Dancing With a Devil in Dentures
Verity hadn’t wanted to inform the police of her findings. She would rather have kept the information she had gleaned from Lenny Stag to herself. The idea of her riding to the rescue of Sally and Billy held great appeal but, being the person she was, common sense prevailed. Using the comwand she carried, she had contacted Adam Lazarus then given him the address she had written down. Lazarus had reacted swiftly, despatching two squad cars along with an ambulance to the house number he had been given.
With Arthur clinging on around her middle, his wandering hands disabled more by the fear of falling off than any recently discovered moral rectitude; the couple tore along the Wessex roads avoiding accidents only by the unforgotten skills of motor-cycling that Verity had learnt years before.
The house that Lenny had told Verity of was a modest semi set in the middle of a modest avenue in the heart of a modest suburban town. A neat privet hedge formed a neat U shape around the neat lawn. The drive was covered with shingle and a smart wrought iron gate painted black led you down a short path to a front door which had stained glass windows on either side.
The avenue, as all the residents referred to their street, normally the epitome of quiet English reserve was today spoilt by the presence of two police cars and a single ambulance, all of which still had the emergency lights flashing. One or two neighbours had situated themselves at their garden gates whilst others of a more furtive nature peered out from behind net curtains.
As Verity parked the motorbike so Adam Lazarus approached them. Arthur appeared to be rather ashen faced as though the ride had been less exhilarating and more enervating. He climbed stiffly off the back, rubbing his hands together in an attempt to warm them.
“Mrs Ramhard, Mr Bentwhistle. Bad news I’m afraid.”
Verity’s usual composure fleetingly disappeared. Arthur’s face crumpled. Adam Lazarus, seeing their expression, quickly explained himself properly.
“Sorry. Let me put that statement in less dramatic terms. When my officers arrived there were no signs of anyone within the house.”
“But Lenny Stag assured me Flora Gusset was here!” exclaimed Verity, fearing she may have been tricked. Lazarus raised a hand to calm the situation.
“He wasn’t lying to you. Someone has been here; we found evidence of that but whoever it was has gone. Maybe they got wind of our knowing they were using this property to hide in.”
Verity looked at Arthur who had placed his frozen hand under his armpits. She spoke to Lazarus.
“But who could have told her? Surely neither of your prisoners has access to a telephone?”
Lazarus shook his head.
“I doubt it was either of them. It might have been the two still on the run but I doubt it. I suspect it was something else that made Flora Gusset flee. Whatever it was I don’t like this new development. It is too random, too unexpected. It makes our task of finding them now all the more difficult.”
Arthur, still with hands beneath his armpits, shuffled around then asked Adam Lazarus a question.
“How can we help?”
“You can’t. The best thing you can do is let me, or one of my men, drive you back to Fekenham. That bike you’re riding needs returning doesn’t it? I can only bend so many rules at one time and I think it best now if you and your fellow villagers let the police do their jobs.”
He had spoken without any rancour or sense of criticism so neither Verity or Arthur was upset by his words. What he had said made perfect sense, at least to the publican who was perishing cold. Arthur nodded in agreement.
“Fair do’s. If’n you need any help, any at all just let me know. I’d be glad to assist.”
“That’s very generous of you sir, I will bear that in mind.”
Just then a junior officer approached the inspector. He leant in close so that neither Verity nor Arthur could clearly hear what was said. The police constable passed a plastic bag to his senior officer. Lazarus thanked the men then turned back to the couple.
“My men found some knitted woollen effigies in the house. Does either of these look vaguely familiar?”
Lazarus pulled the figures out. Verity inhaled deeply. Arthur groaned.
“They are very good facsimiles of Sally and Billy,” she said.
Lazarus nodded again then produced a slip of paper.
“Does this mean anything to either of you?”
Verity instantly recognised the scruffy scrawl that passed for Billy’s handwriting.
“Yes,” said the recently retired headmistress, “that is a message from Billy. He has misspelt the name though. Arthur will recognise it too. It should read CROWCOME.”
Arthur nodded his head vigorously.
“Crowcome Airfield. It’s where airships fly off t’ the continent.”
Lazarus turned sharply calling out his men.
“Two cars now, one to Crowcome Airfield, the other to take these two people back to Fekenham. I will go with the first squad car.”
As he shouted out his commands, and as Arthur looked on with muted respect the sound of a motor bike being started made the two men turn around. Verity shot past the publican on the bike. Both police inspector and landlord stared open-mouthed. Lazarus looked at Arthur.
