Stone Dead: Subterranean Rumblings
Laura looked at Miles and felt a better explanation was due.
‘The thing was, I found out Frank’s bankrupt. And no, that wasn’t why I left – let me explain that one too. Frank has a finger in many pies – he can earn pretty quickly across his projects. I can earn too if I have to. It’s seriously not the money for me in his case, he’s always ventured, risked, with it often coming off, sometimes it’s gone pear-shaped. It doesn’t worry him, he bounces back, he knows he’ll make more – might take some time but he’ll make it again. The reason I left was deeply personal.
By the way, we’re near the house now, shall we stop here a minute or two? If I asked you to, would you kiss me on the cheek?’
‘Don’t do it. It’s not that I don’t want but I need Chloe’s friendship more, if you see what I mean.’
‘And the bankruptcy? I don’t think you’ve finished on that.’
‘It was the way he went bankrupt this time, the manner, the way he raided the larder in a way he never would have before, as if he was panicking – that’s a bad sign in a man. He raided Melissa’s trust fund until there was nothing left. If a business or two, a project or two, had gone to the wall, I’d have sympathized, he’d done that before. But this made me think no one was safe at that place.’
‘I think Melissa found out.’
‘She did. I don’t know for sure how she found out – not from me, I assure you. There was a row with Frank and her and she made certain – threats. Threats to expose him for things I never knew he’d been into. So you see, I know about them also now.
These are deep waters, Miles, and we’re both in them but in two different places. All of us are in danger, including Chloe. I can’t promise to be your ally because I’ve made commitments and my own safety depends on them. But you seem a straight sort and I’ll be straight with the straight, so to speak – as far as I can.
Things are about to start happening, Miles, I give you that one for free, and you need to keep eyes in the back of your head, I really mean it – keep those eyes wide open. That’s about all I can say to you. Shall we go back in?’
Once inside, the woodfire on, using the logs imported from the mainland, he asked, ‘Won’t Frank come after you if you’ve left him?’
It was Chloe who answered. ‘He doesn’t know. Laura’s left him in her mind but he doesn’t know that yet. He thinks she’s here to pump you for information.’
He looked hard at Laura.
‘Yes, that’s what I’m here for. Frank wants to know the lie of the land. He wants to plan his moves. Me telling you this shows I’ve left him.’
They all went for a wander during the afternoon but the drizzle had started and that curtailed it, they hastened back and had supper, there were towels and things for Laura in her room at the end, they retired early as there was really nothing more to discuss as three people.
Chloe immediately began in bed. ‘Well?’
‘So many anomalies, Chloe. If Frank killed his daughter, he’d need to have had a very good reason. Do you know what she’d found out, what she had on him? Do you think Laura knows?’
‘Well clearly you don’t. I don’t either. It’s obviously something he’d done, maybe to his late wife, Melissa’s mum, who knows? I don’t think it matters. She was going to ruin him unless he did as she wished. It seemed to be some agreement. Enough to kill her? Not sure about that. Laura stood to gain nothing – she wasn’t yet married to him and there were no plans. Laura’s interest was in keeping Frank onside and protecting him from outside threats.’
‘As any partner would do. But you do understand you’re obliquely accusing her.’
‘Not at all. I’m just saying her interest is to keep Frank bubbling along. Melissa’s interest was only ever money – look at her lifestyle, Miles, her expenses. She didn’t work, the trust fund wasn’t due for some time, she depended on Frank but she also had a hold over him. Any daughter does over any father but Melissa believed in insurance. I already know that you could never file for divorce. She wasn’t going to either. What do you really want?’
‘For all this to die away, for you to marry me -‘
‘Is that a proposal?’
‘It will be, once this matter is done with.’
‘What about Laura? You girls are all the same.’
‘I wasn’t talking about you and her, though I saw it. I was talking about what she plans to do, what she told you.’
Laura awoke at 07:15, scrambled for her phone and there was an SMS. She turned on her back and punched in the reply. Then she sent a second message, to which she got a reply in under a minute.
Then she got up and was out of the house in under ten minutes.
At the other end of the house, a quick look at the bedside clock showed it was 09:30, Miles woke Chloe, she rubbed her eyes, yawned like a kitten and looked at him. It looked dull out there.
