Monday, April 6, 2015

4. The MoD and certain other Parties



I

There was a knock at the door of the cottage in Durham.  Amelie answered it and was both surprised and not surprised.

'Come in.  You're certainly getting about the country, Mr. Forrester.'

Laura was coming down the stairs in her robe, shaking out her hair and smiling.  'Miles.  What brings you at 9 p.m.?'

'We need to talk, not in generalities but to plan.  I need to let you in on some things.  I've also been with DI Collins.'

'Intriguing.'

A late supper was hurriedly prepared, they went through to the living room and sat down.  He got straight down to it.  'Is your phone tapped, do these walls have ears?  Do you have your own recording system for interesting visitors?'

'Not sure, yes and yes.  I'll switch it off if it's in my interests to.'

'I think it is.  Before we get down to any of it, I want to say that the murder is still important to the Inspector but he can't get closer.  For me, it's now less important in the scheme of things - my island it paramount now.  You're now part of my plans.'

'Just one moment.'

'I've done it,' said Amelie.  'I'm going upstairs.'

She did so.  Laura said, 'That does mean she won't listen - she's in the room on the end.  We have our code.  Fire away.'

'Things are about to hit the fan and I can't do it alone.  You think you can and I hear you're pretty good but even this one is too big.  We're not dealing just with the Man here but with serious nutters.  Even your charm won't save the situation.'

'What are you proposing?'

'That you and I throw in our lot together on this for now, in the short term at least, combine, work out some strategies.'

'Why would your interests coincide with mine?'

'They wouldn't have earlier, that's true but things have moved on swiftly.  I know you have your sources.  I'm using the law because they have better surveillance, a better catchment and as I'm no criminal - well at least not currently wanted as one - it makes sense.'

'For you maybe.  I have much to lose.'

'You're probably better at these things than me, you're intelligent.  I've a cavalier streak and ruthlessness you haven't seen yet because I've not shown it.'

'That's where you're wrong,' she smiled. 'Doncaster?'

'Ah, so you see the modus operandi.  That helps.  I'm going to divulge a lot this evening and if you're playing fair, we'll survive.  If you're still playing a lone hand, honouring commitments, then we're gone.'

'Convince me then.'

'All right.  This evening, about now, Frank's being arrested.'

'What's he charged with?' she demanded.

'First degree.  He was the one looking through the little window.'

'But that's rubbish,' she was annoyed.  'You know as well as I do that he was down near the house.  No one's ever said otherwise, not Chloe, not me, not you.'

'He's remanded, nothing more.  Laura, look at me.  The third female was up that tree, right?'

She was seriously in two minds, not just about the question but about it all.  She was either going to close this off now or she was about to jump into the abyss.  Are you working for DI Collins?  Will my answer go to him?'

'On my word, no.  Not unless you yourself release it.  I need you now, for the foreseeable too and you know my way of operating.  You know I play fair once I've decided on someone that way.'

'Yes.'

'Yes you know?'

'Yes she was.'

'And her name is Penny.'

'How did you ... never mind.  Yes.'

'And she was wearing a grey jacket.'

'Amazing.  Yes.'

'She's MoD, according to my sources, yet she keeps an eye out for a man called Cornell and there's some sort of familiarity between the two.'

'Familiarity,' she snorted. 'That's a good word for it.'

'Frank has a connection with all this.  Now, we either pool our information and are ahead of the game or we don't and get nowhere.'

'Meaning that's all you have on that.'

'On that, yes. Fair comment. On Ralph, Chloe and the gite - much more.'

She sighed. 'OK, Miles, I buy.  Penny's ex-agency, she's out for the main chance, Dan Cornell thinks he has her under the thumb, his lackey, she squares things and has her antennae out, he's in charge of the plan to buy and explore under the island.  I don't know her but know much about her.  I find these things out. Ralph is Johanssen's man dealing with MoD - they're offering you on a plate. You're to be compromised or threatened, you get the owners to sell -'

'I'm using the DI at Lytton, just as he's using me.  He'll not let me in on it if he's planning an arrest and he knows I'll not rat on you.  I'll certainly rat on the others.  You have loyalties to Ralph - I know it's more than business - and it's not in your nature to help the law.  I'm in two minds about the law - they can be useful. The one who killed Melissa was either you or Chloe.  The DI's been back there with a fine tooth comb -'

'No.'

