you have no particular hostility to the name then that’s what we’ll use. If you don’t know somebody’s name and title – and you don’t know mine – what would you call them?’
He’d said that if he didn’t know the name of a man who ran a show he’d refer to him as ‘boss’.
‘Oh, I’d like that . . . and over there, that’s Foxy. I don’t think anyone else will need identifying. Foxy and Badger. Very good. We’ll talk a bit when we get there, but in the mean time I’d be grateful for your patience.’
They had been led by ground crew towards the Lear jet, its engines ticking over and the steps down. All bizarre, but Danny ‘Badger’ Baxter was not one to be fazed by lack of information. The flight was smooth, they were above the clouds and. . . .
He had shown his documentation at the gate, and the RAF police hadn’t jotted down any of the details listed on his Box ID. He’d been told to park his wheels in a space outside the perimeter fence, like no one wanted to acknowledge that he had ever been here. Then he’d been taken in a minibus to a prefabricated departure annex. He was half dead on his feet, had left Builth before five, reached the airbase a half-hour before dawn and hadn’t spoken to either of the other men waiting for the flight call. He had almost been asleep when the boss had spoken to him.
When he’d left home to take up the work in Wales, locked the door of his bed-sit in the hostel the police used in Bristol, he had been wearing clothes that could either be described as rugged or vagrant’s gear, but he had clean socks and underpants that probably stifled most of the smell; he looked ragged, and felt out of sorts because of it. He’d noted that the other two had eyed him as if they expected dog-shit on his shoes and fleas in his clothing. He was unshaven and hadn’t run a comb through his hair.
It was a black-painted American aircraft, with no markings that he’d seen. The pilot spoke with a drawl and dispensed minimal information. How long would they be up? Wasn’t told. What was the flight’s destination? Wasn’t told. Would there be in-flight coffee and a bacon sarnie? Wasn’t told. The boss sat in the front seats, and across the aisle from him there was a heavy-set guy, who also had an American twang but a more civilised one than the pilot’s. There wasn’t a girl with a coffee jug or anything to eat. The remaining passenger, Foxy, had what Baxter reckoned was a death pallor, and there were nicks on his throat, from shaving; one had transferred blood to the collar of his clean shirt. He wore a blazer, and the tie knotted at the collar might have been a military one; his hair was neatly cut and brushed, his slacks had knife creases and his shoes were polished. Badger didn’t own a blazer, had precious few shirts that were smart enough for a tie, and the only one of those easily at hand in the hostel would have been black – for funerals. The man had looked exhausted in the departure area, out on his feet, and by the time they had been up a half-hour a gentle rhythmic snoring was coming from Foxy’s den. Badger knew about foxes, had often enough lain up in hides at the edge of woodland to watch a remote house. The foxes, cubs and adults, would come close to him and scratch for worms or sniff around him. He was fond of them.
There weren’t many that Danny Baxter was fond of. His father and mother lived in the shadow of the nuclear-warhead factory at Burghfield, near Reading, in Berkshire, had a bungalow there and a second-hand vehicle business. He reckoned the location, close to Armageddonville, meant they’d picked up a property cheap to live in and work from. He saw them no more than twice a year and there was nothing of his work he could talk about and nothing of their lives that he was much interested in.
No one at the hostel would have cared that he was being ferried – destination unknown – in an executive jet, and probably by now his regular