Then she looked at the clock. ‘Oh no, hope Laura’s had breakfast.’
He went to the washroom and did what was needed, she took her turn while he dressed and checked the kitchen. Nope, she hadn’t eaten – probably still asleep.
Wandering down to her end of the house, he called her name.
Reaching her open door, it was clear no one was in there, he went back to their bedroom and said he was going for a wander. She tumbled to it quickly.
On the patio, he looked out over the island with its obstacle course of hundreds of sheep – a misty morning, maybe 5 degrees all up. You’d have to really love sheep, he thought.
It was a strangely shaped island – they’d agreed to call it lamb-chop shaped. The narrow southern or ‘bony’ end, where the guests stayed, was just under a kilometre distant, the curved bay faced the shore which was maybe 10km away – their ‘meaty’ end was higher and had the farmhouse and outhouses. There were two blind spots due to the undulations but the bulk of the island was visible from here.
He saw movement at the far end, five in accommodation just now and two of them out and about but of Laura – nothing. No matter, he realized she was here to find out as much she could until asked to leave so he expected her to be in the outhouses rummaging around, getting a line on their enterprises. He’d prepared for her.
He went around to each of the three huts in turn and that was puzzling indeed. There were signs of her presence only in the third, as the earth samples had been disturbed and she may have taken a sample.
On the east side, there were a number of places they’d dug, in full view of the mainland but on the west side, there were only two paths down and therefore two places where there’d been disturbances.
A nasty thought struck him about the nearer path on the west. He crossed the hundred metres and reached the top of the woodwork, lying where he knew he could observe and not be observed, though it did mess up his kagoul. What he saw shocked him.
Near a cave below, on the pebbled strip of land now encroached on by the rising tide, Laura was arguing the toss with Tel and he was telling her, in no uncertain terms, to come back up with him.
He groaned as Tel now primed the shotgun, Laura stared at him, slowly turned on her heel and languidly made her way back. When she reached the foot of the walkway proper and started bounding up on those springy feet, he saw how physically in condition she really was.
She reached the top, he was waiting, suppressed fury on his face and she was conscious of being caught between these two hostile males, on a rickety walkway, overhanging a cliff. She opted for insolence and now he knew for sure how Melissa had got that way.
‘Hello, Miles. Your gamekeeper was a bit -‘
‘He asked you to leave the beach and you gave him a hard time. Look at your face now. I’m not happy – guests on this island usually show some respect.’
She thought of getting on the high horse but felt she’d got about as much as she was going to, she apologized, her shoulders sagging on cue. ‘I’m really sorry, Miles. It’s when I saw that earth in your shed,’ the nerve of the woman, ‘I thought I’d explore.’
‘I don’t mind the exploring but I do mind you treating our manager that way on our island. You haven’t crossed the line where you’re not welcome but it’s mighty close. The exploration has been on the east side anyway so why were you down the west side?’
‘It just looked inviting.’
‘If you knew anything about geology, you’d know where the earth was from. Down where you were is a secure store for gear belonging to two of the guests, they pay for that privilege and I suspect you know that already. Here’s Tel now.’
The manager was late 40s, a typical specimen from these parts, with balding head and reddish cheeks, quite a solid customer. ‘Mr Forrester, sir, I told her it was offlimits -‘
‘I know that, I saw the two of you. She saw the storeroom, yes?’ Tel looked at him curiously but he added, ‘it’s OK, not a lot we can do. She knows about our two guests now. She’ll go and pack her things, you’ll get the helicopter ready please, Tel.’
‘Laura – after you.’
She looked at him closely, he stood, waiting, she tried, ‘He would never have shot me.’
Miles grinned. ‘Not down there, no. There are eyes out to sea. On the point’s the place, down among the rocks.’
She stared hard into his eyes, then at the manager, a smirk on his face as he looked down at the grass, she turned and went back to the farmhouse with both of them behind, just as two sheep decided to block their path.
Seventy minutes later, they decanted her in town in the carpark they used behind Aldi, he got out as well to have a last word.
She was almost sheepish. ‘You’re not a fool, Miles. You knew I didn’t buy that east side dig. I think the storeroom hides the real dig.’
‘I have no money to dig. Nor do I want anyone else to. I had Tel cave that in and we built the storeroom. It makes money, that room. There might be something underneath, there might not. As you say – I’m not a complete fool. If they move against me in any way, they’ve picked the wrong one to intimidate. I’ll sell straight away. I think you’re representing someone down there, as well as Frank. I think those two interests are opposed. And now I think you might be going back to Durham. Good luck, Laura. I like you.’
‘I like you too, Miles.’
He hunkered down and ran across to the copter, they took off and through the noise, Tel asked, ‘Why did you tell her about the storeroom?’
‘She made a beeline for that walkway. Did you see her prints? She was heading nowhere else, the earth sample meant nothing. Who knows of the storeroom and the boat? Who probably suspects the storeroom is there for a reason?’
‘Men who’ve been wondering about things all their lives and have made a lot of money doing so.’
‘Precisely. And forming alliances, making deals. They know you know, they’ll be paying you a little extra, Tel and if you’re canny, you’ll not be greedy.’
The manager didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘Why did you let her come?’
‘Needed to know about Melissa. Needed to see Chloe’s reactions. Needed to know what she needed to know. Now I do.’
‘Begging your pardon – how far do you trust your good lady, sir?’
‘Not sure. Still working that one out. Soon, those five down there are going to make an offer, they’ll have already sounded you out about the other islands. I’m fine with that. I want Chloe alive and any kids safe, still with a daddy. We’re doing nicely in a niche market and these worthy gents pay the rest. The big thing, Tel, is not to be greedy. I want you crystal clear I’m not interested in more than one percent per annum of what’s under there.’
‘Are you sure that will buy you safety?’
‘I don’t think anyone’s safe with them. They have form. But they have deeds and clauses which prevent me getting rid of them, unless certain preconditions exist.’
The helicopter descended onto the pad, Miles ran under the blades and up to the house, Chloe was cooking something up, she put down the spoon and came up, throwing her arms around his neck.
‘Eat first, speak second,’ he said.
She shook her head. ‘Eat first, fuck second, speak third, sleep fourth.’
‘Silly me – whatever was I thinking?’
They were onto the fourth.
‘She called me from the mainland,’ said Chloe.
‘She’s not a happy bunny -‘
‘I don’t give a shit what she is.’
‘Don’t speak like that, it’s not you.’
‘She wanted me to explore the west side for her. She told me four places to look – amazing she knew them in such a short time and she’s asked me to take small samples from each.’
‘OK, Tel and I have also been discussing it. Who’s she working for, Chloe? Apart from Frank, I mean?’
‘One of our guests?’
‘Johanssen of course.’
He now explained what he’d told Tel. ‘I want 1%, no more, split half and half with you – into our personal, not joint accounts. Their risk, their 99%. If you rock the boat on this, Chloe, you’ll get us both killed and that will only be after some nastiness beforehand. I’ve checked these five out. No lone games either, using your charm. They’ll lie to you.’
‘What do you mean ‘no games’?’
‘Love is the place for emotions and loyalty. Business is the place for watertight agreements. You own assets and you make arrangements to protect them under UK law. I do the same. If you and I both know exactly what is coming to whom and how it’s coming, it makes everything much clearer. I want you to know these things before I try to propose marriage to you. If you’re coolheaded enough to listen to this, then I’ll tell you.’
‘As I told Tel, the trick is not to be greedy with people such as Johanssen and company. I’m not sure they understand the principle though. Those people have form and strongarming is natural to them – it’s not pretty the way I’ve heard they do it. So naturally, I wish to protect my wife, my child and myself; the best muscle is the physical arm of the law but there’s other muscle too. The island itself is not in my name.’
‘That’s what various parties are now finding out. It’s in a dozen other people’s names and if they don’t wish to sell, they don’t have to. What’s more, these people are each formidable in their own way, not particular, shall we say and can’t be browbeaten as you and I can.’
‘But that’s crazy – you’ve lost everything.’
‘Have you noticed any of them trying to take their portion? What would be the point? Each portion is like a piece in a mosaic – what would be the point of having it? They own the island jointly.’
‘But they’ll just bump you off. You’re insane.’
