Wild and Free by Wendy Holden
The Ferrari was crossing Lambeth Bridge. Jude looked out at the sparkling wintry water and the graceful stone tiara of the Palace of Westminster ranged along its side. That tall glass thing way down the river, that was the Shard, right?
‘Look, Jude,’ Frankie said suddenly. Her bantering tone had gone; she sounded serious. ‘Do you want a job or not?’
Jude continued to stare ahead, as if he had not heard. There was no way he was taking instructions from Frankie. Not without seeing Rich first.
From the wheel, she continued to urge him. ‘Come on, Jude. It’s a great job. One of the best we’ve done.’
Jude’s well-formed lip curled sceptically. The bar was set pretty high for that. Take the famous Handbags and Gladrags raid on Monaco, when he, Rich and the other Geezers had arrived in blond wigs, Hermes scarves and crocodile totes in which .357 Magnums were concealed. They had departed with $150 million in assorted jewels, including the celebrated Vicomtesse de Chabron necklace with its centrepiece 150 carat diamond.
They were driving through Westminster now, packed with tourists despite the chill. Hundreds of mobile-phone cameras flashed at the Ferrari. Lots of people, Jude reflected, were recording the fact that his first act on release was to jump into a conspicuous car. Bought with conspicuously ill-gotten gains.
She was changing lanes by Westminster Abbey now. Jude, for all his consternation, could not resist a glance at it. He’d watched the royal wedding; along with many of Her Majesty’s other guests at Folgate. The sight of all those sparklers had made his fingers itch.
‘Let me talk to Rich about it,’ he said.
It had struck him that Frankie was following an odd route if she intended to go to Surrey, heading west rather than south.
She was driving up the red-topped tarmac of the Mall now. Up ahead, atop the grey spread of Buckingham Palace, the Royal Standard fluttered in the freezing breeze. Her Majesty, at whose pleasure he had been languishing, was at home. Should he pop in and thank her?
‘I’m afraid that’s not possible,’ Frankie said.
‘What isn’t?’ Jude’s tone was tight with suspicion.
‘You can’t talk to Rich.’
‘Why not?’ So this was it. A schism. He’d known something was up. Had Rich and Frankie split and were now setting up rival gangs? Was this why she had met him, to swoop in first and claim his loyalty?
But he was not on her side. Never would be. Rich may have left him high and dry in prison, but they went back a long way. All the way to the children’s home.
Frankie did not look at Jude as she skirted the Victoria Memorial. More tourists, snapping the Palace, captured them as they zoomed past. ‘Because he’s dead, Jude,’ she said in a low voice.
For a moment, Jude was too surprised to react. Time stopped and a singing silence filled his head. As always when experiencing extreme emotion, Jude shrank into himself, was still, betrayed by no flicker of a muscle what he felt.
Dead? Rich was dead? Not such a jammy git then, after all.
‘What happened?’ he muttered, when he was able to speak, by which time they were way beyond Victoria station and going round Hyde Park Corner.
Frankie reached out over the gearstick and took Jude’s hand.
A great stone was spitting light on her middle finger. He had always wondered what had happened to the Vicomtesse de Chabron diamond.
‘What happened? They happened.’ She felt in the door pocket and passed over a copy of the Evening Standard.
Five Star Heist, read the headline. Sledgehammer-wielding robbers stage smash and-grab at prestigious Park Lane hotel, screamed the subhead.
‘On our turf !’ Jude exclaimed, stung into violent expression at last. ‘Who are these jerks?’
‘The head man’s an ex-Balkan general, with all that implies.’
‘He needs to be taught a lesson,’ Jude said grimly.
‘That’s what Rich thought,’ Frankie sighed, ‘and look what happened to him.’
‘What did happen to him?’ Jude asked, then wished he hadn’t, as Frankie described how Rich had been met outside the Royal Automobile Club by iron-bar-wielding thugs in motorcycle helmets. The remains had had to be identified by dental records.
‘It was planned,’ Frankie told him. ‘The Balkan wanted Rich out of the way.’
‘And you want me to take him on now?’ Jude slid her a look.
‘It’s not a hotel job,’ Frankie said quickly. ‘Rich realised before he died that he couldn’t compete with these psychos. He knew he had to find another market. Think outside the jewel box, as it were.’
Jude surveyed her doubtfully. His every nerve end was telling him to bail out. But this car, as Frankie had possibly realised, was hellish hard to bail out of.
