Monday, April 6, 2015

1. The Manx Loaghtan


Gerald Haas strode through to the inner office, hung his greatcoat on the stand and his Russian hat on top of that. 

'You say you don't know her name, Paul, why not?'

'We call her Emma -'

'Call her Emma?  Call her?  What's her name, man, where does she live, what's her social security number?  Can you give me any of this?'

'We can't get it.  There's no such person.'

'Europol, PRISM and all the other goodies and we can't identify one female, aged about thirty-five, nondescript and clearly from these islands by all reports?'

'She has a few identities, slips away every time.  I thought that might be your field sir.  I was hoping you could shed some light -'

'No joy there, usual calls, drew a blank.'

'It gets worse.'

'Go on.'

'We think there's more than one of her.'

'Suffer the little children.  Explain.'

'We've got Janine Cain with us today, she's been working on it for a year and a half - might be worth listening to her.  That's why I suggested this morning.  Can I bring her through?'

'Yes, yes.'

Glendinning stepped over and buzzed, there was a knock at the door and a lady was bidden to enter.

‘Hello, Janine.  Let's all sit.  I'm listening.’

‘Aged 34 -’

‘On record or on her say-so?’

'On her say-so, to various domestic staff.  We're pretty sure her base hair colour is brunette, darker in fact.  Straight-bridged nose with  a turn-up at the end.  Hair usually covering the ears.  May have a slight indentation in the chin, perhaps not.'

'Always as a female, as a matter of interest?'

'Not always ... she's played the young man a few times.  Did it well too by all accounts.'

'Go on.'

'She varies her appearance.'

'Yes.   We know such a person August 4th ruined Michel Lefebvre over in France and descriptions of such a woman came in.'


'Mayor of Neuilly.  He pulled out of the race following the disgrace,' added Janine.  'The thing is, sir, there would have been no investigation at all but for the complaint by the campaign manager about some goings on and only from that, days later, did any description of this Emma emerge.  Long gone by then, on to her next job.'

'Someone pays well.'

'You'd have to say so.  She takes her time and that doesn't come cheaply.  Whether she's approached by money or whether she approaches money she thinks a prospective job - we're not sure.'

'Mercenary more than freedom fighter then.   But why bother with minor targets?  She'd make more on big hits.  Is that her only game, do you think?'

'If you look at Lefebvre, he has connections with Pascal Lebois who's denied dealings with Marc Dutroux but Lefebvre certainly did have.   Dutroux himself opens a can of worms no one cares to be associated with.   There's also the little matter of one entire village and allegations coming out of there.'

'No one ever dies in this?'

'Apart from those victims, only from shame,' put in Glendinning.  'She's no assassin but there've been later deaths - suicides.  Remarkable talent for getting close to targets we can't touch.'

'So, she's of value to people up there who are of no particular concern to us.  And yet I'm getting heat to identify and bring her in.   Can't see why though.  Even if she's a tad vigilante, she's still doing our work for us.  What's the problem, I wonder.'

'She's not attached to any agency we know,' said Glendinning, none that will own her anyway but on more than one occasion she's blown an investigation already underway.  But that only gets us annoyed, it might be that for someone above, it's a blessed relief.  Forgive me but what if she were onto one of the people leaning on you, sir?'

Haas stroked his chin.  'Can't we trace her if she was in Lefebvre's employ?'

'No.  She wasn't taking Lefebvre's shilling, not officially, not directly, possibly she was doing dirty work for him.'

'Tax evasion.'

'Unless her legit work has lots of perks and she declares the perks as income, remains a good girl and keeps their taxman happy.'

Janine spoke.  'It's just an idea but if she's able to get this time off to do these things, then her legitimate work is piecemeal, not 9 to 5.   It's casual work.'

There was a long pause.   Haas ran his hand over his brow and asked, 'And that's it?  No photo, no eye witness -'

'There are photos all right, three we thought might be legit but they're of different women.  They're here.'  She extracted the prints and handed them across.

Haas studied them.  'This one's of a girl, this is a young woman, this one we can't see her face at all.  Why do you think them legit?'

'Domestic staff, shopkeepers.  We think one might be but at least it's a type, isn't it?  An identikit.'

'All right, let's all three of us meet here again Tuesday next, same time.'


The 8:22 from Lytton-by-Sea was one of those awful two-carriage sprinters but Chloe Jamieson had bigger things to worry about as her nervous eyes gazed over the passing greenery - a field here, a clump of trees there.

It was bloody cold and only November - a frost still covered the grass in the fields this morning.

There was a message, she looked down and dismissed it.  Thirty-eight minutes till the first change.

He didn't know she knew the address but why should he?   In all their time together on that island, the address of his estranged wife's parents had never entered the conversation - why should it have?

