The party in Mendoza kept up the pretence of being tourists, going out in the car every day. They decided to avoid the missile site by day and only keep an eye on it by night and then not every night in case someone noticed them. Instead they went to some of the recommended tourist spots and pretended to look for their grandad’s brother’s place. On their third night visit, Steven spotted that the workers were using a fire exit to pop out for a smoke and the door was left ajar between shifts.
They immediately knew they had a way in that would not set off any alarms and they had ten minutes between shifts to sabotage the missile. Not long, but if they knew where they were going and what they were doing it was probably long enough. The search now was on to find a way in to the compound that avoided the CCTV. Every evening they set up the satellite phone and waited for London’s interpretation of the drone photos.
It was the same night that they spotted the smokers that the flash message was downloaded to Les’s iPad. They didn’t hang around while it was decompressed and decoded but packed up and headed for Mendoza. As they headed for the hotel, Les got the message decode and read it, grunting several times. Eventually he said, “London has identified the printed circuit board that they were fiddling with on the first night we flew the drones. It is a commercially available Japanese board for GPS navigation. GCHQ acquired some and have reprogrammed them. The idea is we get one and exchange it for an existing one and it will allow us to interfere with the test launch and steer the rocket into the buildings. The drone controller will control the missile in a similar way to Steven steering a drone.”
“It is a fairly simple plan,” Les continued, “but it relies on us getting in and out of the assembly building undetected and having time to swap the PCB. It’s easy if they have the access door off as the board has a simple edge connection. But there are eight cross head screws to remove and replace if the door is on. They say no special tools are required but they have identified the cross head screw as MorTorc and have included three screw drivers with the PCB in the diplomatic bag to Santiago and the embassy will deliver it to us here.”
The planning permission for the sandwich bar was unusually fast as it didn’t really include change of use as it was already a food outlet. They needed a variation to sell takeaway food and to use the yard for deliveries but nobody objected. The planning committee advised the council on allowing the application provided they closed by six in the evening. As the plan had always been to serve the morning and lunchtime trade, with an early start and a mid afternoon closure, this was no hardship. Jinnie knew that the planning permission for the pub to restaurant was going to take a lot longer. Despite the fact that it was an existing building they were planning to alter, and it already served food, they were forced to go for full permission and had reams of paper to fill in much of which was irrelevant. Had they done a tree survey? There were none on the site. Had they done a bat survey? Had they done a contaminated soil survey? It went on and on.
Belinda had already applied for Building Regulations for both sites so that she could begin work quickly. The cost for Building Regulations approval was based on the cost of the project. However, technically it was only charged on the physical work, and the likes of furniture and fittings were subtracted to reduce the bill. As the new leaseholders, Trattoria Trevi (Holdings) Ltd had applied to both landlords for a ‘licence to alter’ although it really wasn’t necessary for the sandwich business as they didn’t propose to make any structural changes. Once again the sandwich business had been fast and the freeholder had quickly replied that after viewing the plans they had no problems with the works and a licence was unnecessary. However, the landlord of the old pub was asking a load of questions and threatening to charge £20,000 for the licence. Alberto and Jinnie reminded the freeholder that they were entitled to administration costs, surveyors costs and to recover solicitor’s fees which should not be more than £2,500 at best. The landlord countered and reduced the licence to £10,000. A bit of haggling and they settled on £3,000 which the Trattoria Trevi solicitors insisted was in line with the norm.
Jason arrived on site at the first branch of Artisan Sandwiches at 07:45 am on a Monday morning with half a dozen workers. When Belinda arrived on site shortly after 10 am she found Jason’s men had very nearly filled a skip with old flooring, ceiling and furniture and Jason was on his mobile to Lucy in the office asking for his first skip exchange. Belinda was delighted with progress and Jason told her that his gang was ready to start on the new ceiling just as soon as the materials arrived on site. Belinda had surmised that it would take most of the morning to strip the site and hadn’t bothered to ask for the ceiling grid and suspension wire to be delivered first drop. So Jason’s men were enjoying a brew as they were ahead of programme.
Belinda didn’t have to chase the delivery as it arrived at about ten thirty, however she did phone Lucy to get her to ensure the ceiling tiles were on first drop, around 8 o’clock the next morning and that the electricians were going to turn up for first fit. Melissa and Andrew had been working hard at working on a corporate identity for the snack bar and sandwich shop. They had settled on a bright blue and yellow colour scheme and a corporate font for everything from the ‘Artisan Sandwiches’ shop name, to the menus on the wall and on the eat-in tables. An illuminated shop sign had been approved by the planners and commissioned from the same company who where going to apply manifestations to the shop windows. But that wasn’t due on site until next week when the outside of the building had been painted.