“I thought that woman was meant to be a respected part of the community?”
Arthur laughed heartily.
“Oh she is but you try telling her that. She always has been a bit headstrong, always thinks she is able to handle things better than anyone else.”
Lazarus sighed then ran his fingers through his blonde hair sweeping it back into place.
“I hope Verity has the sense not to try and capture the woman herself. For all we know Gusset may be armed.”
“What I wants t’ know is why has this Flora Gusset re-kidnapped Sally and Billy. They got away once didn’t they so why’s she taken it on herself to grab ‘em again? Don’t make sense to me.”
Lazarus didn’t reply but the woman’s actions were patently obvious to him. She was unaware that the police knew of her involvement. She thought her identity was safe, believing that her fellow robbers wouldn’t betray her. The fact they had would come as a shock. With that thought in mind, that her secret was safe, the only two who could identify her were Sally and Billy. Lazarus feared Flora Gusset now meant to kill them but if that was the case why hadn’t she already disposed of them?
Having spent a chilly night in what seemed a smelly pit; Sally and Billy were surprised when Flora opened the door to their noisome prison inviting them to come up. She hadn’t actually said that, she hadn’t been so polite. As Sally later recalled Flora’s exact words had been: “Oi, you two, get your backsides up here now!”
As she was flourishing a pistol at them it seemed rude to argue. Billy climbed the stairs first which Sally thought discourteous but again said nothing. She was fast accepting that her parents’ rules on decorous good manners did not apply when being kidnapped.
“When can we go home?” asked Billy bluntly.
The diminutive dame with large teeth responded curtly.
“We are going on a short trip so shut your mouth and keep quiet.”
Never one for authority, even less for three foot old trouts brandishing guns, Billy asked the salient question.
“Where are you taking us?”
Obviously miffed and possibly a little surprised by the teenage boy’s nerve, Flora’s response remained in keeping with her recent terseness.
“Never you mind where we’re going you just get your selves upstairs sharpish.”
As if to underline her emphatic dictates Flora again waved the pistol under Billy’s nose. She then marched the pair into the kitchen where she then had Sally tie Billy’s hands tightly before Flora did the same to Sally. With both teenagers having hands bound in front of them Flora marched them back to the car she had first picked them up in,
Again Billy asked the pertinent question, the one that Flora seemed less than happy to supply an answer to.
“Where are we going?”
“Not far,” was the only reply.
Unaware of the two police cars rapidly heading their way, or of the fact that Verity Lambush and Arthur Bentwhistle were in hot pursuit, Flora, accompanied by Sally and Billy vacated the drive. Less than five minutes later the police arrived along with the ambulance.
Verity had not intentionally set out to put Lazarus’s nose out of joint. Her reaction to the information that Flora Gusset was making her way to Crowcome Airfield had been instinctive. Taking the bike had been her only option as it would afford her far faster passage than a police car but also gave her an element of surprise as she would not, unlike a squad car, have sirens blazing and lights flashing when she arrived.
She knew the airstrip well but was surprised by Flora’s decision. Crowcome Airfield was in North Wessex. Why drive there when there were others nearer?
Verity had dismissed any thoughts of Sally or Billy being anything but alive and well and even if that was purely wishful thinking on her part her intellect questioned why Flora would opt to kill them. Murder would increase her prison sentence. Flora hadn’t seemed the ort to kill let alone two innocent teenagers. But then again when a person is driven hard enough they can turn to extreme measures. How desperate was this woman? Did she really believe she could escape the police and why had she betrayed her partners in crime?
The latter question was the least of Verity’s concerns. Her priority was to catch up with this vertically challenged individual and ensure the children’s safety.
Her ability with a motorcycle thrilled her. She had forgotten what a thrill it was to ride one. Even with thoughts of Sally and Billy uppermost in her mind still the excitement of the drive pulsed through her.
It must be twenty five, maybe even thirty years, since she had last ridden a bike. She had been surprised at how soon she had regained her skills. It was, she thought, much like that old saying that suggested was you have learnt to cycle it was a skill you never forgot. This of course was a motor bike but the same philosophy applied or at least she believed so.
Taking an A road meant she could reach speeds that she wouldn’t had she gone via country lanes.
