleamed with lust as he gazed on the old, ugly gnome. “Perfect,” he whispered. “May I?”
“Of course,” Mr. Baird said stepping to the side to allow his buyer access to the gnome—although, he was still handcuffed to the case.
Mr. Foster carefully took the gnome from its form fitting foam nest and held it up. He practically drooled as he examined it from every angle.
“Does it meet your expectation?” Mr. Baird sounded proud.
“You know it does,” Mr. Foster muttered as he continued to stare at the ugly old gnome.
Claire was getting bored. They were standing in a narrow country road, in the middle of nowhere, and it looked like a storm was coming. She was cold, and hungry, and fed up with crazy men and their gnomes. The last thing she wanted was to be rained on.
She cleared her throat. “If you’re happy with it then maybe you’d like to pay for it so we can both be on our way?” Did that sound rude? Did she care?
Mr. Foster’s eyes darted to her chest. “Let me get your check.”
Still holding the gnome, he reached into the right hand pocket of his black bomber jacket and came out with a knife. He stepped back, smirking as he held it out toward them.
Mr. Baird gasped. “You’re stealing it?”
The buyer laughed. “Why do you think I asked you to meet me here?”
Oh, Claire didn’t like him at all.
“Are you going to stand for this?” Mr. Baird demanded of her.
“No.” Pulling the Taser out of her pocket, she lunged for the gnome stealing thief.
But her aim was off.
The Taser connected with Mr. Baird’s arm. There was a sizzling noise. He spasmed and his teeth clenched, then he fell to the grass beside the car where he jerked in place. And, if the smell was to be believed, lost control of his bladder.
Claire stared at him in horror. She was pretty sure a Benson Security specialist wasn’t supposed to electrocute their client.
Mr. Foster barked out a laugh. “Stupid bitch,” he said. “You just made my life easier.”
Claire jabbed him in the chest with the Taser.
But nothing happened.
She looked down at the taser, but the little light on the side was red instead of green, meaning she was out of charge. Meanwhile, the thief was still standing there laughing at both of them.
So she did what any self-respecting woman would do. She punched him in the face with the Taser. He crumpled like a house of cards to lie beside Mr. Baird.
Carefully, although her hands were shaking, Claire removed the gnome from the thief and placed it on the driver’s seat. Then she unlocked the handcuffs from Mr. Baird and put them on Mr. Foster. Once that was done, she considered the situation.
There was nothing else for her to do but get help.
Taking out Megan’s phone, she scrolled through the numbers and called the nearest Benson Security agent.
“Violet?” she said. “This is Megan. A job went wrong and now my client and the guy who was trying to rip him off are both unconscious on the side of a no-name road between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Could you come help me? And maybe bring some snacks with you? I’m starving.”
There was silence for a beat before the grumpy ex-cop said, “You’re not Megan.”
Claire stilled. Unsure what to say, she decided to go for the truth. “I’ll make you my famous chocolate cake if you swear to keep that to yourself. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. My kids love it.”
“Why me?” Violet muttered, which Claire took to be an agreement.
The twins’ debrief will be appearing on my Patreon page in the next couple of days.