Melissa, supposed to be his wife, the dotcom company had folded, money had run out, so had she.  At least, she refused to be part of the island idea.  She'd never asked for a divorce, he'd never asked.  Now he was suddenly visiting her at Daddy's home.

And she, Chloe, his secretary - so quickly he'd accepted her offer to help develop the island, had never come onto her until she'd made it painfully obvious - strange man, Miles.  Thirty-eight to her thirty-two, the deal needed to be sealed.

Things were coming to a head this day and Chloe Jamieson was going to have a ringside seat.


Glendinning had taken her to the Fox and Hounds, the drinks and nibbles were before them, they'd found a quieter spot near the now locked beer garden door, he thought he'd open proceedings.

'Describe her more fully than you did at the meeting.'

'You'd understand a lot of this is guesswork on my part.   Why  would people trust Emma?   Because she's nondescript and serious, with strong ethics, quite vulnerable - a criminal sees her as easy prey.   She's a good functionary, the type you'd employ, she takes on the work and never complains, she makes some errors but very few, she's generally forgiven - she comes over well.  

She's self-effacing, precisely the type you'd entrust your secrets to, there'd be bonhomie in the office, a man she worked for - always a man - would come onto her but she'd be too shy and retiring.  Then she'd suddenly decide to throw in her lot with him but somehow it would never get to the altar.'

'What's the longest she's been on any of these ... projects?'

'One went eleven months, one was over and done with in three weeks.  No pattern.'

'There is in the final result - the man is ruined or the wife is, or else someone withdraws from office or emigrates.'

'We've been over that.  On occasions she does do the chantage but then it goes to a charity.  She doesn't need it, obviously.'

'Your appraisal of her nature, her wherewithal.'

'Normal, I'm afraid.  Can be arrogant and sassy, can dissolve into tears, can be strong, can stand up to her employer if it's a matter of justice.'

'Does she ever smile?'

'Men report the sun coming out.  Women say she's into classic fragrances, such as Chanel, likes florals, occasionally chypre.  One thing she never varies is delicacy in her attire - she likes lace, chiffon, likes to feel a woman.   Even when she stacked on the pounds during one of her jobs, she was still delicate in her dress.'

'Well there's a vulnerability.'

'Many women like to be women.'

'How far do her scruples extend to the bed?'

She laughed.   'You mean does she sleep with men?  It really depends.  The elegant lady is her usual defence, the kiss in the doorway, the lingering goodnight, the good humour and deep interest in him, which lets her string him along.   In some cases, it's been said to have ended up in bed.   She doesn't strike me as a saint, more like someone with a moral compass as a rule but not if something like that is needed to crack the nut.'

'How is she with women?'

'Supportive shoulder, not into women, though women trust her, as do the men.'

'You like her.'

'So do you.    As you learn your target, it's possible to appreciate them.   Would you bed her?'

He blushed.  'That's no question to ask a married man.'

'You would.'

'From what I've heard, she might be able to get under a man's guard.  I wouldn't though.
Do we have anything else?'

'She doesn't bleed in public.  She's flawed, she's had close shaves but someone up there is covering for her, we know that, perhaps for services rendered, perhaps just because she's so ... helpable.     I think she's doing high grade work on a private basis but not ad hoc - there's a definite pattern - the gathering of data, the extension of her network all the time.   I think she's mercenary but not unprincipled - she needs to live with herself.'

'Does she move in high circles?  What's her milieu?'

'In the case of John Malthas, you'll recall - it was only because someone made a casual remark over tea and clotted cream that he was caught out.   I'd say she helped organize the guest list, she has the social sense of a hostess.   It seemed wretched luck for our John, that this woman whom the wife could not have known the connection with was invited.'

Glendinning took another sip of his cold coffee.  'And after her rare mistakes?'

'Disappears into the woodwork, of course.  Appears a few months later, that much the wiser.  She almost always plays within her limits, doesn't demand too much, is reliable once she takes on the task.'

'All right, look at it another way - what does she offer that money would want?'

'Nondescript, discreet, leaves no traces, gets the job done.'


Frank O'Brien could have moved out of the dingy office at the back of the garage any time in the past eight years. 

The little MOT business had expanded, he'd kept up with the latest automotive technology, he'd done the exams, he'd employed the right graduates - the new vehicles were almost an apprenticeship in themselves.    This was his field, this was where he shone.

He was annoyed at Melissa.  For someone who'd been educated at Woodburn Hall, Melissa had chosen a man below her but that was OK in one way because Miles was making money hand over fist in technology.   Then had come the crash, he'd lost all but had still ended up on his feet.   As a bloody farmer.   With his daughter, the ultimate fashionista?   He must have known that wouldn't wash with Melissa.

He suspected Miles had wanted shut of Melissa - well, she was a right little pain, for sure but Miles hadn't asked for a divorce, Melissa hadn't either.  His darling daughter seemed perfectly happy at home - his home with Laura now.

