Waltzing Back Home; One by One and Two by Two
Apart from knowing they were north of
neither Sally nor Billy knew exactly where they were. Which way they selected
to go was as much down to luck as it was intuition. Sally looked around at the
trees that surrounded them and was dismayed to know she didn’t recognise the
area at all. As she turned left and right she spoke to Billy. Winchester
“Where are we Billy?”
Billy had no idea either and scratched his head.
“I don’t know Sal. I know we had travelled north east of
to that house of Flora’s but beyond that your guess is as good as mine.” Winchester
Sally had hoped for more. She thought Billy, who had travelled more than she outside of Fekenham might have spotted some landmark or other.
“Which way should we go then? I am so fed up with being kidnapped, tied up escaping, walking for endless miles only to go through the same process again. I want to get home. We haven’t got any money to phone home and now we don’t even know where we are. This is hopeless.”
In his heart Billy had to agree but he knew better than to show his despair to Sally. He had seen this sort of behaviour before with his football team mates when they were losing and their heads went down. The one thing Billy never did was give up even if he felt he should. He took hold of Sally’s hand then squeezed it.
“What we are going to do is this. We are going to walk in that direction.” He said this pointing his finger directly ahead of them. “We will keep walking until we come to a home, a house, a farm or a block of flats. When we get to any one of these we will knock on the door, explain who we are and ask where on earth we are. Once we know that we shall ask the people whose home we have called at if we can use their phone to call your Dad.”
Sally thought the plan sound. Under normal circumstances she, usually the one with more common sense, would have thought of this first. This whole escapade had gone from being a terrifying ordeal to something fun and adventurous before twisting into a dark and life-threatening horror. All of her stoic practicality had vanished, replaced with a feeling of exasperated homesickness. She wanted to see the village again; run across the green, carefree, happy and secure just like she had as a little girl. She wanted to see the vicar and the brigadier once more and laugh at their eccentricities She also wanted to see the ‘Old Dragon’ Lambush even if she may get a lecture. But more than anything she wanted to see her Mum and Dad. She smiled at Billy then kissed him.
“Sorry,” she explained, “if I’ve been a pain. This has gone on so long and I am tired. I just want to be back in my house again.”
“Soon be Christmas,” said Billy.
“I know and I haven’t got all the pressies yet.”
“I’ve got yours,” Billy said smugly. “And me Mum’s.”
“Yours was the first I bought and Dad’s easy. He loves a good book or an album but Mum is different. I never know quite what to get for her,” said Sally, finding such trivialities a welcome return to some sort of normalcy.
“I just get my Mum something smelly.”
“Like Ernie Stallworthy you mean?” giggled Sally.
“I don’t think she’d appreciate that somehow.”
“Why’s your Mum never married, I mean after your dad left?”
“Dunno,” said Billy. “I think she took being a single parent dead serious, too serious maybe. She just didn’t have time to date or nothing if you know what I mean. She has been seeing a lot of that Nathan what’s-his-name of late though.”
The cold of December bit into their fingers and legs then worked its way along their bodies. The woods around them were like any other woodland and yet they somehow seemed strange, ominous even in the winter light. Billy took hold of Sally’s hand and started walking.
Adam Lazarus stood beside his wrecked car, cursing. He had wanted to get to where Verity Lambush was in order to arrest Flora Gusset. The Fekenham headmistress was a law unto herself and, fine as that might be in any other situation, when it came to dealing with the criminal fraternity such tasks were best left to the police. Lazarus had genuine concerns for Verity’s safety. If Flora was as desperate as she seemed there was no telling what she might do.
The police squad car that had been following the inspector was less damaged than his. Both officers had gone about their business that of assisting other crash victims, contacting the ambulance service and helping any injured drivers. This left Lazarus able to contact Winchester C.I.D and call for a helicopter. He wasn’t required at the crash, his subordinates were more than capable of doing that, but he urgently needed to get to Crowcome Airfield. The quickest way was by air.
The chopper had arrived in a field next to the road. It had just been a matter of Lazarus clambering over a small fence, trudging across the frozen ground then climbing into the cockpit. Within minutes he had arrived at Crowcome.
Jogging along the tarmac Lazarus had shot into the café only to find Verity Lambush seated drinking coffee and talking on her comwand. Seeing the Detective Inspector she raised her hand then waved at him. Lazarus saw her stoicism but thought it cavalier. He felt irritated. How could she remain so calm, so relaxed and where the hell was Flora Gusset?
