Pull a string - Part 2

OCT 8, 2022

Based on a true story.

Men at a shop

Based on a true story.

Over the next hour, Barnaby hawkishly monitors their extortion racket. The officers barrage their way to small shops whose forecourts have crossed the property boundary, harass workers applying red oxide to a freshly finished staircase, argue with a man repairing his water connection and so on. The racket runs unabated. Barnaby's phone silently vibrates. He takes cover and answers it. It's the contractor.

"How are things out there?" the contractor asks.

"That sun is blazing, but we are still watching them. How is work going?"

"Everything is good. Listen, the sand lorry is arriving."

Barnaby curses. The lorry was expected at six in the morning. It's now approaching midday. If it is spotted unloading on his site, then the game is up. This is assuming that the officers haven't already sighted it and decided to follow it.

"Give me a few minutes I check with the others.

"He calls Alex."Eh, what is going on that side?"

"They are about to cross the railway so it will take them at least thirty minutes to get back," Alex reports.

He then calls John.

"Yes boss, they are currently down here and are checking out burst mains. This is going to take a while."

Good. However, he still has the plainclothes officer within the perimeter, though they are now hastily walking down the main artery away from his site. He follows them to see where they are going. By their pace, he is certain they have a lead. Some unfortunate contractor somewhere is about to get a raw deal. They cross the threshold and head further down. He marks the lamp to indicate that they are down that side, and he has 'dropped them off'. As he walks back towards his site, he calls the contractor.

"Go ahead, and tell the guys to hurry. That lorry must be empty in thirty minutes. I'm heading that way."

"OK, boss. These guys will be quick. I will make sure of it."

Men on a lorry

Barnaby needs to get to the site before the lorry. He needs to confirm that it brought in the material he ordered and that it was indeed fully loaded. When he gets to his site, the old lorry is discharging plumes of smoke as it struggles to reverse into the site. The gate, despite being completely open is narrow. The contractor has already picked a spot to watch the neighbours, to see if anyone is being nosy and will call it in. Barnaby hops on the back of the lorry and jumps up and down on different parts, to see if there is a hollow. There is none. The turnboys are grinning at his frantic effort. They realise Barnaby is an old hand that has been played dirty before.

The sides of the lorry open, and the sand pours out. The driver, chewing his khat, his two loaders and the turnboy are in a heated disagreement about their division of labour. They speak in a different tongue from Barnaby's, so he struggles to keep up. As far as he can tell, the argument involves the spades and who can wield the better spade. Based on their weird hierarchy they also need to determine who works in which corner and more importantly, what their unloading rate is. In the middle of that argument, one of the loaders also has beef with the team as they owe him for the khat so he decides that they can keep the khat in exchange for a better day rate. Until now, Barnaby and the contractor have avoided the drama, as it is an internal operational issue limited to the lorry crew. His patience wanes and he strenuously urges the contractor to intervene. The contractor possesses only one hand to play.

"Hey, you guys, you know the council cops are enforcing today."

That shuts them up instantly. Everybody knows the lorry driver has not paid his council fees for dumping material in this ward, and worse he has not paid the fixer fees for 'that guy' in the area. 'That guy' is a guy who appears out of nowhere and takes a small cut, no questions asked. Nobody knows who he is exactly, but, it is reasonable to believe he belongs to one of the local cartels that control the ward. The driver cannot deal with a pissed-off 'that guy' or a hungry council officer who has the power to impound his lorry indefinitely, so he quickly smooths things over. The unloading starts.

The next thirty minutes are drastic for everyone. He is in constant communication with Alex and John, and so far, everyone is staying outside the perimeter. The driver spurs them on. They accelerate their already frenzied pace. He already scribbled the receipt with the price and everything, so Barnaby has to do the needful and cough up the dough. The empty lorry is then driven out and reversed to a shaded spot away from prying eyes where it is innocuously parked. The driver's moment of calm reemerges. The contractor swiftly closes the gate and reestablishes the facade. The sand is already completely hidden, but there are tracks everywhere that show something major has occurred. He emerges with a spade and quickly clears that up. Barnaby undertakes some last-minute negotiations for the next shipment and pays the guy. He quickly jumps out and returns to the site. The contractor gives him a thumbs up. It's time to go and find the plainclothes guys so, he begins walking his grid, carving a cautious path to where he last saw them.

