4 The law steps in

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I

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 they’re being cagey. 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 soon to be 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, to look into it, she 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. Therefore, there’s some connection between the MoD man and that household. I ask her to name the MoD man and she says …’

‘Dan Cornell.’

‘Should have expected you’d be up with that.’

‘But he was nowhere near the area – he was in Devon. May I go on?’ asked Janine. ‘Who gains what? Forrester gains a new wife, his part of the digging 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 soon to be wife. Not yet. This Chloe would gain. She already has her part of the business, she might be planning something as she spends a lot of time at the far end of the island – maybe a better offer in her eyes. O’Brien has filed for bankruptcy, the mistress has left him and might try to press a claim 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 it to him if the MoD takes over.’

III

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 from his farmhouse viewpoint, 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 planned.  Take yourself out to the kitchen and put the nozzle through the slot, you know the drill, 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 proceed to 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.’

‘Bollox, 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 despatched 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 developments on this 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?’

‘A licence? For this gun?’

‘Yes, a licence for that gun.’

‘A licence?’ repeated Miles. ‘Yes, I do have a licence and therefore a 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 it over, 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 in order 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’s going on down there.’ He indicated towards the gite.

‘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 here, 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 blasting and digging 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.

.o0o.

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 start to finish, Johanssen stopping him at intervals, asking a question, at times nodding.

‘Hmmm, 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 idea in their heads and nothing shifts it, I think it’s not the last we’ve seen of them. We’re quite well defended but we can’t show our hand, that’s the annoying part.

Right, Miles, thanks 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 apologised, 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 and what 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.’

IV

Miles woke, climbed out of bed and took one look at the steady drizzle which had set in. Just into February, it was really setting in as it should have, some of it sleet and the light would be low all day.

Realizing they had no commitments, he went back to bed, just as she was waking. She opened one eye, then the other, looked over at him anxiously, climbed out and went to take care of things.

When she returned, he was still in bed, most unusual for him but she wanted it all the same, wanted to talk. She sat down and swung herself under the bedclothes he was holding up for her, a bit concerned about this burst of caring.

‘You’re sure about Chloette?’ he asked.

‘Why do you think she’s a girl?’

‘Just had a feeling. OK, tell me the things you’re going to need, how I should act, go through the whole thing as far as you see it.’

She did. She covered the nine months but as she went on, she became less and less happy, in fact more agitated. She saw his look, said she’d get them a light breakfast and then maybe they could go to the living room to have that.

.o0o.

‘It’s many things, Miles. Men are so … black and white about things, no one’s innocent, everyone has skeletons and you do too. I want to talk to you about my skeletons and yours but I’m frightened you’ll get on your high horse, men are so categorical, so final about some things which we’re not necessarily final about.’

‘Lovers, yes?’

‘There you go, I’m frightened to talk to you – you’re so abrupt. I need understanding, I need you soft right now.’

He thought about that. ‘There are things I could never forgive, there are things that with time, I can. Let’s have an amnesty, a time now when we can say anything and it’s not brought up against us later. But it has to work both ways, Chloe, we have to stick to it. You want?’

‘Yes.’ She looked at him hard, she so needed this, to get things off her chest, to know he understood and it was all OK. But how – how was she going to tell him the half of it?

He began. ‘You’re so tense, let me start. Is the child mine?’

‘Yes, but there were times before we – we came to an agreement, you and I, times before you were mine.’

‘Ralph – up here or down there?’

‘Down there.’ She gulped. ‘Plus Costa, just the once, I didn’t like his attitude though. With Ralph, yes – when you went to the mainland. You and I weren’t lovers then – that came later and when it did, I stopped it with Ralph. You need to watch that one because he’s vindictive.’

‘Just those two, yes?’

‘Yes and no relapses I took precautions, just as I did up till the last month.’

‘Well, what’s the issue?’

‘It felt bad, now I have the child inside – I would have preferred it different.’ She was silent for some seconds. ‘There was one other. Frank.’

‘WHAT! With Melissa lying dead in the hallway?’

‘Laura stayed with me overnight, you were still with the police. Frank appeared, I think to check on where she was, this was about 1 a.m., he climbed in and began on Laura, she pushed him off, he turned to me and was in before I knew …’

‘So it was rape.’

‘I could claim that but it wouldn’t be true. I escaped in the middle of it, ran down to reception, I heard steps on the stairs, ran in behind reception, those two came down and asked about me, the man told them I’d gone out, they ran out after me. He told me there was a spare room and if they came back, he’d not tell them. That’s when I was determined to make you mine.’

There was dead silence. He made moves to speak, formed words, they dissipated, he formed new ones. She watched it all, chagrined.

‘Y-you did right, that was brave. Is there any more?’

