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Meet and Greet
Author:Ian Rankin

Meet and Greet

Ian Rankin




The arrivals hall was mid-morning busy. Peppard walked around for a bit, checking the uniforms and cameras. There were armed cops elsewhere in the airport, but not here. Chances were, no jihadists would arrive in the country locked and loaded. If anywhere, they’d be in departures, trying not to look nervous. Peppard, too, was doing his best not to let the nerves show. He usually only wore a suit at weddings and funerals. When the doors slid open, he caught glimpses of the beyond—luggage carousels, sniffer dogs, immigration officials. Weary travellers emerging, toting trolleys. Nicely laden trolleys. He had to hope for one of those. The greeters had a stoical look to them, used to delayed flights and hour-long queues at passport control. Their clients would be ready to offer an apology which was also a complaint.

“Welcome to England,” they’d be told with the thinnest of smiles.

The greeters held up clipboards or scraps of paper. The more expensive seemed to use iPads, with the surname capitalised on the screen. Bit of a pain that though, with the thing powering down every so often and needing to be refreshed.

Peppard was happy with his clipboard. For the sake of appearance, it held half a dozen sheets of paper, as if his shift were busy. He held the black marker pen in his other hand and paced the floor one more time. When passengers emerged, they could turn left or right. Greeters lined the route. Most were professionals, but there were kinfolk and lovers, too—young women busy on their phones; kids holding WELCOME GRANNY! balloons. The pros checked their own phones or held one-sided conversations with their Bluetooth sets. Some, with time to kill, had retreated to the seats and were sipping from takeaway beakers of coffee. To the far left of the line of greeters stood a harassed-looking young man in a suit that he might grow into one day. Still, the key-fob he played with boasted the Mercedes insignia, so his bosses had to be charging top-whack. The name on his unfolded sheet of white paper was BULLIMER. There was a company name, too, but printed in much smaller type, so that Peppard couldn’t make it out without getting up close. He didn’t want that. Instead, he walked to the opposite end of the line, and wrote down the name as neatly as he could, holding the cap of the pen between his lips.

BULLIMER.

Okay, so now it was fifty-fifty—Bullimer would either turn left or right with his luggage. One way and he’d meet the young man, the other and he would belong to Peppard.

“We need the first one to be a good one,” Jarman had stressed. “If it’s some old dear or somebody’s secretary, point them in the direction of their real ride. Grab another name and try again.”

“Right.”

“Know why?”

“Tell me.”

“It’s because this isn’t a stunt we can pull more than once or maybe twice. I say ‘twice’ because we can switch roles—once they’ve clocked you on their CCTV, it’s my turn. But after that, it’s too risky.”

“There are other airports.”

“Agreed—but not all are as busy as Heathrow. It’s that melee that helps disguise what we’re doing. Two or three greeters and we’d have no hope—see what I’m saying?”

Peppard saw all right. Jarman had all the brains. It amazed Peppard that his partner still hung around with him and hadn’t taken up some legit career. His head was full of so many great schemes. All the years he’d been operating he’d only served one stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure. That spoke of something. That spoke of skill as well as luck.

Peppard’s phone vibrated. It was a text from his partner, telling him patience was a virtue. Funny, Peppard’s mum had said the same thing to him when he was growing up, usually when his stomach was growling. She’d be sitting there staring glassily at the TV, a mug of gin and orange in her hand. A few quid from her handbag and he’d be off to the chip shop, knowing there’d be a slap around the head later.

“That’s me.”

Peppard blinked. There was a short, dapper, middle-aged man right in front of him. He had a good-sized roller-case and a shoulder bag big enough for a laptop and other bits and pieces. Tailored suit, crisp shirt, silk tie. And polished shoes—Jarman had tipped Peppard off to that. Polished shoes were a good sign.

“Yes,” Peppard said.

“And you’re my driver?”

Peppard cleared his throat. “I’m here to take you to him, sir. Good flight?”

“Pretty good.”

“Can I take your…?”

The handle of the suitcase was relinquished.

“This way then. I’ll just let the driver know…”

Peppard got busy with a text, risking a glance over his shoulder, but no one was paying any attention. The trickle through the door from the luggage carousels was becoming a flood. The young guy waiting for BULLIMER was holding his sign expectantly.

“What if they make me?” Peppard had asked Jarman.

“How do you mean?”