“Inspector Lazarus, please have a seat. May I get you a coffee?”
Lazarus glared at her, knowing full well the awe the rest of the villagers had for her but he felt only annoyance. Her actions may seem laudable to the other residents but to him it seemed foolhardy.
“An explanation is all I need thank you,” he said curtly.
Verity demurely sipped at her Latté.
“Of course, I apologise for taking off like that. I should have waited for you and your team. I knew time was of the essence and I wanted to find Billy and Sally.”
“And where are the teenagers? Where is Flora?”
Verity dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin.
“Both are safe, or so I was assured. Where precisely they are is something I cannot say although I suspect not far from here. Perhaps you can have a team search for them?”
The last comment felt like an instruction. Lazarus was tired of this woman’s overbearing patronising manner.
“Miss Lambush let’s get something sorted shall we? I, not you, am the officer of the law. Your recklessness may have not only endangered yourself but also two underage youths. Racing here to find the two was the police’s job and not yours and now it seems that you risked so much for nothing. Flora is not here nor, as far as I can see, are the children so I don’t quite see how you can know they are safe.”
There was a vague suspicion of frustration, of exasperation, in Verity’s response. Her tone was pleasant enough but clipped.
“If you will allow me to finish you will understand that what seems insouciance is in fact knowledge. Flora was here. I spoke with her. Prior to our meeting she had driven to a wood nearby where she left Sally and Billy, as she put it, alive and well. I know when I am being lied too inspector. Flora Gusset was not lying. She is no killer. She has now fled the scene.”
Lazarus looked at her not sure how he should react. He believed she was right about Flora; she was no killer but her disappearance bothered him.
“She’s gone? Flora Gusset has gone? Gone where?” queried Lazarus.
“I think her destination is immaterial, besides I really don’t know as she didn’t tell me.”
The answer, glibly given, made Lazarus’ equable temper turn to anger.
“You let her go? She has robbed a bank, or masterminded it. She has twice kidnapped two teenagers and you did nothing to prevent her leaving?”
Verity’s grey eyes flashed, piercing Lazarus to the core. Perhaps he should be mortified, scared, but he wasn’t, even though he felt as though he had crossed a line and was about to feel the full force of the woman schoolchildren and adults called the dragon.
The moment passed. Verity relaxed then spoke.
“Yes, Inspector Lazarus I did nothing to prevent her leaving. Why would I when I had intelligence gained from my interview with Lenny Stag. He didn’t just give me the address Miss Gusset used as a hideaway but also a telephone number. The name against that number was a codename of sorts: chief. I have no idea, nor do I need to know, who this ‘chief’ is. I had his contact detail. I phoned this man, for man it was, and informed him he had been double-crossed and that the person deceiving him was Flora Gusset. He seemed unsurprised at this information and said he knew where she was absconding to. I thanked him for his time as he thanked me in return for the information. We then bade each other goodbye.”
Lazarus felt he needed all the self-control he could muster. He physically had to ensure neither jaw gaped nor eyes bulged.
“You mean to say you set her up?”
“Precisely,” smiled Verity.
Lazarus’s brain raced. The man who Verity phoned had to be Robin Banks, of that he was confident.
“Do you still have that telephone number?” asked Lazarus.
“Yes, I do. Why?”
“I think I know who organised this whole operation. If I can link that number to who I think it is then I should be able to arrest him.”
Verity sniffed then ran her elegant fingers over her bottom lip.
“I would rather you didn’t,” she said.
Lazarus looked incredulous.
“I believe the man to be Robin Banks, a notorious criminal mastermind. He is currently behind bars and I intend to keep him there. Why wouldn’t I?”
Verity picked up her comwand that had been lying on the table. She slipped it inside her coat pocket.
“Because there is no need. When Flora arrives wherever it is she is heading, presumably to collect the stolen cash enabling her to retire comfortably on some foreign shore, her estranged comrades will have undoubtedly, as a form of revenge, informed the local police. She will be brought to justice and the money returned, in the fullness of time, to the bank. You will receive full credit and possible promotion; why would you need to punish the man, albeit a criminal himself, who has given Flora to you?”
Lazarus felt himself smile then, before he had the chance to prevent it, he laughed out loud.
“Mrs Ramhard you are simply amazing. You are right. Why arrest a man already detained at Her Majestiy’s pleasure after he has so ably assisted us? I am happy with that result.”
