Pretty in Pink.
Doyle glanced at his watch and frowned. He was going to be late again, second time this week, and neither time his fault. Not that his boss listened kindly to excuses. First time had been a traffic accident that had blocked the road completely. It had taken him a while to extricate himself from the resultant queue.
This time it was a hold-up due to an elaborate parade by some Hindu-style sect. Third car up on a down-hill side street, he had an excellent view of the spectacle. Ordinarily, it would have been interesting to watch, for the followers all wore bright cerise robes, they were singing and dancing joyfully, and were handing out pink flowers to onlookers.
But to anyone who had more important work to do, the delay was mildly irritating. Doyle tried to control his impatience, and fumed quietly. The police were in control, and would release the traffic as soon as it was feasible. And, as Doyle had the authority, he could, if necessary, break a few speed limits to make up the time.
As it happened, it didn't matter that he arrived at Headquarters a little bit later than he had planned. His boss, Cowley, wanted to see him and his partner together, and Bodie was even later than he was.
However, Cowley didn't seem to too annoyed by the delay, and as they waited, Doyle explained what had held him up, and for once, Cowley listened quite amiably.
"Do you find these cults interesting, Doyle ?" he asked. "You should talk to Murphy about his uncle. It's his special province. Remember ?"
"Oh yes, sir, I do," responded Doyle, thinking back to the time when Professor Devereaux's expertise had been the main help in getting him out of a very peculiar situation.
"It's just that I sometimes wonder about where the financial backing comes from. It's easy with the cults that come from America, we know there are wealthy men behind those. But the Indian ones are different, - there's such poverty in India."
"There are rich men there too," said Cowley.
"A hangover from the days of 'the Raj'"
"Yes, that's true," agreed Doyle. "It's just that these affairs seem to start with the poorest of the poor. Still, they were a cheerful lot, singing and dancing, and very pink !"
While he was speaking these last few words, there had been a tap at the door, and Bodie had joined them, so the conversation ended there.
Soon all three were deeply engrossed in some reports that had come in, and were busy planning the details of the action Cowley wanted them to take.
Some hours later, as they grabbed a quick lunch, Bodie suddenly said. "What was very pink ?
"What ?," said Doyle in surprise, for he'd quite forgotten the earlier conversation.
"You told Cowley something was 'very pink," repeated Bodie, in a voice full of curiosity.
"Oh, I remember," said Doyle. "I was telling the boss about a parade that held me up this morning."
And he went on to describe it again to his friend. And there the matter ended for the time being.
A couple of weeks later, as Doyle was just going into the duty-room one morning, Cowley appeared at his office door, and called him. He followed his boss back into his room.
"Has Murphy contacted you ?,"he asked.
"No, sir, was he meant to ?," replied Doyle. "I've only just got in, and I was out all day yesterday."
"It wasn't urgent," replied Cowley. "Do you remember, some time ago, you were talking about a parade that held you up ?"
"Yes, I remember," said Doyle, "The ones wearing bright pink !"
"That's it," confirmed Cowley. "Well, I've just heard 'on the grapevine', that the Fraud Squad are making enquiries about them."
"Interesting !," commented Doyle.
"Yes, I thought so," agreed Cowley. "And as you brought them to my attention before, I thought we might take a look too. I want you to get Murphy to take you to visit his uncle, to find out what he knows about them."
"Right," said Doyle. "I'll find Murphy and see what we can arrange."
As he reached the door, he turned and posed a query.
"Are we to liaise with the Fraud Squad, sir ?"
"Not yet," replied Cowley. "Let's see what we find first."
Doyle smiled to himself as he went to find Murphy.
Their boss was a wily old bird, and could be very cagey sometimes about sharing information.
He met Murphy coming up the stairs, and arrangements were quickly made.
So the next evening found the pair of them, Doyle and Murphy, driving out to where Murphy's uncle, Professor Devereaux lived.
"Actually," said Murphy, "You'll be doing me a bit of a favour, really. I'm fond of the old boy, for he was very good to me as a child, but he's so obsessed with the work that he does, that he talks of little else, and I keep hearing the same things, over and over again. A new audience will please him, - and you'll get a good meal out of it too," he added with a smile.