Chloe- fair-haired, curvacious, a cutie in her early-30s - why didn't Miles just go for it, start proceedings?  Melissa wasn't to know it but there wasn't a lot left in that fund of hers, there'd been certain ... difficulties ...

Frank O'Brien stared ahead, deep in thought.   Melissa was cramping their lives, Laura and him.   He loved his daughter he supposed but she wasn't doing anything, wasn't going to the island, wasn't divorcing Forrester.   Melissa kept to herself in the house and ... well ... did nothing.  Except get in the way.

Then she'd go out in the evening.


'The only reason I agreed to see you again, Miles, was to confirm in my mind, for once and for all, that my decision was the correct one.'

Melissa gazed at him for precisely five seconds for maximum dramatic effect, then delivered: 'It was.'

With that, she turned on wobbly stilettos and clattered across the Provencale tiles, through the double doors to the steps which led up the back of the house to the stables.   He watched her disappear with as much hauteur as she could muster, all 159cm of her, in those label-out garments he hadn't a clue about the names of, except that they must, by definition, have been more than he paid out in six months on his entire cost of living.

Hermes scarf with her kagoul, walking up that stone path towards the muddy surrounds of the stables - he could hear the clatter of heels and the cursing - she looked the goods all right but he had to own she seemed further away than ever. 

He looked down at himself - the gladrags still stood up - she'd have said they were three years out of date, yet she'd been the one who'd chosen them.   His leather shoes were still smart and polished, his fine cords were well cut, his leather jacket was soft and fitted him carelessly.   It was one of two outfits he maintained, the rest outdoor gear for the island.

She was an anomaly, certainly the fashion queen, unsuited to island life and yet she'd muddy her gear for the stables, she'd go riding in jodhpurs, boot-deep in mud.

She certainly had no further need for him but as they weren't divorced, as there was no settlement involved, no children - he couldn't make her out.   Chloe was much easier to read - she was in it for herself and would force the issue with him soon - hence his visit today to make sure.

And it hadn't been easy setting up the island.   His friend from blogging days, Stephen Brown, had put him straight on his first visit.

'No-one relies just on crops on an island in a temperate climate, Miles.  The best and most profitable agricultural undertaking would be the raising of sheep or other ovine creature. Salt-tainted pasture gives a distinctive and delicious flavour to the meat.

Poor soil, as on your island, would give the right sort of pasture for a rare breed like the Manx Loaghtan - in the Manx language Loaghtan means ‘mouse brown’.   Of benefit is the fact that the breed originates from an island off the UK coast.

Listen, my friend, if you want to get anywhere with this, forget the tilling, except for your domestic needs and go the rare breed route.'

He'd done so but those already breeding on the Isle of Man were not playing ball and it had been the devil of a job getting Devon breeders to allow a couple of ewes for a substantial consideration, at a time when funds were thin on the ground.

He'd needed to up his game and do his own slaughtering but had then had second thoughts.  It hadn't been squeamishness but the quality of the cuts which had been the issue and so mainland butchers had been brought in, on condition Miles would farm some of their own breeds for their specialty shops, this had required outhouses and then there was the tax man and so on and so on.

Not an issue.   Then had come a visit by two of his Swiss contacts from the dotcom era and they'd seen the gites and put it to him that if the island could not exactly be set up as a tax haven, then it could at least be a haven for those needing one in a different way, i.e. they could conduct business from there ... for a consideration.

Chloe was against it, reasoning that as the two of them were already turning over a pretty penny, why complicate things?   When she'd heard the amount of the 'consideration', she quietly urged him to vet each potential denizen of their island carefully.

'You vet them,' he'd told her.

And she had.

They'd crossed the romantic line a few days back.   She'd upped the ante.


Paul stood back and surveyed the whiteboard.

London had gone to ground.  Everyone was all of a sudden cagy - Peter Thomas had always played fair but now it was, 'Sorry old boy, no can do,' this time round.  Money was involved, lots of it.  Someone had discovered something as big as fracking and then the curtain had come down.

Until yesterday.   A message had been intercepted, unencrypted, a geological report which spoke of something the government had sat on for years, a possibility off the north-west coast.

Chap up north had bought an island in the middle of it.   He'd not keep that island all that long.


Miles stood on those white tiles of the foyer at the back of the house, inwardly fuming as Melissa stormed out, the utter cheek, the lack of grace.  

He wasn't going to demean himself by running after her - he knew it was over but there were considerations.  In a nutshell, if she filed, she'd get her fair share.  If he filed, he'd lose all.  He didn't wish to be so mercenary about it but she was and he was damned if he was going to give it all away.  Chloe and he would marry and develop the island further.

He looked at the double doors and wondered whether to force the issue of the divorce.  Just why she had gone to the stables instead of pushing past him and barricading herself in her room or whatever - he couldn't fathom.  In those stilettos?