The speedometer displayed at one hundred and ten
MPH. She twisted the
accelerator firmly making the engine roar and the speed increase to one hundred
and fifteen. As she cruised along, occasionally slowing when traffic grew
heavy, she kept a vigilant eye out for signs of Sally or Billy sitting in the
back of a car. Even though she had only seen Flora a few times the image of the
woman remained. The fact she didn’t spot Flora didn’t cause her concern. She
may have missed her as, after all, she was concentrating more on the road than
looking to see who was sat behind the wheel driving.
Another roadside sign flashed past. This one stated the Airfield was only three miles away. Verity slowed the bike, not wishing to miss her turn. As the side road appeared Verity turned into it. She followed on down at a conservative speed until she saw the sign saying: Crowcome Airfield, home of the Flying Falcons. Regular flight’s to Ireland and the continent. Day trippers can be accommodated if they arrive early. Must have own passport.
An airship clung to the sky rising above the country side. Along its side an advert displayed its desire for consumers to purchase DAZ soap powder. Seeing a small car parking area that sat squarely in front of the main terminal, Verity drove into it, parked the bike then walked the short distance to a pair of swing doors that had WELCOME emblazoned above them.
The car park had been half full, as was the small coffee-shop-come-restaurant that she strolled into. A quick glance around confirmed that Flora wasn’t yet here. Verity was unsurprised by this for she had thought she may have overtaken the car. Seeing an empty table with four chairs, Verity went and bought herself a Latté then went back and sat at the table.
She would wait here for, sooner rather than later, Flora would walk in and when she did Verity Lambush would be waiting
As Lazarus drove with the two the constables close behind, a call came from Detective Sergeant Haveaway.
“Sir, it’s Haveaway from the I.O.W C.I.D. Is it a convenient time to speak?”
“Have to be quick as I am in pursuit of the woman we spoke of.”
“The same. What news do you have for me?”
“We have caught the other two. They are downstairs in separate interview rooms awaiting my guvnor’s pleasure.”
“That’s good news. Give Stanley, Inspector Knife that is, my best. Thanks for the call.”
Behind him, sirens silent but lights flashing the pale blue police car followed. Lazarus was unsure of how events would unfold. His first priority had to be the teenagers’ safety. He would not jeopardise that for the sake of taking Flora Gusset. He wanted to capture her but only when the children were safe.
His other concern was Verity Ramhard. He had soon learned of her reputation but that still didn’t fill him with confidence, at least not in this situation. It was all very well and good him giving her a little latitude, and he was truly grateful for her help, but in this instance she may only be making matters worse.
If Gusset was as desperate as she seemed, having betrayed her fellows but also in hijacking Sally and Billy, then there was no telling what she was capable of. The variables were as many as they were unpleasant to think of. Flora could shoot Sally, Billy and Verity. She could take Verity as hostage, demanding to be allowed to fly abroad. She might shoot Verity if and when she spotted her and make a run for it with Billy and Sally in tow.
Going vigilante had a ring of romance to it but the reality was about as romantic as head lice and far more dangerous. Lazarus pushed his foot down, the squad car behind followed suit. A sign said Crowcome Airfield was twelve miles away. The sooner they got there the better it would be thought Lazarus.
As Verity was racing toward where she believed Flora was and as Adam Lazarus was in hot pursuit so Ralph and Elvis had arrived at the port prepared to board the ferry bound for Albion. They hadn’t been ready for reporters who gathered waiting for their appearance. Unbeknown to the Fekenham men their exploits at the hotel, their brave escapade in carrying the dwarves to safety had gone straight to the local newspapers before going national. The names of Ramhard and Linkthorpe were now being spoken in reverential tones all over France. Seeing a large group of men head toward them as they queued made them both gawp in amazement.
“What on earth do all those chaps want?” queried a goggle-eyed Linkthorpe.
“And why the hell are they pointing at us?” said Ralph suspiciously.
The men bundled around the Aston Martin touching the paint work and pressing their faces against the windows.
“Hey!” shouted a furious Ralph. “What the hell do you think you are doing? Get away from my car.”
A man banged his knuckles against Ralph’s window. Ralph wound the glass down only to be greeted by a verbal assault of questions fired at him in quick fire French.
“Whoa, whoa, parley vous Anglais. Moir Francais petite. Parley vous Anglaise sil vous plait.”
Flash bulbs flashed. A babble of voices cried out. Questions arrived like bullets from a gun, then one of the newsmen, a news woman in fact, managed to manoeuvre herself close to Ralph’s window.
