3 Subterranean interest

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I

The island

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 half 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 up here.

He saw movement at the far end, five in accommodation down there just now and two of them were currently out and about, but of Laura – there was no sign.

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 one of the outhouses rummaging around, getting a line on their enterprises and 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, walkways, and therefore few 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, crouching where he knew he could observe and not be observed, though it did mess up his kagoul.

Near a cave down there, Laura was arguing the toss with Tel, his manager and he was telling her, in no uncertain terms, to come back up with him.

Miles 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, Laura – guests on this island usually show some respect.’

Her eyebrow arched at that statement – respect?  She thought of getting on the high horse but felt she’d got about as much as she was going to, she apologised, 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.’

‘Right.’

‘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 – eyes out to sea and all that. On the point’s the place, down among the rocks.’

She stared hard into his eyes, turned and went back to the farmhouse with him, just as two sheep decided to block their path.

.o0o.

Seventy minutes later, they decanted her in town in the carpark they used behind Aldi, he got out as well to have one 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 and if your friends 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.  And Miles?’  He gazed at her, she was observing her effect. ‘I can’t tell you this in detail because we’re hostile towards each other for now but really, I’d not trust anyone in this matter at all, do you understand me?  I’m trying to help you here, strange as it may seem.’

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 such things all their lives and have made a lot of money doing so.’

‘Precisely. And forming alliances, Tel, 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 did not bat an eyelid. ‘Why did you let her come?’

‘Needed to know about Melissa, needed to see Chloe’s reactions, needed to know what Laura 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 there are clauses which prevent me getting rid of them, unless certain preconditions exist.’

.o0o.

The helicopter descended to 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?’

.o0o.

They were onto the third.

‘She called me from the mainland,’ said Chloe.

‘And?’

‘She’s not a happy bunny …’

‘I don’t give a shit what she is.’

‘Don’t speak like that, it’s not you.’

‘Sorry.’

‘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?’

‘Which one?’

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 propose marriage to you. If you’re coolheaded enough to listen to this, then I’ll tell you.’

‘I’m listening.’

‘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. 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.’

‘What!’

‘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 will. So either he thinks he has enough pull inside a 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%?’

‘Just talk.’

‘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 all that once we were married. This way I’m more than comfortable, no angst.’

‘What would you have lost to Melissa?’

‘It would have been half and half as I said but as I also said, UK courts now favour women quite badly and she might have had 75%.’

Chloe did not like that, did not like the attitude.  ‘Those men paid you for the island, Miles.’

‘And I spent it. They know that but they also know this is a moneymaking concern.’

‘What if I was a really horrible woman and went with Johanssen instead?’

‘You mean Ralph of course.  I do notice things, Chloe sweetest.’  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 to our child.’

‘To keep me a good girl, yes?’

‘’More a case of trust and everyone knowing what there is and who has it, I’ve been burnt. As I come to trust, so I come to give.’

‘What if we divorced?’

‘Business all yours, I’d not fight you in court, 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, Chloe – I’ve seen women, of course not you – who say they can’t possibly think business, think it’s so cold – until they divorce and then it’s all business.’

‘That’s horrible. So cold.’

‘Marriage is marriage, lovely, fluffy and fulfilling. Business and property are business and property. Two different things. Chloe.  If the two partners are comfortable about the business side, then they can spend all their time on the romantic side.’

II

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’s your main concern here – being within the letter of the law or not attracting heat?’

‘The latter.’

‘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 ahead.’

‘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.’

‘Laura?’

‘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?’ asked Miles.

‘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.’

Johanssen 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, I can tell you that, 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 now, I had a word, and she 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.’

‘Ah.’

‘Seasonal work – all watercraft need that. There’s a shipyard in Ireland. Any issues with that?’

‘No, fine.’

‘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 after that of course, but that still won’t bring Ralph back to life when he falls off a cliff by accident.’

He looked at the apoplectic Ralph. ‘That clear to you, fuckhead, 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, 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 down heat 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.

.o0o.

‘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, Chloe, to say that shows you don’t know my history. Mild-mannered is my business approach. Snuffing out a rival is another – I don’t waste time on empty threats.’ She was appalled. ‘Now, about the stables that day. Care to continue?’

She stared hard at him, then lay on her back, in 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 and Frank was none too pleased. I … I lied to you about that to protect her.’

‘And?’

‘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 few moments for you to arrive, you didn’t, so Melissa 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 then 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, though the guns are different, 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.’

‘When?’

‘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?’

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