'Which means you and Frank aren't in communication or else you're playing a clever game.'

'No, I'm not playing.  All right, Miles, my job was to throw Melissa the gun and she was going to force you to sign away the island.  But as you know and I know and almost everyone knows - but no one told Melissa - that was never going to happen at gunpoint.  How she fell for it, I don't know.  As I say, I was meant to but something made me pause - I was being left out of the loop too much. Frank's shrewd in business but not a forward thinker.

It seemed to me a classic set up.  I throw the gun, he's worked on Melissa about me stealing the money, she lives for the money - lived - and I feared she was readying to kill me.  I didn't buy the island selling in the least.   The gun was in the covered area, the secret cranny, behind the stables, up that end where the window is.'

He was watching every move of the lips, every facial gesture and she was weatching him back.  Her throat was parched and she took a sip of tea.

'The idea was for it to be split second.  I had no idea Chloe was coming up to the stables.  Yes, I knew she was on with Frank, had been from well before that day - he wanted the island but was a bit out of that loop and used any chance.  He backgrounded her, found a person he could do business with and it went from there.'

'You mean they were making love.'

'I'd not have called it love, we've been through all that.  So Frank was well aware of the ownership of the island, as you'd let the information out to Chloe.  I don't know for sure but I'm pretty sure.  In my head then - I was sure I was to throw the gun, Melissa was to threaten you, Melissa shoots me, you're framed.'

'I'd have seen her do it.'

'Miles, Miles. I keep saying, I was getting squeezed out, though they made it look as if I was right in there at important discussions, everyone yelling this and that.  Let's take this step by step.  Did I go to Durham?'

'That's set in rock and yes it was you.  But why?'

'Frank.  He wanted me out of it.  So whether he changed his mind or I did is going to explain that.  Call your DI.  I want to know you know.  Then I can continue.  Please.  For me?'

He took out the mobile and called.  There was to-ing and fro-ing, some long pauses, then he said thanks and hung up.

'You were called from the house at 9.35 a.m.  Went for twelve minutes.  He called the cab company and changed your return booking.  OK.'

'That's important because either Chloe or I came up that gully.  If I was making an unexpected return, why would I go all the way up that gully to the stables?'

'Frank had changed the plan.  Let me see.  I was already ... no.  I might have been there early and so you could not have gone to the house in the open.  You'd got to the hotel and met Chloe -'

'Who said that?'

He nodded.  'Chloe.  But you went along with that to me.'

'Yes because I was fencing at that point.  I knew that if the taxi did well, I'd be at the house well before you arrived.  It's all very simple.  Where did the cabby drop me?  The house.  This has been entirely missed.  I never met Chloe at the hotel earlier.  There can only be one person walking up the path in the open to the house and another coming up the gully, yes?'

Look at my timing from Durham by cab.  Think it through.  You were arriving the orthodox route.  How could I have known when?  What was the only purpose for me to come back to the house?'

'Change of plan.'

'Either Frank told me something in that phone call and I took it on myself to come back - why would he then pay for that and also reorganize the time?  Or else he wanted me back to be the one to throw the gun to Melissa.  Why?'

'Did you know Chloe was arriving, staying at the hotel?'

'You can check this out any time you like.  I at least didn't meet her.  I'm saying I didn't know at all.  But I sure thought through all the possibilities on the trip back.  At this stage, all I knew was that, having been out of the loop, suddenly I'm back in it and it's all so rushed.  Get to the property and race up there into place.'

'The police were sure someone was inside with Frank.'

'And then found the planted handkerchief or maybe really hers and she dropped it.'

'But we know there was another woman who had to have been there early at the house.'

'Penny.'

'So where was Chloe?  We know she checked in mid-morning at the hotel.'

'Yes and then went straight up to the house.  Openly.  Early enough for that.'

'Oh my goodness.  Why did they want to take you out?'

'This Penny is a complication I could do without because it opens up my past and the things I do.  I shall tell you, prove this to you, if we ever become ... friends ... but for now, will you take my word that I'd discovered something about Frank, which related back to Penny and people around her?'

'OK, I'll accept that for now.  So Chloe -'

'Miles, Penny is MoD.'

'Ah.  Then why, if you knew that probable danger, did you go back there?'

'The gully cuts both ways in this.  It doesn't just shield me from you, it shields me from the others in the house.  I might have been killed inside.  As I've told you, I was in place -'

'I don't buy you just going back there unarmed.'

'I wasn't unarmed,' she said quietly. 'But we know the pistol and the rounds which did any killing have been accounted for.  Why would anyone have looked for another weapon?'

'Phew.  So if you'd rushed up there, knowing there was a possible ambush and someone had come out of the hiding place ...'

'Yes, I would have.'

'And you still have the gun?'

'What gun?'

'OK.  That's fair.'

'No, no one came out, there were no shocks, I grabbed the weapon intended for me to take, went to the window and waited.  Then there really were two shocks.  First was that I saw Penny - remember I don't actually know her but now know it is her - crossing the gravel drive at the point the corner of the stables allowed me, she did not look my way, she was hellbent on getting into that tree.  In that grey jacket.  The second was Chloe taking that diagonal you were referring to, only not into the gully but straight at me.  That's when I saw it all.'

'And the fight ensued.'

'Yes.'

'And she went back down the gully?' 

'A short way, then I got out of there.'

'To me, it doesn't matter if the second shot was Chloe's or Frank's.  I know which you prefer.  Why did Chloe not go the whole way down the gully?  Maybe she did, you came out of the secret place where you'd dropped back, through the window and shot Melissa a second time.'

'Miles, you can make that case.  Yes, you can.  Think though of my state of mind.  I'd already been trapped.  I wanted out.  There's a very simple way.  The roof is close to the steps there - onto the roof, over to the diagonally opposite corner, which drops onto concrete and then there is the rock border to the garden, all the way to the fence.  I was out of there.  And one more thing.  I had no vested interest.  There was never anything coming to me from Frank.  Plus I'm not vindictive.'

'No you're not.'

'What do you want to do?  Marry?'

'Straight to it.'  He was taken aback.  'We need to deal with Johanssen and some others before we even get to discussing that.'

'I'd like to stay in the same bed as you tonight but no sex - not yet.  I'd like to retain a clear mind.  I can tell you my loyalty is now to you.  You accepted me.'

II

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.

'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 a 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.  We have a plan which we think everyone but Johanssen will go for.'

'He 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 that 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?'

'I've committed no crime, either here or in mainland Europe and I plan to keep it that way.  I might soon be throwing myself on the mercy of the law.'

'Why?'

'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.

'Phew, can you prove any of this?'

'In a way.  Measure Laura's feet, look at the scenario, hear Laura's tale.  Decide for yourself.'

'There are still a couple of years inside for Ms Forrester.'

'She'd be killed inside - you know that.  If there was 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.'

'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 has no record.'

'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.  And you'll have all of them where they can't wriggle out.'

'The arm of the law is long.'

'I hear what you're saying, we're going nowhere we can't come back from.'

'Good luck, I suppose.'

III

The day was magnificent, the wind passable, the island a picture as twelve helicopters simply landed in 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 and saw himself vastly outnumbered, three of the younger passengers simply took him by the legs and dragged him bodily out of the house, over to the first helicopter and handcuffed a wrist and a leg to the railing.

'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 had already stormed into the bedroom, taken her by the arm and dragged her into the living room, flinging her into an armchair.  'Sit down, gentlemen.  I'll bring chairs.'

A few of the men helped, they brought the chairs in, Miles and Laura went to the kitchen and were disgusted at the state of the dishes.  They found various clean glasses, a couple of cups, saw the state of the fridge, came in and said, 'We need to use our own supplies I'm afraid.'