“In that case perhaps you’d be good enough to ensure the safe return of the motorcycle I borrowed before returning me to Fekenham?”
“It would be my pleasure.”
Arthur’s return to Fekenham, to the Frog and Radiator and to Lupini had gone without fanfare. Villagers asked questions of course, most notably the Braganza-Smythe’s and Julie Twist, but, by and large, folk accepted that neither their favourite publican, nor the esteemed Verity Ramhard had anything to report.
It wasn’t until Verity arrived having been driven by Inspector Lazarus that anyone heard that both Sally and Billy were fine.
Shazli had been overjoyed to learn his daughter was safe even if she was lost.
“I will drive over to
and have a nose around. I might
spot them. If I do I’ll bring them both home.” Winchester
Anita said she’d like to go with him. Then, as both they and Billy’s Mum had been sharing their anxiety over the missing teenagers, Anita asked if Julie would like to accompany them. Julie declined saying she would cook them all a celebratory meal for when they got back. The only person who kept their council was Ethel Blowvalve.
Ernie Stallworthy, back from his escapade with Crust and Tickleshaft, with the Brigadier’s ribs having been neatly bandaged by Doctor Kettle, gave Ethel a nudge.
“What’s up, luv. You look like you lost a fiver and found a penny.?”
“I don’t think we should start celebratin’. Least ways not until the kids are home safe and sound.”
Ernie said nothing but thought Ethel had a point. Mille Meade, of course, rushed around gathering information before distorting it then regurgitating the news throughout the village.
Ralph and Elvis didn’t go directly into the village itself. The American dropped the vicar off at the vicarage then went to the Duck. He was greeted by Yue Zedong who seemed glad to see him.
“Mister Ralph, welcome back. How’d the trip go? Did you find the children?”
Ralph gave her the full breakdown, including the fire. Yue found the whole thing of interest, especially the bravery of the two men. When Ralph spoke of the reporters who had waited for them at the port Yue Zedong nodded knowingly.
“A woman, French I think, along with a man was here earlier. They asked after you but I said you weren’t back yet.”
Ralph sighed. “I guess something like that attracts a degree of news coverage but quite why they have pursued us here I don’t know.”
Yue made her boss a coffee. She slid it across his desk to him.
“Thanks. How have things been here in my absence? Business still good?” asked Ralph grasping the mug with a large hand.
“We have been even busier than normal. The disappearance of the boy and girl has attracted people here. I don’t understand why but our profits have been up.”
Ralph shook his head with disbelief. Not because business had increased during the brief time he was away but why it had.
“People are ghouls at times. It’s like rubber-necking: people slow down to look what damage has been done. We are getting sightseers, visitors keen to see for themselves where the kids are from and how we are coping”
“I have seen some of my countrymen here too.”
Ralph started at this information. He looked at Yue trying to gauge what she thought but she remained as impassive, as inscrutable as ever.
“That’s unusual. We get a few Orientals here in the village but not usually more than one at a time. Did you recognise these guys?”
Yue said she didn’t.
“I don’t believe things happening without a reason. I think it best we remain vigilante just in case.
Flora had arrived at the Portuguese airfield feeling a light relief wash over her. Meeting with Verity Ramhard had unnerved her. She had thought throughout the flight that at any minute someone would jump up to either arrest or kill her. Neither had happened and now she stood at passport control.
The uniformed man took hold of her documents then scanned them. As he did he looked up at her periodically as if checking her face for signs of nerves. But then, half-an- hour later, she was through customs control.
Outside, although early winter, the day was mild, she stood waiting for a taxi. When one arrived she clambered in whilst the driver packed her suitcase into the boot of his vehicle.
It hadn’t been a long drive. Traffic was minimal. The man driving the car sucked at a boiled sweet. He kept a small round tin of them on his dashboard. He was a swarthy individual with a greying moustache on his top lip with what used to be called an imperial, a small neatly trimmed, square beard, resting below his mouth.
Flora had given him the address in Pidgin Portuguese then they had driven without speaking as the man hummed a tuneless melody. They had arrived as evening was settling in. Flora had paid the man, giving him a generous tip, then she mounted the short stone steps to the door, where she stopped with a start. Pinned to the door was a note in English which had one word inscribed upon it. That word was ‘gotcha.’ Flora stared at it at first then she pulled it from the door and screwed the sheet into a ball. Taking her key from her purse, she entered the villa where waiting for her were three men. Two were dressed in police uniform whilst the third was in plain clothes. The latter spoke to her.
