11 River

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I

‘In which way do you mean deal with Paul again?’

‘We do one of your Plan Cs if it becomes necessary. So, tell me about the phone numbers you gave Dave.’

‘They meant nothing to me. First was a man, he just said, ‘Yeah?’ The second was a woman. Dave said the first was some muscle Glendinning had organized, maybe section, the woman was Jenny.’

‘Curiouser and curiouser.’

‘Dave’s had a bit to do with this Jenny of late, it’s been an online battle of wits and wills it seems.’

‘And Dave’s lovin’ it?’ Laura smiled, Calum did not turn around.

Calum now shut off the lights, the shorelights were enough, he knew the stretch, there were no nasties below as long as he stayed aligned. They were now well within the river proper and its particular tidal variants, the speed had picked up.

.o0o.

Closer in to the shore now, the engine went back to chugging, the tide no longer an issue, Calum shut down the engine.

They grounded in the one spot they could, he went out, ran up forward, Miles had the wheel, the line went over Calum’s shoulder, he plunged into the shallows in his chest-wader wellies, stepped onto the bank, ran the line around a tree and made it fast.

The darkness had closed in quickly – they were still dark and chilly, the evenings and visibility was minimal.

Laura now went on deck, for’ard, in the dark gear, as did Miles just behind, she clipped onto the line and off she went, Miles followed, both pairs of feet hit the bank in turn. They shook hands with Calum and he made his way back to the boat.

They were still a couple of hundred feet from where they needed to be – a launching ramp, Amelie should have been in place somewhere there. Their guns were just inside their jackets.

.o0o.

Moving towards their separate positions on different sides of the ramp, Miles having circled through an arc near the main track passing the ramp, they saw their back ups in place, he then got to his place and settled in to observe the little hut to the side of the ramp, barely lit.

Someone was in that hut but someone else was over on the left in the darkness, he could not make out who but his gun was going to be for that person, Laura now indicated a tree to her right that she felt someone was in – her gun would be for there.

.o0o.

The person wasn’t coming out. Miles looked across the ramp and made a gesture with hands to his mouth, as if he was going to call out, she immediately crossed arms and shook her head, mouthing, ‘No.’ She would do it.

.o0o.

A good seven minutes later, an eternity, the door to the hut opened a fraction and two eyes peered round, looking this way and that.

Then someone cautiously came out, a slight female, Laura called her sister by her diminutive and, ‘It’s Jacquie,’ so there’d be no mistake, the woman immediately dropped to one knee, aimed straight at Laura, there was a shot and Amelie fell straight back with the impact, Laura’s gun was on the tree but that person had disappeared, Miles immediately had his shooter in his sights, Jenny put the weapon straight to ground and stepped back two paces, hands on her head.

Laura rushed to Amelie but it was over, that was as clear as day, the back-ups covering the two of them now came down the ramp, and yes, one was a medic, he examined Amelie, shook his head, Laura fell to her knees, Miles and one of the support had Jenny looking at two barrels now, a third went behind her, she even volunteered her arms to be tied, ditto her feet, the man then carried her in a fireman’s lift up the ramp to a Transit van.

Miles went down to Laura. ‘I can’t leave her here, not like this, Miles.’

‘Rob and the boys will take her and do it right, she’ll be in a cold room for now. Say your goodbyes, Laura. One minute.’

She didn’t need to be told, she fell upon her prostrate sister and wept and wept and wept, then abruptly got up and ran after Miles – he was in the back with Jenny and one of the support team, Laura went up front.

.o0o.

It had been a careful and long drive, it was always best that way, not too slow and correct, but no speeding, just obeying the law.

.o0o.

The driver turned down a road then into a stony lane, stopped, got out and undid a gate, opened it and beckoned them through, then followed up with Jenny over his shoulder whom he now dumped on the divan.

The other two stood in the living room, curtains closed, Laura now sunk to the carpet. When you’re in a house not your own, when it’s not your decor, when your sister has just been murdered and left for dead, when the killer is right here with you …

Jenny just lay on the divan, saying nothing.

