Verity, Ralph, Elvis Linkthorpe and Arthur Bentwhistle all arrived at Poole together. The journey had been unremarkable. Ralph had driven his Aston Martin with Verity beside him; Arthur had driven the jaguar. Elvis had been in fine fettle talking nineteen to the dozen about matters dear to him including the divine weight of the trinity; how chanting a mantra sent him into a trance-like state and how his love for Susanne grew with each passing day. He spoke about Susanne’s enterprise, the bordello that she had opened in Fekenham High Street. Of course it was old news and Arthur’s reaction was not unexpected.
“Not sure how that will go down with the wives although going down might not be the right expression. My Lupini was furious when she first heard of it. Thought I had somethin’ t’ do with the scheme,” said Arthur.
“It is just another service much like having your shoes polished.”
Arthur let out a howl of laughter.
“Being serviced then havin’ a polish by another woman is what the wives worry about. Havin’ a shop on their doorsteps supplying such a, er, commodity will drive ‘em t’ despair. Don’t you mind the woman you love whorin’ herself?”
Elvis responded a little too quickly and regretted what he said as he was saying it.
“Oh it isn’t Susanne who’ll be selling her body; she’s hired Delores Dewhip for that.”
At the mention of that name Arthur slammed his foot on the brake. He and Delores had history.
“And that’s the point. Leastways it is with Lupini. Me ‘n Delroes had, well, you know, a bit of a fling and now what with her acting as a call girl.”
The sentence remained unfinished. Elvis made a loud gulping sound.
“Er, well, not so much a call girl, more a...” the village vicar struggled to find the right expression, “more a facilitator of hetrosexual male tensions.”
“Bollocks! Facilitator my arse. Delores is back in Fekenham and that’s enough t’ set Lupini’s mind racing.”
“More Muckleford really.”
Arthur’s facial expressions went through variety of changes; from alarmed to exasperated to downright fearful. It was the last that remained longest.
“Delores is working as a prostitute right next door to Lupini. Even if’n it were Muckleford that is still four miles too close. Blimey, Elvis, it could be four hundred and Lupini would still be having fifty fits. Besides, your Suzanne has the whore house in Fekenham,”
Elvis raised his hand, the same one he used to anoint the foreheads of infants.
“Be not alarmed,” he said rather portentously, “I will speak with your wife.”
This news did nothing to alleviate the feeling of Arthur’s scrotum shrinking.
“No you won’t you daft sod, don’t say a word t’ her, not if you don’t want to see me strung up by the personal parts I value dearly.”
As the pair pulled into the port they could see Ralph’s car parked. They drove in next to it. Arthur pulled the handbrake up then switched the ignition off. As he did so he turned to Elvis.
“Out of curiosity, how much does the brothel charge? What rates does the girls ask? And how many girls does they have?”
Outside Verity waved at them. The vicar considered the questions.
“It rather depends on what the client wants. The costs are on an escalating scale. There is, as I said, only one girl and that is Delores.”
Arthur wound his window down as Verity and Ralph got out of their car.
“Ralph wants to stretch his legs,” explained Verity.
“Just like Delores,” mumbled Arthur inaudibly.
The tall American moved around the parked vehicles like a predatory cat; a panther or snow leopard, stalking prey. As he prowled he swung his arms back and forth then wind-milling them round, pumping his circulation. His legs seemed impossibly long to Arthur whose own supported his five ten below which a bulging stomach blossomed Ralph, at six four, maybe six five, appeared to be everything Arthur wasn’t: handsome, graceful and physically powerful.
Before them the sea port, grim in November greys, laid slate solemn as the waters danced a winter ballet. White horses galloped across the spume. A ferry boat sat solid, tethered securely as the water slapped violently against its hull. The door to the boat was still closed. On the tarmac vehicles queued patiently. Ralph returned to Verity’s side. He leant closer to her, speaking into her ear. Verity bent toward Arthur who sat in his car, the vicar beside him dressed like a camp ninja. His clothes were all black, the woolly hat on his head a violent splash of vivid colours. His shoulder length hair flicked out as if seeking the sun. Verity spoke.
“Ralph needs his regular fix of caffeine; would either you or Elvis like a drink, tea perhaps, maybe something to eat?”
Elvis Linkthorpe seldom said no to anything, least of all food. He was not a brave man but in the face of his hunger a fierce lion would be hard put to get between him and a slice of cake. He staggered out of the car then, regaining composure, walked around Arthur’s jaguar. Arthur followed suit and the four of them made their way to a nearby café, a ramshackle, run down affair, more greasy spoon that gourmet fare.
After they had taken some refreshment which Verity complained bitterly and loudly about much to the consternation of Ralph, Arthur and the vicar and also the owner of the establishment, they returned to their cars. As they crossed the road they saw two leather-clad young men make a hasty retreat. As the four of them got closer to their cars they could see that two of Arthur’s tyres had been slashed. Ralph’s Aston Martin hadn’t been touched. Arthur cursed loudly.
“Damn it, those damn hooligans have buggered me up good ‘n proper. I haven’t a spare.”