He was right about that ! The Professor's devoted housekeeper was a splendid cook, and provided an excellent meal for them all, accompanied by a very pleasant wine. Comfortably relaxed, they retired to the Professor's study, stacked to the full with books and papers.
"Now, what is it you were sent to ask me ?," the old man said amiably
"Well, it's about a new sect that's only recently come on the scene," said Doyle. "They all wear bright pink robes, and…."
"Oh, the Gulabi," interrupted the Professor. "They take their name from 'gulabi vale', Hindi for 'the pink ones'."
"Appropriate," commented Doyle.
"They are new over here," continued the older man "But they've been going for a great many years in parts of India. It started with the finding of some very old writings, which they believe are the work of a very special prophet. They call him Vahaijo, which is a corruption from Hindi words which mean 'He who has no name'."
The two men listening were impressed by the immense knowledge shown by their host. The Professor continued.
"My students took me to one of their public meetings a few nights ago. It was a pleasant experience. The teachings of Vahaijo seem to be that the duty of his followers is to lead a moral life, to sing and dance freely, and to spread as much happiness to others as they can. The meeting was led by a lovely old chap called Sumar, _ I had the chance of a few words with him. He is so serene and happy; he was a joy to talk to."
"Sounds idyllic," said Murphy.
"But why are C.I.5 interested ?," asked the Professor, who was still quick on the uptake in spite of his advanced years. "I'm sure there's nothing harmful there."
"We're interested in how they are financed," explained Doyle. "They hire expensive venues for their meetings, and are quite lavish with their hospitality. I wouldn't have thought even large donations would have covered that amount of outlay."
"I suppose as it's an Indian sect, you suspect drugs," commented the Professor wisely. "But I assure you, if you do find something dodgy, that Sumar won't be involved ! He's genuine, - I'd stake my reputation on that !."
Thanking the professor for a very pleasant evening, and so much useful information, the pair left. In the morning they reported to Cowley, and told him all they had learned.
"Right," said Cowley, "Let's start to make a few discreet enquiries about who organizes their finances, but be careful not to get sussed by the Fraud Squad," he warned. "I'm not ready to join forces with them yet."
A few days hard work brought considerable information to light. They found that the Gulabi's accounts were handled solely by one man called Raschid. He was Egyptian by birth, and ran a well-established import and export business.
Posing as a free-lance graphic designer, looking for work advertising businesses, Doyle had a long chat with the manager of one of Raschid's largest warehouses. He discovered that most of the business here was in Indian cotton goods, which were brought in regularly in large quantities, and re-sold to a wide variety of outlets, varying from market traders working in mainly poorer Indian communities, to top class dress-salons, supplying elaborate embroidered saris to the wives of wealthy Indian business men. He was shown examples as they watched some goods being unpacked, and was staggered by the rainbow of colours he saw, very pleasing to the artistic side of his nature.
The manager of the warehouse was very amiable, and willing to chat. Doyle felt almost ashamed of deceiving the man, but work had to be done in whatever way one could. But in the course of the man's chatty conversation, Doyle did pick up one unusual fact, which he stored in the back of his mind, possibly to be investigated later.
Cowley meanwhile, had been pulling a few strings in the right areas, to find out about the Gulabi bank account. He was surprised how large it was ! He discovered that, a few days after each meeting that was held, Raschid paid in substantial sums. Presumably these were the takings from the meetings. But he also found that Raschid regularly paid in £20,000 each month, and there was nothing to indicate the source of this. Short of asking the man straight out, it might be difficult to find out.
Bodie's contribution had been making a few enquiries about Sumar, and some of the other main leaders of the sect. He had found nothing suspicious. They appeared to be exactly what they seemed, believers in their creed, in their adulation of Vahaijo and his teachings, and eager to spread as much happiness as they could.
Bodie and Doyle managed to attend one of the elaborate meetings held by the Gulabi. Doyle enjoyed it, being quite entertained by watching the exuberance of some of the more colourful converts, dancing in the aisles. Bodie was his usual sceptical self. But there was nothing in what was talked about to arouse any suspicion of wrong-doing.
But there was one odd moment. When they returned to Doyle's car, parked nearby, they found a slip of paper tucked under the windscreen-wipers. Not a parking ticket ! It simply said '
It would be better if you did not concern yourself with what is not your business.'