‘Ralph tried it on again a week after that day, not at the gite but when I went for a walk on the west side of the island, he followed me down the walkway. I told him I was with you now and he said, ‘So?’ I threatened to tell you.’

There was another silence. ‘And Tel’s never tried it on?’

‘Why worry about him? He tried once or twice before we were together, not after he saw the lie of the land. Miles?’

‘Yes?’

‘I think Melissa was going to kill you. She was standing at the door, facing the door and she had that pistol in her hand. She was going to kill you. Go on, ask it.’

‘Don’t need to, do I? You were there. Did you kill her?’

‘Laura did. She went into the little hidden area and came out with the gun – as you might know or might not, the small upper window in the stables is low on the outside there because the ground is higher – it was easy for her to lean through and shoot, I was still some distance from her …’

‘How did you know Melissa had a gun trained …’

‘I could see through the gap between the planks, through the stall – there was no horse in that stall. I couldn’t see Laura fire but I saw the effect on the back of Melissa’s head and saw her fall, the pistol fell away. You then pushed the door and got in, then turned her over. Why you didn’t see the gun, I don’t know.’

‘I did see it, I expected it was the murder weapon. Frank saw it too and I told him not to touch it.’

II

Miles had to see some clients in Lytton, he knew it was only a formality once they’d seen the samples, so that gave him two and a half hours free to meet Detective-Inspector Collins who’d conducted the investigation into Melissa’s murder.

.o0o.

Soon they were seated over a beer in the Fox and Grapes, the DI off duty, it was made clear that unless something new had turned up, they were scarcely going to reopen the case. The man wasn’t defensive but he did take the attitude ‘this needed to be good’.

Miles explained he wanted to run some details past him, he didn’t want anything reopened and he wasn’t angling for anything, he just suspected some anomalies in the stories, he needed to ask some questions.

Collins nodded and Miles began. ‘You might say I’m carrying out my own investigation of people I know in the case, there is property and commerce riding on this so I need to be sure. I’ll not step outside that brief.’

The DI nodded to continue.

‘There’s been talk of the gun held by Melissa, my wife, there was a gun near her body, but we know there was a different gun for the other shot. How far did police investigate the area behind the stables or the gully? I heard the report of the inquiry but how deeply did you go?’

‘I can tell you straight off that we found evidence of someone climbing through the window in the top corner of the stables, one shot came from just inside the window in our view, meaning the person could have been in or outside and the second, as you know, was point blank. There’s evidence, also corroborated by the boot marks, that that person came up to the victim from the window, there were traces of you two men. We don’t think either man was at the window, although Mr. O’Brien’s footprints were all over the stable.’

‘Who else did you investigate? Obviously, Frank, Laura, me but was there anyone else? I don’t mean as witnesses, I mean as possible suspects.’

He smiled. ‘You were on the list of suspects at the beginning – I think you’d expect that. We saw no sign of others in the stables.’

‘This is off the record, no one is recording anything – would you like to check me now?’ It was waved away. ‘This is only surmise and yet it’s important to me because of anomalies I’ve heard. Let’s run with the killer being female. Seems to me that it could only have been one person.’

‘One of two from my angle – and that places you in an unenviable position, Mr. Forrester. We have no motive though. Your testimony was that the father was in the house when you went down the driveway. It seems to fit, the footprints in the gully were interesting.’

‘How closely did you look at those? Please don’t take offence. Did they go past the level of the hard earth bridge is what I mean, did they go further down than that?’

‘They went all the way in both directions to and from the edge of the property. The person seems to have climbed over the property perimeter fence at the end – that would take some athleticism.’

‘So they didn’t just start near the hard-earth bridge?’

‘Not as far as we could see. Why are you focussing on that hard-earth bridge, as you put it?’

‘Because the footsteps broke there and that might have been significant.’

‘Yes we saw that but I’d like to hear you first.’

‘Detective-Inspector, I’ll play fair with you, whoever it points to, even my own mother, I’ll tell you. But first I need to be sure, I’m not a professional and I’m going to ask you a favour. I need to know two things – were those prints in the gully quite well defined when your boys examined them and has there been any subsequent attempt to blot out those footprints?’

‘Good questions. They were deep the closer they got to the little window and then there was that eight foot hard-earth bridge you speak of, where there were none, then they started again and went down to the fence. Puzzled us – I’d like to know your ideas.’

‘My ideas depend on this next question to you. Was there any sign the prints were coming out of the side of and then returning to the gully? Obliquely, I mean, to and from the path?’

‘No, they were virtually dead centre all the way up and down – a person moving quickly it seemed. They were deepest on the way back down for the first ten yards but then became lighter. As far as we could see, they were light the rest of the way.’

They drained the ales and Miles ordered more.

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