Monday, April 6, 2015

7. Killer with a Badge



I

'Here's the plan,' said Miles, 'and this is where your blood gets a bit overheated.  We go into the main bedroom and you can look through our wardrobe and drawers, our cases, then we're going to disrobe - yes, Laura too.  You can go through our clothing.  We'll then respectfully ask you to do the same and lay out your pack on the bed.

'And if I don't?'

'Pack's thrown in the drink, we take you close to but not on the shore and you're in the drink too.'

'This is entrapment.'

'This is about staying alive.  We have reason to suspect everyone - Jenny, Amelie, you.  We apply the rules to ourselves too.  When we reach the meeting place, we need to know each one of us is clean in other ways but each is armed.'

'Paul,' soothed Laura, 'please see the situation we're in.  Someone tried to blow us up in Bergen.  Do you think we tried that on ourselves?  Then they actually did blow up the boat and both boys were killed.  Cornell, Penny, Haas are killed, Amelie turns strange on me and goes AWOL, very frightened.  Would you accept there's something rotten in the State of Denmark?

All right, we think maybe it's Jenny but it seems too obvious. Might be Joseph.  Yes, we know of him. We don't think it's one of us - or at least, it would be me.  Revenge, safety, whatever.  We understand you must be nervous at these shenanigans but your anger has been muted.  You know the score in other words.  You've seen the measures, nothing nasty.  At supper, we won't drug or poison - you'll see the whole process, you'll eat the portion of your choice.'

'When do we leave?'

'Tomorrow.  We have to judge the tide exactly, the conditions and it's a long journey.  Along the way, we'll need to have on the ship's radio, it has a lock and only I have that, not even Miles.  He has the combination for the safe, I don't.  When the radio is unlocked, only Miles is authorized to use it, only he has the licence.  Whenever we do that, you will be down below.  Again, you must.  If you don't, we throw you in the drink and then turn into the weather, upwind of you, which is the same as the tide tomorrow, we drop in our inflatable and it has food and drink on it.  It has a canopy to put over yourself.  If you tread water, it will float down onto you.  We'd wait to see that it does and then continue without you.  By the way, we'd be outside British waters at that point. 15nm paddle will be good for you.'

'All right, let's go down and disrobe.'

II

It was a quick breakfast as they had to be away and could nibble all day.

They'd washed, they all went to the salon and Miles served a Full English in dishes they could choose from.  Cuppa tea too.

It was a bit rougher than forecast, they were yawing a little but with the run of the waves, at least the bow wasn't crashing. 

...

Night was approaching as they got near the heads and they knew to stand off and wait, meet their mate, then move into place and go in with the turn.  Dark was good for navigation is some ways - the lights and beacons were clearer.

The first question had been answered, that no one wanted them dead as yet.  Paul had behaved, they'd eaten, no one was seasick. Yet. Now Glendinning saw lights approaching and soon a fishing boat came alongside, his deck above theirs, Miles went outside, there was a bang, another, and then an almighty thud.

'Evenin',' acknowledged their mate as he came through with two plastic barrels, long cylinders, one under each arm.  Miles came behind with two big packs.  The two went downstairs and Laura smiled her sweetest smile at Paul.

...

Eventually, they came back up again and the man was introduced as Calum, a rough customer if ever Paul had seen one but no doubt had a heart of gold - they always did.

He took the wheel, the radio was unlocked by Laura and those three went downstairs.  Laura soon brought Calum tea and an enormous ploughman's.

'Ta love.'

...

They could feel Calum open the throttle and chug slowly into place, along with a dozen other craft and some quite big buggers they'd need to avoid.  They were on the fast track side, they could see their path, there'd be enough draft by the time they got there.

Down below, things were pretty well ready.  They told him he'd be given an FN Five Seven, loaded, just before they reached the jetty.  He was to throw it in the drink straight after the meeting, they didn't need the heat.

Miles took one of the packs up to the wheelhouse, opened it with Calum glancing over now and then, checked the three guns, paying particular attention to one of them - the rounds in that were checked and it was fine. 

He went down and brought the barrels up, checked those, placing one gun in each.  He held up a satchel and threw it across. Calum set the wheel and took a quick look, the money was there, he'd count it later, he grinned and put the thumb up. .

Things were pretty ready.

...