Miles went to Laura, went down on his knees and held her but she’d done her thinking through the tears, she clearly accepted that Jenny had had no choice, just maybe had saved Laura’s life.

‘Speak,’ said Laura.

Jenny’s voice was quiet and actually, it wasn’t bad – it was a nice voice. ‘Laura, think about this. Yes, I see you have. Who was not at the ramp with us, who was expected but was not there? Who had organised Amelie and me?  You two should be dead by now.’

Laura was sobbing, Jenny went on. ‘Amelie will be taken care of as your man said, it will be done right – you organised those people to take care of those things. I saw both of them when I went to position. I knew Miles’ gun was on me. I hit the one in the tree but not fatally, his gun was on Miles.  Why did you not have someone covering the man in the tree?’

‘We did.  You,’ said Miles.  Jenny’s turn to nod her appreciation.  ‘I went with Dave’s assessment at the last and as tree-gun was aiming at me, I backed that.’

‘Who the hell are you, Jenny?’ Laura cried out.  The question was understood by all.

Jenny asked Miles to go over and remove all her weaponry – it turned out to be two guns and a knife.

‘Now, release my hands, Laura can keep her gun on me the whole time.’

‘You speak as a professional,’ said Miles, and Laura did just that with her gun. Jenny turned over and Miles undid the cord. She turned back to face them.

‘You don’t know the half of it.’ She now removed all layers of clothing from her top, including her bra, causing Miles to say, ‘You don’t have to.’

‘Yes I do. Now tie my hands again to the armrest.’ He did.

‘I prefer Laura to do the next bit but if she doesn’t want …’

‘I do.’ She got up, came over, untying Jenny’s ankles, then removed, first the rugged but soft-soled shoes, then the thick socks, then the outer trousers, then the inners. In a final insult, she pulled off the knickers but Jenny assisted by lifting her hips.

‘Now tie my ankles, then go through everything I have with me but please – throw that rug on the couch over me.’ Miles did.

They went through everything and Miles whistled. ‘She’s some sort of special section of some kind, been on this case for two years. She’s written an account for us.’

‘In case I was shot and you wanted to know afterwards.’

‘You could easily have put the second bullet into me,’ said Miles, ‘and the third into Laura.’

‘I’m glad you realise that.’

‘Tell us about what happened there, in your eyes,’ said Laura, still incensed, ‘what was going on?’

Jenny looked at them both and they looked at her. ‘May I dress first?’

It was apparent to both that they’d caught a live one here – Jenny was quite some captive.

They untied her at one end, she dressed, allowing him to drink his fill. He attempted to look away but it was difficult, as the other two fully realised.  He retied that end. Then Laura untied the other and the same process went on.

‘You want me to tell you all of it now, Laura? You’re sure?’

‘I need to know. Abbreviate it.’

‘Haas and Glendinning always knew who Laura was, always, via Amelie – she told Glendinning and he told Haas. Haas had Amelie over a barrel – she’d betrayed you, Laura, on the Martin case and Haas knew it, he also knew Amelie thought you, Laura, did not know, so he made full use of it. Amelie betrayed you all the way along the line, Laura. I can show you proof of that if and when we get back and if you trust me enough to show you. Why she did that in the Martin case, we still don’t know – money, a man, who knows? She never did it so openly again, I suppose because there were too many eyes.’

‘I know why. It was something between the two of us. Go on.’

‘This part you might not want to hear in front of Miles.’

‘Go on.’

‘You had a hell of a lot of skill, Laura and might have succeeded by yourself in all those cases, we’ll never know because you were also getting a lot of back-up, facilitation shall we say, from Haas and Glendinning. And at the different scenes of course, from Amelie.’

‘I know that, it was handy.’

‘It also suited the book of the people above Haas. They were all paedos, you know, it crossed borders and Laura was actually taking out people who threatened their members.  The new mayor of Neuilly was going to try a clean-up campaign, he had the goods.’

‘N-o-o-o!’

‘Sorry, Laura. This is a worldwide racket at the top levels, the very top I must say. Look at some of the pro-statements from some of our MPs on the general topic – word has come down from above that society is to be made ready to accept these things and as agents of that power, they have no choice – every one of those people has skeletons, they’re not allowed in as an MP unless they do – it’s all about power and control.