By Friday morning when Jinnie and Alberto met Belinda, on-site progress was obvious. The new ceiling and lighting were in. The especially built takeaway and eat-in counters were being installed. The tables and chairs for the cafe had been delivered but not unwrapped from their protective packaging as the vinyl flooring was not going down until Tuesday. The inside of the building had been painted and Jason was working on giving the customer toilets a refresh. Jinnie was delighted with progress which was several days ahead of programme and asked Belinda if she thought the job would be finished early. Belinda replied, “I’m not sure, the big thing that we are missing is the bread oven and that is due to be delivered on programme and despite my pushing the subcontractor hard they are resisting bringing it forward even a day. I think we will be on time but not early.”
In her car between Windsor and Crawley, Jinnie and Alberto discussed how recruiting for the new venture was going. Alberto had taken it on and had tasked Brian’s brother Neil with finding the kitchen staff through his specialist agency. This had proved interesting as they required bakers, pastry chefs and short-order cooks for the breakfast and snack lunches they intended to offer. But Neil had come good and they had a full complement for the kitchen of what, on paper, appeared to be excellent recruits. He had gone to a Windsor employment agency for the rest of the staff and he was not terribly happy with them.
Alberto explained, “The agency have been sending me the CVs of the people they are recommending and although they have had no problem finding staff the quality is appalling. Reading through the CVs hardly any of them are currently employed or have been in regular employment. In fact I suspect they have picked up the dregs of the Jobcentre. So far I approved interviewing two people for delivery drivers and one for the takeaway counter who is working in Subway. I think she saw the job in the Jobcentre window and wanted to work at a higher-class establishment.”
Jinnie said to Alberto, “Let’s go back, make a surprise visit, and give them a kick up the arse.” Alberto chuckled and said, “Let’s do it.” Jinnie came off the M25 at the next junction and returned to Windsor, while Alberto rang Ro and told her that they still had a bit more business to do in Windsor and would ring her to warn her when they were on their way.
Jinnie and Alberto found the agency-occupied offices over three shops and climbed the stairs to the reception area where they had to ring a bell to get attention. A pleasant girl appeared and asked if she could help them. Alberto asked to speak to Jos Martin, who was their account manager. They were told by the girl, whose name tag said ‘Susanna’, that she thought Jos was interviewing on behalf of a client but if they could give her their names and an idea of what they wanted she would see if Jos could squeeze them in. Their names obviously meant nothing to Susanna, but as soon as they mentioned Trattoria Trevi and Artisan Sandwiches she clearly knew the name, reacted and asked them to take a seat while she interrupted Jos.
Susanna was quickly back and explained that Jos had just started to interview a candidate on their behalf and would they like to sit in. Alberto asked, “For what position?” and Susanna replied, “I understand it is for the takeaway/cafe counter.” Jinnie jumped in saying, “We would be delighted to sit in.” The young lady being interviewed was in her mid to late twenties, had short dark hair, wore little makeup and was very attractive. Jinnie approved. Having shaken hands with Jos they were introduced to the candidate, Brooke, as clients. She was instantly on her feet shaking hands. Jinnie and Alberto sat to one side and let Susanna continue the interview uninterrupted.
At the end of the interview Jinnie looked at Alberto and mouthed, ‘Yes?’ and Alberto nodded, ‘Yes.’ Jos asked Jinnie and Alberto if they would like to ask any questions. Jinnie said, “Yes, please,” and turning to Brooke she explained that they were actually her possible future employers and were there today to speak to Jos and that it was totally by a fortunate accident that she was interviewing on their behalf. Jinnie asked where she was currently employed, already knowing the answer. Brooke told them that she was currently employed at the local Subway branch. Alberto asked why she was looking at changing employment and Brooke told them that she had worked in the shop for several years and although it was reasonable she was getting fed up with shift work especially the evening shift.