“Good evening Miss Gusset. I am Deputy Intendent Ruela de Hommen. We have been waiting for you. Please take a seat, obrigado.”
Having dropped Verity off at Molly Sharptack’s Tea Rooms, Lazarus had driven over to Trimpton House. He wanted to see how the Brigadier was but also to speak with Crust and Tickleshaft. It may be top secret official government business but he wanted to learn more about The East India Trading Company, specifically its covert Brethren operation. The attack on the Brigadier was police business; no matter how it infringed on civil security he was duty bound to follow it up.
He wondered how, when all was disclosed, the fallout from such a scandal would affect those involved. Rupert Snatch-Kiss seemed to have a Teflon coating. Whatever flew his way simply didn’t stick. Regus Nasaltwist was different. Lazarus could not conceive the chief whip escaping castigation. In fact Lazarus believed the man who held a senior position within the Tory party would be held to account for his actions and would most likely be suspended or even sacked from the party. As for such a high profile figure as Wynkyn de Worde
Lazarus could only speculate.
The gang, now known to the media as the ‘Four Santas’ were all in custody pending trial. With what Verity had told him he knew that Flora too would shortly be caught. He had, after giving his word, no intention of pursuing the matter even if he felt sure the ‘chief’ was in fact Robin Banks. The heist had his modus opperandi all over it. What did it matter if the famed thief got away without punishment? The gang had been caught, the kidnapper too, or soon would be, and all would serve their time behind bars. By the time Flora got out she would be very elderly. He strongly doubted she would ever be involved in criminal activities again. The only misdemeanour he could imagine her doing was illegal parking.
The only work in progress that needed resolution was the missing teenagers. Their disappearance bothered him. He had ordered an area wide search. It was the only lose thread in Verity Ramhard’s otherwise brilliant plan. Where were Sally and Billy?
It grew bitterly cold as Sally and Billy marched on. The evening sky was heavy with the threat of snow. They were only dressed in the flimsiest of garments. They had been walking now for an hour and finally could see before them what appeared to be a farm.
Smoke was coming from the chimney of the square farmhouse although no lights were on that they could see. The pair approached the homestead, no longer caring what response they might receive as both of them were so frightfully cold.
They banged loudly on the door using the iron knocker that had been painted black. It had the shape of a gargoyles head and Sally thought it was a little spooky. There was no answer so they tried again. Still no answer came, no sound of footsteps, no lights being turned on.
Billy looked around. He was visibly shivering, barely able to stop his teeth chattering. He pointed toward a barn that lay a short distance away to their left.
“We need to find shelter, any shelter before this wind freezes us to death. Follow me Sally.”
A smattering of snow began to fall slowly as they stomped across to the barn. By the short time it took them to get there it was coming down heavily. The barn door was bolted from the outside. Billy drew the bolt back then opened the door for Sally who gratefully slipped inside. Although far from being hot, the barn, containing a dozen or so cows, was warm enough. It offered shelter from the keen wind and even though there was a dungy, bovine smell, it was a joy to be out of the snow.
There was a stack of straw which had been thrown down to one side. Sally pointed at it, suggesting they snuggle down into it. Billy followed her then, as the couple lay down, wrapped his arms around her.
“I feel just like Joseph must have with Mary,” he said attempting to sound jovial.
“Except there is no baby Jesus and the only similarity is I am still a virgin and I mean to stay that way tonight if you don’t mind,” said Sally.
“I was only trying to keep you warm,” retorted Billy, defensively removing his arms.
“And all I meant was it is too cold to even think of hanky panky so you put those arms back around me this instant Billy Twist.”
Billy forced a frozen smile but did as requested. A cow mooed. It was an odd sound close up and seemed rather melancholic.
“She don’t sound none too happy does she?” quipped Billy.
“Like us she is probably cold,” responded Sally, grateful for the warmth she could feel in Billy’s embrace.
“I remember once, years ago now,” reminisced Billy, sounding as though he were a veteran of some long-forgotten war, “when me and Scurvy and a couple of our mates sneaked into the Micklethewaite’s barn. We had all arranged to meet up there and sleep over. It was a big barn, or so it seemed to us, and the only other living thing inside it was old Myrtle.”
“The Micklethewaite’s cow?” ventured Sally.
“Yeah, that’s right. Back then we didn’t know, being only nippers, how sweet natured a beast she was. She scared the living daylights out of me and Scurvy. We legged it sharpish and went home.”
