‘Let’s get back to Penny, shall we?’ said Laura. ‘Why was she up that tree? What exactly was she ensuring? Let me ask you a different one – why that tree in particular? What advantage did that give her?’
‘From there,’ he was sorting it out, ‘she could cover the little window and nod to Frank at his living room window, she had the run up the gully covered, she had you covered at the little window and me up to the stables and on the way down from them and you still haven’t told me how you yourself got away.’
‘Just before it all happened, I saw Penny – remember I don’t actually know her personally but do know it was her climbing that tree in that grey jacket – and I knew something was very wrong. I raced up the path, waited, then I saw Chloe coming up through that gully at a rate of knots – that’s when it all became clear to me. What I was annoyed with myself about was not knowing if she’d come out of the house or from down below. The first prints could have been to the hard earth bridge … and so on.’
There was a pause and he asked, ‘Why was the second shot necessary? Melissa was already dead.’
‘Vindictiveness? I just don’t know. Whoever fired that second shot had Chloe sized feet in galoshes and climbed through that window.’
‘Let’s leave all that and get to the main point of me being here. I want you to come with me now, it’s not safe for you here.’
‘You’re expecting me to laugh, to mock the idea? One moment.’ She buzzed and he could hear someone coming down the stairs. Amelie came into the room with a large holdall.
‘Yes, Miles, I do think ahead.’
It was late afternoon in Lytton, another drizzler, with sunny patches and then down it would drizzle again – a ‘don’t get your hopes up’ day.
The police station was that typical police station all police stations were, designed to depress the spirit.
‘Well, isn’t this nice … Mrs Forrester is it now?’ The DI smiled that smile Miles wished he wouldn’t.
‘Not yet,’ answered Laura. ‘If it ever happens, we’d like you at our wedding.’
‘Need you as my best man,’ added Miles.
‘My goodness,’ beamed DI Collins. ‘I’m up for it. Church is it?’
‘It would be Church,’ said Laura.
‘I think there’s something you’re not telling me.’
‘Yes,’ answered Miles. ‘We need to sort out the island, Johanssen, the MoD, Frank and Chloe first. We have a plan which we think will work.’
‘The first can be arrested tomorrow. There’s more than enough on the carrying of unregistered firearms.’
‘With the greatest respect, we’re not entrusting our safety to that. Once he sees the little spectacle we have organized for later today, he’s going to be bent on vengeance. The others will take the offers. He won’t and in jail, he’s far more powerful – he has no known natural predators inside but outside – he has you. Better he stays out for now.’
‘And you’d like protection?’
‘Not the type you can provide. He’s got people on the force, everywhere. No, he needs to be held over a barrel and we’re going to do that, make him an offer he can’t refuse.’
‘You could just murder him,’ observed DI Collins, wrily.
‘No, he has to be alive and no longer a threat. That’s all.’
‘Why are you opening up to me, an officer of the law?’
‘We’re committing no crime, neither here nor in mainland Europe and I plan to keep it that way. I might soon be throwing myself on the mercy of the law.’
‘Because it’s the last resort. You have ways of protecting people when you really want to.’
‘You’re forgetting one matter.’
‘No we’re not.’ He supplied many of the details but the part incriminating Laura he let her say herself. Thing was, as all were aware, if she was not the one who climbed through, then she was the one hiding behind the stables.
‘There are still a couple of years in that for Ms Forrester.’
‘She’d be killed inside – you know that. If there were a plea bargain, if we could help you with your enquiries and shop some erstwhile partners in crime …’
‘All right, we’ll speak on that at a later time. It would help your case if your good lady doesn’t scarper.’
‘Understood,’ put in Laura.
‘Why don’t I just arrest the lot of them now – that way, there’ll be no unpleasantness at the island, nothing for me to have to pursue. Johanssen and cronies – long stretch for multiple crimes. Ms Forrester’s Ralph – for murder, the Edinburgh case. Your Chloe – conspiracy to pervert the course, conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to murder, which also ties in Johanssen and Co. The former Ms O’Brien though has no record.’