‘Why would they? They need a manager on the island, if we make some from the sheep and gite, then why not? They wait for Johanssen to dig, then come in and take it.’
‘Johanssen would know this.’
‘If he didn’t before, he soon would. So either he thinks he has enough pull inside the department which would commandeer the island or he’d cut my friends in. That’s not my affair and they know that.’
‘So what’s all this talk of 1%?’
‘Yes but even that 1% is too much for people like Johanssen. That could get us killed.’
‘I’d give up the claim.’
‘Do you know how much it actually comes to?’
‘A lot but you see, I’ve many little investments here and there, I said I’d tell you that once we were married. True, I’d be beyond wildest dreams as they say but in danger constantly. The other way I’m more than comfortable, no angst.’
‘If you and Melissa had divorced, her filing I mean, what would have happened?’
‘Reality is she’d have had half of what I have, plus the court would still have slugged me on top of that. However, she wasn’t to know the island wasn’t mine.’
‘She may have, and that’s why she didn’t try.’
‘Those men paid you for the island, Miles.’
‘And I spent it. They know that.’
‘What if I was a really horrible woman and went with Johanssen instead?’
‘You mean Ralph, of course. I do notice things.’ Her eyebrows went up. ‘My plan was to slowly sign things over to you, start trust funds and as the years went by, more and more would be signed over to you and our child.’
‘To keep me a good girl, yes?’
‘More a case of trust, I’ve been burnt. As I come to trust, so I come to give.’
‘What if we divorced?’
‘Business all yours. I have other interests. Island is theirs.’
‘How can you look at marriage like this?’
‘I don’t look at marriage like this. I look at business and property like this and it’s wise to. I’ve seen too much bitterness – woman says she can’t possibly think business, it’s so cold … until she divorces and then it’s all business.’
‘That’s horrible. So cold.’
‘Why? Marriage is marriage, lovely, fluffy and fulfilling. Business and property are business and property. Two different things.’
Erik Johanssen had some proposals, as they both knew he would.
They were seated in the admin office of the gite, a pleasant hut among the other huts, not unlike a tropical paradise joined by walkways, except that this was not the tropics, hence the triple glazing and other mod cons. The most interesting part was the enormous wood pile, given that the island was almost treeless.
Miles sat at the round table with the five residents and Johanssen spoke. ‘On the basis that the five of us will pay, we’d like to improve the infrastructure, security, stockpiles of water underground, foodstuffs … weapons.’
He looked hard at Miles.
‘Not an issue,’ replied Miles. ‘Along come Special Plod and say I must keep the island legal. I say I do, that you have assured me, on pain of leaving the island, that all is above board.’
‘Depends on what we’re doing.’
‘If it involves Al Qaeda, Iran or any of that, you can’t do it. If it’s something else and you don’t plan to blow the island up, then what interest is that of mine?’
They looked at one another. The one who seemed N2 spoke. ‘What is your main concern here – being within the letter of the law or not attracting heat?’
‘And if we guaranteed it would do nothing to draw the security services, on penalty of our place on the island?’
‘More than enough, as I’ve said. Go on.’
‘We’ll need to dig through the floors of our huts – they’d become the entrance shafts but there’d be rooms below and of course, the tunnels. We know about the tunnels – built during the war. We’d shift the rubble initially into those tunnels and create new rooms and new tunnels.’
‘But how would you get the equipment in?’
‘By boat from a nearby island.’
‘Tel’s been talking.’
‘Actually no – it was the girl you had over here.’
‘Ralph here employs her for the odd job. We wanted to know what was so interesting down there. Not a bad story, storing our … er … documents in a strongroom but you don’t need the sort of blasting you’ve been doing for that. You’ve discovered something and we wanted to test it out.’
‘And this tunnelling you’re doing from the huts?’
‘Just tunnels. You’ve been a good host, you don’t bother us here, you don’t ask. It was Ralph who cleared the obstacles for the deeds to be put in your name in the first place. Except,’ Johanssen smiled and Miles wished he hadn’t, ‘it’s not actually in your name … is it? Are you aware MoD are also interested? Plus some other ‘businessmen’?
‘Doesn’t surprise me.’
‘Anything we find, we extract and refine -‘
‘As I told Tel.’