The tide was beginning to pull them away from shore now and it was a job to keep on track, the boat was rolling - the only good thing was that the noise out there would mute the engine.

Calum now shut off the lights, the shorelights were enough, he knew the stretch, there were no nasties below as long as he stayed aligned.  He was never going to admit how he was so adept at this but Miles was aware.

Closer in now, the engines were back to chugging, the tide no longer an issue.  Suddenly, there was a commotion downstairs, then shots, then silence.

A minute later, each appeared with a barrel and set it down near Calum.

...

They grounded in the one spot they could, Calum went out, ran up forward, the line went over his shoulder, he plunged into the shallows in his wetsuit with a plastic storage barrel on each shoulder and strode for shore, set down the barrels, ran the line around a tree and now the worst part, went back out to the boat and threw the loop over the stempost.  He then stood against the waves halfway along.

They wouldn't stay grounded for long.

Laura came running, minus pack, Miles behind her, no sign of Paul.  He now tightened the line with the capstan, she clipped on and clambered her way down the line until it bowed downwards, unclipped and dropped into the water - it was mighty deep and the wash was hitting her mouth and nose, Calum helped but then it became shallower and then she was on the bank unscrewing the barrel.

Miles followed.

Calum waded to shore and looked down at Miles's stomach, the latter indicated it was nothing, just a fraction close, maybe bruising, maybe something had gone inside a bit.  He wasn't hampered.

They both shook the man's hand and that was Calum, plus the boat.

Laura had emptied both the storage barrels and now they quickly undressed, dried off and got into the new gear.  Beside the barrels, she'd placed their guns.

Jackets zipped against the chilly night, they made their way by a convoluted route almost back to the main road, along a hundred metres and then down towards the jetty.

...

It was Laura who tapped his arm, puzzled, realizing the woman they could see was not Amelie.  He nodded.  There, with a good view of the jetty and the old coastguard box this side, was what they could only assume was Jenny.

She was concentrating on the box like a hawk but had not thought to look behind.  She had a few practice tries at getting up, then, satisfied, decided it was time.  She ran near a tree over on the left and called out: 'Ameretto,' then again, 'Ameretto.'

Two eyes poked up, then down below the sill, next Amelie came straight out of the box, aiming the gun at someone who was no longer there - Jenny had ducked behind the tree.  Understanding her vulnerability, Amelie ran for the only cover, some ironwork fence, then she became aware of the two of them, aimed and Laura called out, 'Ameretto, it's me,' Amelie fired but not before being struck by a round from the direction of the tree.  She just dropped.

Jenny put the weapon straight to ground and her hands behind her head, stepping back two paces.  Miles covered her while Laura ran to Amelie, cradling her head on her lap but she knew instantly it was no use.  She removed Amelie's jacket, laid the woman down on the ground, kissed her and placed the jacket over her.

Pointing the pistol with both hands, she now advanced on Jenny with murder on her mind.  It was Miles who said, 'Stop!'  She did, shocked he'd even spoken.  'Take Jenny's gun.'

Laura stepped forward and gathered it up.  'In the box,' she commanded.

'No,' said Jenny, 'we must go.  We can do nothing about Amelie any more, I know it kills you inside and you shouldn't have allowed her on your clothes, though you are wearing gloves.  Still.  Listen, Laura, you've paid your respects, you need me to explain and we're not doing that here.'

'She's right I'm afraid.  We can't move Amelie, can't even touch her, certainly can't put her in the water - that would be gross disrespect.  She'll be found this evening.  We'll need to go.'

'This woman killed my sister,' her voice was strangled.

'We'll deal with this elsewhere, enough for now, we must go.  You've kissed her goodbye.  She was trying to kill you, I was watching. I'm sorry, Laura, you must come.  Now!'

Laura suddenly turned on her heel and commanded Jenny to go ahead.

III

Their preorganized lift arrived, the signals exchanged, they were, the three of them, in the back of the Transit Custom and no one was speaking.

It was going to be a three and a half hour journey.

...

The van stopped at a truckstop.

The driver returned ten minutes later and threw some food and drink in the back, Miles distributed.

...

They slowed, turned off the main road and went some way down, then slowly turned left into what seemed like a lane.

The driver stopped, got out and undid a gate, then came back, drove in, got out, closed the gate, opened the back and beckoned them in through the back door.

He went through the house, Miles paid him, he said thanks and went out the front door, getting into an Astra out front and driving off.

They stood in the living room, curtains already closed, and Laura now sunk to the carpet.  When you're in a house not your own, when it's not your decor, when your sister has just been murdered and left for dead, when the killer is here ...

Jenny went over to one corner of the room and knelt on the floor, patiently, saying nothing.

Miles held her in his arms for some time but she'd done her thinking and that told them both something about her.  She'd clearly jumped to it that Jenny had not been the guilty one.  At least she was going to hear the story first.

'Speak,' said Laura.

Jenny's voice was quiet and actually, it wasn't bad - it was a nice voice.  'Laura, think about this. Yes, I see you have.  Who was not at the scene with us now?  I don't need to know the details, I know he attacked you or would try.  Think who was firing at you, Laura.  And she was, I'm sorry.'  Laura was sobbing. 'Miles saw it.  Now look, whoever finds her, our department will either find her first or will take over the case.  This is internal, as it will be when Paul is found.  It will be decently attended to because I'm pulling the strings on it.  But no, you won't be able to be there.  You can tell me your wishes for her.'

'Just who the hell are you?' Jenny reached into her jacket and pulled out a wallet, leaning over and handing it to Laura.  'You look at it, Miles.'

He did and whistled.  'She's special section of some kind.  She's been on it for two years.  It's written here in case.'

'In case I was shot and you wanted to know afterwards.  I'm now opening up to you.'

'You could easily have put the second bullet into me and the third into Laura.'

'I'm glad you see that.'

There was silence, then broken by Laura.  'Tell me about it.'

'Now, you're sure?'

'I need to know.  Abbreviate it.'

'Haas and Glendinning always knew who Laura was.  The way they knew was because they had Amelie over a barrel.  She betrayed you on the Martin case.  I can show you proof eventually, when we get back.  Why she did that, we still don't know - money, a man, who knows?  She never did it again, presumably because there were many eyes.

The charade at the office, the being wired, the outside meeting, Haas demanding to know who Laura was - it did not fool two people but did fool the rest of the office staff and some of them were making a little on the side to give the good oil on the office.

Laura had a hell of a lot of skill and might have succeeded by herself but she was also getting a lot of back-up, facilitation shall we say, from Haas and Glendinning.  Amelie was augmenting her as well, say.  It suited the book of the people over Haas.  They were paedos, you know.  They ran the ring and it crossed borders.  It wasn't the prime reason, obviously, for the no-borders EU but it was a spin-off.  I was after them, not Haas, Glendinning and the Laura deal.

I'm pretty sure Haas was not involved.  That sleaze was into threesomes and I did join those.  Sorry, Laura but I'll not name the other one.'

'Did you kill Haas?' asked Miles.

'No.  Gun is my thing.  You have my gun.'

She now amazed them by disrobing, garment by garment and throwing them over to the other two.  She went down to knickers and no further and Miles suppressed some thoughts.

They went through the garments minutely, even seams and what she said seemed to check out.  Miles got up, stepped over and gave them back.  She dressed, then sat down on the single armchair.  This, of course, pressured them to get up and sit on the divan.

'What happens now?' asked Laura.

'You'll go in, sooner or later, you know nothing of the main game, apart from what I've told you, you'll tell the truth that you did not kill Amelie, nor Paul Glendinning.  Is it true?'

'Yes.'

'Therefore, no bullet will be matched to anything you have.  So Miles will be next but I imagine all weapons will be at sea before then.  There will always be a residual suspicion after the killing at the O'Brien's but I suspect a word will come from above about Laura to DI Collins.'

'He was looking for a reason not to,' added Miles.  'He's my best man.  Jenny, what of you?  You did kill someone.'

'In the line of.  Badge.'

'Did you kill any of those other parties?  Who did?'

'You forget yourself.  Who's going to admit to murder?  All right, much of this is surmise or what the department believed.  We were investigating O'Brien for narcotics - that's my department, not Haas's.  The Melissa murder was a puzzling complication but the presence of Penny Dalshiel showed that Cornell and the island were tied up in it.  She wanted you dead, Laura.  Any light on that?'

'Wish I could.  I thought jealousy, I'd harmed her once, I don't know.'

'We thought Laura was about to be brought into the fold and that's still at the back of mind.  But Amelie's gun pointed straight at her tonight seems to put paid to that.  I sent the boys for Penny.  She'd gone out to kill two who knew or might have known she'd killed Cornell.  I think once they start killing and don't need to account for it, which I do by the way, it becomes an addiction, it becomes the solution of choice - but not for me.  Frank O'Brien, by the way, is dead.  Jail brawl.  We have no way of knowing who or what was behind it.'

Laura sagged and slipped to the floor again, unable to speak, unable to think.  She accepted his arms.

'I'm sorry,' added Jenny.  'Shall I go on?'  Laura nodded.  'This Chloe is still to have the baby.  Johanssen will be out soon enough but he's not unhappy, he runs things from there.  Only you know how safe you are.  Stammers won't be out for a very long time and he has no organization but still - he had some mates outside.  He might still be a danger.'

'How do you know all this?' asked Miles.

'Remember who I was - secretary to Haas.  It was our job to have a finger in every pie. I think that's all.'

'We need to go next door.  I have the back door key.  If they find the van, they'll come in here.  Van will go tomorrow morning about 5.  Second van, a Nissan, will come down the lane shortly after that.  We'll get in the back.  Destination the place DI Collins let me use and we'll call him on the way.  We'll have to decide along the way what can be divulged and what not.  Shall we catch some sleep?'

'Guns?' asked Jenny.

'Ditched in separate rivers.  Not even yours when it's the law.  Sorry.'

...

In the house next door, they'd taken the bedroom and Jenny the divan.  Though they bought her story, the guns and mobiles were all together in the wall safe in the bedroom cupboard.  There were no other phones, no computers in either house, no phone box in the street.

Jenny knew the score, knew not to push it. On the morrow, the three mobiles would be tied together and kept by Laura, who'd give him his on approaching DI Collins's stomping ground.

He looked across at Laura in the half light, curtains not drawn.  She was quite haggard, who wouldn't be?  She slipped into his arms and they lay there, silent for some time.  She gradually lay down on her back and he lay side-on against her, hand on her hand.

'You trust Jenny, Laura?'

'I think so.  We need this nightmare over, Miles.  We need to start on those projects.'

'We will.  All the same, it would be better if one us slept now, not both.  Sorry.  Half the night each, what remains of it.  Do you want to sleep first?'

'Yes.  Actually, no.  I want you awake for the vans.  You sleep now.'

IV

Jenny was collected from DI Collins' 'other place', as Miles called it, all personal effects restored.

Which left the two of them and she was in a bad way.  'She's dead, my sister.  I know, I know, I know she was going to kill me.  I know, Miles.  But she was my sister, I lived with her, we did everything, she covered my back so many times.

She was kneeling on the carpet again and all he could do was hold her close, be there.  Probably, rationalizations were the last thing she needed at this point.

There was a knock, a cough outside and then a key was inserted in the lock.  DI Collins gave them enough time to scramble up and put things in order, then came through.

He'd eaten, they'd eaten, she would make tea.

...

'Are you up to it?' he asked.

'Yes, let's do it,' sighed Laura.

'This is a bad time, there simply is no way to lightly go past this loss.  I think you've both taken a bit of a battering of late.  Yet you still have one another and that can't be sneezed at.

Let's cut to the chase.  There are still so many anomalies.  I still don't completely buy Laura's - may I say Laura - I still don't buy her story.  Not completely.  Mainly, yes, but the shooting at the stables - well, it can't be proved either way.  Rest your minds on that one.

But then there are all the other things - Johanssen, Glendinning's body, the way the special branch lady gets away with it and goes back to her fold.  These are the things we get all the time in this game but in the case of the two of you - they've come thick and fast.

What I'd like to say is that maybe it's time to quieten it down for a bit.  I know you'll say it was not your doing, that these things were thrust upon you but still ... could we do with a little less drama, just for a while?'

He looked at both, Miles was about to speak but didn't.  Laura's eyes flashed, then that subsided, then she was just blank.

'All right, down to details.  This house is not being used.  If you'd like it at a modest rental - it's fully paid off so it's just for the form of the thing, I'll get a short lease made out.  Can we sort this one first?'

Miles looked at Laura questioningly and she nodded.  'Thank you, Mr. Collins.  We're so grateful.  My idea is keep this going for a year and then think about it.'