Jinnie then asked if Brooke had any supervisory experience and she replied, “Yes, I am currently working as temporary shift manager and that is another of the reasons I have been keeping an eye on the local paper for another job. I have been working as temporary shift manager for three months and the company will not make it permanent, in fact I am still on the same wage as everyone else I am technically over.” Alberto caught Jinnie’s eye and reading her mind again nodded yes. Jinnie said to Brooke, “I can assure you that we do not do things like that. Firstly can I explain that we intend this to be the first of a chain of ‘Artisan Sandwich’ shops. If this goes well we will be quickly expanding the business. We currently produce artisan sandwiches and cakes at two of our dark kitchen businesses and deliver in Crawley and Potters Bar to offices and pubs. I can’t promise anything at this stage but I hope that in future there will be the possibility of promotion to area positions.”
Jinnie continued, “Now I will get to the point, we would like to offer you the position of takeaway and eat-in manager. There will also be a kitchen manager, and you and he will report to the branch manager. The salary will be £2,000 a year above the basic of the job you applied for. However we intend to also run a profit-sharing scheme and of course, as stated in the job spec there is a pension scheme, four weeks annual holiday and a free uniform You don’t need to give us an answer today, we will be writing in the next couple of day to make the formal offer.” Brooke said, “Of course I accept, I would love to be in on the start of this journey.”
When a very happy Brooke had left the interview room, Jinnie turned to Jos and said, “We dropped in today to have a moan about the general dross you have offered us for our business. Now I’m not sure where you have been looking for people but for 15% of the first year’s salary we rather hoped that you would have offered us a little better selection than we could have picked up for nothing at the local Jobcentre. I suspect you haven’t yet spent a single penny on advertising the posts. We have another very much larger business which we will be looking to staff towards the end of the year and at the moment I can’t see us putting that staff search your way.”
Jos looked rather crestfallen, but recovered quickly saying, “Just as soon as you leave I shall be looking at this personally. The Evening Standard has a large circulation in Windsor so we will place an advert in tomorrow’s edition, the local paper has job adverts on its website so I think we will place it there as well. In addition, we will do a trawl amongst the people we already have on our database.” Alberto said, “I can’t emphasise enough how urgent this is becoming, the branch is nearly ready and we would like to open in two weeks. We currently have a fully staffed kitchen and a front-of-house manager, but no one for her to manage. I will ring you first thing Tuesday morning, if you haven’t found any decent candidates by then I won’t hesitate in placing this search elsewhere.”
Steven opened the package from the embassy and removed two circuit boards and three screwdrivers with a strange cross-head bit with curled legs. They decided that the sooner they got on with the job the better as they weren’t sure if the test launch day was being stuck to. London had assured them that once the PCB was installed in the missile it would pass any tests that were thrown at it, so it was not a problem to get it installed as soon as possible.
The next problem was getting past the CCTV cameras. For this Penny suggested the answer. Shoot paintballs at the lens. A paintball gun and paintballs were acquired and for a few evenings the agents had fun firing guns at trees, no trespassing signs on the fence and other odd things before Penny used her shooting skills to hit a CCTV camera lens with bright red paint. The group then withdrew and waited for the security team to turn up to find out what had gone wrong with the camera. Ten minutes later the security arrived in a pickup packing a ladder. The detachment looked around a bit and moaned about kids messing around before putting up the ladder and cleaning the lens.
The next evening they moved to a different spot but did exactly the same thing as the previous night except that it was blue paint. Once again the security detachment arrived in about ten minutes, this time moaning even more before cleaning the camera. On the third night the unenthusiastic security took twenty minutes to clean off the yellow paint. On the fourth night by the time the team called it a night over an hour later, the security hadn’t turned up to clean off the black paint. The party informed the hotel that they would be checking out of the hotel in the morning and Steven told the girl on reception that they had completely failed in their attempt to find any relatives so they were going to cut the search short and instead visit Buenos Aires.
On the fifth night the team shot the CCTV camera with black paint and were over the fence and hiding amongst the grapevines well before the shift change. Penny was happy to see a slit of yellow light at the side of the fire exit where the door was open. At twenty past one a buzzer could be heard from inside the building. As one, the team rose from where they were concealed, entered the assembly hanger and made for the missile’s inspection hatch that contained the GPS PCB. Les was relieved to see that half the hatch covers retaining screws were off and sitting in a little pot at the side. Les had arranged with Steven that if the hatch was in place he would undo four screws while Steven tackled the other four. Penny was to hide in the shadows and protect them with her pistol.