‘We thank you but all you’ll do is postpone the denouement. Better to let us do this, there’s no law broken. Then we can get down to the issue of Laura when you have that lot where they can’t wriggle out.’
‘Good luck, I suppose.’
The day was magnificent, the wind passable, the island a picture as nature decided enough winter and had swung over to spring.
Twelve helicopters simply landed on the upper half of the island, the passengers but not the pilots got out, bent down and made for the house.
Miles tried the door – locked of course, tried his key – changed of course. One of the passengers came forward with the skeleton and the door was opened. A man sprang out from the bedroom, face creased with anger, saw the company, saw himself vastly outnumbered, two of the younger passengers simply took him by the ankles and dragged him bodily out of the house, over to the first helicopter and handcuffed a wrist and a leg to the landing sled.
‘You’re in the wrong house, my friend. That’s Mr. Forrester’s house I believe.’ Ralph Stammers was still swearing like a trooper as they returned to the house.
Miles and one of the henchmen had already stormed into the bedroom, Miles had taken her arms, the other the ankles and they carried her, naked under her bedding, into the living room, placing her on the divan. ‘Sit down, gentlemen, where you can. I’ll bring chairs.’
A few of the men were already bringing chairs in, Miles and Laura went to the kitchen and were disgusted at the state of the dishes. ‘We’ll need to use our own supplies I’m afraid,’ he apologised.
Three of the men went out to get the makings, Ralph lashed out at one as he went by, the man went over in turn and stomped on Ralph’s face, just the once. Ralph had never ever had anyone do such a thing before – it actually shut him up. It had finally dawned on him that he was up against something hard now and this was reinforced moments later when who should be striding grimly up the hill but Johanssen, shotgun in hand, with three others behind him, similarly armed.
Johanssen saw Ralph, it seemed to drive him crazy, he aimed at the men, a blast from the doorway of the house saw him almost comically upended but it was no laughing matter – he was injured and the blood poured onto the grass. The other three had more sense and laid down their weapons, stepping back.
Four more came out of the house, went down and took the weapons. Two others now went down, each had a stamp on Ralph’s face, then they dragged the bloodied Johanssen unceremoniously up the gravel path by his feet, through the door, into a heap. Chloe was goggle-eyed and very frightened, Ralph outside was just goggle-eyed. Chloe also glared at Laura who’d stayed well out of it until now and planned for that to continue.
Johanssen knew he was in deep do-dos, knew to follow the code for the moment. He shut up and just lay there, trying to breath.
‘Right,’ said Miles. ‘I’ve asked you here today because this is your island,’ he nodded to each principal in turn, ‘although not all of you know everyone else personally. It’s not necessary. Everything on this island and under it is yours. Any wealth is yours.
You will have to return the actual equipment you find to its owner – the equipment and the arms do belong to him. If he’s willing to let it go, leave the island, if you buy his equipment, then I’d say that’s a good day’s dealing.’
Two of the principals nodded to their men, who grabbed Johanssen and dropped his trousers, bent him over a couch and put a knife to his goolies. The third eyeballed him.
‘Do we make ourselves clear?’
Johanssen nodded weakly, he’d lost a fair bit of blood now and would require medical attention.
One of the principals sitting by the sideboard nodded and two of his men dragged Johanssen by his feet again, lower garments around his ankles, through the door, down to the third helicopter.
‘What are they going to do?’ whispered Chloe.
‘He’ll go to a hospital,’ said Miles. ‘His gun misfired, didn’t it? They’ll drop him to the gravel from a metre or so above and someone is bound to find him in the middle of that carpark. The other three are still sitting on the grass out there. I thought they might have gone for the gite, there may be booby traps. I suggest we take my ex-woman with us – she’ll go in ahead of us once we’re down there.’
There was a general exodus, the skeleton key man locked up behind him, two men took Chloe’s hands and pulled them behind her, binding her wrists with string, she was ashen. One pushed her in the upper back, nothing near the baby and she too went outside.
Ralph saw the procession to the gite and averted his bloodied face.
Eventually they all emerged from the gite, one of the principals now turned and wondered, ‘Why, Miles?’