'Yes, suits me fine too.  OK, livelihood.  Mr. Forrester has his income still intact, you do not, M ... Laura.  I imagine you'd still be in demand.  May I offer an opinion here - it might be better to vet those who would contract you now and take on jobs you can be sure about - sound jobs, shall we say?'

She smiled and nodded.  At least the DI had every confidence in her ability to bounce back. 

'By the way, Chloe had her child, a boy, don't know any of the details.  She's still inside but it's reducing as her behaviour continues.  I'm not sure what they'll do in her case.  He concluded: 'All right, I'll leave you two to it but please do not forget where I am.'

'You'll be round for dinner here soon.'

'Good.  Good.'  He took his leave, leaving the key on the hall table.

They looked at one another and hugged.  'Miles, what he said, about me finding work.  I'm mortified.  I really thought it was my doing that I pulled these things off and now I find it was people covering for me.'

'I'm not going to say 'the right thing'.  I'm going to say what I think.  It was your ability which pulled it off each time.  Sure there are people we second, we contract, we get to look out for us, give us covering fire but the whole business of doing that requires the skill in the first place.  You're a meticulous planner but you also have that manner which gets people in.  That's a heady brew, Laura.'

'You're not too bad yourself.'

'I have my abilities and stay within them.  You do too. So, we'll start tomorrow, right?  Still interested in that boat?'

'Of course.'

'I'm seeing Sam tomorrow.  I've been looking at an office for us, for mail and to use when we're on shore, so a mini-home.  There are a couple on the coast I saw.  Interested?'

V

'As you're of the female persuasion, can you tell me - can a woman be sure of the father?'

'Once the baby's born.  Not always, not if she's done as Chloe has.'

'It's a tricky one.  I need to visit and make all the right noises -'

'And if he were yours, you might offer, yes?'

'Well ... yes.'

'Only for that reason?'

'No, suppose not.'

'Anyway, he has to stay with the mother for now.  It's one you and I can think over.  We should visit, she'd be expecting the father to.'

'If he's the father.'

'All right, I'll go first.  She'll understand.  She might not like it but she'll understand. There are things I can put into the conversation, things between her and me.'

'Not blackmail?'

'Nothing like that.  Trust me?'

'Do I ever not?'

'Careful, never drop your guard.'

'Planning to build the boat near Liverpool.  It's a fair drive down and I'm not sure I want to do that both ways everyday.  I think I can go days without you, I can go without you when you're on a contract but when it's not necessary ...'

'Same with me. Your proposal?'

'We'd keep this place on until the end of the lease but let's move close to the boat for now.  There's a place going just up the street from the yard - rental's higher than I'd like -'

'But that's two rentals.  Once we build, do we need this place here?'

'There is another way but I'm not sure you'd like it.  Yard has a series of cabins.'

'Shower?'

'There's water, we can put a bathroom in.  There's another way.  Find a builders yard near here but that would mean just us building.  Even if the guys would help out, they still need contracting and there are laws.  Then hauling it to water is an issue.  And that won't be cheap.  I do think I need to look around here for something which would do for a yard and then just contract the guys in and do all the HMRC stuff.'

Miles, what about work for me?'

'Thought you were going to help me with the boat.'

'Yes and then?'

'I could get you work with one of the 12 principals tomorrow.'

'No thanks.'

'Just had an idea, I'll keep it to myself for now and see if we get a call from it.  You keep thinking too but this might be good.  I had thought of things like restaurant boat which goes out to sea, opening a shop but those are vulnerable.  Better the agency idea we were speaking of.  Do you like straight detective work or is it more that you find a target and nail him?'

Both but now I have the issue.  Now I have something - someone - to lose and thinking of Chloe got me thinking, I'm not sure I can do that level of work any more.'

'Yes but you could do consultancy.  Doesn't have to be field - give your opinion, solve a case even, come home.'  She smiled.  'Give me five days and it involves me going to London.'

'You don't need a passenger?'

'Not a female one - I'm meeting up with a pretty female and am wining and dining her one evening.'

'Night?'

'Evening.'

VI

'Thing is, Jenny, you're in a similar line to what Laura was.  How did you rate her?'

'Good, very good.  What did you have in mind?'

'I'm not asking you specifically for help but I need your thinking on it.  She doesn't feel up to the life-threatening stuff any more. She needs to do jobs requiring the same preparation and brainpower but she won't be bumped off with one false move.'

