Sarah had not scarpered. They’d both left next morning and stayed away for two nights but they’d all met during the days.
Sarah’d started the process of weaning herself off the substances, she and Jenny stayed onboard a launch, so did Miles and Laura – different launch.
In the late evening, they were back in Leyton’s second home, Laura and Miles dutifully in bed, and there was that tap on the window, Miles went over to let them through.
Same routine – bathroom, drinks, eats, Miles outside of Laura, herself holding Jenny, Sis the far side, Laura’s regular place in the bed. Sis was in dire need of human warmth right now … this was why she hadn’t scarpered. Clean warmth, clean love. But it could only come now from Jenny.
It became a full-on meeting about everything from work to relationships. Miles outlined their finances, also the situation now in Britain. The girls could still make bigger money elsewhere.
‘Doing what?’ muttered Jenny. ‘Our ages were already getting beyond … well, you know. Laura knows this. Where’s the future in that? And Sarah gets pulled back in. No thanks.’
Sarah was thoughtful. ‘We do have a shelf life I think. I’ve been feeling the strain, also a bit of tick tock, tick tock. Pity Miles doesn’t have more male friends his age. I admit it was one reason I was over there, I thought there were better chances. There were more chances all right … but not better.’
The onus was obviously on Laura. She climbed out, stepped onto the floor and went round behind Sarah, got in and held her. She was thinking hard, was Laura.
She eventually spoke, openly and honestly. ‘I miss Ralph. He’s dead. Amelie’s gone, Miles is still mine and yet someone else here needs him too. Jenny gasped before she could stop herself. ‘We caused all this,’ said Laura.
‘I did,’ said Miles, Laura wondered for whose benefit?
‘I like Leyton,’ she continued. ‘The crews are sexist beyond measure, not my kind, in London though I’d just fall back into my old ways … I know where that path leads. I have a ‘husband’ here who does love me, I love him, and he’s a major plus in my life. These are not idle words.’ Tears welled. ‘You didn’t think I’d be talking about myself, did you? Only about the girls.’
He got out and went round to the now crowded side, kneeling on the floor, arm over Laura’s bed cover, across her.
‘Stop!’ said Jenny. ‘This is just lunacy. I’m staying here this side. Sis, get over here now …’ she did ‘… now Laura come in more to Sis …’ … slightly bemused, Laura moved inwards up to Sarah … ‘now Miles, for goodness sake, get in and hold Laura from behind. Ok, good … we’ve sorted that. Now, let’s keep talking. Laura?’
‘I can’t send you away,’ said Laura, ‘I really can’t, that’s the problem, I don’t even want to, it’s stupid, I love you all here.’
Sarah addressed Laura. ‘I’ll keep away from Miles, Laura, I promise I’ll do what everyone wants.’
‘Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,’ said Laura, looking into her eyes, arm across her, Jenny behind her, ‘you two are not that far away from my age, half a decade only and yet I’m like a mother to you in some ways, which is not so good for Miles, put that way. No way could Miles be your father, more an older brother.’ Concession to Miles.
‘You think we can’t relate to all that, Laura?’ spoke Jenny in that quiet, low way which always stopped people in their tracks … and Laura was looking at Jenny with new eyes. ‘But I also see that, day to day, you have Miles, there is Leyton as the friend of both of you, there are the boat crews and not all are bad, some are, it’s a pleasant place, the harbour, you have female company if you want us. I am a cause of trouble, I refuse to be, sorry Miles. There are important things going on here.’
Laura now reminded them: ‘And for excitement, we have this sting coming up.’ The girls’ eyes were gleaming. ‘We’re all part of it, got that?’ She looked hard at Miles who said not a word. ‘If you, Sarah, can get yourself into some sort of training again, get back up to speed, no tricks, right, no crazy things to send us to despair, then you’re in, aren’t you? Frankly, I’m exhausted, you three, may we get some sleep?’
They were, all five of them, on one of the launches around 10 a.m., sitting around the table and about to get down, with coffee and nibbles, to the logistics of this sting.
Leyton had neither retired nor resigned, he’d just been seconded to the joint harbour and police authority, Laura was still on the civil service roll, as was Jenny – it was just Miles and Sarah who would be tricky to authorise entry to, which limited what they could actually do. While Sarah had not existed, it was not an issue – there’d only ever been the one salary, but now that she officially existed, she was not officially inside.