‘I have my own revenue sources which are better for my health, I’d never know what to do with that sort of money and I want Johanssen out of my hair. You’ve done the latter …’
‘For some time, my friend, only for some time. He’ll come after you, we should have ended it.’
‘We have a part two for Johanssen, if necessary, I think it will happen too. You need to take your island because soon you’ll need to deal with the Man himself, through a nasty specimen called Dan Cornell and another called Penny Dalshiel. The MoD wants this island but they’ll have to pay you big if you get onto it quickly, we’ve discussed why – it’s over to you now. My lady has one request – don’t hurt the young idiot currently shackled to the helicopter.’
‘You’re making a mistake.’
‘I know I am, I’m glad she’s hearing this now, it’s complete idiocy leaving him alive, there’s nothing I can do though – the lady has spoken. Any of you got wives? Women get these obsessions for the unworthy.’
There were grunts and groans, Laura glared at him. Formalities over, they went to the helicopters, Ralph was shown the alternatives – take off with them all now, still shackled below or travel inside if he promised never to come after the happy couple, nor do anything to hurt anyone, on pain of instant snuffing out. He nodded, his employment with Johanssen was at an end.
Everything now done, Ralph released, Johanssen dropped from the copter to the gravel, the others dropped via cable into the arms of the law, Chloe eased down and placed in a wheelchair, one helicopter now swung out over the Irish Sea, the others went their separate ways.
‘What’s this?’ asked Penny.
‘We can’t hold you any longer, Penny. You know your position depended on you remaining incognito.’
‘That’s unfair dismissal.’
‘Not in terms of our arrangement – you’re welcome to try but official secrets comes into play. Speaking of playing, you were playing away.’
Document after document was laid down in front of her – just the summaries – she looked away.
‘Sorry Penny, you’ve done good work apart from this. The usual severance package will be forthcoming.’
All the way down those stairs, murder was in her heart, Cornell plus O’Brien would go down for this. Favours were about to be called in.
She paused by one of those pillars between shops with a full length mirror attached, she looked terrible and had to regroup – she had no bargaining chips any longer.
The beat of the helicopter blades overhead changed its note as the craft with Miles and Laura dipped and started its downwards descent.
Laura didn’t know what was going on – she leaned her head against the glass and saw a boat below, it was obvious they were going to land on it but it was surely too small. Now the penny dropped.
The braces were donned, the line attached, they stepped gingerly to the edge, the whir began and down they went, clutching each other.
The landing was a bit unceremonious on the wet deck, the braces were released, the line retracted and the helicopter swung away in the direction of who knew where.
‘Well?’ she asked.
‘This way,’ and he led her down the ladder, along the walkway and into the wheelhouse.
The boatman nodded, said a few things to Miles and handed over the wheel – Laura was incredulous. ‘What the …?’
Then: ‘Well, are you going to explain?’
He pointed to the door leading downstairs and said, ‘I’ll join you after you freshen up.’
She looked at him, turned and went downstairs. It became patently obvious which room was theirs – many of her things were in there, only Amelie could have packed them. There was a conspiracy here and she didn’t mind one bit.
She checked the bathroom and it was quite large really, not only that but her toilet bag was there, the one she’d taken away with her.
She looked in the wardrobe – his things were up one end, hers down the other, it was surreal, unreal. She went back to the bathroom and spent fifteen minutes freshening up, changing into a dress for the evening, a dress which had also been packed.
Someone went past the door, she heard him talking to Miles. Miles came downstairs, saw her in the dress, hair immaculate, said all the right things, then stepped up and kissed her cheek. They walked down the passageway to another largish room with a table in the middle.
That table had been set for two, the wine had been poured, the buffet supper was ready, there were cold cuts on the sideboard.
‘We weren’t sure what time we’d get here, what time the business would finish. Breakfast will be cooked.’
‘I’m going to tell you a secret after we’ve eaten, Miles. You’ve taken me on trust but I need to level with you, it’s a major factor in why I’m with you.’
‘Intriguing. Let’s eat first.’