Uniformed Chase

Alex hugged the two uniformed officers by the belt. They turn left, he turns left and they turn right and he is right there with them. The two seem lazy and are not keen on walking round in the sweltering sun. Their haphazard loitering indicates that they no longer care about whatever this mission is about. He gets it. They are tasked with finding a needle in the haystack and get less than one per cent of the action, while the bosses eat big. Yeah, that would piss anyone off. They stop at a cafe. Alex's stomach nudges him. It is lunchtime. He slips closer to them and gets within earshot.

"Rice and beans," one of the uniforms orders with two fingers up in the air.

Alex carefully records their order on his page. Budget lunch. They are definitely riding scanty pockets and from their performance, maintain low morale. He walks to the shop next to the cafe.

"Some of that cake and a packet of milk, madam," he orders.

He calls Barnaby.

"They have stopped for lunch," he reports.

"I have stopped for cake and milk so send the money to. . ."

He wistfully munches on the cake with sips of milk in between. Despite his acute hunger and the numerous passersby, he does not dare take his eyes off the officers. He hears a phone beep in the background. The shopkeeper asks him, "Your boss is Barnaby?"

"Yes.""He has paid."

Alex is enjoying working for Barnaby. No long stories and meals included. With the lunch finished, he leans back and observes the officers enjoy their meal. He is a bit envious of the food, but nonetheless would preferably be over here than where they are. They experience a dog's life of servitude. He is free to wander around all day. If only he could make it work for him. As the officers pay the bill, Alex moves to the electric pole and interprets the signs. Both John and Barnaby have been by. He lays his mark using his red chalk.


That announces that he is following two uniformed officers and the direction they are heading. What is weird for John is that they seem to be heading towards the river. Are they trying to sneak in from a separate direction? They exit the perimeter and start walking towards their HQ. He is at a loss for words. They have already quit. He returns to the pole and amends the message.

"⌧ -"

He indicates that this is their last point of contact, and they left the perimeter. Without much else to do, he walks towards the site in a grid, to see if he has omitted something. The slow thirty-minute walk, punctuated by a deviation to his favourite khat shop, is uneventful. He 'reads' the news among the other poles and knows that the action has been frenetic. When he is a street away from the site, he calls Barnaby.

"Hey boss, the two uniforms went back to HQ."

Barnaby is terribly confused. The afternoon session is yet to play out.

"OK. Circle back, and then head to the crossing point and stay there till round three. If they don't come back, call me we take it from there."

John calls Barnaby. His own targets have stopped for lunch.

"Hey boss, it's lunchtime. How do you see things?"

"Get some cake and milk or something. I will pay.

"John picks up lunch and idly watches the two uniformed officers enjoy their budget meal. He indicates it in his notes. It takes them twenty minutes to eat lunch, so he walks over to read the 'news.' He sees the notice in red.


Alex says this area is all clear. He updates the news.


Lunch is up and the uniforms stand to leave. They split up and this becomes a dilemma. He quickly updates the news.

"| |"

They are in different directions. They indicate that the pair of uniforms have split. He calls Barnaby.

"Tricks boss, they have split."

"Stay with one, and I will get Alex to cover the other one."

John does not comprehend why Barnaby would need to withdraw Alex from his operational area, but, he isn't the one controlling their game. Barnaby dials Alex and provides him with the update. Alex finds the first electric post and lays the news.


This indicates that the area has the potential of being hot and that whoever comes this way should be on the lookout for an unspotted set of officers. His reasoning makes sense. The two headed out towards their HQ. It's still early in the day, so they could always come back. Alex rushes towards John's location and sees him already shadowing one officer. He walks towards the electric pole, reads the 'news' and heads towards the other direction. It takes him five minutes of frantic searching, but he encounters the missing uniformed officer talking to a shopkeeper. They are talking in their mother tongue. Must be a relative. He marks down the name of the shop in the torn pages and who he spoke to.