Laura now told them about the wharf and warehouses – that which she’d learnt from the harbour man. Waterfront properties had shot up in value. They were easy for the law to patrol if you only counted the facades and the ground floor but as everyone around these parts knew, there were all sorts of hidden corners, tunnels, small rooms, walled off centuries ago – there was an enormous amount of trade around these parts as long as it was ‘less naughty things’ such as booze, ciggies and so on … well the harbour authority and local plod could take care of those. The girls were needed for the nasty side of things. Any issues yet, girls?’
Only big smiles and gleaming eyes.
The last issue was that of tick tock, which Sarah had mentioned. They did not just have a pool of fisher folk to choose from but all sorts would come through their shop and office on the wharf, it was a ye olde tourist spot and probably better than online dating. There were chances, is what Laura was saying.
Miles broke in on the musing. ‘Leyton has something to tell us.’
The man coughed. ‘Jane’s gone, she’s taken a job in New York. These last few months have been hard on her, in her eyes. Now that my promotional prospects are no more, there is too much uncertainty she feels, and yet she goes to a city like that on a promise, sight unseen. She’s good at the advertising layouts though, she’ll do well. She could not take the idea of the fishing community here, the harbour life. And that has made me a believer in marriage because we were partners if you get my drift. Just as you two are.. Against that, even ex-plod, as they put it, are not completely welcome here at the waterfront, for obvious reasons.’
There was silence. Then broken by Laura. She sighed. ‘So many pressures, aren’t there? So much greener grass? We no sooner get it sorted, get it clear in our minds. Yes, I’ve looked at Leyton and I know he has in return, I also know that Miles and Jenny see eye to eye on most things, she most certainly would step up to the mark. He would for her.
But what if I don’t want? What if I’m actually comfortable with what Miles can dream up and organise? What if I love this man? Anyone thought of that? Hmmmm? Why would you, Leyton, not try to get Jane back? You know – make a bloody effort? Catch 22 – were you to get her back, you’d go up enormously in my eyes. But that would be my chances gone. Were you not to, in the hope of me, then you’d not get past first base.
Miles being willing to risk all now by opening up this line of thinking – he’s just gone up again in my estimation. We might not yet have signed on the dotted line but I see myself married to him – there are certainly property considerations and no, Miles, it’s not something I’m interested in, mainly because I know you’re a fair man and my eyes are in your direction anyway. Leyton, where are your eyes?’
‘Clearly on you but as that’s not a going concern and one night stands or affairs are going to sink everything we have here – we all have this public duty thing in our consciences. Plus, Mandy Sobel is in the area. She’s been seen. Where are you on her, Laura?’
‘Tempted to meet up, she was an old friend, the only one left despite the unpleasantness, but she’s scouting locations – I’m pretty sure of that. Locations for what though? She’s in with bad elements as usual – I see trouble coming. I also have a feeling I’ll be the one to end it. To be a force for good is not something I’ve really imagined so far.’
Miles had left to do the rounds of the boats, Jenny to do her rounds, a phone call had come through to Leyton, he’d yessed and uh-huhed for a time, had written some notes.
‘There’s a launch outside the harbour,’ he reported to Laura, ‘it’s a fine day, they’re watching things here, we have people watching them too – there are Mandy Sobel, a man we can’t identify, one they call the Dutchman, another woman and then a sickening discovery …’
‘Sarah,’ murmured Laura. ‘I knew it.’
Silence. Then she went on. ‘I’m so thoroughly fed up now, I’ve had enough. I suppose Jenny is on her way here.’ She phoned Miles, phoned Jenny. ‘Yep, not far away. She’s to approach by the shore side.’
Another call from Jenny. Laura got up as if clearing dishes, murmured to Leyton to follow her, slowly, they were on the shoreside deck, she suddenly said jump and dived into the water, Leyton gave it half a second and then did the same. When both had surfaced, they swam hell for leather towards Jenny idling fifty feet from the launch. They could not see it but they could hear the sound of a boat the other side tearing towards the launch, still some distance away, Jenny was now scrambling to help the two bedraggled ones into the runabout.
Their launch lit up, then exploded in the middle, they themselves were on the bottom of the runabout and Jenny was tearing for the shore. ‘Stay down! Stay down!’
‘We were looking for excitement in our working lives, eh?’ said Miles. They were in the living room of Leyton’s sister, next town over but one.
‘They have Sis,’ repeated Jenny for the umpteenth time.
‘We can only protect her if she’ll give us a chance,’ Miles was angry. ‘She knows the score, she knows what they’ve been doing. She is so stupid at times.’
‘Not at times. All the time these days,’ muttered Jenny, utterly livid. ‘She promised me in the name of our family.’
Laura had been thinking it through. ‘I’m not sure she ‘went’ to them in that sense, Jenny. Seems to me she was just careless. Chloroform, easy enough. Although she might have been trying to kill the two of us, maybe. They knew Miles was not there, they knew Jenny was elsewhere. Leyton was with me. She might have drawn conclusions. Whether that was it or not, she won’t be onside now. I think she could be in real danger.’
Leyton explained – there was almost certainly going to be a carrot, a chance to rescue the tethered goat, probably at the wharf, one of the buildings there most like. How could he know that? A call from Tim Madders. Was it a trap? Of course it was. Purpose of the trap? To kill them all? Gunning for Laura? To take out the law?’
No one could or would answer, so all contingencies had to be planned for. They had no choice but to pit their rescue attempt against the set-up. They certainly had to get Sarah back.
Leyton waited till after dark to reconnoitre behind the wharf, the others were some way off in a van, he was pretty sure it would be one of two buildings, both made sense because they’d want him to at least see the hostage first and if there were none, then they’d have to rethink and regroup. It was more likely to be the one further along the wharf, further away from the gate on the sideroad. These people would need an escape route, that seemed more likely to be by launch than by road. He had to approach from behind the two rows of shacks, so he was not going to see if there was light inside.
One offsider ahead, one behind, they entered the tunnel in soft shoes and it was not entirely dark, the light from the street behind gave enough for now. It was slow progress. The fact that there was no one whatever they could detect was more worrying than if they’d heard something.
They reached the end, the two companions covered the retreat, Leyton slipped through a gap and climbed the rungs in the stonework. The child’s periscope he’d brought – you know, the long box with a mirror at each end – this was now poked up slowly but it needed light. His eyes would need to adjust.
The enemy had made it easy – there she was trussed up in the middle of the floor on a rug, the light pouring in from the harbour lights through the small, high window panes. he made no contact but withdrew the periscope and ever so slowly made his way back, they all did, coming out eventually in the second lane behind the shacks, then along to the van, inside which he reassured Jenny.
It was explained how they’d do it. There was a warehouse either side of Sarah’s but one was dilapidated according to Leyton’s source, meaning whoever was in that one was able to get through to Sarah’s, the other was solid wall, no door. He assumed there were men already in there when he’d used the periscope. Therefore the aim was to get there first and neutralise them but that was still not the end of it.
There’d be traps within Sarah’s room, most likely on a ledge over the tunnel Leyton had come along – near the warehouse end As for the other warehouse, the dilapidated one, one of the corrugated iron sheets was not tightly affixed when viewed from the clifftop that afternoon. Not purposely so, just a repair needing doing but it might just have crossed the enemy’s mind too.
Gas was the obvious choice through that iron panel, but it would knock Sarah out as well if it seeped through, plus whoever else was in there with her. They’d be expecting something like that, there was that Lady Hamilton gassing by the girls which would still be on their minds.
Contact chemical, like napalm, would stay in the dilapidated room and even eat through gloves but that got into human rights convention areas. They’d have to have violated her, crossed that line of human decency and they’d not know that until it was over. This was a tough call.
They’d also be expecting Jenny in the first rescue team for Sarah, therefore she’d not be doing that, she’d be going for the Dutchman on the boat. Leyton himself would do the firing upwards into that shelf area from the end of the tunnel. He’d need covering by a team. The third team would be to summarily take the warehouse door down once the other two had finished.
Everyone was fine with that but it still left the choice of substance for the dilapidated room.
It wasn’t all that late when they moved, they’d originally thought they’d wait till 1 a.m., 2 a.m. but then decided on 11 p.m. for the sake of Sarah herself.
Leyton could hear movement above on the creaking timber of the small shelved area, so minutes were spent taping the explosives to the underside, then dropping back behind the armour. It was to simultaneously start in the dilapidated warehouse and on the Dutchman’s boat.
