Whump! Whump! Whump!

It was then that the chopper dropped down out of the darkness on top of them. She heard the whump whump whump of the blades above her and to the rear and she raised her head, but she had to close her eyes and turn away because in that instant she was blinded by the white glare of a spotlight, and the end of a skid lighted by that glare that was swinging back and forth just above her head, forcing her to crouch down with her hands on Santiago’s shoulders. Under his clothes she felt his tense muscles, his back bowed over the wheel, and she saw his face illuminated in brief bursts from the spotlight swinging above them, all the bursts of spray that wet his face and hair.

I took a gulp of now tepid tea and snuggled down further under the duvet, pleased to be warm and comfortable as the van rocked gently in the gale force south easterly that crept over the hills at the far corner of a dark Swansea Bay. The van was snug too, backed up in the lee of a tall wall with nothing but the quiet slip road entrance to the car park at Oystermouth between it and a high tide churning sea whose random breakers cut the darkness with ragged lines of white.

The skid of the fucking bird, less than a yard above their heads, was swinging closer and closer. Teresa tapped Santiago’s left shoulder to warn him and he nodded once, intent on steering the boat. This was a pursuit manoeuvre, to confuse and frighten them and make them change course, or make mistakes, or accelerate until the engine, already at its limit and pushing the phantom in excess of 50 knots, flamed out. The purpose was to force them closer to the shore and away from their straight course to Gibraltar and safety, to string out the chase and make the speedboat crew lose their nerve and run aground on some sandbank or give the Customs cutter time to arrive and board them.

Whump, whump, whump.

I was completely engrossed, I had after all invested in these two: Teresa for a full 213 pages by this point and Santiago for the last 100 or so. OK they were drug smugglers but I was content to live with the cognitive and self-serving rationalisation of Teresa’s earlier comment that hashish was for everyone, coke for those with more money than sense but heroin was a no no – a poisoned dependency for those without hope. I might, truth be told, have been at one time or another a customer at the end of a very long supply chain that they were part of.

Whump, whump, whump.

I had also glimpsed, briefly, the pilot of the chopper with his crew leaning against the bar of a nightclub in Ceuta and felt the supressed unease of the other customers. His status as an opponent was acknowledged but he had not been demonised, he was, as Teresa commented later ‘only doing his job …. as they were doing theirs.’

Whump, whump, whump.

The chopper dropped a little more, the skid almost touching the deck on the port side, and then lifted again, without making Santiago swerve even a degree off the course he’d set. Then she saw, through the darkness and the mist of the spray, the cutter’s rotating blue lights coming ever closer and then it was a sinister wall looming over them, charging at them. Santiago pulled back on the throttle, slowing the engine 400 rpm: he lowered the hydraulic powered trim tabs with his right hand, hit the stern thruster, furiously whirled the wheel to port, and the phantom, in a cloud of its own spray, made a tight circle and cut  back under the stern of the Customs cutter and through its wake.

Whump, whump, whump.

Teresa felt like laughing out loud. Jesus!

Whump! Whump! Whump!

I’ll not lie – I was there!! I could sense the buffeting spray, hear the screaming engine, feel the waves of compression as the air was forced downwards and the van’s gentle vibration in synch with those powerful, oppressive blades – and the spot light!! so devastatingly bright, so utterly unforgiving – a light that brooked no hiding.

Whump! Whump! Whump!

In the centre of the spotlight’s beam sat a helmeted figure astride a large, powerful motor bike. The engine revved into a screaming snarl, the clutch dropped and the image suddenly disappeared.

The deafening Whump! Whump! Whump! changed pitch slightly and the spotlight swung after the momentarily shadowy image. Before the bike reached the end of the slip road it was caught again – coming to an abrupt halt in full glare. The figure, constantly revving the engine, hauled the machine round so that there were options: to go out onto the highway or back down the slip road and into the car park. In the background flashing blue lights were coming swiftly around the bay towards the drama.

Again the image disappeared from the beam of the spotlight and the sound of an engine being caned for all it was worth shot back down the slip road past the van. Then, with a squeal of brakes and another single rev of the engine it seemed suddenly to die – or was it simply drowned out in the noise of the chopper adjusting its position and then moving up and off?

As the whump, whump, whump, lessened, sirens could be heard drawing closer and then the high pitched whine of more engines at full throttle, one braking and dropping gears to shoot down the slip road, another racing past on the highway.

There was another exit at the far end of the carpark which led onto the narrowing dark road out to Mumbles Head and then round to Bracelet Bay. The chopper, its spotlight swinging to and fro, slowly worked its way along its length, disappeared around the headland and then returned a few minutes later to hover above two sets of flashing blue lights now stationary at the end of the bay.

The chase was over, the drama concluded – seemingly without resolution and with many questions unanswered – what was going on? who was the figure on the bike? How had an escape been effected? It seemed more than likely that the figure had been up to no good, and in evading capture had potentially put others at risk – but there was something compelling about the chase, the struggle of the hunted, one person against many, the twisting and turning to shake off the pursuers and that terrible, persistent, ever seeing spotlight.

I made a fresh cup of tea but decided not to pick the book up again (The Queen of the South,  Arturo Perez-Reverte 2004), feeling somewhat conflicted about rooting for the bad guys. I knew about Teresa’s background and her lack of legitimate options, but knew nothing about the figure on the bike … and yet …..

I would leave finding out how Teresa and Santiago fared to the morning – there had been more than enough excitement for one night.




What’s a chap to do?


  1. Eleri

    Aha ……… now I need to know too ( about the dark figure ) – is he driven to crime in despair ? Are the police crooked – the swansea police in the keeping faith series were decidedly bad … ????

    • Bryan

      Aha indeed!

      What can we sumise about the figure on the bike?

      Was it a ‘he’ ? – probably, even less a Marianne Faithful than a Steve McQueen.

      What drives anyone to crime?

      My experience of working in the Criminal Justice System was that it was very much economic class based and that a combination of a lack of opportunities, challenging circumstances and dreadful decision making often lay at the heart of behaviour that is criminalised. Much middle and upper class crime goes unnoticed and unpunished – and the really bad guys, those who abuse trust and power are seldom held to account.

  2. Phil

    I love the contrast between tea drinker and a shadowy underworld. Not sure what I need closure on. The dark figure on the bike or whether you put milk in your cup first or water

    • Bryan

      Ah a matter of considerable national disagreement.

      I would count myself as a milk in cup first sort of person – but realise that this is simply not true – because I largely use tea bags which are left to brew in the mug and then retrieved before the addition of the white stuff.

      Now I think it is appropriate to get expert advice on this matter and will therefore defer to George Orwell whose 1946 article ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ ( http://www.booksatoz.com/witsend/tea/orwell.htm ) is held to be definitive. George sets out 11 key principles would should adhere to when making tea and no. 10 is unequivocal:

      One should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

      • Phil

        i Certainly adopt the exact approach and rational thinking process as yours when making tea. You simply cannot guarantee a good colour and strength of tea by leading with the milk. It makes no sense. So back to the shadowy characters of your story. Is there going to be a part two? I am intrigued.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén