Verity threw her leg across the Triton ‘Featherbed 887’. For Arthur, the observer, this action struck him as incongruous. The very act of Verity Lambush straddling a motorbike was one that beggared belief. Dressed as she was in a duffel coat beneath which a tight fitting dress had ridden up her shapely legs revealing her thighs was a sight he never thought to have witnessed; at least not during waking hours.
She sat there now looking like some schoolboy’s idealised girl racer as she did a quick check of the bike.
“This is very different to the 865. It has an ignition switch whereas with the old bikes you had to stand on the retractable lever to overcome the engines compression then you kick-started the beast. This would make my old boyfriends shudder with horror. They were purists you see,” she turned to Arthur. “Anyway, hop on and we’ll make for the ferry.”
With the sight of Verity’s thighs firmly engraved in his mind, Arthur pulled on the helmet then went to climb up behind her. As he did so Verity’s comwand buzzed. The sound it made was bug like, a low throb of sound.
“No, Inspector not yet, why? I see. Ralph and Elvis have just set sail so can’t be that far into the journey. That’s what I thought. Okay then, we’ll set off for Poole whilst you try to contact them again. I’m aware of that but it can’t be helped. Thank you for the call.”
Arthur looked at her. She seemed deep in thought.
“What was all that about?” he asked.
Verity turned slowly toward him. He detected a slight furrow on her brow as of concern.
“That was DI Adam Lazarus. Apparently, although he has tried several times, he cannot get hold of Ralph.”
Arthur shrugged failing to see the point.
“Why does he need to?”
“The ferry the circus was on has been searched and there were no stowaways or hostages on it. Sally and Billy were not there.”
“I see. So why are we going to Poole?”
“That is where a van was seen boarding a ferry early this morning bound for the Isle-of-Wight.”
“The Isle of Wight?”
Verity didn’t answer the publican she simply slid the comwand back into her pocket then gunned the engine into life. As she pulled the helmet over her head she signalled to Arthur to place his hands around her and to hold on. Glad to oblige Arthur did as requested.
“Not too cold I hope?”
“When I said hold on I did not mean for you to place them there.”
“Sorry, where then?”
There was sudden shriek.
“Not there you damn fool. Put your hands around my waist!”
With Arthur’s hands in a less indelicate position, Verity released the clutch sending the motorbike roaring down the road. Arthur could hear little above the sound of the engine what with the road noise and the whooshing sound as they flew along. He knew they weren’t really flying but that’s how it felt so he held on tightly around Verity’s waist unable to enjoy the closeness of her body. When your mind is scared out of its wits and your bowels are bellowing like a wounded whale the last thing you think of is sex.
The ease with which Verity was able to handle the machine was terrifying, exhilarating and inspiring. She seemed to be living proof of the old adage once you have ridden a bike you never forget how and although this was a motorised version the saying still applied.
She drove at speed but with accomplished skill. Not trusting herself to the country lanes as it had been years since she had last ridden a motorbike she kept to the A roads. The ride thrilled her although she would later dismiss such a notion. Arthur no longer put his hands where he knew he shouldn’t for he was clinging around her midriff for dear life. She knew he was in no danger but she felt rather smug anyway.
Verity found Arthur’s treatment of Lupini, in fact all of his female conquests, decidedly oafish. The man, even with his otherwise good nature, was nothing less than a philanderer. She didn’t like men of such easy virtue. They reminded her of her father and of Regus Nasaltwist. The latter being a man she could cheerfully throttle.
Her thoughts turned to Ralph. She was not a woman who showed much affection finding outward displays awkward and affected. . Passion yes, but affection was more of the heart and soul whereas sex was of the body; feral, it stimulated the physical senses giving release to animal abandonment. She realised she hadn’t said she loved him when they parted even though he had to her. She wished more than anything she had. She hoped he was alright.
Elvis was frantically looking for the comwand. Ralph had asked him to look after it when they boarded the ferry. The vicar thought he had put it in his pocket, although it might have been his boot – he kept many a thing in his boot, like, his feet for example and bus tickets, his library card and sometimes a photograph of his grandfather. The device wasn’t in any of his pockets or his footwear.
He looked inside the black bag he brought with him riffling through his copies of the Tao Te Ching and the King James Bible, a pair of handcuffs, two odd socks and a half eaten Marathon bar.
He then did what he always did under such circumstances and that was to think. It was a risky business at the best of times. The problem he had with that was when he did engage his brain in thinking mode he needed some ginger wine or a spliff and he had neither. However, he did recall, just as they had been leaving Ralph’s car to go into the lounge, placing the comwand in the glove compartment. That was it! He’d left the ruddy thing in the car.