Well, he wasn't doing much standing here, with Frank in the front room, well aware and yet not interfering.

Yep, he'd have to go up there, have it out, find out her stance and then take his leave.  So sad.  He'd hoped, he'd hoped for too much with Melissa, besotted he'd been in the early days.

He sighed, then went outside, the chill hit him in the face, he  skipped up the steps to the stables.

Door was locked.  Shouldn't have been.  It never had been in the days he'd spent here.

He turned the latch handle and pushed again, it gave slightly but on the other side, there was something blocking it, probably a sandbag, bale of hay, whatever.   Damn, he'd just stood in a muddy puddle.

He called her name.  Nothing.

He pushed a bit more and it moved, whatever it was, which gave him about 50cm and wasn't going to give any more.  

Should he be doing this?   If she'd put it there, was his trying to break in now going to be seen as an act of aggression and used against him?  

He called her name again.

And again.

He pushed, the upper half of the door moved just enough for him to slip through but he didn't want his jacket messed and there was nowhere to hang it out here.   Taking it off, he reached inside the stable, felt along the wall, hung it on something protruding, he now forced his way through, put the jacket back on, turned and looked down upon the crumpled body of his wife.

She'd been shot in the back of the head.  A gun lay about a metre away.  He ignored it.

He dropped to his knees and uncurled her on the floor, onto her back, utterly numb.  Surprise on the face, she hadn't seen it coming of course.   Killer probably still here but now he took her in his arms and everything from the last three years came out.


Some minutes later, Frank heard the rapid footsteps down the driveway and saw Miles cross his living room window, he went to the front door, Miles told him to put his boots on and come, he did, they went together up to the stables, he saw and lost it for the best part of an hour whilst Miles stayed outside, rubbing his hands, blowing on them.

Frank came out and they went back down to the house.


They took off their boots as if nothing had happened, came through and neither knew how to emote, relate, what to do.

Frank walked over, got two glasses, grabbed the whisky, sloshed two and handed Miles one.  They knocked them back.

They did it again, then looked at one another. 

'Why haven't we called the police?' asked Miles.  'Why haven't we raised the alarm?'

''It's only just happened. You'll help me get her down here now?'


The moment they entered those stables again, O'Brien cried out savagely and swore, Miles just stared at his wife's face.   There was a second bullet hole in the forehead and blood had dripped to the stable floor.

'You fucking bastard,' screamed Frank, searching every corner of the stable, looking out of the far window, racing back, beside himself.  'You fucking bastard, you fucking bastard,' was all he could say.

Miles grabbed his arm.  'They're not around now, Frank, let's take her down there.  Frank!  Enough.'

There was always a folded camp bed in the stables for when there was a sick animal and someone had to remain; they took it and loading her onto it was gruesome - her lifeless finery, the lightness of her body. 

They opened the double doors to the stable and carried her down the pathway, leaving her in state in the hallway on the tiled floor, Miles closed her eyes while her father went for her duvet, came back and draped it over her.

They went into the front room again - another two whiskies were poured and downed.

'Killer's still up there,' muttered O'Brien, standing in the bay of the window.

'No way.  Frank, we need to bring the police in now.'

'I wouldn't trust them not to bungle it and then we'd never know.  The killer can't stay up there forever, he can't hide, except one place I know - no one outside family knows of it.  He can't cross the fields in the light, as you know -'

Miles headed for the door before Frank could stop him, crossed the gravel path and looked down into the gully running from the outhouses behind the stable down to the front fence of the property.

There were indentations but they seemed to stop where he was standing now and then continued down to the fence.  It was like a hard earth bridge just here.

He turned and went back to the living room.  'Are you going to call them or am I?'

'I've called them.  They're on their way.'


Chloe brought the dinner through on the tray, he poured the wine.  

'I have to break my silence,' she said.   'Four days we haven't spoken on anything of significance.   We should discuss it.'

'I know.'

'They couldn't trace either bullet, Miles, yet they were from the same gun, none of you caught or saw anyone, the police could make out those tracks in the gully but couldn't match them to anyone.  You know what I'm thinking?'

'It couldn't have been Frank himself unless he had a pistol rigged up and took it down later.  When I went through the double doors, I was leaping up the steps beside the house to the stables and could see anyone going back down the driveway.  I heard nothing.  I looked about me while I was waiting to go in, I would have seen someone on the roof because it's quite low at that point.

While I was in there with her, nothing else moved and then I went straight down to the house where he was.  That second round was put into her forehead in the meantime -'

'And you didn't hear that either?'

'The pistol was silenced.  The first shot must have been the instant she got through the door, before I was even running up those steps, the second while we were down in the house of course.'

'You left Frank in there with her.'

'For a few minutes.'

'So?  There it is.'

'I can't accept it.'

'Fathers have before, you know.'

'I don't mean that.  I mean that it wasn't in anyone's interests as far as I can see, certainly not Frank's.'

'It was in yours.'

He looked across at her.  'Actually, it's not.  There's a reason I didn't divorce her and killing her was one step worse than that.  Her death has put me under the hammer.'


'I'll tell you if and when we're ever settled down together.  If things are working, if it looks all right, then I'll tell you all of it.   Does money affect your yea or nay?'

'Of course not.  You know that.  Why did you not stay near Frank, why did you go back down to the house?'

'I couldn't have stood finding you there.'

'Pardon?'  She placed her drink on the table.

'You were there, Chloe.  At least I don't know if you were at the house itself but you certainly came to the mainland, you travelled by sprinter and you took the main line to the town.   You were booked in at the Travellers Arms.   You knew I'd booked in there too, just in case it all went wrong.'

She never attempted to deny it.  'I was there for you.  If you hadn't appeared, I'd have gone to the house.  I suspected it wasn't right, that someone was going to play hard ball and you're not hard in that way.  And yes, Miles, I was also looking after my own interest in the matter, so you can forget about asking that question.  Or not asking it.'

'Just on spec, yes?'

'No.  Laura kept me up with what was happening.'

'Laura?  Why?'

'She didn't like what was happening.  She knows most things about that family, she knew of you coming because she was listening in from her bedroom and heard a row between Frank and Melissa.  At least, Melissa seems to have been the one going ballistic at Frank.'

'Which really does seem to put him in the frame.'

'He's not an idiot.  He knew Laura would have heard, he didn't trust her of late, he wanted her to go to Durham.'


'Her sister's.'


'She went to Durham all right, as she suspected someone would have been posted to see her get off at the station but she then took a taxi and rang me back to say she'd be at the Travellers mid-morning and we could talk it through.'

'A taxi?  Around what - £400 or so?'

'What's that to her?  Frank was paying.  It was his card which had paid for the trip over.  She knows the three numbers on the back.'

'Bloomin 'eck.  And then?'

'She didn't say but I felt she was going up to the house.'

'You do understand how vital that evidence is you've withheld.'

'She was with me that afternoon, she was not accused by anyone, why should I have introduced that?'

'Chloe why are you protecting her?'

'Look, you know I know Laura from the dotcom days.  You've had dealings with her yourself.  Obviously, as your secretary, I was going to deal with the details and I got to know her.  I like her.  She likes me.'

'Have you ever made contact with Melissa before?'


'You amaze me.  So close, so secretive.'

'Oh come on, Miles, you know a lot of things you don't divulge.  You have no evil purpose but you just like to know ... in case.  And before you ask - I don't know in case of what - just in case.'

'OK, OK.  How?  Where?  When?'

On King's Nympton station.   You'd sent me down there for the insemination, she was there about the Tarka Line and stock - for her father of course.'

'And you recognized her?'

'She recognized me - that little smile on her lips, she asked, I told her, we talked.  She was non-committal about you, not angry, not upset but that upset me and she saw it. 

We spoke more about Laura and Frank and she gave little hints that Laura's the key figure in what goes on at that place.   That also came over when we talked at the Travellers.'

'When did she reach the Travellers exactly?

'Just after 11:00.  She went out about late afternoon, then came back late evening and slept with me and I can confirm she's AC/DC.  She made the moves of someone quite used to it all - I allowed some of them.  I'm not but it wasn't nauseating.   In fact, that was the moment I decided it had to be all or nothing with you and me.'

'We haven't talked that out yet.'

'Funeral's in three days.   Do you want me there?'

'Do you want?'

'I'll go if you want.   I wasn't exactly fond of Melissa but if you need my presence, I'll be there.'


Chloe got a text from Laura about ten days later.  She'd left Frank.

'When you met her at the funeral,' mused Chloe, 'did she give any indication?'

'It was a funeral.   Look, let's get her down here.  Send her a text and tell her we'll put her up for a couple of days.'

'Are you crazy?   She's trouble.'

'Meaning you have something to protect now.  You'd agree not everything's kosher?  

She looked at him.  'I don't want to go this route, Miles.'

'I think she killed my wife and I want to speak to her.'

'To accuse her.'

'No, to observe, to talk.'

'I don't like it.   I agree there's something wrong in the business.  I can't see it being her.  I'd prefer you to leave her alone.'

'There's a hell of a lot wrong, Chloe, even officially, even with the police.  It's as if everyone wants Melissa excised from the landscape.'

'And you think Laura will open up to you?'

'I don't know but I'm not happy, Chloe and I need to speak to her about things.  This was my wife, you know.'

'Don't say I didn't warn you.'


They'd made enough out of the gites that when one of the inmates, as Miles called them, had suggested a helicopter, which they'd also spring for, for their mutual use, it had seemed a logical move.

They'd sent the copter to the mainland today to pick up Laura and here she was now, climbing out on their island, hunched down under the rotors, looking a picture.

The face was not what many would have called beautiful but she was certainly hard to resist - there was just this manner she had, the way she moved, so light on her feet - everything about her was light, from the black trainers and the dark-navy jeans to the fur or fake fur coat - she had this fixed stare she gave you.  All this within moments.

She'd brought wellies in stylish multicolour which worried the sheep, she held them disdainfully in one hand.  He watched while she changed to the wellies, still a short distance from him.

Then she came over, a smile on her lips.  'Miles.'

'Laura.  This way.'

They walked up the hill to the house, Chloe came out, Laura's things were put just inside the door, the two women embraced. 


Not a lot was said over lunch and Chloe knew the score.  'OK, go for your walk, you two.'

They rugged up, wellied up, went outside and took the slope for the east side of the island.  The steam from the nostrils of a hundred Loaghtans, plus them, was a curious sight. The two hundred horns were simply daunting.

'We never saw much of each other, Miles,' she said, dodging a couple of sheep, 'except at the -'

'You were preoccupied, so was I.  Plus you like women, Laura - according to Chloe.'

'Ah, the Travellers, she told you that?  No, I'm straight as a general rule.'

'You went out early afternoon from the Travellers.'

'What makes you say that?'

'You were seen.'

'By Chloe?'

'No, I knew she'd cover for you.'

'You're fishing.   I went out in the evening for a while.'

'Why did you not phone Frank?'

'Why the third degree?'

'You knew the script before you arrived and still you came.'

She shrugged.  'I didn't kill him.   It might have been a professional.   Silencer.'

'One of Frank's friends?'

'You're quick, Miles.  I like that in a man.'

'What are your plans now?  You know you're welcome here as long as you would welcome Chloe if you were mine.'

'If I were yours.'  She grinned at that and he had to fight the rising feeling, force it down again.  Her smile had hit him amidships and he pleaded.  'Please don't do this.'

'You have Chloe.'

He just looked into those melancholy eyes - but still with flashes of mischief.  'You had a hand in Melissa's death, Laura.  I don't know how, it might even be that you did nothing physically but you knew all right.  You're the sort of woman who knows, Laura.  You always know.'


'All right, I accept you didn't actually kill her.'

'Melissa wasn't right for you, Miles.   Sorry.  I've no right to play god over your marriage but she wasn't right.   I didn't poison her mind against you if that's what you're thinking, I swear it, in fact I told her to go to you but I know things about her which you can't know and she was not loyal to you.   I don't think she cared about lovers or anything like that - I mean she was loyal to Melissa alone.'

'You think I don't know that?'

'May we go back?  I'm getting chilly.'

Along the track back, he asked, 'Why did you leave him?'

'He thinks I did it.  I think he did it.  In a way, this island is sanctuary.'

'He thinks, you think.  Explain.'

'Frank told me to stay away.  Durham.  I went and came back.'

'The taxi,' he grinned.

'Well yes, no need to go into that.  But I was at the house.  I observed but from a distance.   So yes, Miles, I lied.  I was there, as you say, early afternoon.'

'And Chloe lied to cover you.  Question is - why admit it now?'

'Miles, let me explain something to you about me.  I always work on the basis that the truth is best to tell, not from any moral superiority but because lies become webs.  Some need to be kept in place at times, in certain situations but as far as humanly possible, once it becomes possible to tell the truth, I do.  It's easier in the long run and one doesn't need a perfect memory.'

'I do the same.'

2. Subterranean Rumblings


Laura O'Brien felt a better explanation was due.

'The thing was, I found out Frank's bankrupt.  And no, that wasn't why I left - let me explain that one too.  Frank has a finger in many pies - he can earn pretty quickly across his projects.  I can earn too if I have to.  It's seriously not the money for me.  He's always ventured, risked, with it often coming off, sometimes not.  It doesn't worry him.  He knows he'll make more - might take some time but he'll make it again.

By the way, we're near the house now, shall we stop here a minute or two? If I asked, would you kiss me on the cheek?'


'Don't do it.  It's not that I don't want but I need Chloe's friendship more, if you see what I mean.'

'And the bankruptcy?'

'It's the way he went bankrupt, the manner, the raiding of the larder - that's a bad sign in a man.   He raided Melissa's trust fund until there was nothing left.   If a business or two, a project or two, had gone to the wall, I'd have sympathized.  But this made me think no one was safe in that place.'

'His own daughter.   I think Melissa found out.'

'She did.  I don't know for sure how she found out - not from me, I assure you.  There was a row with Frank and her and she made certain - threats.  Threats to expose him for things I never knew he'd been into.  So you see, I know about them now too.

Miles, these are deep waters and we're both in them.  All of us are, including Chloe.  I can't promise to be your ally because I've made commitments and my own safety depends on those.  But you seem a straight sort and I'll be straight with the straight, so to speak - as far as I can.

