To all intents and purposes, the Carmichaels were a perfectly normal and respectable couple. Patrick Carmichael, a loss adjuster for a large city firm, was a prominent figure in his local Conservative and Rotary clubs and was the secretary of the village golf society. His wife Mary although not working was indefatigably industrious in her volunteer work for several worthy causes and had been elected to head the organising committee of the annual village fete for the third year in succession. All in all, it would be difficult to find a more typical suburban family. Yet they had been under surveillance for some time.
Two men sat in a plain unmarked van opposite the house. They were wearing dark overalls and looked like tradesmen except for the high-powered viewing devices they were using to survey the Carmichaels home. Both of them were growing restless although only one was showing it.
‘I say we go now’ said the younger of the two men. ‘We can’t afford to delay any longer, send the message’.
His older and more senior colleague sighed. It was always the same with the younger ones, he thought, they never knew how to wait, never understood what the job really involved. Well he would have to learn and as his boss, he was more than prepared to start teaching him.
‘Take another look at the front door. Notice anything?’
The young man trained his scope at the door. It was the same as every other door in this suburban street except for an unusually large letterbox.
‘OK they’ve got a big letter box.’
‘A recently installed big letter box’
‘So it means they might be onto us.’
The young man looked puzzled and at the sight of his bemused expression, the man, whose ID card said he was called Arthur Bailey, found that his growing amusement was dispelling his earlier irritation. He smiled indulgently.
‘Listen Kevin, that innocent looking letter box means that they have taken one of our standard operating procedures away from us. And that might, just might mean that they know what we are doing. So it is way too risky to go to the next stage while they are still at home ’
Kevin looked impressed, this was old school, it was no wonder that Arthur was a legend in the firm. There were those who had tried to criticise what they called his slow plodding methods. But even his harshest critics had been forced to acknowledge that though he might take his time Arthur Bailey nearly always delivered.
‘Do you think he might get violent?’
Arthur shook his head.
‘I doubt it. If they are smart they will play it cool and simply complain to head office. That’s what I would do in their place. Then our superiors would deny any knowledge of us and what we are doing and we would be out the game.’
Kevin nodded humbly and resumed the surveillance. The thought of the bonus they would get for successful completion of the second and final phases reconciling him to the further waiting. Besides, he knew in his heart that Arthur for all his caution could act as daringly and audaciously as anyone if he judged that the moment was right. There was a well-known story that Arthur had once initiated and completed a phase 3 while actually talking to the target. It was widely considered apocryphal, but Kevin was beginning to think it might be true.
There were signs of activity in the Carmichael household. Kevin paused expectantly and then smiled as he watched a man and woman leave the house walk to a blue Renault parked outside and drive away.
‘Now’ he said.
‘No, give it another ten minutes, in case they come back.’
Ten minutes passed and then Kevin sent the message that would be the start of phase 2. Arthur started the engine and the van drove away.
Two miles away in a restaurant in the centre of town Patrick Carmichael’s phone vibrated and gave a little pinging squelching noise. He unlocked the phone and pressed the e-mail notification that had appeared. A message appeared on the screen.
We have attempted to deliver the package you ordered but you were not at home. A further attempt will be made tomorrow. Please do not reply to this message as it has been sent by an automatic delivery post box and will not be read. Please click on the link below if you want to reschedule your delivery. Please take the time to leave feedback here to help us remaining the world’s leading supplier of customer centric service.’
Patrick put down his phone and shook his head ruefully.
‘God Mary, we waited in specially and they still missed us. How unlucky is that!’