‘And if we wished to explore under your farmhouse?’
‘Then we’d move to the mainland.’
‘Or even to a gite.’
‘Or even to a gite. You know and I know what you are capable of and you ask questions later. You also know the owners of this island and that they also ask questions later. Just so we understand each other. 1% per annum of the proceeds.’
‘How would you know?’
‘I trust you.’
Janssen grinned that grin again. Miles wondered if one day he could get to like it. ‘You trust us. Very good, Mr. Forrester. Very good indeed. You’ll not starve. You can slowly improve your farm, nothing ostentatious as we don’t wish for the attention, just as you don’t – it’s your soon-to be wife who worries us a little.’
‘Knew it would. She knows the score and agrees. There’ll be no issues from that direction. I think you could do with a straight man with a business to deal with any visitors and I think you’re going to have some visitors soon.’
‘And you’ll deal with them, yes?’
‘It’s my island, in the sense that I manage it – anyone flies in, I deal with them.’
‘If it remains this way, Mr. Forrester and no one wants to shift the goalposts, I think we have a win-win deal. I don’t think any of us are going to regret this. And we need to overhaul the boat.’
‘Seasonal work – all watercraft need that. There’s a shipyard in Ireland. Any issues with that?’
‘Miles, we have a good agreement but you do see that this is … non-negotiable once we start. There’s a lot of commitment on our part.’
‘Goes without saying. All right, I need to get back to Chloe. Oh and by the way, if I hear about Ralph here going near my wife-to-be again, I’ll kill him. You’ll do what you have to to me of course, after that, but that still won’t bring Ralph back to life.’ He looked at the apoplectic Ralph. ‘That clear to you, knucklehead, or do I need to translate it?’
He stood, they stood and he left. They watched him up the hill as far as the light extended and Johanssen, creasing himself with laughter at Ralph, asked, ‘So?’
‘Double game?’ asked N2.
‘I think not. He knows it’s billions. He wants 1%. He’s not greedy. He’s not a player, our Mr. Forrester. We don’t need the island in our name, we don’t need the legal issues. I think we’re onto a winner here.’
‘But you’ll take your customary measures.’
‘Of course. Gently though. It’s best to have him onside. And George – I mean that. Let me do all the negotiations, right? All right?’
The other grunted. Ralph could contain himself no longer. ‘Bastard needs a good slapping.’
‘Why?’ said Johanssen, soothingly. ‘Why? He’s a good agent for us, we do as we please, he takes the heat. He’s been respectful. Taking those measures shows he knows we can be … persuasive. Besides, he’s quite well connected. He could bring heat down we don’t need. Let’s leave it for now and keep reviewing it. And Ralph – let me do the thinking, all right? I’d warn you too if you came near any wife of mine.’
There was silence – Johanssen knew he did have a certain persuasiveness.
And that was that,’ concluded Miles, as she lay beside him on the bed, her eyes wide open at his threat to Ralph. ‘Well what did you expect me to do about you and Ralph?’
‘You’d never …’
‘Yes I would. I don’t waste time on empty threats. Bullet to the head, end of. Unfortunate that I stumbled on a rock, gun went off. Now, about the stables that day. Care to continue?’
She stared hard at him, then lay on her back, her thinking posture.
‘Laura texted me on the train and we agreed to meet at the Travellers. Not a lot happened and we met up. It’s not a large place. I begged her to take me to the house. Frank was none too pleased. I lied to you about that to protect her.’
‘The stables. I think everyone, including her, was expecting you to chase her – I’ve told you that. I think you were also to be killed.’
‘Either that or I was to be framed.’
‘I don’t think you’d have survived in prison. I think both of you were to be killed.’
‘How do you see Melissa’s actions?
‘From what Laura says, Melissa waited a moment or two for you to arrive, you didn’t, so she would probably want to look out to see. She would go to the door -‘
‘And whoever it was, the killer, thought that she was leaving. That ‘whoever’ had to be a girl because of the galoshes. Plus she’d have heard me coming up from down below. She’d assume it was me.’
‘When you found her, she wasn’t dead?’
‘She didn’t seem alive to me.’
‘We don’t know then.’