Things are about to start happening, Miles and you need to keep a look out, keep eyes in the back of your head.  That's about all I can say to you.  Shall we go back in?'

Once inside, the woodfire on, using the logs imported from the mainland, he asked, 'Won't Frank come after you if you've left him?'

It was Chloe who answered.  'He doesn't know.  Laura's left him in her mind but he doesn't know that yet.  He thinks she's here to pump you for information.'

He looked hard at Laura.

'Yes, that's what I'm here for.  Frank wants to know the lie of the land.  He wants to plan his moves.  Me telling you this shows I've left him.'


They all went for a wander during the afternoon but the drizzle had started and that curtailed it, they hastened back and had supper, there were towels and things for Laura in her room at the end, they retired early as there was really nothing more to discuss as three.


Chloe immediately began in bed.  'Well?'

'So many anomalies, Chloe.  If Frank killed his daughter, he had to have a very good reason.  Do you know what she'd found out, what she had on him?  Do you think Laura knows?'

'Well clearly you don't.  I don't either.  It's obviously something he'd done, maybe to his late wife, Melissa's mum, who knows?  I don't think it matters.  She was going to ruin him unless he did as she wished.  It seemed to be some agreement. Enough to kill her?  Not sure about that.  Laura stood to gain nothing - she wasn't married to him and there were no plans.  Laura's interest was in keeping Frank onside and protecting him from outside threats.'

'As any partner would do.  But you do understand you're obliquely accusing her.'

'Not at all.  I'm just saying her interest is to keep Frank bubbling along.  Melissa's interest was money - look at her lifestyle, her expenses.  She didn't work, the trust fund wasn't due for some time, she depended on Frank and had a hold over him.  Any daughter does over any father but Melissa believed in insurance. I already know, Miles, that you could never file for divorce.  She wasn't going to either.  So there was something in the agreement with Melissa and you where each of you would lose if you had to file for divorce.  I'm not asking you to tell me about that, not if I'm not married to you but if I ever were - I'd hope you'd explain.'

'Naturally I would.  But it's best not to do that yet.  I want to see Frank's moves first.  I never thought Laura would tell me.'

'What do you really want, Miles?'

'For all this to die away, for you to marry me -'

'Is that a proposal?'

'It will be, once this matter is done with.'


Laura awoke at 07:15, scrambled for her phone and there was an SMS.   She turned on her back and punched in the reply.   Then she sent a second message, to which she got a reply in under a minute. 

Then she got up and was out of the house in under ten minutes.


At the other end of the house, a quick look at the bedside clock showed it was 09:30, Miles woke Chloe, she rubbed her eyes, yawned like a kitten and looked at him.  It looked dull out there.

Then she looked at the clock.  'Oh my goodness.  Hope Laura's had breakfast.'

He went to the washroom and did what was needed, she took her turn while he dressed and checked the kitchen.  Nope, she hadn't eaten - probably still asleep.

Wandering down to her end of the house, he called her name.

Reaching her open door, it was clear no one was in there, he went back to their bedroom and told Chloe he was going for a wander.  She tumbled to it quickly.

On the patio, he looked out over the island with its obstacle course of hundreds of sheep - a misty morning, maybe 5 degrees all up.  You'd have to really love sheep, he thought.

It was a strangely shaped island - they'd agreed to call it lamb-chop shaped.   The narrow southern or 'bony' end, where the guests stayed, was well under a kilometre distant, the curved bay faced the shore which was maybe 10km away - their 'meaty' end was higher and had the farmhouse and outhouses.   There were two blind spots due to the undulations but the bulk of the island was visible from here.

He saw movement at the far end, five in accommodation just now and two of them out and about but of Laura - nothing.  No matter, he realized she was here to find out as much as she could until asked to leave so he expected her to be in the outhouses rummaging around, getting a line on their enterprises.  They'd prepared for her.

He went around to each of the three huts in turn and that was puzzling indeed.  There were signs of her presence only in the third, as the earth samples had been disturbed and she may have taken a sample. 

On the east side, there were a number of places they'd dug, in full view of the mainland but on the west side, there were only two paths down and therefore two places where there'd been disturbance.

A nasty thought struck him about the nearer path on the west.  He crossed the few hundred metres and reached the top of the woodwork, lying where he knew he could observe and not be observed, though it did mess up his kagoule.  What he saw shocked him.

Near a cave below, on the pebbled strip of land now encroached on by the rising tide, she was arguing the toss with Tel and he was telling her, in no uncertain terms, to come back up with him.  

He groaned as Tel now primed the shotgun, Laura stared at him, slowly turned on her heel and languidly made her way back.  When she reached the foot of the walkway proper and started bounding up on those springy feet, he saw how physically in condition she really was.