“I speak English,” she intoned in sultry sensual French. “Let me interpret for you.”
Without waiting for an answer from either the vicar or the American the girl turned on her heel.
“Not quite as attractive as my Susanne,” thought Elvis, “but still a little cracker.
The girl spoke in the mode of the French; her native tongue flew like bluebirds from her mouth, calming the agitated news-gatherers all baying for quotes and pictures. What she said was lost on both Ralph and Elvis but the effect was immediate: the men stopped shouting and calling out, settling down into a more sanguine attitude.
One by one the men spoke to the girl whilst looking directly at the Aston Martin’s occupants. One by one the girl interpreted each question then asked Ralph for a comment before passing his response back to the original questioner.
“Why were you staying at the hotel?”
“Had you come to France on business?”
“What made you react in the way you did?”
“Did you come together or did you bring your wives?”
“Whose idea was it to carry the dwarves in pillow cases?”
“Which one of you is the American?”
“Why were you chasing the circus?”
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
“May I have your telephone number?” This from a pretty young girl who looked directly at Ralph who, when the question was relayed to him in English, smiled saying that he didn’t have one but she was welcome to phone his wife if she’d like to.
It was a slow business but eventually, just as the traffic started to roll on the ferry, so the reporters and camera men started to move away. The girl remained and as Ralph drove on, following the car in front, he was surprised to see the girl running after them. A man from the ferry, a security guard or perhaps a customs man, stopped her. Ralph could see in the rear view mirror as the girl produced a passport then the car rumbled onto the ship and the vehicle behind prevented him from seeing more.
As Ralph and the vicar were contending with the French press so Flora was making good her getaway. She drove at a steady rate. The roads were moderately busy. She didn’t speed as she didn’t want to attract attention, especially from the police. At first she took the A but shortly after slipped off down a side road that ran into a wooded area. A shallow lay-by was in the bend of the narrow road. Flora pulled into it, got out, then opened the back door indicating for Sally and Billy to follow her.
“Why have we stopped here?” demanded a worried Billy.
“Where are we?” queried Sally.
“What are you going to do with us?” asked Billy, his nerves getting the better of him.
As if in answer Flora lifted her arm up and pointed the pistol directly at Billy’s head.
“What I should have done a long while ago,” she said.
Sally stared, transfixed with terror, as Flora aimed the gun at Billy’s head. Sally felt a cold tremor of fear shiver down her spine. She found she was unable, even though she wanted, to speak
Billy stared defiantly at Flora and the gun barrel. He had a thousand thoughts race through his mind, most of them about his mum. He wondered would it hurt when the bullet crashed into his brain. The he looked directly down into Flora’s eyes.
There was a flicker of uncertainty clearly visible as Billy gazed at her. Some indefinable emotion was moving within her. She hesitated too long and then she lowered her arm.
“Start walking,” she said. “Start walking before I change my mind.”
“Which way?” asked Billy.
“That way, anyway, I don’t care just start walking.”
And so they did, Billy and Sally, Sally and Billy both still terrified that at any moment Flora might change her mind and shoot them.
The kept walking with fear coiled serpent-like in their bellies. Still no shots rang out. They walked on until they reached the edge of the woods then they heard a car drive away. They turned back and Flora was gone.
Lazarus was driving at speed. Behind him the squad car matched him keeping back at a respectable distance. Traffic had suddenly grown heavy. Several vehicles in front, Lazarus could see a large truck wobble uncontrollably as it presumably hit oil on the road. It buckled and thrashed like some sort of metallic fish, a giant steel and chrome shark invisibly harpooned before it flipped onto its side.
Behind it a small van drove into its side. There was the horrific sound of metal ripping into metal, a rending of steel, of tin peeling like the skin of fruit. A family car, driven by a mum, tried to brake but instead went broadside against the van.
Lazarus slammed his foot on the brake. He felt his car skid and he tried to correct it. The squad car did the same and Lazarus felt the sudden jolt as his colleagues crashed into the back of him. The bonnet of his car hit the vehicle in front and then came to a halt.
A momentary silence descended, followed almost instantly by the sound of a car horn beseeching the tarmac for belated forgiveness.
Verity sat patiently at the table, equally unaware of the events happening with Sally and Billy but also of those affecting Adam Lazarus. She bought another Latté, expecting the inspector to walk in at any moment?) He didn’t. Then she spotted a small woman, almost dwarf-like in appearance, saunter in; not so much saunter but, by strong will and iron discipline, force herself to move slowly. It was Flora Gusset. Her movements seemed odd, exaggerated as though she was having difficulty controlling her limbs. There were no signs of Sally or Billy. Verity’s stomach lurched.