‘He had a plan,’ she continued urgently. ‘But only you can make it work, Jude.’
As she talked she piloted the Ferrari down a cobbled Knightsbridge mews street and pulled into a narrow space defined by black painted chains. The Ferrari’s red door was right by the house entrance; a sage-painted door with a gleaming gold knocker. Her place, Jude assumed.
The low purr of the engine now ceased. Frankie sat still for a moment, as if making up her mind about something. Then she turned to him and traced his cheek with her finger.
The thought roared through Jude’s mind that now Rich was dead, Frankie might not be unavailable after all. It was an ill wind that blew nobody any good.
‘What is it?’ he heard himself muttering. ‘This plan?’
He was aware he was playing into her hands but her hands were on his groin now. The nerve ends screaming at him to bail out were drowned out by the clamour of another, equally urgent need. This became deafening as Frankie leant over and pressed her parted lips to his.
‘Festivals,’ Frankie said, pulling away with tantalising gentleness.
‘Festivals?’ Aflame with lust, Jude strained to control his rioting senses. Hippies and burger vans ran through his mind. Glastonbury and mud.
Frankie flopped back against the driving seat and slowly undid the top two buttons of her shirt. ‘Festivals,’ she pronounced, ‘are a gold mine.’
Jude was struggling now. On the one hand he ached to possess Frankie. On the other hand, what the hell did she mean?
Festivals were all warm beer in plastic glasses, horrible Portaloos and skint teenagers. He’d done a bit of festival business in the past. On the narcotics side. But the takings had hardly justified the effort or the risk.
Frankie undid the remaining buttons of her shirt and opened it just enough for him to glimpse, rather than see. ‘The point is, in the last few years while you’ve been inside, festivals have changed out of all recognition.’
Jude felt that the point was something else entirely. One agonisingly constricted by his tight trousers.
‘You get these posh ones now,’ Frankie went on, placing her hands behind her head so the shirt opened a little more. ‘Boutique festivals, they’re called. Very select. They’re held at stately homes. Rich kids go to them. Famous people. Supermodels. And the thing is, their guard’s right down. They reckon they’re roughing it, they’re full of love and peace. They shove their diamond rings in their tent pockets. Rich pickings,’ she added, leaning over towards him with a smile.
He didn’t dare look. If he did, he would lose himself. Promise her anything, anything. He stared violently out of the window trying to control himself. He felt he still didn’t buy it.
‘I haven’t convinced you,’ Frankie sighed.
He shook his head.
‘So what’s the problem?’ Her long-nailed fingers were walking towards his trousers again. He folded his hands primly over his pelvis and decided to be straight with her.
‘Why do you want me to organise it?’
Frankie’s eyes sparkled. ‘Because you’re smart, you sound posh and you’re good-looking. Perfect boutique festival material.’
Jude inclined his head. ‘Flattery will get you everywhere.’
‘I do hope so. But you still don’t look too sure.’
‘Who would I be working with?’
‘That,’ Frankie said, ‘would be up to you.’
This, Jude decided, was the deal-breaker. ‘I’ve been out of the scene for a while,’ he objected. ‘I wouldn’t know who to trust.’
‘Pity,’ Frankie said. She rippled her elegant fingers on the steering wheel of the car. ‘This would be your fee, if you do the job.’
Jude felt as if his head might explode. He stared at Frankie with the wide eyes of a dazzled child. ‘This car?’ he croaked, looking wildly around the interior.
‘Rich once said you were the only other person on the planet who loved it like he did.’
True. He and Rich shared a contempt for ‘expert’ collectors who didn’t even know how to open their car hoods. ‘Which festival?’ he asked. He was in, no question. He was off to buy a tent and a bloody CND T-shirt before you could say portable toilet.
‘That’s up to you as well.’ Her smile flashed. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘let’s go inside and, um, discuss it further.’
Never had Jude moved so fast.
Teacher Ginnie is desperate to forget her crush on headmaster Mark, and hopes glamping might do the trick. But Mark is also heading for Wild & Free to reform his college band … desperate not to be seen by anyone he knows.
Mark’s bandmate James dreams of a festival blow-out with his son, Guy … until his wife Victoria’s ambition kills the dream. Now she and Guy are en route to Wild & Free instead but when Guy meets Shanna-Mae and falls for her earthy charms, Victoria is determined to snap Cupid’s arrow.
Will the magic of the festival send them wild? Or set them free to find peace and love?
Wendy’s Festival Music tracks: