Laura looked across, put the drink back on the sidetable and answered.
‘You know his character – he was a job. Through his car business, he stumbled onto a discovery and my employer wanted to know what it was. Frank touted it about, trying to find a buyer and that’s where Penny became interested. Her strength is her networking, she knows everyone, she heard about this man, knew it was about metals or design, wasn’t sure which. But the one who employed me has a connection with Penny – once the island connection with you became apparent, then it seemed time for me to move in on Frank.’
‘So, from the beginning, you’ve had tabs on the island and me.’
‘Yes, and on Chloe, hence I befriended her, where once she was a fellow escort. I haven’t got to the main point yet.’
‘This is where my months, even a year of sizing you up has brought me to, decision time,’ she said quietly. ‘It’s also going to tell you something about me. In plain speak, I’m making my move on you but to my surprise, you’ve also made your move on me.’ She took a sip from the glass on the bedside table, then turned back. ‘You see, part of my job was to spy and I think did it reasonably well.’
‘Don’t I know it.’
‘Along the way, I found this slip of paper.’ She reached into her knickers, the last remaining item of clothing on her and gave it to him. He peered at it closely in the half light.
‘The cloak is made of a block of polydimethylsiloxane, a polymer used for contact lenses and shampoos, with added nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to help it scatter light more effectively. Inside the block is a hollow metal cylinder coated with reflective acrylic paint.’
She looked at him. ‘That in itself didn’t tell me much but something else did.’
He just looked at her. ‘I can see how this sort of thing would get a person in.’
‘This prototype of an advanced cloaking mechanism was one of the last major technological breakthroughs to come out of Crielere Labs. They’re two separate reports, not the same material. And this:
‘At the time, a group at BASF led by Carl Bosch bought most of the world’s supply of osmium to use as a catalyst. Shortly thereafter, in 1908, cheaper catalysts based on iron and iron oxides were introduced by the same group for the first pilot plants, removing the need for the expensive and rare osmium.’ ’
‘Ah. Hence the MoD.’
‘Hence the MoD but that’s only part of it. Amelie works within her department and they have access to the same archives as a geological offshoot group, too complicated to detail now and the reason they shelved any attempt to mine under your island was that they did find your vein …’
‘Yes but it was low grade, adulterated.’
‘Yes but as those archives were not accessible, except to bureaucrats who didn’t dare show any unhealthy interest over the decades, that’s how it stayed. You, however, know differently as you’ve had samples analysed.’
‘And you know what type of rock it can be found in.’
‘And you knew where there was substantial igneous rock which may have been in the form you were starting to think of.’
He smiled. ‘I was looking around the Isle of Skye at first.’
‘Perhaps but let’s not deflect from this. Will you get up now and check for any ears onboard.’
He returned and climbed back in. ‘I’ve had a long time exploring all this and I had a hunch you did not just discover deposits of osmium. There was another material as well.’
He looked at her, deciding. ‘Yes, torbernite.’
‘And what you and I know but those five under the island did not, is that those tunnels all ended without going further because the osmium does not actually underlie the whole island but is only in outcrops. However, the torbernite is everywhere and though it’s low priced and of limited use to the world as a whole, it is deadly, and that has its uses.’
He did not reply and she went on.
‘So in fact, by knowing that and happily not involving yourself in the mining, also happily getting off the island the moment there was trouble, you knew you were avoiding two things – one was military interest in large quantities of crystal, plus the fallout once it was known the osmium was only in minor outcrops. So, it’s not about billions of pounds at all – it’s still worth a fair bit but that’s not the main value of the island – the value of the island is and always has been in its destructive potential. The MoD report was lost or buried, you are aware of that, I am from my digging, no one else is. Penny and Dan Cornell seem not to be aware – they still think it’s billions. You were lucky that Johanssen and Co went vertically down from the gites, the ore was fine around there. Actually, I wonder if that was just luck. No matter. Your issue now becomes those principals, you sometimes call them your patrons.’