Three of the men went out to get the makings, Ralph lashed out at one as he went by, he 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 dawned 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 closed the weapon, aimed at the men, a blast from the doorway of the house saw him almost comically upended but it was no joking 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.  The three who'd been collecting the makings now went down and dragged the bloodied Johanssen unceremoniously up the gravel path by his feet and flung him through the door.  Chloe was goggle-eyed and very frightened, Ralph outside was just goggle-eyed.

Johanssen treated like this.  Something registered in his brain that they were now messing with the Man.  There was a way to act under these circumstances and Ralph acted that way now.

Back inside, refreshments were poured and sandwiches distributed, two of the men sat on Johanssen who'd now woken up that he was in deep do-dos and 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 principle in turn, although not all of you know everyone else.  It's not necessary.  Everything on this island and under it is yours.  Any wealth is yours.

You will have to return the equipment to the owners, one who is lying under two of your men just now - the equipment and the arms do belong to him.  This can be done by engaging a ship such as the one we have approaching from the south about twenty nautical miles away at this moment, a big fucker actually.'  They looked at the mild mannered farmer sharply.

'Yes, these five plus all their equipment will be taken to the mainland, where the law awaits them, unless of course, you'd like to make private arrangements with these gentlemen to buy or hire the equipment to continue the work which, I understand, is already realizing a pretty penny as we speak.  I'll leave you to that.

The little question of my safety and that of my wife to be -' Chloe looked daggers at Laura '- needs to be taken care of.  I have reason to fear the wrath of this bit of scum under your two men.  One moment.'  He pulled three newspapers out of his satchel and handed then around.  'This is what Johanssen does to those who cross him.'

Two of the principals nodded to his men, who grabbed Johanssen and disrobed him, then bent him over a couch while another pulled out a knife and put it to his crown jewels.  The principal came over to Johanssen, lowered his face and eyeballed him. 

'Do I make myself clear?'

Johanssen nodded weakly, he'd lost a fair bit of blood now and would need medical attention. 

'If anything whatever happens to my colleagues here or any of their family, you know what is going to happen.  If you try to come after any of us, all these other gentlemen will come after you, whether you did it, whether you ordered it or someone else did.  Is that also clear?

Is that clear?'

Johanssen nodded again but now he was in a state.  One of the principals sitting by the sideboard nodded and two of his men took Johansson by the feet, dragging him down to the third helicopter.

'What are they going to do?' whispered Chloe.

'He'll go to a hospital.  His gun misfired, didn't it.'

Miles took over.  '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'd suggest we take my unfaithful ex-woman with us - she'll go ahead of us once we're down there.'

There was a general exodus, two men took Chloe's hands and pulled them behind her, binding her wrists with string, she was ashen.  One pushed her in the back and she too went outside.

Ralph saw the procession to the gite and kept his head down. 

...

The twelve principals and Miles went down, with Chloe fireman-lifted over one beefy's shoulder and she now had to go first into every passageway, into every tunnel.

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.'

'I have a part two for Johanssen, if necessary.  I think it will be.  No, I want you to take your island - you have the muscle to handle the heavy boys and the Man himself.  MoD wants this island.  There's a man named Cornell doing the spadework, there was a woman called Dalshiel but she's finished.

You need, gentlemen, to have a good reason why they shouldn't take your island from you.  You're the legal owners, if you can sort that out, you're rich men.  If you can't, then take what you can quickly before they send in the troops.  Can you understand why I want nothing to do with it anymore?  Today is my last day on this island.  I'm washing my hands.

My lady and I have one request each.  Don't hurt the idiot currently shackled to the helicopter - that's a last request from my lady.  Give him a little advice before you go but I promised Laura he wouldn't actually be hurt.'

'You're making a mistake.'

'I know it, you know it.  He'll come after us, after me.  There's nothing I can do - the lady has spoken.  Any of you got wives?'

There were grunts and groans.  Miles finished up, 'If, in the goodness of your hearts, let's say if these idiots come after us, you could see your way clear to make available some of your facilities for the short term, then that would be gratefully accepted.'