The following morning he showed the note to Cowley, who looked quite surprised.
"I wonder which of the 'pink people' sent that ?," said Bodie.
"I'd lay odds it wasn't Sumar," interjected Doyle, who, like the Professor, had been quite impressed by the simple sincerity of the elderly guru. Then he had a sudden thought.
"It might not have been from them," he said. "I saw a couple of Fraud Squad men at the meeting. I recognised them, and I bet they knew us. Maybe it was them," he suggested, "Warning us off."
"They wouldn't have been so polite," objected Bodie.
"True," admitted Doyle with a grin. Then something else came into his mind. "There was a stall there, selling the pink robes they all wear," he said, "and doing a roaring trade too. It reminded me of something odd the warehouse manager told me."
"Go on," encouraged Cowley.
"Well, as you'd expect, consignments of these come into the warehouse regularly, and are sent to whichever venue is being used."
"So ?," queried Bodie.
"Except that part of the consignment is treated differently. The tops the ladies wear, - I noticed them last night. They have heavily embroidered flowers round the neckline, embellished with sequins, and glass beads to look like dew-drops. Apparently the parcels of these are sent, unopened, out to Raschid's place in the country, and he brings them back in on the night."
"That's rather odd, isn't it ?," commented Cowley.
"Most peculiar," Bodie agreed.
"Can you get the address of this place ?," asked Cowley.
"I'll find out," said Doyle at once.
"It might be worth a look," said Cowley, thoughtfully, "but as someone seems to be watching you, it might be an idea to do it secretively, and at night, probably."
"We'll get on to it," said Bodie and Doyle almost together, and the pair left the office quickly to make their plans.
So it was well after eleven when Bodie and Doyle parked their car in a lane close to the country house owned by Raschid. It was a large residence, set in its own quite extensive grounds, evidence of the man's well-established and profitable import and export business.
The pair climbed nimbly over a wall and crept through a shrubbery towards the building. A brightly-lit window drew their attention. Obviously, as the room was not over-looked, the occupant had not bothered to draw the curtains. They moved stealthily closer until they could peer into the room.
The occupant was Raschid. He was seated at a wide table. Piled up on the floor beside him were several large packets. He had evidently opened one of these, for he had drawn out of it one of the lavishly embroidered pink tops, and was spreading it out on the table before him.
As they watched, he pulled from his pocket a loupe, a small jeweller's eyepiece, and began to scan the flowers closely. Suddenly he stopped, picked up a pair of fine tweezers, and began to prise one of the 'dew-drops' from its stud setting, easing back the prongs that held it. When he'd freed it, he held it up towards the lamp, and to the amazement of the watching pair, it flashed with a rainbow of brilliant light.!
Bodie whistled under his breath.
"Wow," he whispered, "that's not glass.!"
"Diamonds !," breathed Doyle softly, "He's smuggling in diamonds."
They watched, fascinated, as Raschid placed the stone carefully in a small velvet-lined tray. Then they saw him replace it with a small glass bead, carefully easing the prongs back into place. He folded the garment neatly and set it aside, reaching into the packet for another one.
They continued to watch him for a while, and saw the man remove one, sometimes two, stones from each garment. The sparkling hoard in the velvet tray grew rapidly, a fortune mounting before their eyes.
At last Doyle motioned to Bodie that they should move away, and they retreated, hurrying back through the shrubbery, and over the wall back to their car.
"We've got to get back and report this," said Doyle, as Bodie swung the car onto the road, heading back towards London.
But they were unaware of one very important fact. While they had been carefully observing, other eyes had been observing them.
They had hardly gone a mile before they became aware of headlights behind them, and a large dark car coming rapidly nearer. At first they took little notice, as there was plenty of room to pass, and it began to do so.
Then, suddenly, it wasn't an overtaking car, but an attacking one ! The driver pulled hard on the wheel, and side-swiped into Bodie, making him swerve wildly. He regained control quickly, and the battle began, with the big black Mercedes trying very hard to push the smaller car off the road.