Uniformed Chase

Barnaby's tireless patience pays off. He walked a more comprehensive grid and read the 'news'. The action was busy. The officers were walking haphazardly. He notes that John's quarry does not seem to be making a lot of progress. He needs to talk to John about this. Something is amiss. The two plainclothes officers are walking up, and he picks them up. They set a leisurely pace and seem worn out from the pitiless sun. They enter Friendship Butchery. Barnaby slides in and sits uneasily with his back to them but within earshot.

"Bring some roasted meat and some of that. . ."

Barnaby interprets the order. Either they have money or have made money, likely the latter. He notes it down. Their heavy lunch means that they are already preparing for a light afternoon before ending their day. He orders a ready-made meal. No time to be picky. As they enjoy their meat, Barnaby listens incredulously to them as they break down their strategy for the afternoon.

"That guy, we must locate that guy. He can't be playing games like this. Do you know what he looks like? How does he always know we are coming?"

"I don't know. He is an odd slender fellow. Perhaps he has 'poured' intelligence in the neighbourhood."

"Perhaps. All the same, we must find him today."

They are talking about him. He is actually entertained. Despite dealing with one of them personally, the plainclothes officer has already forgotten what he looks like. The only thing they are right about Barnaby is that he has indeed 'poured' intelligence into the neighbourhood. Barnaby realises that while they are seeking him, they would barely recognise him. Such nonsense. Lunch ends and the game resumes.

Over the following couple of hours, the game intensifies. The poles are quickly updated as the different sets split up and merge seamlessly. At some point, each uniformed officer walks with a plainclothes officer. They walk aimlessly and Barnaby suspects a trap. They might be walking away from the site, but in reality, they are doubling back for every side street they enter. He calculates that in a quarter of an hour, they will be at his site. He calls the duo, and they also claim the same thing. They don't seem to have a plan, just strolling and doubling back. A raid is about to happen. Barnaby calls the contractor and forewarns them.

"Tricks. They are coming hard. Clear the site."

As calculated, they arrive at Barnaby's site from the narrow streets, desperately hoping to catch them by surprise. They peer suspiciously through the nylon facade and again, they see a desolate site.

"I don't think this site has been open today. We can't have missed them twice. It looks quiet. Look," one of the uniformed officers points out.

The uniformed officers are still green. They scarcely recognise that the structure has somehow gained an extra three courses of stones or that they are standing on the blatant evidence of a sand dump."You are talking nonsense. Look at the trail of sand. A lorry has been here to dump sand." grumbles the plainclothes officer.

But he can't see the sand through the hole. They just can't be sure anymore.

"This guy is playing games with us. We need a new plan to catch this guy. He is making a fool of us. We must brutally punish him for this."

Around the corner, Barnaby and the duo are trying hard not to laugh at the conversation. He knows the trouble he will be in will be serious, so he must remain ahead of the game. John quickly heads towards the river to check if the coast is still clear. He walks his grid and sees nothing. Barnaby and Alex stay with the set as they slowly head towards the river. Their dusty shoes bear testament to the walking they have done. The overhead sun drains the sweat from their foreheads and they are forced to stop at the cafe by the river for a cool drink. They are at the edge of the perimeter. Barnaby and the duo encircle them, hoping to overhear their conversation. He realises they are closing their 'accounts' for the day here. One is on the phone.

"Ah yes, Mr. Musa. We went to your site. You did not take our advice, so we shut it down. What? Hallo, hallo. . ."

He has run out of airtime. Barnaby and the duo take note of this and record it on their papers. The plainclothes officer's phone rings and he answers promptly.

"Yes, as I was saying, you have to talk to us now. Meet us tomorrow at your gate, and we shall see how to resolve this problem."

What a problem. They will extort him for all he is worth.

The scalding sun slowly breaks off and the officers finally cross the river. It has been a cruel day enforcing in this scorching weather. Barnaby and his crew follow them across the river and ensure they are headed to their HQ. They are safe when they cross the river. The duo hand over their notes to Barnaby who will review them to decide how the game will be played tomorrow. He pays the guys their dues, buys them sodas each and notifies them to report tomorrow at about the same time. They have another four days of doing this before the contractor's gang is finished. He heads back to the site and supervises the workers as they finally shut down the site, with dusk slowly setting in. He has read the notes and better understands the habits of the officers. With this new information, he recognises that tomorrow, he will engage in an even better game.