There were nods all around. 

Formalities over, they all traipsed back to the helicopters, Ralph was shown the alternative - to take off with them all now, still shackled below or to be released if he promised never to come after the happy couple, nor do anything to hurt Chloe.  Chloe was stunned - why were they protecting her?  Did Miles think she'd be grateful?

She begged now for them to take her, she was terrified of them.  A couple of the beefies  shrugged.  If she wanted.  Get on.  Chloe needed no second request.

Everything now done, all on board, Ralph released, the helicopters took off and headed for land, dropping Chloe, then took off and swung out over the Irish Sea.

IV

'What's this?' asked Penny Dalshiel.

'We can't hold you any longer, Penny.  You know this position depended on you remaining incognito but two parties have seen fit to splash your name about and that's that, I'm afraid.'

'Unfair dismissal.'

'Won't wash.  Contract was tight, legal.  You're welcome to try but official secrets comes into play.  Speaking of playing, you were playing away.'

They laid down document after document in front of her - just the summaries.  She looked away.

'Sorry Penny, you've done good work.  The usual severance packet will be forthcoming.'

All the way down those stairs, murder was in her heart.  He 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.  A recurrence of the urge to drink and then what that had led to in her her past - she saw only this path unless - unless her contact on the island could help her out. 

Vindictive bastard but he knew how to arrange accidents.  Then she realized, with finality, that she was the one likely to be removed from the scene - she had no bargaining chip any longer.

And O'Brien hadn't included the day of the murder in his story in the Coroner's.  She was hemmed in, she couldn't do anything because even she knew there'd be precautions in place.

V

Miles looked across at Laura and took her hand.  He liked the nature of how she let her hand be taken - there was a lot of body language in there.  The beat of the helicopter blades overhead changed its note as the craft 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 that but it was too small.  She realized how it was to be done and gulped.  Miles grinned.

...

It was time.  The braces were donned, the line attached, they said goodbye and they stepped gingerly over the edge, the whir began and down they went, clutching each other.

They were swinging about a little and weren't going to make the deck but the helicopter adjusted, they landed a bit unceremoniously on the wet deck, quickly released the braces and there they were.  They waved and the line was retracted.

They looked at one another and she was intrigued. 'Well?' she asked.

'This way, my lady,' and he invited her, helped her with an extended hand, 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 later.'

She looked at him, turned and went downstairs.  It became patently obvious which room was theirs - all 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 took away with her.

She went out and 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 - for goodness sake, she smiled.

She heard someone go past the door and heard him out there, talking to Miles.  Miles came downstairs, saw her in the dress, hair immaculate and he said all the right things, stepping up and kissing her cheek.  Then he led her from the room by hand, down the passageway and into another largish room with a table in the middle.

That table had been set for two, the wine had been poured, the buffet tea was ready, cold cuts on the sideboard.

'We weren't sure what time we'd get here, Laura, so we thought cold cuts better perhaps.  Breakfast will be cooked.'

She turned to him, spied the divan, gave a suppressed scream and pushed him over onto the divan, climbing on top and laying the deepest and most succulent kiss he could remember.

When she let him up come up for air, he took her to the table and sat her in the best place, overlooking the fishing lights out on the sea.  'I was anxious,' he said, 'hoping you'd like it.  You've probably gathered Amelie had a hand in it.'

'I'll kill her.  Never said a word.'

'We wanted it to be a little surprise.  You've had a rough time and the island wasn't too pleasant.  I know you're a tough cookie but even tough cookies need a bit of pampering now and again.  I know I do.'

She looked across and made a decision.  'I'm going to tell you that secret tonight.  You've been very good, taking me on trust the first night.  I'll tell you all tonight and that's a promise.  I desperately hope it doesn't turn you off me.  If I thought your ego couldn't take it, I wouldn't have ever mentioned it and I probably wouldn't be here with you.'

'Intriguing.  Let's eat.'

...

They ate in silence, quite hungry 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?'

'It's my boat.'

'Your boat!'