I was after the ring itself, not specifically after Haas, nor Amelie, nor you. Haas was sleazy in his own way but he was no paedo, that worried those above him. In fact, I have evidence he was doing a spot of blackmail on a man named Joseph who was definitely one of the higher-ups in the ring, but the ring was only part of another organisation, worldwide, an organisation I shall not name, even now.

At least the organisations weren’t merged, it was just that members of one were usually members of another. The mayoral candidate was corrupt in other ways, not that way. Those deep inside, feeling threatened, feeling he was getting uppity, were happy to ‘accidentally’ expose him.  That’s how they live – dog eat dog.’

‘Tell Miles about the guiding philosophy of this ring.’

‘Yes, you’ve experienced it at first hand, haven’t you, Laura? They say to people that if you do this or that for them, spread their philosophy, whatever, then what you saw at some party last week can be yours, you’re a VIP, there’s no limit, from babies to rent boys to men to women, no limits on drugs, no limits full stop – that is the lure. Those who resist because of upbringing, moral code and all that – they are released and mopped up later. Those who show they’re open, susceptible – there’s only one path after that.’

‘Almost religious,’ he said.

‘It’s damaging to the human spirit for sure, Miles,’ said Jenny. Do as thou wilt and no one will stop you, ever, no one, it’s not in their interests to stop you and lift you to nobility. I’ve been on this case for two years and in that time, can you imagine what I’ve seen? And no, I stayed inside my code, so my chances of investigating were reduced because they didn’t really trust me.’

‘Why did you stay within your code?’ asked Laura, feeling that this was the crux of the whole matter.

Jenny considered her reply.

‘I saw where it led – I saw the slow disintegration of people, I watched the change, even in that time frame.  Somewhere along the way, things like telling someone the truth, loyalty, kindness, all of those are replaced. You should have seen who was backstabbing who in these last days – everyone carrying out jobs on everyone else – the same madness which made the mafia bosses eventually meet in America and say enough with the killings. They imposed a code. Without that code – there’s only M.A.D. – you’ve heard of that?’

‘Of course. Did you kill Haas?’ asked Miles.

‘No. Guns are my thing. You have my guns, I know you also took a stubby ceramic knife too but that wasn’t the kind which did for Haas. Did you kill Glendinning?’

‘Our man threw him overboard into the river, I threw a life ring after him.’

‘Then you just allowed the head of the entire ring across Europe to escape. We really do get into moral questions here – why would you let him escape that way? Why the scruples? You told me that bit about the life ring in order to virtue signal, didn’t you, Miles – doesn’t impress me one bit. By the way, when I asked that question, I knew the answer – he did drown I can tell you that.  But maybe not through that, I suspect someone had been watching.’

She asked for water, Laura brought it, Miles still had his pistol casually in hand, she sipped and continued.  ‘We were investigating O’Brien for narcotics – that’s not exactly my department, it’s a brother department but the two issues kept crossing. The Melissa murder was puzzling – didn’t seem to fit – but Penny Dalshiel then showed that Cornell and the island were definitely tied up in it.  She, the greedy, overambitious pig, wanted you dead, Laura. Any light on that?’

‘Wish I could. I thought jealousy, I’d harmed her once, I don’t know.  Maybe you just answered the question.’

‘We thought Laura was about to be brought into the fold and that’s still at the back of my mind – things were once done to Laura. But Janine’s gun pointing straight at her tonight seems to have answered that. Let me say I know guns. I would have known if Janine was just covering Laura, she wasn’t – she dropped into position for a kill and someone had taught her how to do that. I didn’t do Penny in, no. I would have done, she was out of control, she’d knifed Haas herself, hated him, hated Laura. Laura was certainly next …’

‘So you saved me twice then.’

‘Don’t look at it that way, those things had to be done and anyway – I also fired at the figure in the tree to Laura’s right but he was too well protected behind boughs, he was certainly hit though.  Felt like it was a he.’

Laura was totally dismayed, empty, unable to think.