'And she'll want to make money from it, just as she used to.  Doesn't want much, does she?'

'It's me that wants.  I like pottering about, doing some physical work - things like repairing and renovating but nothing too stressed.  I take a lower margin by not buying derelict - there are other things I do.  It's a fair bit of small money accumulating with me and I need to be on hand to keep that going.  My manner with the client is part of it.

Laura would do that and enjoy the renovation bit but it doesn't get her away.  She needs some space.'

'You trust her?'

'Yes, until there's reason not to.  She knows I'm with you.'

If we did find something like that, sorry to ask but what's in it for me?  I work for the state.'

'But that need not be always.  Let's say you were able to pass on some 'delicate' work which maybe is not your style, doesn't take a whole year away.  Let's say she did a few of those and you knew her reputation, yes, how she got it?  What if she had quite a few offers and was thinking of splitting it with you?  Reason I say that is that you and she are similar and what she lost with Amelie was the double, if you see what I mean.'

She sat back, sipping on her white and reflected.  Out loud. 'Wish a man of mine would do this for me.'

'Well, this one might.  In the course of my work, I hear of things too.  For example, I told her I could get her work tomorrow with the 12 principals of the island.'

'And she refused.'  He nodded.  'I wouldn't.  I'm not wholly mercenary for the reason that I'm state.  Pay packet. And it's been good enough so far.  I kid myself it's Queen and country.  But I was always waiting for the good one to come along, the one I wouldn't mind being with.'

'I see it possibly working if we all put effort into it.'

'I have one now.  One she might want to take on.  Can you get her down here?  I can't take it because it involves too much of the questionable and it's on the side.  If I could push these her way, on the condition that if there were enough, I'd come on board, that might work.'

'I had a thought.  You could both do that and be salaried, a case manager maybe.  If her cases are down, I'd cover you.  I know she likes to have that double when necessary.  Amelie was so like her in movement that it worked - you're a little pocket dynamo but are you an actress?  Can you play a part?  Your voice is soft enough.'

'Do you forget I was with Gerald Haas?  I'm one who finds out and if necessary, acts terminally.  In this freelance work, what happens to my gun?'

'That's why I think there's a chance.  You fill different niches.  Similar work, different niches.'

'All right, can you be down,' she opened her mobile, 'next Thursday, at 7 p.m., at this address?'  She wrote it down on a napkin and gave it to him.  'Now, enough of that, where are you staying?'

'Not sure I should say.'

'You're taking the National Express home.  I have two days off and I'm coming with you.  I've already booked it.  Haven't booked the return though, I'll take the train.'

He just stared at her, trying to find an objection.  'We're stuck two hours in Birmingham.'

'I know.  We can talk there.  Please.  I want.'

'Your things?'

'Here, as yours are.  I phoned Laura earlier, said I'd like to come back with you.  She was intrigued.'

'Then why did you get me all this way down?'

'Company, Miles, company.  Anyway, it's better we talk this out sooner than later.

VII

The National Express in Birmingham was awful at 3 a.m.  Nothing was open, the seats were hard but they had food, drink and flat cushions - her holdall was enormous.

'How are you going to juggle two women?'

'Aha.  I'm assuming you've seen I have a bit of trouble.'

'Naturally, that's why I made you come to London.'

'What do you want, Jenny?  I don't want to wreck the world we're constructing, all three of us.  Laura and I have been through hell.'

'I know.  I want what we discussed but it's nice to know you're not indifferent.'

'If she sees the slightest amount of that, she'll make no scene but will become just that bit closer to a client.  So it's selfishness on my part.'

'I won't rock the boat and Miles, not being rude but I'm looking for something a little different.  It's nice though with you, here in these situations.  Dinner was nice.'

She knew she had him thinking.  She also knew he had not the slightest idea he was being recorded.

VIII

'I do have a possible case already.  From what you've both been saying this morning, the boat is the priority.  One of the men I helped off a charge a couple of years back has a roof construction business and a tray trailer - I know that much.  Long one. We might be able to set something up and maybe those workers could do with some extra in the evenings on the boat.'

'Where?'

'Half an hour north from here.  Show me the AA.'  He went over and got it. She flicked through and then stabbed a finger at it.  'There.'

'All right,' said Laura, 'that's one down.  Now about what we're doing, this case.'

'Do you trust Miles, that he didn't kiss me?'