They were ready.
The word was given.
The two up there did not climb onto the roof but lobbed multiple capsules into the warehouse, they then slipped down and scarpered into the backstreet at the same time the explosives blew the shelf away and with it the miscreants who were then picked off where they fell into the tunnel, they could see that Sarah was not on the floor but was now strapped to the outer door, comatose, a door the bstds knew was going to be crashed down from outside.
A phone call was made to the wharf team, uh huh, they now stuck non-retractable rods through, away from Sarah, Jenny had already started her assault on the boat with her helper playacting at being Tim Madders, the wharf team shot the hinges off the warehouse door, the ropes were pulleded, the double doors collapsed outwards, they undid Sarah, out like a light and stretchered her away, there was gunfire from the boat but not in their direction.
It was basically over, Sarah was safe in the back of the van, Leyton phoned Jenny, who rejoiced. Was it safe to come to the launch, he asked? Not yet, they’d meet at the van.
Fairly regulation really, said Jenny B to the five she joined in the back of the van. Sarah was still out of it, she was basically all right.
Jenny now explained their operation. Her man had gone up the ladder to the aft deck as ‘Tim’, the door was opened to him, too late, the doorman was taken out by the compressed pistol, Jenny herself was at the fore hatch, she smashed it with her boot heel and dropped the gas in.
Van Agt literally and figuratively smelt a rat, he ran aft and ‘Tim’, as instructed, let him past, van Agt dived in, Jenny aimed and let off a round as he was airborne, she let off another to the head as he hit the water.
She now phoned ‘Tim’ to wait and three others from the ‘door’ team arrived pretty shortly afterwards. Leyton now summed it up.
‘Tim Madders, the real one, was in it up to his neck. My boss, PD, was part of it – why he would not stay aloof on a thing like this is quite beyond me at this stage. Laura as you know was one of the two on the ‘door’ team, they did the cleaning up in there. Nasty.’
‘Mandy?’ was the obvious question from Laura.
‘Gassed in the salon.’
‘I see. And Miles?’
‘Still coordinating, he’s at the end of this phone. He acceded to your request, Laura, to be one of the two ‘door’ people, he knew you’d jump at it, stopped you hitting Mandy you see, there would be charges of gratuitous if you’d done that.’
‘And Jenny just goes free?’
‘That was her sole job, that came down from above. She was authorised and instructed to take out van Agt. You don’t like it but it’s to preserve our troops for the next round.’
‘Yep but that depends on certain things being in place over there. I’m awaiting word right now. Laura, we’re dispersing, will you let me drive you back, my car’s up the road, guarded of course. Jenny’s going to be with Sarah, one of the lads will take her.’
It was in the car that the call came.
‘Miles, yes? Uh huh. Uh huh. All of them? Flippin’ brilliant.’
‘That’s Miles – may I speak with him?’ He handed the phone across to her.
‘Where the hell are you?’
‘Thought I’d slip back home for a snooze you know.’
‘What! No, no, that’s not you. You would never do that. Tell me.’
‘Turn on the news station. Call me back, juice is low here.’
‘Leyton, news station please.’ Leyton chuckled and turned it on. Took a minute and then came the breaking news. Terrorists had taken out fifteen fishing boats in whatever it was harbour … it went on. Leyton phoned back and handed the phone to her.
‘You!’ she said. ‘You!’
‘Be home soon, babe, nearly out of juice, red-lining, luvya.’
It died, she handed it back, in shock. ‘Leyton, where are you taking me? This isn’t the way back.’
‘I’m taking you to this address.’ Top pocket, showed it to her, it meant nothing to her, it was halfway across Britain. ‘You’ll both be there tonight. Or were you hoping for me?’
‘Don’t do this.’ She burst into tears. ‘Leyton, please don’t say things like that … ever.’
‘Understood. Laura … there were reasons, there really were … but Miles will have to explain them.’
‘Oh he has a lot of explaining to do. A lot.’
There was silence the rest of the journey.
It was in Yorkshire, a B&B similar to the others they’d used. She was shown to the room, he was arriving late, they’d paid for the inconvenience, she’d got herself ready, attended to this and that, had gone to bed and was now awaiting his arrival.
It was a call. ‘Laura, about half an hour, it’s taking longer than we thought. Sorry.’