They ate in silence, hungrily as a matter of fact but eventually she asked, ‘Why did that man give you the steering wheel?’
‘The ship’s wheel? Because he had to put out the supper.’
‘You know that’s not what I meant. Why to you, Miles?’
‘She’s my boat, one of them.’
‘Not all of them are. I have a fleet, they fish. I skim off 5% – just a small revenue stream over 26 boats – it adds up, people always need fish. EU is not a factor given the Irish agreement. I actually own eight of the boats. There are other revenue streams too – mild, modest, constant, small time. I need to know you can take a diverse life, doing different things. The fishing is only one part.’
‘I’m adaptable, I quite like this boat,’ she laughed.
‘We could live on a bit bigger boat or we could forget it – I like boats but that’s just me.’
‘I do too, always have, perhaps a little bigger than this, not by a lot though. Anyway, we have bigger questions first.’
‘Yes. Your secret.’
‘That’s for bed. How sure are you we won’t be overheard?’
‘If our heads are on the pillow and we lie the other way, not with heads near the outside, and we keep the voices down, it should be OK.’
They took care of business, the man came through and took the dishes, threw Miles a cloth and he cleaned the table.
‘So, here we are, Ms Laura.’
‘I’m not Laura.’ She looked searchingly at him, at the lack of reaction.
‘I thought there was something,’ he eventually said. ‘I wasn’t sure.’
‘At least Laura is one of my names, my second name. My first name is … Jacqueline, Jacqui if you want. There are reasons.’
‘And your sister?’
‘She’s not my sister-sister, so to speak but a cousin, a close cousin. Her name’s sometimes Janine. There’s another cousin called Emma but she doesn’t come into the tale, she’s married and lives in Salzburg. My mother died in childbirth, my father passed away of lung cancer four years ago, I was brought up by my aunt.’
‘That’s the big secret?’
‘No, not the main one. I don’t wish to burst this bubble I have with you now, Miles, but I’m actually very much employed, or at least have been until now, which puts me in a quandary – best I just tell you. You may have heard of certain things happening in the world, perhaps you haven’t. The Mayor of Neuillie was odds-on to be elected and then suddenly withdrew – I withdrew him.’
‘Yes, I suggested it was best for all concerned. To be more precise, a certain gentleman knew of something he’d done which made him unfit for office but couldn’t get it to stick. I took the commission, worked my way into the mayor’s household as hired help, he became dependent, I then presented him with his choices, before disappearing – I’m good at disappearing.’
‘Noted. What if he’d not been guilty? What if this had just been a vendetta by a rich man?’
‘Oh but he was guilty. He just couldn’t be touched. I was called in, I have a certain reputation for discretion. Over my time with him, I made sure he was guilty – if I couldn’t have become sure of that, I’d have resigned the commission and taken the loss.’
‘Only mayors and men in high places?’
‘No, anyone but it’s not Robin Hood work – I have a fee and it’s not a small one, I have to be reasonably sure of his or her guilt to start with and then find the rest out on the job. Amelie works for a section in London, loosely connected to the Treasury, which is desperate to make my acquaintance.
They’re apparently not averse to what I do, as my targets are often theirs and I have a better track record than them but a couple of times I’ve boobed, got it wrong and ruined one of their long investigations. I had to go to ground for that. It takes a long time on a job – months to work my way in, a month to do it, then a month gone to ground. I just go back to being Laura again. They have nothing to go on but there’s a reason for that.’
‘How do you cross borders?’
‘That’s the thing. My employers are often good with documentation or lorries. I’m generally left alone but someone is leaning on one of the men in the Home Office over me – I’ve been trying to find out who.’
‘I’d imagine this Scarlett Pimpernel type work gets you in, you get a taste for it.’
‘If you mean I couldn’t settle with you, yes I could, as long as we were active and it stayed diverse, just as you said to me. The work I’ve done is exciting, as I’m playing a part and then disappearing – exciting but empty too – no one like you to come home to, only to the Franks and Ralphs.’
‘Were Frank and you an item or was he a job?’
She took a sip on her drink.