‘You’re informed. They did know the whole thing, I told them all of it – which minerals, how much, I kept nothing from them – it’s still worth a fair amount. This is why they need to take the island now, with us far away, they can then bleed the MoD for ownership. I’d always wondered why it never stayed owned for long, that outcrop, why people did not mine it, why there’s only ever been lukewarm reaction to that windswept rock over the centuries, certainly over the last hundred years. Yes, I did wonder that and there was the folklore of the boatmen as well, about just how toxic it really was.’
‘Is there any stibnite, orpiment or any of those?’
‘Trace. Probably not much orpiment though. Now my turn – if you knew these things, why the charade with Frank?’
‘I was being paid, it’s as simple as that – it was a job.’
‘For which you’d have sex.’
‘I’ve been waiting for this, for you to say something really nasty like that, you did it for my reaction. I’m close to falling in love with you, Miles but not if you go this route. You know my past now, you know the path I took, I never said I was a saint. I can give all that up quite easily and have the one man, although you have reservations about this Ralph – I tell you now that it may have been an issue earlier but I see he’s hot for Chloe, not for me. If you’re serious about me, then no one is going to come between us, this I can guarantee you. But Miles, if you do this jealousy thing, this asking where I’ve been, this asking about lovers – I don’t want it. That’s providing there are no grounds of course – if you have reasonable suspicions, well that’s another story. We’ve been making love now for … a brief time … have I seemed unhappy? Do you have grave reservations? Tell me now.’
‘I take all that onboard and agree with the way you see it. I’m very, very sorry and I already love you.’
‘Thank you. I lied to you. I do love you already too. And Miles, I plan to cut those sorts of jobs to a minimum, short term, no sex required. It reduces my value but Miles – it was reducing anyway as I become known.’
‘I admit that that’s a relief but the thing now is to keep you happy and interested.’
‘I wouldn’t worry about that – I’ve got the general idea what you’re about – it will be more than enough, looking at it dispassionately … but Miles, I’m not looking at it dispassionately now.’
‘Thank you. Tell me Amelie’s thoughts about it all – about the island I mean.’
‘Amelie thinks it’s vast money and it attracts her in a way which makes her just a little suspect. Inside our home in Durham she was all right but I’m thinking she’s getting offers from them now which she’s not talking about.’
‘There’s one more thing I’ve discovered and it might just affect my entire behaviour.’
‘You have no knickers on.’
‘I was wondering if you’d ever notice.’
‘That’s unfair, I have no resistance, there’s no known antidote.’
She had this way of grinning, Laura, which challenged and invited you but if you took up the invitation, you were scrutinised all the way, until, as he found now, she was no longer capable of any scrutiny. Then he’d take over.
The meeting was at the little home DI Collins had arranged for them, his second house, Miles offered a fair rental for a year, with the option at the end of that time.
Laura asked him why, when there were any number of boats they could have had.
‘More secure, a boat is more vulnerable, it’s closer to the action here, draws the action away from the fleet, we can get the law in more quickly. We’ll still keep the boats of course.’
She would keep Durham on for now, run by Amelie, Collins was pleased it had worked out and now arrived part two of the plan – he was at the door right now – Dave Collins. Older brother, smiling, happy man, secure in his abilities and how he had things organized.
It was all chummy over the tea and cakes she’d bought around the corner – around the corner being one of the main drawcards for Laura. They’d crossed the Rubicon on first name terms. So, DI Collins was henceforth Leyton Collins.
‘I’m going to leave you three now, must dash,’ he said, ‘I’ll let myself out. Dave knows what I need, tell him what you need and he’ll call me later. Keep your calls to me to a minimum – it’s not that I don’t want to hear from you but …’
Laura got in first. ‘Whatever we decide now, will you bring your own lady for dinner Thursday or Friday?’
Collins grinned. ‘My lady, yes?’
‘I’ll call her now.’ He did, she was happy to, the phone was snapped shut. ‘Thursday then.’
The DI took his leave.
‘Now to business.’
It was Laura, not Miles who took up the conversation, detailing to Dave Collins how the various departments worked, sparks of recognition of names from time to time – he’d worked for government departments, yes he could do this, no he couldn’t do that.
Miles got up and put the kettle on again.