Knowing Flora wouldn’t instantly recognise her as they had only briefly met at church, Verity stood up and waved.
“Flora, over here.”
The woman’s face was a study. It was part incredulity, part shock and a large part of sheer disbelief.
“Mrs Ramhard isn’t it. What are you doing here?”
Verity smiled, indicating for Flora to sit in front of her, to share her table.
“I have come to find you.”
Flora looked puzzled. She now was beginning to suspect a trap. The two women scrutinised each other. Flora looked at Verity, seeing first those piercing grey eyes. They revealed little. This was a woman who kept herself in cool reserve, a highly intelligent woman capable of great depths of emotion, who was equally able to love or to kill with passion; a cruel passion.
Verity’s face was more sculptured than thin. Her hair was loose; unlike when first they meet when she had it pinned back in a bun, now it framed her features, giving her face a softer aspect. She had a straight nose below which her mouth, now tightly pursed, offered a warm sensuality. For a woman in her late fifties Verity had a figure that girls half her age would die for but it was the eyes, those orbs that seemed to dig deep into you that haunted Flora. The way her left eyebrow arched wickedly. Flora knew that while she was assessing Verity she was being assessed in return.
“Are you on your own?” asked Flora.
“Quite alone,” replied Verity. “Where are Sally and Billy?”
Verity took in Flora’s looks and body language, gauging in her mind how Flora might react. Flora was short, that much was obvious, with a square, spade-shaped head. Her teeth, large and false, led you away from seeing what lay inside the pocket-sized crook. Flora’s eyes spoke volumes though as they dashed and darted from side to side. It was as if, having studied Verity, she was now uncomfortable beneath the younger woman’s stare.
“Who?” Flora asked too easily, too quickly.
“Please Miss Gusset; don’t treat me like a fool, I am anything but. Where are they? Where are Sally and Billy?”
Flora pulled her pistol out so that Verity was aware of it, then she pushed the weapon into her pocket but still with the gun aimed at Verity.
“They are both safe.”
“How do I know that?” smiled Verity, still maintaining her cool persona.
“I am a thief and a bank robber. I am not an assassin. I left them alive and well in a woodland not far from here,” said Flora through her perfect, pristine-white dentures. Her eyes now looked directly at Verity.
“Are you going to use that gun?” asked Verity, looking as unshakeable as ever, her voice purring like a panther’s.
“If I have to.”
“You said yourself you are a thief not a killer.”
“So I did but I will make an exception if I must.”
“You won’t get away with it you know.”
“The police will not catch me,” smiled Flora through her clattering false teeth.
“It wasn’t the police I was speaking of.”
Suddenly confusion lit the ageing eyes of the diminutive dame.
“Then who?” asked Flora, trying to keep herself calm.
Verity picked up her coffee then sipped demurely from it.
“You really ought to try this coffee. It is remarkably good for roadside fare.”
A spark of anger flamed in Flora Gusset’s eyes. She was growing tired of this woman, tired of her antics. She felt as though they were playing chess and she had always detested that game. All she wanted now was her question answered. She pulled out the pistol and thrust it beneath the table.
“I won’t ask a second time, who will catch me?”
Verity dabbed the corners of her mouth with a paper napkin. She knew she was playing a dangerous game but felt she should keep the woman talking; she should play for time and perhaps unsettle her in the process.
“Why the man you have double crossed of course.”
With a sudden flourish Flora rose from her seat. She surreptitiously placed the gun back into her pocket and made to walk off. Then, as if having second thoughts, she turned again to Verity.
“I am too old for this game, my dear. It is time I retired. Please don’t attempt to follow me or I really will shoot you. Goodbye.”
Verity calmly watched as Flora strolled toward the departure lounge where an airship to the continent was waiting. Putting her hand into her coat pocket she pulled out the piece of paper Lenny had scrawled on. Beneath the address he had given her was a telephone number. Beside the number was written ‘CHIEF.’ Not knowing to whom she would be speaking Verity began to input the detail into her comwand. She suspected that whoever it was she was calling would like to know where Flora was going, especially as she had their ill-gotten gains.
The ringing tone sounded in her ear and then was answered by a male voice.
“Hello”, said Verity, “I have some information for you.”
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.