“Even if you did, you’d need two,” stated Ralph. “They’ve slashed both: one at the front and one at the back.”
“Well that’s it then. I can’t come. I’ll have to find a garage who can fix me up.”
Verity had already wandered away. She had seen where the two lads had scurried to and was checking to see if they were still there. Both were standing by a pair of motor bikes. Upon seeing her they glared ominously but having faced down a school of angst-ridden children Verity was unafraid. She marched up to them.
“I would ask which of you two poor excuses for pond life had slashed my friend’s car but referring to you as such is a gross insult to aquatic life. Now then, I’d like your names please. I think it time the police were called.”
One lad, who looked like the illegitimate offspring of a cross-breed Neanderthal, looked at his friend.
“Heh heh,” he laughed with menace. “What d’ya reckon Melv, should we go nice ‘n quite likes?”
The other oaf, a face like a broken wicker basket with ears like corn cobs, glared evilly then pulled out a knife.
“I think maybe this old crone needs to learn a lesson or three. I thinks she needs to mind her damn business.”
Verity had never been one for sports. Her mother had insisted though that she did her best at all school pursuits even taking part in boys’ games. Verity had learnt, having been tackled by many a scrum half, how to convert a Rugby ball. A little rusty perhaps but with a swift movement of her leg she applied those old skills to the nether regions of the thug known as Melv. In other words she kicked him in his testicles.
Melv collapsed with a high pitched squeal to the floor where he writhed about a bit. The other thug, affronted to see his friend so wilfully damaged, went to grab Verity by the throat. He should have remembered that old adage, you know the one, the one that says you should keep your eye on the ball at all times? In this case it wasn’t a ball but a spanner thrown by Elvis Linkthorpe. It landed dead centre of the leather clad youths forehead sending him pole-axed to the ground.
Elvis stepped forward, rubbing his hands together and smiling broadly.
“Not bad for an old leg spinner eh?”
Verity smiled back as Ralph walked up.
“Nice shot buddy. I don’t know much about cricket. Ever thought about baseball?”
Arthur waltzed over, a look of mild amusement on his face.
“Very neat. Two thugs down and two tyres slashed. What next?”
As ever, when a choice had to be made, a decision taken, Verity took charge.
“Ralph and Elvis will continue to pursue the circus. They will go together in Ralph’s Aston. You Arthur will contact Ernie and let him know what is going on and then get a local garage to pick your vehicle up, replace the tyres and store the car safely until we get back.”
Arthur looked from side to side as though some invisible wisdom was yet to make itself known.
“We?” ventured the publican.
“During my rebellious youth - yes I too had one - I learnt how to ride a motorbike. You will ride pillion and we will follow Ralph and Elvis.”
Ralph looked uncertain; Arthur looked mystified whereas the vicar looked his usual vacant self. Ralph raised the thorny, obvious question.
“You are going to steal one of the bikes?”
“Steal? Not at all, I shall return it with a full tank when we get back from France.”
Ralph’s eyebrows raised in perpendicular puzzlement. He sighed and shook his head.
“The ferry is being boarded now. We will have to wait for the next if we are to go together.”
Verity didn’t agree. She wasn’t going to compromise the search for Sally and Billy.
“No, you two go on without us. We will catch the next boat.”
“It could be a while yet,” said Ralph.
“So be it. We can’t let the circus get too far ahead of us. Arthur has his comwand and you have yours. We can maintain contact at all times. Once you get to the continent, follow them but keep us informed.”
Ralph smiled. Not that he minded the way his wife instinctively took command, he was more than capable of doing the same, but he acceded to Verity for one reason and one reason only: he loved her beyond measure and what she said made perfect sense.
“Okay. Good luck but please go careful on the bike.”
They kissed, totally oblivious to either Arthur or Elvis’s presence. Elvis walked away not wishing to be a voyeur, Arthur coughed to let them know he was still there.
“Off you go then,” whispered Verity.
“See you in France. I love you, “replied Ralph.
Adam Lazarus had at first been confounded by the audaciousness of the bank robbery. It had all been so well planned and so flawlessly executed. The heist had all the hallmarks of the infamous Robin Banks and had he not been in prison serving a ten year sentence Lazarus would have assumed that the Muckleford job was one of his.
Banks was old now, in his seventies but still had the brain of a man half his age. He was not dangerous in the sense he might kill or have someone killed. Killing was not his method of working, robbery was. Banks took a deal of pride in ensuring his thefts were seamless and unfathomable. He liked the fact that his robbery back in ’68 had never been solved. Oh, they had had caught him but they had never found the money, or at least not the larger part. That was now, with modern day inflation, growing nicely. In two years’ time he would be released and able to retire to the Algarve. He was looking forward to it.
With the Muckleford crime there had been few clues; not enough for Lazarus to make any reasonable hypotheses from. Then the kidnapping had occurred. At first it seemed unconnected and became clouded by the force of the villagers’ reaction. Communities often pull together when adversity strikes but this was more than that, it was almost as though the collective became one, a single unit whose one concern was finding, rescuing and returning safely one of their number. Lazarus had never seen such a thing before. It was almost feral, visceral; a force more of Nature than human design.