Feeling a tad foolish, Linkthorpe approached Ralph who had gone to the restaurant to get them both coffees. Ralph had just finished paying for the drinks along with a couple of cakes when Elvis walked up.
“Want a hand?” Linkthorpe asked amiably?
Ralph looked amused.
“You can carry the tray instead of me if you like,” he said genialy.
“Anything to help a chum!” responded the vicar with more joie de vivre than was required.
Ralph, always quick on the uptake spotted a slight change in the vicar’s manner, a subtle nuance that made his scalp itch.
“Have you found the comwand yet?” he enquired pointedly.
“Not as such, no,” grimaced Elvis as he took the tray from Ralph’s hands.
“Not as such? What does that mean precisely?”
“Er, well, it’s like this. I think I may have put it in the glove compartment of your car.”
“I see. We’re not allowed down there while ocean going are we?”
“Not strictly speaking no.”
“And what about if we ignore that ‘strictly speaking’ stuff?”
“I’ll slip down now and retrieve it.”
“It can wait, drink your coffee first.”
Finding a small, round table with four chairs they sat down together .Ralph liked the vicar, he liked his liberal attitude to the gospel, to God and to life in general but what he didn’t like was the man’s short attention span. He didn’t mind the way he held communion or the sermons he preached. He in fact found them refreshing, even inspirational at times but the way the man could forget his own name if someone didn’t tell him, irritated Ralph.
Looking at Elvis now Ralph could only smile to himself, sure it was a bit chilly but why the Siberian Sheepskin hat? It was called a Ushanka, Ralph knew that but why the boots? The Valenki were normally worn during the bitter Russian winters not a trip to Northern France and what was with the quilted jacket and trousers? The guy looked a complete jerk and totally out of place.
“Aren’t you a bit warm in the get-up?” asked Ralph as he sipped on his coffee.
“I am a bit,” replied Elvis removing his hat to wipe his forehead. “I think I’ll take the jacket off too. It’s called a Telogreika which is Russian of course.”
“They wear them when their harsh winters arrive. It warms them up no end apparently.”
“And your reason for wearing it now?”
“I thought it all looked rather good; as an ensemble I mean.”
Linkthorpe took a large bite out of his Danish pastry then swallowed a mouthful of coffee.
“Right then,” he said with conviction, “I’m off to get the comwand.”
“Be careful how you do it, you don’t want to get into trouble. Here is the car key”
Linkthorpe waved aside the comment as he stood up.
:”I’ll bring it back here in five minutes.”
Ralph finished his drink then also stood up.
“I think I’ll take a look outside on the deck. I’ll be over there when you get back.”
Slipping down to the cargo deck without being noticed was easy. No one had seen Linkthorpe even in his outlandish apparel. The Aston was parked four cars back and three across. It was next to a Ford Anglia, a new one with four doors. In front stood a large lorry and behind was a non-descript Peugeot. The incognito cleric skid between cars inserted the key into the Aston martin then opened the glove compartment.
The comwand was there. It gave off an eerie red glow indicating that someone had tried calling. Feeling guilty Elvis picked the communication device up, slipped it into the pocket of his Telogreika then locked the car. He was back up the stairs and standing beside Ralph in less than seven minutes.
Grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat, Elvis pulled the comwand from his pocket then proffered it to Ralph who, turning suddenly at the arrival of his friend, caught Linkthorpe’s hand with his and sent the device spinning over the side of the ferry.
“Nooooooo!” screamed Linkthorpe as he and Ralph watched the inevitable descent of the comwand into the swell of the sea. A tiny splash was the only sign of its disappearance.
Ralph looked at Elvis who looked back at Ralph, neither of them quite believing what had just occurred.
“That’s buggered things a bit,” said the vicar.
When the call from the ferry boat’s security staff came through confirming (that) the circus was clear of hideaways or abductees, Adam Lazarus had reacted swiftly. He .had tried contacting Ralph Ramhard, the American lawyer, but had not been able to get through. He then put a call in to Mrs. Ramhard who he had spoken to. Lazarus was unsure of that woman. He knew she was the local head Mistress, or had been until very recently. He had heard of her reputation but found her manner to be curt and abrupt. It was as if she thought herself better than others.
He trusted the boat’s security people and when they said there were no signs of stowaways he believed them. However, he had made sure the French Police would still be making a second, more thorough check when the ferry docked.
Of course, the fact that neither of the two missing teenagers were with the circus didn’t mean the travellers were not involved in the robbery. His instinct though said they weren’t.
Four men had been seen at the bank. They certainly could have been members of the circus but that seemed unlikely. All reports he had received when running a routine check revealed the travelling show to have an exemplary record, never having broken any laws in any of the countries they had visited. Of course it was possible that two teenagers caught up in the romance of the circus may have stowed away but since that wasn’t the case the question remained where were they? Was the robbery and their disappearance connected? And where was this odd little woman Flora Gusset? Was she somehow connected to one or the other?
The sight of a van containing four men and a female boarding the ferry at Poole bound for the Isle-of-Wight was interesting. He had alerted the island
CID. It may
be nothing but then again it might be the lead they were looking for. He
shouldn’t have told that damn woman but he had so no point worrying over it
now. His lads would be there when the boat docked so what harm could she do?
Lazarus was still waiting for all the other ports, airstrips, railway stations and car-hire companies that his force had contacted to come back to him even if with only a negative. He had also requested information from the central police archive to see if there was any record of this Gusset woman on their database. He suspected not but it was always wise to check..
There was something very odd about the robbery and the disappearance of two teenagers at the same time. He felt the circus merely clouded the situation but there was something beyond this that bothered him. The crime had all the hallmarks of the jobs Robin Banks used to pull. It had been such a smooth operation and with so few clues which was typical of that man’s style
Banks was locked-up and had been for the last seven years but was due out in six months’ time. With this in mind perhaps he needed one last haul to bolster his pension? Could he have masterminded such an operation from behind bars? It was certainly conceivable. If he had then he had to have someone on the outside recruiting the gang and controlling process. Could this be Flora Gusset?
He had instructed Debbie Sundae, his detective sergeant to see what she could find on the woman. Debbie was more than a colleague now though; she and Lazarus were lovers. She had asked him to move in with her. They lived together in a converted schoolhouse along with Debbie’s crippled brother who owned the property. It was a convenient arrangement; one that suited all three parties.
Debbie was an incredible lover but also a gifted detective. She had the rare gift of having a logical mind capable of assimilating evidence but also of applying her own intuition to the case without falling foul of foolish sentiment. She was hungry for success and was just as ambitious as he was,
A pleasant surprise had come in the form, the very tall form, of the local constabulary, specifically Sergeant Updike. Lazarus had thought he would be met with the usual country bumpkin stereotype and yes, the man did say some odd things, mixed his words up dreadfully, but his understanding and assessment of the situation had been spot on. Lazarus had also been impressed with the way in which Updike had handled the local unrest but more importantly the disappearance of the two teenagers.
Many a country copper would have simply called in the likes of Lazarus’ department and let them get on with it but Sergeant Updike had gone round to both sets of parents. He not only consoled them with a bit of village compassion but then had personally gone on to supervise the search. Lazarus was very impressed with the man. Now though he could do with a bit of luck if he was to find not only the missing couple but also the thieves.
Mick stood at the ferry bar drinking a pint of ale. The ferry was small so this was the only bar-room on board and it was teeming with people. Why there were so many this time of year crossing over to the island Mick didn’t know. Truth was he didn’t really care. He didn’t much like people at the best of times but even less when he was trying to have a quiet drink. Next to him was Lenny who was nursing a pint in his hands. He wasn’t drinking it though. He looked rather morose as though something was bothering him. A little way off, the other members of the gang stood huddled together. Flora was nowhere to be seen.
“What’s up bruv?” asked Mick.
“Nothing,” muttered Lenny unconvincingly.
“You look like you found a fiver but lost a tenner.”
“I’m alright,” insisted Lenny, looking down at his feet.
“I remember when we were kids, our Mum used to say she could judge the weather just by the look on your face. If it was rotten outside then your face showed it, if it was sunny you had the biggest smile. Now, I am your brother and if think I know when something’s not right.”
“Flora? What’s she done?”
“Nothing, at least nothing to me. You’ve known her for years haven’t you?”
“About ten or so, yeah,”
“And you trust her?”
“Apart from you and our Mum I can’t say I trust anyone but she’s always been true to me.”
Lenny remained looking sullen. Whatever it was bothering him obviously continued to do so. Mick swallowed the rest of his ale then put the empty glass back onto the counter. He turned again to Lenny.
“Listen Daffy, if you have seen or heard anything, even if you can’t explain, can’t get it your head round it then let me know. I do trust Flora, to a degree but as I said, I trust you more. Just tell me what’s on your mind.”
Lenny scratched his nose then laughed. As he finished laughing he sniffed loudly, so loudly that as his nostrils contracted his sniff sounded like a duck quacking. Through this curious and unusual habit he had earned the nickname Daffy from his family.
“I heard her on the phone talking to the courier company; you know the one she hired to deliver the heist money?” Mick nodded that he did. “Well, she gave them an address but it weren’t the one you said. It was different.”
Mick stared at his brother. His eyes looked steely hard.
“Portugal, it is meant to be going to Porto. Once it arrives the bloke behind the deal divvies up our earnings and we scarper. Where did she say to send it?”
Lenny laughed again with that same odd nose quacking noise.