“What a pair of wimps!” chortled Sally feeling her circulation returning to her limbs. “What other things did you lads get up too?”
Billy thought for a while, listening to the wind outside blowing, imagining the snow falling thick and fast. Finally, he spoke.
“Well, there was a game we used to play in junior school.”
“What was that then?”
“After someone had taken a dump we’d go into the loo and pee on their skidmarks. The idea was to wash it off with our wee.”
Sally, horrified at the thought, pushed Billy away the better to look into his face.
“Billy Twist,” she said with mock horror, “that is so gross. I mean really disgusting.” Then she snuggled up to him again laughing.
“I suppose all you did was dress dolls in frilly frocks and play house with the other girls.” suggested Billy.
Sally flicked Billy’s nose with the tip of her finger.
“As it happens I do not wear a halo and I reckon I could beat you when it comes to breaking rules.”
“You didn’t say your prayers? Told the odd fib or two?” teased Billy.
Sally laid her head on Billy’s.
“Do you remember when old Ballbanger used to take us on field trips?” asked Sally.
“When we were first years?” commented Billy.
“Yeah, that’s right. He’d taken us to Birchtickle to show us the old ducking pond, you know where they used to chuck witches into the water tied to a chair.”
“They knew how to have fun back then didn’t they?” lampooned Billy.
“Anyway,” continued Sally, doing her best to ignore her boyfriend, “we had been digging around doing a lot of boring stuff when we noticed Ballbanger had dozed off. I don’t know if you have ever seen him asleep but he snores like a drain. He throws his head back and lets rip with a hail of ‘Zees’ Well, it was too good an opportunity to miss. Me and Iris Freckle had caught a jar full of newts, not the usual girlie thing I admit, but it was a task set us by Ballbanger himself sooooo; we took one of these newts, horrid things they were, and pushed it into the teacher’s mouth.”
“You are winding me up,” declared Billy, laughing.
It’s the truth I swear,” vowed Sally. “And you know what?”
“He swallowed it. So we did it again.”
“Get out of here!”
“I swear. He woke up coughing so we scarpered and hid behind some trees. He sat up, took a swig of something he had in a flask, stretched, yawned a bit then called us altogether to set us another task,” giggled Sally.
“He never cottoned on?” asked Billy disbelievingly.
“Nope, he didn’t have a clue that he had consumed two animals straight out of Birchtickle pond.”
The pair of them started laughing then, as if the intimacy shared had somehow forged a bond between them, Sally kissed Billy with more passion then he could ever remember her doing before. Her hands moved across his chest and down his stomach. He felt himself grow aroused then, just as he had plucked up courage to place his hand on Sally’s left boob, the barn door creaked open.
Sally shot up feeling instantly guilty. Billy followed suit. Before them a man stood, grizzled, stocky and holding a shotgun. He waved it menacingly in their direction, his finger twitching over the trigger.
“If’n I was you I wouldn’t even so much as breathe heavy else I’ll plug you full o’ shot!”
Shazli had driven around and round whilst both he and Anita scanned the area for sight of either Sally or Billy. At first they had been filled with exuberant confidence, an elation borne out of the knowledge their children were alive, unharmed and free from danger. They had thought, a little naively, that all they had to do was turn up in approximately the place they thought the teenagers would be (in order) to find them. This hadn’t been the case. Now hours later, with night drawing on, all thoughts of collecting their children and taking them home evaporated.
Eventually, tired and disconsolate, the couple had returned to Fekenham. They went straight to Julie Twist who sat looking at the meal she had prepared that had now grown cold.
“No luck?” she asked, hoping for a positive answer but expecting a negative,
“Not a sign of them,” said Anita.
Shazli remained silent. It was as if this expedition had promised so much but had failed so spectacularly. This had dashed all hopes he had of ever finding his daughter. He slunk off by himself without even saying goodnight to Julie.
“He doesn’t mean to be rude,” said Anita. “He got so excited at the thought of seeing Sally again that he finds it hard to deal with. She wasn’t where we thought she would be.”
Julie waved her hand in front of Anita. “Stop, I understand. You don’t have to explain. I know precisely how he feels. I guess I am worried because the snow is falling and it is so thick. What if they are out in the open somewhere; they’ll freeze to death?”
The prospect was daunting. It was not a thought any of them wanted to consider. The only hope they had was that the morning might bring better news.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.