Laura was divulging a fair bit to the brother of a lawman but if she didn’t know what she was doing, no one did. Dave Collins appreciated that she was doing this and suggested ways he could get a line on what was going on, especially in Haas’s office. Laura said they changed their security every month, not an issue said Dave.
The question of remuneration came up. ‘You couldn’t afford me, here’s what we charge clients,’ and he showed an invoice. Miles gulped, Laura was stony-faced. ‘Obviously, I’m not going to charge you that, I was called in by bro, but I’ll need to not be out of pocket though on some of the gear I need to get in. Not a lot, I have most of it, I’ve any number of servers.’
‘We’ll cover that, but if it gets beyond us, we’ll just have to pull out.’
‘You need to see my work first, you’ll need to see some results, I’ll show you Thursday if I’m invited too,’ he paused and received confirmation, ‘and show you what it actually cost in bits and pieces, the fee will be just my time halved and you’ll pay half of that itself, Leyton the other. You’ll be well able to afford it.’
‘And the naughty people will not be aware what you’re doing?’
‘That’s what the fee is for, if they have the slightest inkling of who we are, everything stops, you pay nothing. All right, have to be off. Till Thursday. I know this house, I’ll let myself out.’
It was coming up to Frank’s and Chloe’s trials. Johanssen was already inside, his second home, not unhappy by any stretch of the imagination, his quarters were comfortable and he was spared the more ignominious privations of Full Sutton.
In return, many in the community around Pocklington enjoyed some of the largesse he distributed via his ‘aides’ as he called them. Three stretch with good behaviour – it could have been worse.
The only unpleasantness was a bit of a turf war over substances but when it became clear he wasn’t remotely interested, calm returned and the two groups maintained a healthy and respectful distance. In fact, the new problem inside was the jihadi mafia – those guys were total nutters.
Word was that Johanssen had friends in high places and was on temporary sabbatical to regroup and get things sorted again.
‘Let’s discuss the paternity issue,’ suggested Miles after supper one night.
‘You mean Chloe’s?’
‘Yep. Do you know the Human Tissue Act 2004, Section 45?’
‘Paternity test for Chloe, yes?’ He confirmed, she went on. ‘Yes but it could equally be Frank’s. We just have to wait, Miles. They’ve got her on the murder, pending appeal, your DI was good after all. I could come to like the constabulary.’
Ms Dalshiel was having a second try with Dan Cornell or to be exact, he’d called her in and she’d swallowed her pride. He greeted her as if nothing whatever had happened.
‘We’re now on the island, Penny – that’s where I see you being. We thought there might not be a place but someone wants you around. Fine by me.’
‘We’re flexible. You are flexible, Penny, are you not?’
She looked hard at Dan Cornell and knew there was only one reply she could safely give. ‘You’ll take over Basel?’ she asked as lightly as she could.
‘What’s that to you, my lovely?’
‘You know I had thoughts,’ she admitted, a trifle breezily, clever girl thought Cornell.
‘I’ll put you in there eventually, Penny – better the devil you know – but the N1 priority at this time is the island and nailing this Emma. She’s almost certainly Laura, would you not say?’
‘I thought so but maybe Laura’s no more than an escort after all. I’m looking at this Janine just now. Anyway, those two have issues with Johanssen …’
‘Not if we don’t need them to. I think we should let that one play out a while longer – it’s distracting Forrester, all the other players are inside, we’re into the seam already – I think we just stick to what we have right now and see off interest from other parties.’
‘Let’s say she is this Laura. She’s been doing a bit of sailing of late, hasn’t she? North Sea’s a dangerous place at times.’
Leyton Collins felt it was within his brief in taking the London bound, due to arrive 11.52 at Kings Cross. Seemed good to explore the various parties more deeply, Amelie was better seen in her natural work habitat, though he could have gone to Durham.
Anyway, here was Kings Cross and outside was the car.
On the way, Paul Glendinning took in his passenger and the reverse was happening too. Typical copper, thought Glendinning. Typical Whitehall, thought Collins, though he was wide of the mark there, yet it was all very chummy.
‘How long do you need?’ asked Glendinning.