‘The killer shot her a second time and then slipped away. Those tracks down the gully were someone running and the footprints looked to me like a girl’s.’
‘I saw Frank and Laura in the gully but that was near the house. I was by the fence to the property and looked up there.’
‘I saw you coming down the driveway.’
‘How was Frank in the gully and also in the house?’
‘He knew something had happened. He skipped across.’
‘Or he hoped it had happened. He must have taken off his boots quickly after that – he was in his socks in the living room.’
‘I’m tired. May we go to sleep?’
Paul ordered two more coffees in the canteen, then looked across at Janine.
‘Let’s back this up here, rewind. We have an island which may or may not having something valuable under it, MoD are interested but are being cagy. Man who owns the island has a wife who is killed by gunshot.
There’s another woman, mistress of the murdered girl’s father, fiancee, whatever, could be our Emma, you could be Emma. There are naughty boys living on the island, paying rent. One of those has a connection with the mistress and also with the island owner’s wife.
Now it appears the island is not owned by this man but by a consortium as far as we can see.
Joseph’s section in HMRC becomes interested. He suggests Penny Dalshiel, one of the MoD golden girls, be sent to ask a few questions. With a wig, she could also be Emma.
Penny tells me they’re keeping an eye on someone inside the MoD and as part of that, she was in the area at the time of the murder. Therefore, there’s some connection between the MoD man and that household. I ask her to name the MoD man and she says -‘
‘Should have expected you’d be up with that.’
‘But he was nowhere near the area – he was in Devon. May I go on? Who gains what? Forrest gains a wife, his part of the business, plus a percentage presumably, of what’s dug up under the ground. He owes nothing we know of to the girl’s father, nor to the de facto wife.
This Chloe would gain. She already has her part of the business, she may be planning something as she spends a lot of time at the far end of the island. I think it might be a better offer, in her eyes.
O’Brien has filed for bankruptcy, the de-facto has left him and might try to press a claim via his deceased daughter for part of the island or business but it’s not likely.’
‘The murder is not actually our concern, although why Dan Cornell would be interested, why Joseph and Penny would also be interested seems to bring us back to this island all the time, or rather what’s beneath it. O’Brien, I’d say, might well want in. Cornell might be in a position to deliver to himself, if the MoD takes over.’
The trouble came the following Saturday.
A different helicopter landed at the lower end, five people got out and made for the gite entrance, it was locked and now, to Miles’s shock at the farmhouse, two of them kicked down the door. Chloe almost had kittens.
‘It’s not our business unless they come up here,” he said. “The shotguns are loaded, the flamethrower was Johanssen’s little touch.’
‘Well, they’re coming up here now. This was exactly what I feared would happen, something like this.’
‘As we planned, take yourself out to the kitchen and put the nozzle through the slot. You know the signal. I’ll ask them for ID.’
They were fifty metres away when he used the tannoy. ‘Stop where you are. Who are you?’
That bought them to a halt. ‘Police. We’d like to talk to you.’
‘Police don’t land on someone’s island in a helicopter, then kick down someone’s door. Hope you plan to pay for that.’
‘Now look here,’ said the senior and they advanced. Miles boomed through the tannoy, ‘This is not aimed at you.’ He opened the side window, pointed the shotgun through it and fired, they went to ground, he came back and took the microphone. ‘I repeat, that was not aimed at you. Now please do as you’ve been asked and everyone’s happy.’
‘You’re obstructing justice, Mr. Forrester.’
‘We’re in mobile contact with Lytton Police at this very moment, a Constable Barnes. If you’d like to double check with him, I’ll hold on. Constable Barnes has asked for a description of you and is checking the records to see whether you’ve been dispatched or not.’
‘We’re not Metropolitan.’
‘What are you then?’
‘Well, if you would just stop for a moment, Mr. Forrester and let one of us approach the door as requested, you’d know soon enough.’
‘That’s what I’ve been waiting for. One approaches, please.’
The senior did, he pushed a folded plastic thing through, it fell in the basket, Miles drew it towards him along the floor, stooped and took the card. They were police of some form but nothing he recognized. He spoke through the tannoy, ‘All right, I’m unlocking the door and you can all come through. How many for tea, how many for coffee?’ He locked the shotgun away.