“Oh, it’s going to Porto alright but the house number was different.”
An unpleasant look stole across Mick’s face.
“I see,” he said. “Where is she by the way?”
Shazli was having a finger wagged in front of his face. He didn’t mind the odd bit of finger wagging from time to time but this finger had been wagging if front of his nose for a long time now and he was beginning to get a little miffed by it.
“Don’t you go around blaming my Billy. He is a good, honest boy and sensible too. He isn’t one to go around running off with girls and besides he loves your Sally, I know he does. I see it in his eyes every time he speaks about her. He writes this god-awful poetry that he leaves out on his desk at home. He wouldn’t do something as stupid as to run away nor would Sally be so daft as t’ follow him if’n he suggested it.. The pair of them is sensible. More sensible than I was, and you too I wager, at their age. Something bad has happened. I know it has. I can feel it inside of me. Those circus people have kidnapped them both.”
The wagging finger stopped suddenly as Anita burst into tears. This in turn made Shazli angry and he turned on Julie Twist.
“Now look what you’ve done. Your loose mouth has upset my wife!”
Ignoring Shazli’s riposte Julie turned to Anita who was standing clutching a hankie to her nose. Seeing her weeping uncontrollably Julie rushed to her. She flung her arms about her, pulling Anita’s head to her shoulder, stroking her hair as she did.
“Don’t take any notice of me Anita, I am just as worried as you and was letting my heart run my mouth. I’m sorry. Please don’t take on so. I’m sure we will find them and soon.”
Shazli stood back. He knew he hadn’t been helping matters either. He’d been going around saying all manner of things, daft things, said more out of fear and worry than with any real intent to cause hurt or give offence, driven on by his own irrational concerns. As Julie hugged Anita so the other started to calm down.
“You think they are alright don’t you? You’re not just saying it?”
Julie smiled at he neighbour, they had known each other for years and apart from one or two cross words had never been any real animosity between them.
“You have one bright daughter. She is far more responsible than my Billy but then again females always are aren’t they?”
Anita laughed at this, dabbing her eyes with the corner of her hankie.
“But where on earth are they?” she asked mournfully.
Sally and Billy were standing now on the outskirts of Portsmouth. It wasn’t that far from Winchester, about thirty five to forty minutes by car, but that wasn’t the problem. They hadn’t intended to walk to the town in the first place. They had meant to head in the opposite direction to Fareham. The other problem they were having was finding a working telephone box. Of all the red boxes they had tried, not one had an operating telephone. They had tried three so far and had no luck with any of them.
“Dad will be going ape,” said Sally.
“My Mum will be spitting feathers,” said Billy, not sure what that expression meant and wishing he hadn’t said it as it didn’t sound as cool as someone going ape.
“And my Mum will be having fifty fits!” exclaimed Sally.
“And my Mum will be going orgasmic,” declared Billy, biting his lip as he spoke
“Orgasmic? Are you sure?” Sally asked.
Billy took a tactical decision and ignored Sally, pointing as he did so to a bus stop.
“We could always catch a bus to Winchester then phone your Dad. Winchester is bound to have phones that work.”
Sally mulled this over for a minute. Billy liked to watch Sally when deep in thought. A tiny vein throbbed in her forehead whenever she focused her thoughts which he found attractive. The truth was he could watch Sally eating, blowing her nose or bathing and he would find it attractive. In fact, the more he thought of it, he would rather like to watch her in the bath. Shaking his head to clear it, he heard Sally responding to his suggestion.
“Have we enough money to catch a bus?”
“Between the two of us we have.”
Sally smiled then leant forward and kissed Billy. They held each other as they kissed then a couple of boys on bikes called out as they rode past. “Get a room!” Sally and Billy ignored them.
“We’d best be getting in the queue,” said Sally, taking hold of Billy’s hand.
Billy nodded in agreement. “Okay, let’s go over then.”
The queue wasn’t that long. It only had four people in front of them, two men and a mother with her little boy. The boy was wearing a Winchester FC shirt. It was far too big and hung down to his knees and off his shoulders. Billy smiled at him and the boy smiled back.
“Looks like you have a new mate,” whispered Sally as she too smiled at the boy.
The boy, excited by all this sudden attention tugged at this Mum’s sleeve. She did her best to ignore him as the bus pulled in to the kerb. The two men got on followed by the boy and his mum then Sally went next. As Sally was paying Billy stayed close to her.
The lower half of the bus was filled with passengers so the two teenagers clambered up the stairs, as the bus trundled off, to the top deck. With no one in the front seats Sally and Billy slid into them. A few splashes of rain fell onto the windscreen as the day grew dull and overcast. It was now approaching twenty eight hours since they had disappeared from Fekenham. As they sat gazing out of the bus window a police car drove past going in the other direction..
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.