‘Give me the morning. There’s a little cafe on the Embankment – we’ll have tea and cakes there.’
‘You’re telegraphing your moves. Why?’
‘I need you satisfied. I need her forthcoming.’
‘Why do you think she would be forthcoming anyway?’
‘I have some snippets.’
‘And you think she and your investigation are connected?’
‘I’m sure of it. If I’m right, it doesn’t affect any of your operations, it’s all about her personally. There’s also a third person, female, who should not have been involved in that murder in any way – there seems no connection, no need for her to have been there. The interesting thing in checking her out is that I can’t check her out. She’s of great interest to me and I’d like to discuss her with you later if you would.’
‘Not my department.’
‘Who’s not your department?’
‘All right,’ smiled Glendinning, ‘I’d appreciate a summary of this morning after the event, insofar as it affects us and then we’ll speak of Penny Dalshiel. Here we are.’
He half pulled into the space, a tight fit in the courtyard, suggesting the other get out first.
Sipping on the still hot tea at the cafe, he looked across at her, a slightly older version of Laura but without the panache, with far more cautious eyes, yet there was something in her manner which triggered something in his memory banks. Not her specifically, but the type.
‘Let’s cut to the chase, Detective Inspector. Why would I be of interest to your investigation?’
He began the spiel about the murder, how far they’d got, who was put away, who was still a danger – nothing, he was sure, she didn’t already know from her sister. ‘I’ve one question only – who would you rate the greater threat to this Emma – would it be an MoD man or would it be a young lady who’s just come back into his employ?’
Janine paused and considered, genuinely so, thought Collins. ‘On paper, you’d have to say the man you spoke of – he has more power, greater reach – but she has the network, the knowledge and is ruthless, she’s empire building and he knows it, she knows he knows and he knows that. Penny is looking at me as being this Emma. Detective Inspector, we could have done this in Durham and yet you chose to come here. Why?’
‘To see your section at work and to speak with your section head about other matters as well. I have to report on this conversation to Mr. Glendinning too by the way, he asked me that and I agreed.’ She nodded. ‘But it won’t have anything to do with her. It’s you I’m officially seeing, I told him that.’
‘Rumblings from Johanssen, large amount of money paid over,’ said Miles to the lady at the ship’s wheel, three hundred miles from land.
‘It’s upon us then,’ observed the novice skipper.
‘Yep, he now feels secure enough, we’ll need to go ashore, Laura.’
‘All right,’ she touched his face, ‘you carried out Plan A on the island, it was a good plan, it broke up his organisation and showed he had to be most careful but that element of surprise has now gone. If it’s all the same to you, let’s try my Plan C now, a woman’s plan, it has elements of finality to it. I know you have a Plan B but let me at least tell you about Plan C and see what you think.’
‘Your wish is my command.’
‘Good boy. It’s more subtle, Miles, to a man’s, it’s more psychological, it hits him where it hurts. What does a man like Johanssen care about most?’
‘Face, yes, that’s important. He can always get more money. But aside from that, what he can’t get is another daughter.’
He was appalled. ‘That’s a thousand times worse than what I’ve done. And your sex call us ruthless.’
‘I don’t mean physical harm to her but psychological to him. According to my sources, he keeps her well out of it in Switzerland, and by all accounts she’s a nice kid. If she were to be away from the school and come into some danger and you were to rescue her …’
Chloe did not have visitors, by virtue of Ralph and Frank being inside and the other two being otherwise engaged. In fact, she’d had no visitors since she’d been inside.
So this one was intriguing – she’d agreed to see Frank’s mechanic.
He was shown into the interview room, she came in the other side, they sat and he began. ‘Frank wants to know if you need anything.’
‘He meant did you need anything doing, bringing.’
‘Uh-huh.’ He rose, nodded to the officer and went out. Chloe, on the other hand, sat there, watching.
Back in his car, the man sat in his driver’s seat and wrote in his pad: ‘Lady-replied-fuck-off.’ He thought for a moment, then wrote: ‘Twice.’
He checked the list – three down, one to go but this next one meant an overnighter to Edinburgh. Ho hum.