They trooped through and he indicated the chairs and couch. The senior officer spoke.
‘We’ve been following the developments on the island – you seem to be doing very well.’ Miles inclined his head. ‘We have reason to suspect that your guests include arms suppliers and are certainly armed … as you are. Do you have a licence?’
‘Licence, and therefore cabinet for the shotgun and one for the ammunition.’
‘May we see the licence?’
He went over to the sidetable, took it out of the drawer and handed it to the senior, together with the man’s own card. The senior looked over it, then said, ‘Now the weapon.’
He unlocked the cabinet. ‘In your hand is the brochure and receipt for the shotgun we bought. You know it’s above board.’
‘Know your UK law, do you?’
‘Only the relevant parts and only to comply with the law. I’m not being hostile, I’m being cautious. What do you need from me?’
‘For you to tell us what is going on down there.’ He indicated over his shoulder.
‘The five of them called me down and asked if they could improve the facilities – they’d pay and would improve this end of the island too – fences and so on. I know they’re doing some digging and improvements below ground.’
‘You’ve got a flippin airstrip here, mate,’ interjected the youngest.
‘Made of gravel?’
The senior decided to cut to the chase.
‘Where are those five now?’
‘You can see their helicopter is not there. They’re most likely on the mainland. Officer, you would appreciate, with those gentlemen, that they do not like prying. It’s not my job to pry.’
‘It’s your job to ensure that nothing illegal is going on – no arms stores, no illegal substances.’
They weren’t getting far. Miles saw that this was going to require the definitive statement.
‘They’ve assured me there’s no naughtiness, on pain of being expelled from the island. They pay for their stay and no one has an issue – not them, not me. We like to keep things simple. I have a farming business and what they pay for their stay is an extra.’ He went over and took out the tax forms for 2015. ‘You’ll see it’s all been declared.’
The senior man flicked through it but it was clear he’d lost interest. He handed them back. ‘You have a lady friend, Mr. Forrester, a fiancee. Where is she?’
‘Hidden from marauders and other dangerous species. If there’s a specific charge against her, I’ll ensure she’s here within half an hour for you to question. My land manager has our helicopter.’
The man just stared at Miles. ‘There are World War 2 tunnels under this island. We need to see them.’
‘By all means. Bring in the equipment and if you have the correct warrants, explore all you like. I have no equipment to dig with.’
What followed was a series of dire warnings about what would happen if he obstructed justice and so on, they rose and took their leave. He called after them, ‘What about the broken door?’
The senior officer turned. ‘You told us they were none of your business down there. They can contact us if they want reparation. I wrote the number. It’s on your table.’
With that, they trudged down the gravel path, avoiding sheep and made it to their helicopter.
It was well after dark when Johanssen arrived on their doorstep, they quickly let him in, Chloe went to make coffee, Miles poured three brandies.
They sat and went through all of it, from woe to go, Johanssen stopping him at intervals, asking a question, at times nodding.
‘Mmmm, you shouldn’t have told them to bring their equipment because they just might. Never mind – we can take care of that side of it. They wouldn’t have seen any evidence from above, that was the whole idea. However, they get an idee fixe and nothing moves it. I think it’s not the last we see of them. We’re quite well defended but we can’t show our hand, that’s the annoying part.
Right, Miles, thank you for that. Next move is ours – you just do what you do and I’m sorry about them today. At this point, we’ve done nothing which could be seen as remotely illegal and they know there’s zero evidence that we have. That’s why they want to see those tunnels but they can’t, as we’ve sealed them from above and built over again. Now listen – there’s nothing super-explosive down there. We’re not going to threaten the vein, are we? So sleep tight.’
Chloe came through with the coffee but Johanssen stood and apologized, then left rapidly. She set the tray down and sank into the armchair. ‘How much trouble are we in?’
‘Depends what those silly buggers are really up to, who they have down there. Are they shielding hot people? Not our business.’
‘It’s as if we’re living on a powder keg.’
‘We’re not, unless it’s arms. Johanssen said there were no super-explosives. Meaning he has what’s needed for the tunnels and perhaps if it comes to it under attack. We’re armed up here. Can’t do anything else so let’s leave it, Chloe.’
‘I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.’