'I see.'

Wait one moment.  She skipped upstairs, came down with the player and said she needed speakers.  The computer ones would do.  When she was ready, she shuffled to where it was and pressed play.  It was the Birmingham conversation.

'You see, both of you, I need this work, I need this change.  I wanted to take care of this question straight away.'

For once they were without words.  She supplied them.  'Will you book the train for this afternoon?  I have two days only and I'm using one but there are things I must do in London tomorrow.  If you're offering, I wouldn't say no to an early lunch and we can talk details now.  You'll need some days to think, I gave Miles some details for where to come, that includes you, Laura.'

...

Jenny had gone, they were back at the house, it was coffee time.  They looked at one another, then made the makings.

In the living room, someone had to start.  She did.  'Everything, Miles.  Thanks, worry, unsure, very sure, sounds good, high risk.  You did pass that test by the way.  Tell me the truth - did you know she was wired?'

'No.'

'Then you didn't cuddle her.'

'You're cautious, I'm cautious, she's cavalier but also thorough. Have I missed something about her?  Can we do business with her?'

'If she resigns her job, that seniority or whatever they have, then she's lost big on the gamble we'll provide.  Is it us who've lost our nerve?'

'Well put it this way, you must at least do the first job before there's any talk of her resigning.  Are you wired?'

'No.'

'Are you sure she's not been the baddy all along?  Are you sure this is not going to turn into a fatal rose coloured glasses thing on her part?  What if she feels let down?  And she has killed with impunity.  I came up with the idea but I do have misgivings. Do you want to try the sort of work she was discussing, would you both clash, would you complement each other?  How do you see it?'

'I need to sleep on it.  I really do.'

IX

Jenny undressed and jumped into bed in her one bedroom just out of London - that's all she'd ever told anyone of her address.

She knew she'd overdone it.  She was aware they hadn't tumbled to any double game, that they thought this was a new game, with just the three of them.  Yet she'd overdone it and might have put them off.

They'd then try to extract themselves by all sorts of subterfuges, even dropping into his business ventures for a while.  Perhaps Laura would never come back into the game.  There was the useful knowledge that they were both a bit frightened of her, what she'd do.

She so wanted them to know she really wasn't a nutter like that, that it had always been circumstances and the job, that she really liked them, that she wanted out of the hard stuff now and saw them as some sort of normality.

But could she become normal now?  Hell she was lonely.  She didn't want Miles. At least, at a pinch maybe but there was no pinch and he had his world now and that world might just be her security too.  She really wanted them to give her a try, let her help ... but then there was the order from above to actually do that.  It was as if there was a chocolate eclair in front of her and then she was ordered, on pain of punishment, to eat it.

X

'I've thought it over, Miles.  All of it.  I suspect Jenny's more lonely than dangerous to us.  I think she really wants in, she sees a happier time for herself but can we be sure she's still not under orders?  Seems to me that we say yes and do a test contract.  Tell her though that that's all it is, that she should not give up the day job yet.

We watch how easy it's made for her, how much opposition there is to her throwing in her lot with us.  And do we actually want this boat now to live on?  It seems a huge job, a long time, I do want it as our final place but is it the right time just now?  Should we not be far more mobile, borrowing boats, giving back?  That way, they never pinpoint us.

And we do have to move on this contract first.  I need to test myself against it, see if I still have what it takes, many eyes will also wish to see that, they'll wish to see how you and I are together.  I think that's going to be tested soon and that means some girl for you and man for me.  I'm sure they'll appear.  I'll not make promises and don't think you should too, although my plan is only you, lover.

And then there are our finances.  You've been shelling out for this and that and we're close to the margin I'm happy with.  How do you read what I've said?'

'Agreed.  Sorry to be boring but yes, I see it that way.  I didn't want to speak of the finances, relieved you see this.  Shall we go to London then?'

'Of course.  I still get this feeling though there's another player in this.  Miles, we need to stay on top of things. I think we're both better when have to think on our feet, not so good back in the mundane and look at your history anyway - you've set up a mundane life of incremental gain but it's never turned out that way.'

'You've had a certain amount to do with that,' he smiled.  'But yes, it does seem the way to go.'

'So, we say yes to Jenny then, with certain stipulations?'

'Let's do it.'

.o0o.

The second Laura Forrester mystery is planned to be finished during  summer 2015.


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