It was routine under such circumstances to put alerts on all ports, ferry crossings, railways, airports and highways. Poole had been warned to watch out for a convoy of circus vehicles as had Portsmouth and Southampton. Unfortunately, a circus had been to Poole, caught the ferry and was on its way to France. Lazarus had tried to have the ferry turn back but it had already sailed and was not about to turn around half way. He was told that it would be stopped and searched when it arrived in France. If there were hostages then they, the French authorities, would find them, arrest the criminals and return the teenagers.
One of his officers had informed him of the incident involving Verity, Ralph Arthur and Elvis. Although they had only defended themselves against a couple of thugs, stealing a motor bike was still breaking the law. The officer had informed Lazarus, asking if he should arrest the thief.
Lazarus had known of the village’s vigilante rescue group He couldn’t condone such an action but couldn’t help admiring them all the same.
“No,” he had said, “let them go but make sure you bring the two youths in for questioning.”
“On what grounds, sir?”
“Vagrancy, suspected trafficking of illegal drugs, no road tax, whatever. Make sure they are tested for drugs. Keep them locked up for as long as you can.”
The PC hadn’t argued even if he thought the arrest highly suspect. As far as Lazarus was concerned, working purely on instinct, the villagers were all, by and large, decent people, a little wayward perhaps but not malevolent or mischievous. The two lads locked up were the least of his concerns. The ferry, when it arrived, would reveal if the circus had abducted the boy and girl. It was not the perfect solution but at least Lazarus knew, with some confidence, that he could dismiss the circus for now and concentrate on this odd woman, this Flora Gusset. There was something about her that needed closer examination.
The ferry waited with open doors as the vehicles drove slowly on board. The waters around the vessel slapped hard against the hull. Flora’s stomach lurched. They hadn’t even left port and she already felt seasick. Beside her the four men, scrunched together sat uncomfortably. At their feet were bags, red duffels, into which were packed a change of clothes. One of the men was a dark, swarthy man. He was unshaven and had a lazy eye that drifted to one side. It was he who had acted as leader during the robbery. His name was Mick. He answered to Flora but he worshiped cash more.
The money had been sent on via air flight 21792 – an airship bound toward Porto, Portugal. Within the country’s second largest city was a town house leased out to one Dahlia Imp. Flora had thought the name ingenious as it was after all her design, even if the heist had been masterminded by someone else. The apartment was within driving distance of Robin Banks’ Portuguese retirement villa. She had no intention of visiting her cousin though, or of staying long in Portugal. Flora had other plans.
The van they had driven in had been left at the port. It wasn’t theirs anyway as it had been stolen. They had collected the car they had parked some days before then drove that onto the Ferry. Now they sat huddled together as the ship made the crossing. It was only a short trip which was good as far as Lenny was concerned.
Lenny was Mick’s younger brother, a sandy-haired man of medium height. He was less clever than his brother and unable to articulate his thoughts into words which were easily understood. He played a harmonica in absence of speech. It was, for him, a comfort but not so Dick. Dick disliked both the mouth organ and Lenny. Had the young man not been Mick’s brother he would probably have hit him. He disliked Lenny that much.
Lenny didn’t like Dick much either. The older man, balding, round of face and fat of belly, was always making snide comments about Lenny that just managed to sneak in under Mick’s radar. Had Mick realised the animosity between the two he would have either sorted it or sorted Dick. Lenny after all was his brother.
The final member of the gang was Van. His real name was Ivan. He was Irish, having been born in Belfast but came to England when his Mum and Dad had divorced. He wore a pair of headphones and was listening to ‘Moondance.’
Flora had recruited the men after Robin, her cousin, had contacted her. He had always trusted Flora which was a privilege afforded to few. Finding men willing to perform acts that sat outside the law had never posed a problem for her. She knew where to look, who to contact and what the going rates were. Flora shuffled recruits like a magician shuffles a deck of cards.
She licked her lips now, revealing her white dentures as she did so. The false teeth had a habit of moving on their own, of slipping down sometimes as if possessed of an independent life. When they did this they clattered. They clattered now. Aware of the sudden sound of oral castanets Flora coughed loudly then spoke.
“We have to hope that those two brats do not get back to Fekenham too early. We don’t want them warning anyone of where we have gone.”
Mick answered first.
“They hadn’t the foggiest idea of where we were headed in the first place. Why we had to make the bloody detour I’ll never know.”
Lenny blew his harmonica. Dick winced.
“I wanted to throw the police off the scent. They will be checking all ports but especially those to the continent. There wasn’t any sign of police when we boarded was there?”
Mick had to agree there wasn’t but he still remained displeased.
“You say you have arranged a helicopter?”
“Yes,” answered Flora. “We take the helicopter to Guernsey then catch an Airship to Portugal. No one will suspect a thing.”
Mick sighed heavily as though the thought of where they were heading was a journey too far.
“It’s just that I hate that place. Me and Lenny spent our childhood holidays there and it always pissed down with rain.”
“There is nothing wrong with the Isle of Wight. It suits our purposes perfectly.”
Flora finished talking and, as if to emphasise that point, her teeth clattered again.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.