Les waved Steven away and he took up a protective position similar to Penny. Speedily Les undid the four countersunk screws and wondered if the end-of-shift buzzer had interrupted the hatch cover being removed or replaced. Dismissing the thought he popped the four screws he had removed in the pot with the other four and eased the hatch cover off exposing a number of PCBs which to an untrained eye would have all looked to be identical. Les quickly identified the board he was after and releasing its retaining clips, eased it out of its edge connector. The replacement card was slipped into place and the retaining clips pinged into position.
Les glanced at his watch and was surprised to see that only four of the ten minutes had elapsed. He wasted no time in replacing the hatch cover and four screws in the same positions as they had come out of. One last check to ensure he had collected his screwdriver and the replaced PCB and he climbed down off the work platform and hand signalled Penny and Steven to move to the fire exit. They slipped out and into the vines and dropped down into hiding. Penny was happy the whole exercise had taken only six minutes and she suggested they should move quickly to their exit point, which they did. The security detachment hadn’t yet bothered to come and fix the blinded camera so they could use the same spot to exit over the fence saving Penny having to blind another camera in a different part of the fence
Back in the car heading to their hotel they discussed how well it had gone and what a pity it was they couldn’t check if everything was OK with the installation as the missile was not powered up. The other problem they had was they still had no idea when the test was to be carried out so they would need to regularly check if the missile had been rolled out to the launch pad.
Fortunately, the Argentinians came to their aid by announcing a two-day no-go area for shipping in the South Atlantic where they were going to test a missile. London was quick to pick up on the Argentinian ‘Notice to Seamen’ and passed the information on to the party. The agents decided they need to keep a 48-hour watch on the launch site dividing it up into what Steven called four-hour stags. On the first day nothing much happened, but a hose was run from the liquid oxygen tank into the assembly building, which Les said meant they were starting to fuel the rocket. On the second day, just after 4 am, floodlights came on and the huge double doors in the end of the assembly building slowly opened. Penny, who was on stag, woke the boys who were asleep in the car telling them that something was happening.
Steven grabbed his drone controller and Les his iPad. By the time they joined Penny in the OP, the erector vehicle was edging out of the building. As they watched it head to the launchpad Penny noted that there were more people on site than she had ever seen before and lights were on in every window. The erector vehicle came to a halt and slowly the missile was elevated into a vertical position over the pit for the rocket exhaust. With the missile resting on its base plate, the vehicle edged away lowering the erector mechanism.
Les exclaimed, “Ah,” as his iPad lit up with a mass of numbers. “Powers up on the rocket,” he reported, “It looks like they are getting ready to go.” Steven said, “I agree, the controller is seeing the PCB.” To Les he said, “Do you think this is going to work?” “Why not,” came the reply. “The missile’s mission is all pre-loaded onto those PCBs, if the PCB we fitted works as the bigwigs say, you will override the programme and we can control it. It’s a bit late to start worrying now, at least if this doesn’t work we can try something else. The rocket will only finish its journey into the South Atlantic as the Germans have planned.”
As they watched, people started to move away from the rocket to what was obviously considered safety. Penny pointed out that the windows of the office block were crowded with observers it was obviously acting as a grandstand for workers. The next indication that the rocket was about to launch was the scrolling numbers on Les’s iPad started moving more quickly and a couple of umbilical cords that had been attached to it fell away. The four rocket motors started belching flames, but increasing quite quickly accompanied by a roar. Slowly at first the rocket lifted off the ground, one metre, then two then ten and as it got to about 100 metres Steven exclaimed, “I believe I have control,” and moving the joystick on his drone control fractional, the rocket responded and while still accelerating upwards tilted a little in flight.
Steven proclaimed, “This is just like a computer game,” as he moved the joystick more and more. The rocket reached about a thousand metres before it started to roll over. Les called out above the roar of the engines, “They have pressed the self-destruct button”. But clearly it had no effect. Instead, the rocket continued to roll until it was pointed squarely at the machine shops and offices which it accelerated into with a huge explosion throwing burning rocket fuel in all directions. The flames engulfed the assembly building and within seconds there were secondary explosions from the tanks of liquid fuel. The whole complex was fiercely ablaze when Penny shouted at Steven and Les, “Come on, it’s time we left, our job is done.” Dragging themselves away from the scene of mass destruction they reluctantly got in the car, and Penny drove them away into the early morning sunrise.
In Chapter 16 – Penny comes home
© WorthingGooner 2023