‘I’m sorry,’ added Jenny, ‘I was forgetting. Shall I stop?’ Laura shook her head, Jenny went on. ‘This Chloe is still to have the baby, Johanssen will be out soon enough but he’s not unhappy, he runs things from in there, only you know how safe you are. Stammers won’t be out for a very long time – Johanssen himself is making sure of that. Though Stammers has no organisation, he still has some mates outside, he might still be a danger.’

‘How do you know all this?’ asked Miles.

‘Remember who I was, remember the tools at my disposal, remember my nature – it was our job to have a finger in every pie, we gathered such things … I think that’s all.’

‘We need to go next door now,’ said Miles. ‘I have the back door key, we need to climb the back fence, so Jenny – are you going to scarper now?’

‘No, I’ll stay with you through what’s left of this night, do you trust I won’t murder you in your sleep?’

‘You do realize we’ll take turns.’

She grinned.

II

At the little house which had now become something of a meeting place, there was a knock on the door.

It was Leyton Collins and in tow were Jenny and Dave Collins.

Leyton launched into it with the tea. ‘Ms Chloe has had her child, a boy, don’t know the details yet. She’s still inside but it’s reducing as her good behaviour continues. I’m not sure what they’ll do in her case.  All right, I have to go, I just wanted to bring Jenny and Dave together but please don’t forget where I am.’

‘You’ll both be round here for dinner soon,’ Laura reminded him.

‘Lovely.’

He took his leave, the four of them continued. Laura asked, ‘How good is Jenny at this stuff, Dave? Jenny, how good is he?’

‘He’s good.’

‘She’s good,’ admitted Dave. ‘I’m going to visit her in London.’

‘Er Dave, what about Beth?’ Miles decided to drop in.

Jenny looked over sharply, hurriedly got up, made her excuses, it had been lovely, thanks to both, lovely to see you, Dave, she had no luggage, she backed to the doorway, they all got up, she didn’t know what to do so she opened the door and went out, reaching for her mobile.

Dave went to run after her but Laura stood between him and the door. He deflated.  ‘Well thank you very much for that.’

‘Come back through,’ said Laura, ‘we’ll eat and talk about it. Come and sit down, Dave, I’ll keep you company, Miles will bring the eats.’

Miles went and did just that, Laura leaned forward. ‘If it’s to be a going concern, you two, then you’ll get nowhere running after her now. Sorry us mentioning Beth – when were you going to?’

He looked down at the rug.

‘Give Jenny space – I’m a woman, give her space. Sort your own head out first, sort it out with Beth. Then go to London if you must and visit Jenny. We’ll supply you with her number just before then … not now, not yet.’

III

‘Have we sorted everything out between ourselves?’ asked Laura out of the blue. ‘Have all the questions been answered?’

‘I still have some.’

‘Fire away.’

‘You killed Melissa.’

She now did something she’d never done before in his experience, not even over Amelie – she started shaking, he went over, knelt and put an arm around her, she didn’t throw it off but neither did she stop shaking.

Then she did stop and was ready.

‘Most of it was what we both know but not the bit at the stable window and not events after that. To explain all that, I have to go back to how I felt that day, what I’d worked out, to explain the state I was in.

With what you know now about Penny, you’d understand why her presence, more than anyone else’s there, had me worried. I’d been tipped off about that bitch by two people long ago. That was the first thing but when I saw Chloe racing up the gully like that, suddenly I understood.

I was at that little window, as arranged with Frank and my job was to throw Melissa the gun from the alcove, with which she was to confront you and force you to sign over the island – all that was as we’ve said. It was such a stupid notion and they’re not entirely stupid people, so that was highly suspicious and worrying to me on top of all the other things, being kept out of the loop and so on.

I’ve thought long and hard about it all – Penny’s presence might have been just added pressure to make sure I played my part. Frank was armed, I’m assuming Penny was too but now I know Chloe wasn’t, most curious in the light of the story – it was the rate of knots she was running up that gully, that determined look on her face – that’s what tipped me over the edge …’

‘You don’t need to, Lauralove. I’m fine with that.’

‘No … I want to.’

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