Bodie tried every trick and manoeuvre that he knew, but the weight advantage was beginning to tell. In addition the enemy driver knew the road better than he did, knowing very well what lay to the side of it, which Bodie could only glimpse in the dark, at the speed they were going.
At last, choosing his moment well, the driver of the Mercedes made a final ferocious push, which sent the smaller car through a white fence and down the steep bank beyond. It rolled over several times, and finally came to rest, on its roof, pointing nose downwards into the bed of a little stream trickling through the narrow valley.
The black Mercedes had reversed. The driver got out and gazed down at his handiwork.
He stood looking for a few moments, then, as he saw no movement in the crumpled wreck, he returned to his car, made a sharp 3-point turn, and sped away back the way he had come.
There had been no witnesses on the empty road !
Doyle came back to his senses slowly, aware first of a severe headache, and the feeling of a heavy weight holding him down. His attention was caught by a slight trickling noise. He had a moment of near panic, thinking it might be leaking petrol, with the attendant fire risk, then realised it wasn't that kind of sound, and there was no tell-tale smell.
He wondered about the weight pressing down on him, and then understood what it was. It was his mate, Bodie !
The attack by the black Mercedes and the subsequent crash came back to him vividly. He remembered their car rolling down a bank, and then blackness descending on him. He moved a cautious hand, and felt a large lump on his forehead. He'd evidently hit something pretty hard and been knocked out.
But what about Bodie ? He tried vainly to squirm to a better position, and raised a hand up. He encountered a firm shoulder.
Cautiously he moved his hand along till he reached his mate's neck. He was very relieved when his searching fingers found a steady pulse.
Then he felt a drip on the back of his hand. He pulled it back and endeavoured to use the faint light still shining from the headlights to check. But he knew what it was. Bodie was bleeding, from a head wound, he suspected. That was very worrying.!
He made an effort to move, to push Bodie's heavy weight off him. He stopped suddenly as the inert form issued a moan.
He became aware of something hard digging into his side. Realising that it was his radio, he pulled it out and thumbed it anxiously. Relief swept over him as he found it was still working, and a gruff voice answered.
"Doyle, is that you ?," queried Cowley. "Where are you ?"
Rapidly Doyle explained how they'd been forced off the road.
"Bodie's lying on top of me," he said, "When I tried to move him he moaned. I'm worried about causing him further injury."
"Stay still, then," advised Cowley. "Tell me exactly where you are, and I'll get help to you fast."
Doyle gave him precise details of their location, and he could hear his boss issuing rapid orders to whoever was with him.
"We'll be with you soon," said Cowley, and was about to shut down, when Doyle interrupted.
"Wait a minute, sir," he said urgently. "I have to tell you what we saw. The fact that we were attacked means they know we're onto them. They might make a run for it. It could be too late already. I don't know how long I've been out."
Quickly he explained about Raschid and the diamonds.
"Splendid work," exclaimed Cowley, excitement in his voice. "I'll get onto it fast."
Doyle found it hard to wait patiently for rescue. He could still feel the occasional drip on his shoulder, and was aware of a widening damp patch on the dark jersey he was wearing. When they get us out, they'll think I have an injury there, he thought idly. But it's Bodie that needs help, the sooner the better, and that was a niggling worry.
Then suddenly, the silence of the dark night was shattered by the wail of a police siren, followed by the different tones of an ambulance and a fire-engine. All these stopped abruptly, and the scene became one of controlled activity. There were bright lights, strong voices issuing orders, and skilful hands using their expertise on the wrecked car.
Before long both men were extricated, and making their way up the slope to the ambulance, Bodie on a stretcher, and Doyle on his feet, but somewhat unsteadily, supported by the strong arm of an ambulance man. He had managed to tell the concerned man that the blood on his shoulder wasn't his.
A back-up team of C.I 5 men was there also, to do two things. First they took charge of the armoury the pair had, they wouldn't need that in hospital ,and then they stayed to supervise the collection and disposal of the wrecked car.
Cowley had not come to the scene himself, but a couple of hours later he rang the hospital to enquire about his men. The call was answered by Dr. Fenton in his usual brisk manner.
"Doyle's all right," he said. "He collected a minor leg injury and a bang on the head, but we've dealt with those. As it was so late, we found him a spare bed, and nurse has just said he's fast asleep. So he'll be O.K., and I'll discharge him later."