'Well, not exactly -'

She groaned.  'Don't tell me - you sold it to him for a penny and can buy it back one day.'

'Something like that.  I have a fleet.  They fish.  I skim off 5% - just a small revenue stream over 14 boats - it adds up.  There are other revenue streams, mild, modest, constant.  People always need fish.  My business is always low key, which is why I ran from the island, once it became a football.  I don't want it.  I stress out easily. I need to know you can take that life, Laura - diversified, doing different things.  The fishing is only one part.'

'I'm adaptable.  You'll learn that in bed when I tell you my -' she dropped her voice conspiratorially '- dastardly secret.'

'Can't wait.'

...

'I quite like this boat,' she laughed.

'We could live here, we could have a bigger boat, so many possibilities.  I like it on boats but that's just me.'

'I do too, always have.  To live on it, perhaps it might have to be bigger than this, not by a lot though.  Why decide this now?  Why even just live in one place?  Let's do all that when it comes time to.  I think we have bigger questions first.'

'Johanssen and others.'

'Yes.  How long will the warning last?'

'Not long.  Another month.  I've some ideas how to deal with him.  Now though, I've a thinker in bed with me to give her own thoughts.  Now to your secret -'

'I'm not Laura.'

She glanced up at him, at the lack of reaction.  'I thought there was something.  I didn't know what.'

'At least I am - that's my real name.  At least it's my second name.  My first name is ... Jacqueline.  Jacqui if you want.  There are reasons.'

'And your sister?'

'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.  I don't wish to burst the bubble, Miles, but I'm actually very much employed, or at least I have been until now.  I'm in a quandary.  Best I plunge in and 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.'

'You.'

'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.  I took his commission, worked my way into his household as a hired help, he became dependent, I then presented him with his choices, before disappearing.  I'm good at disappearing.'

'What if he'd not been guilty?  What if this had just been a vendetta by a rich man?'

'Oh but he was.  He 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 done that, I'd have resigned my 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 not a small one. I have to be reasonably sure of his or her guilt to start with and then find out on the job.  Janine tells me that a section in London, under the Home Office, is desperate to make my acquaintance.  They're not averse to what I do, as my targets are often theirs and I have a better track record but a couple of times I've boobed, I've 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.  So you see, my employable self doesn't exist.  That's why they have nothing to go on.'

'How do you cross borders?'

'My employers are often good with documentation.'

'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.  The work is exciting, as I'm playing a part and then disappearing.  It's exciting but empty too - no one like you to come back to.

I've thought long and hard about this.  When I first came to the island, I knew I liked you, that you were resourceful, that you could bounce back, that you'd have things squirrelled away - you're the original human squirrel. Those secret compartments I quite liked.  I thought then that we could be an item.'

'Were Frank and you an item or was he a job?'

'You know his character.  He was a job.  Through his car business, he was a front for weapons and I had to suggest it might be best he stopped.  Someone, actually me, got to his accounts and pulled the plug.  He stole from Melissa's trust fund.

I was betrayed.  By this Penny Dalshiel.  That's the real reason I was to be killed.  I originally thought she might be something big but she was a functionary.  The key man was Dan Cornell, a nasty piece of work and one we haven't confronted yet, not openly.

My plan is to cut back, taking only high profile cases that pay and the rest of the time being Laura with Miles.   So it's my turn to wonder if you can take that in me.'

'I don't like the risk to you.  You say you've fluffed a couple of cases.  I don't want to lose you.'

'I always work within the familiar, within what I do well.  If it looks like it's taking me out of that comfort zone, I extract myself.  There's always an escape route at hand.  I never go in without the escape route.  There's no time constraint.  Eventually I'll have to stop.  People will get their stories together and then I'll have to give it up, as if it had never existed.'

'I just have to trust you, that you know how and when.'

'You're not telling me to give it up?'

'How can I?  Will I give up our other revenue streams?  Where does the money come from?'

'All right, Miles, we understand each other and can find a way, I'm sure of it.  But first Johanssen.  Plus Frank, Chloe and Ralph.'


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