"Good," said Cowley, "and Bodie ?"
"He's going to be with us a bit longer," replied Fenton. "He has several injuries, including a broken arm, and a nasty gash on his head. And he hasn't come round yet," he added in a slightly worried tone,
"But he's tough," he said cheerfully. "A bit of care, and he'll soon be better, I'm certain."
"I'll come in later to hear the latest," said Cowley. "Tell Doyle to wait for me, will you ? I need to talk to him."
Some hours later, Doyle woke up, feeling much better. A nurse, who had been asked to keep a watchful eye on him, while getting on with her other work, found him first a very welcome coffee and a sandwich, and then somewhere to have a wash and a tidy-up. He thanked her, and left to find out about his mate. His leg ached a bit, and the bruise was darkening on his forehead, but he felt much more himself again, although he was very concerned about Bodie.
He met up with Dr. Fenton, who greeted him cheerfully, glad to see that he was recovering well.
"You'll be glad to hear Bodie's come round at last. "And he appears to be totally 'with it', so I don't think he's concussed."
"That's good," replied Doyle, very relieved.
"Cowley rang," went on the doctor. "He said to tell you to wait for him, he'll be in later. So you can go and sit with Bodie, if you like."
He quickly gave Doyle directions on where to locate his mate, then left to get on with dealing with his next patients.
Doyle soon found the room where Bodie was, and went in.
His mate was propped up in bed, looking rather rakish, with his arm in a sling and a white turban of a bandage round his head, but he was wide awake and his eyes were bright and clear.
Bodie got his word in first.
"Hi, partner," he said, "How are you ?"
"I'm fine," replied Doyle, "in spite of you doing your best to squash me flat !"
The smiles they exchanged belied the teasing words, true evidence, if proof were needed, of the easy rapport they shared.
"And what about you ?," asked Doyle.
"Oh, I'm fine too," said Bodie cheerfully. "I'm going to enjoy a few days rest, and being fussed over, and I've already spotted some pretty nurses."
"You behave yourself," admonished his friend, with relieved amusement in his voice.
"Oh, he will," came the stern voice of the Sister, who had just entered the room.
At this Bodie pulled a face, making Doyle laugh. It was going to be all right. His mate was his usual impudent self !
The Sister made her checks and left. As she left Doyle caught the twinkle in her eye, and smiled to himself. Maybe Bodie had met his match.
The pair sat talking amiably about last night's events until their boss turned up.
Cowley came briskly into the room, very relieved to see that things were much better than he had feared.
"What's been happening, sir," asked Doyle.
"Well," began Cowley, "I got on to the Fraud Squad and the police immediately, and told them everything we knew. I understand they acted pretty quickly, and raided the house, but it was deserted, they'd gone !"
"I was afraid it would be too late," said Doyle, looking very disappointed.
"But they covered ports, stations and airfields very quickly," continued Cowley, "So we could be lucky yet."
Having satisfied himself that Bodie was well on the road to recovery, Cowley turned to his other top man.
"Come on, Doyle," he said briskly. "I'll run you home. Get some rest, then if you're fit enough, I'll have someone pick you up in the morning, and you can collect another car from the pool."
"Choose one I'll like," interrupted Bodie cheekily.
The other two turned to look at him, a bit surprised.
"Well," said Bodie, indicating his sling, "You'll be driving me about for a bit, when I get out, won't you ?"
As they left, Cowley gave a muffled snort, which could have been exasperation, but might just as easily have been concealed amusement.
Doyle spent the rest of the day quietly in his flat. He did manage to write his report on events up to date, and was just about to retire early, to catch up on some restoring sleep, when his phone rang. He was a little surprised, as only a few people knew his number. It was his boss, Cowley.
"I thought you'd like to know," said Cowley, "that Raschid was picked up at Luton airport, trying to get a connection to Amsterdam. He had a tidy collection of diamonds in his possession, too, which has pleased the Fraud Squad no end.
I've turned the whole business over to them and the police now.
It's no longer our affair. We'll get on with something else. Murphy will pick you up in the morning."
Doyle went to bed in a more contented frame of mind. A villain had been caught, Bodie was recovering, and tomorrow there would be a new task to think about
That seemed to be the end of the story as far as C.I.5 was concerned. Bodie recovered well, and was discharged after about a week. Of course, he wasn't yet passed for active duty, because of his arm injury, but, like Doyle, he was one who got very bored stuck on sick-leave.
So as soon as their M.O. would allow it, he was back in the swing of things, going round with Doyle, checking reports and interrogating those who might be able to supply useful information.
They had just completed one of these jobs, and were coming back through an underpass to where their car was parked, when their way was blocked by two men moving out of the shadows and advancing menacingly towards them. They began to back up defensively, only to find there were two more men behind them. Prepared to put into practice all the defensive skills their training had given them, they eased their positions to get their backs to the wall.
Doyle was worried, for this looked nasty, and Bodie was not 100% yet.
Suddenly a voice rang out, echoing through the tunnel.
"Had you going for a minute, didn't we, Doyle ?," it said, and a fifth man appeared from behind the others.
"Ted Haynes !," exclaimed Doyle in recognition, and stepped forward to shake the proffered hand.
The expressions of the men surrounding them had changed suddenly from menacing scowls to friendly smiles.
Doyle quickly made introductions.
"My partner, Bodie," he said, "and this rascal is Ted Haynes, terror of the Fraud Squad."
Similarly, Haynes introduced his men.
"We spotted you leaving your car," he explained, "and thought we'd wait till you came back, to invite you for a drink, to celebrate the good collar we made, thanks to your help."
"Mind you," he went on, "you might have let us in on it a bit sooner."
"Blame our boss for that," said Bodie.
"Oh, yes, Cowley," said Haynes. "I hear he's a bit of a tartar.!"
"He's O. K." said Bodie and Doyle, almost in the same breath, loyally quick to defend their boss.
"I'll take your word for it," said Haynes placatingly. "Come on, all of you, there's a nice little bar just round the corner."
Soon all the men were ensconced on benches round an alcove in the corner, where their conversation would not be overheard, and drinks were on the table in front of them.
"Are you better, Bodie, after your accident ?," asked one of the men in friendly enquiry.
"I'm fine," replied Bodie cheerfully, "though I'm still living daily in mortal danger."
The man, and the others who'd heard, looked puzzled.
"Well," explained Bodie, indicating the sling he was still wearing, "I'm having to let him drive me."
Doyle's protest was drowned in the friendly laughter that rippled round the group.
Haynes was explaining to Doyle about how they'd been lucky enough to pick up Raschid at Luton airport.
"We were only just in time," he said. "Another ten minutes and he'd have been gone. And we caught his stupid driver too."
"I wouldn't have called him stupid," commented Bodie. "He was pretty clever when he forced us off the road."
Haynes went on with his story.
"Apparently, when they got to the airport, Raschid gave him some money, told him to abandon the car and disappear. But the fool was greedy. He reckoned that even with the damage along the side, he would still get a good price for it, and so increase his money. So he came back to collect it. But we'd already spotted it and so we grabbed him too."
Bodie and Doyle had listened with interest, for they hadn't heard any details before.
Haynes went on, telling them more.
"I think we've established that Raschid was working this on his own. No-one else in the sect is involved."
"I'm glad about that," said Doyle. "We rather liked Sumar."
"So did we," volunteered several of the others.
"You'll also be glad to hear that the chap you talked to, Doyle, the manager at the warehouse, is in the clear too."
"Good," said Doyle, with some relief. He'd liked the friendly man, and had felt guilty about deceiving him.
"I wonder how the sect will manage now," he said thoughtfully. "Raschid was putting an awful lot into their account, wasn't he ?"
"He could afford it !," exclaimed Haynes, " with the amount he was making out of it. Do you know, he's got a Swiss bank account getting close to half a million ! It paid him to keep them going."
"The donations they get at meetings are pretty good," commented one of the others. "That should keep them going for a while anyway."
"I hope so," declared Bodie, with his ready wit. "I'd like to think, that in spite of it all, they're still 'in the pink'."
The burst of laughter that came from the alcove startled the other customers, especially some of the foreign visitors.
Much speculation was going on, as to who and what this formidable group of self-confident men were.
They would have been very surprised if they'd learnt the truth.