She reached the top, he was waiting, suppressed fury on his face and she was conscious of being caught between these two hostile males, on a rickety walkway, overhanging a cliff.  She opted for insolence and now he knew for sure how Melissa had got that way. 

'Hello, Miles.  Your gamekeeper was a bit -'

'He asked you to leave the beach and you gave him a hard time.  Look at your face now.  I'm not happy - guests on this island usually show some respect.'

She thought of getting on the high horse but felt she'd got about as much as she was going to, she apologized, her shoulders sagging on cue.  'I'm really sorry, Miles.  It's when I saw that earth in your shed,' the nerve of the woman, 'I thought I'd explore.'

'I don't mind the exploring but I do mind you treating our manager that way on our island.  You haven't crossed the line where you're not welcome but it's mighty close.   The exploration has been on the east side anyway so why were you down the west side?'

'It just looked inviting.'

'If you knew anything about geology, you'd know where the earth was from.  Down where you were is a secure store for gear belonging to two of the guests, they pay for that privilege and I suspect you know that already.   Here's Tel now.'

The manager was late 40s, a typical specimen from these parts, with balding head and reddish cheeks, quite a solid customer.  'Mr Forrester, sir, I told her it was offlimits -'

'I know that, I saw the two of you.  She saw the storeroom, yes?'  Tel looked at him curiously but he added, 'it's OK, not a lot we can do.  She knows about our two guests now.  She'll go and pack her things, you'll get the helicopter ready please, Tel.'


'Laura - after you.'

She looked at him closely, he stood, waiting, she tried, 'He would never have shot me.'

Miles grinned.  'Not down there, no.  There are eyes out to sea.  On the point's the place, down among the rocks.'

She stared hard into his eyes, then at the manager, a smirk on his face as he looked down at the grass, she turned and went back to the farmhouse with both of them behind, just as two sheep decided to block their path and those horns needed negotiating.


Seventy minutes later, they decanted her in town in the carpark they used behind Aldi, he got out as well to have a last word.

She was almost sheepish. 'You're not a fool, Miles.  You knew I didn't buy that east side dig.  I think the storeroom hides the real dig.'

'I'm giving you this for free.  I have no money to dig.  Nor do I want anyone else to.  I had Tel cave that in and we built the storeroom.  It makes money, that room.   There might be something underneath, there might not.  As you say - I'm not a complete fool.  If they move against me in any way, they've picked the wrong one to intimidate.  I'll sell straight away. I think you're representing someone down there, as well as Frank.  I think those two interests are opposed.  And now I think you might be going back to Durham.  Good luck, Laura.  I like you.'

'I like you too, Miles.'

He hunkered down and ran across to the copter, they took off and through the noise, Tel asked, 'Why did you tell her about the storeroom?'

'She made a beeline for that walkway.  Did you see her prints?  She was heading nowhere else, the earth sample meant nothing. Who knows of the storeroom and the boat?   Who probably suspects the storeroom is there for a reason?'

'Men who've been wondering about things all their lives and have made a lot of money doing so.'

'Precisely.  And forming alliances, making deals.  They know you know, they'll be paying you a little extra, Tel and if you're canny, you'll not be greedy.'

The manager didn't bat an eyelid.   'Why did you let her come?'

'Needed to know about Melissa.   Needed to see Chloe's reactions.   Needed to know what she needed to know.  Now I do.'

'Begging your pardon - how far do you trust your good lady, sir?'

'Not sure.  Still working that one out.  Soon, those five down there are going to make an offer, they'll have already sounded you out about the other islands.  I'm fine with that. I want Chloe alive and any kids safe, still with a daddy.  We're doing nicely in a niche market and these worthy gents pay the rest.   The big thing, Tel, is not to be greedy.  I want you crystal clear I'm not interested in more than one percent per annum of what's under there.'

'Are you sure that will buy you safety?' 

'I don't think anyone's safe with them.  They have form.  But they have deeds and clauses which prevent me getting rid of them, unless certain preconditions exist.' 


The helicopter descended onto the pad, Miles ran under the blades and up to the house, Chloe was cooking something up, she put down the spoon and came up, throwing her arms around his neck.

'Eat first, speak second, you agree?'

She shook her head.   'Eat first, make love second, speak third, sleep fourth.'

'Silly me - whatever was I thinking?'


They were onto the fourth.

'She called me from the mainland,' said Chloe.


'She's not a happy bunny -'

'I don't give a shit what she is.'

'Don't speak like that, it's not you.'


'She wanted me to explore the west side for her.   She told me four places to look - amazing she knew them in such a short time and she's asked me to take small samples from each.'

'OK, Tel and I have also been discussing it.  Who's she working for, Chloe?  Apart from Frank, I mean?'

'One of our guests?'

'Which one?'

'Johanssen of course.'

He now explained what he'd told Tel.  'I want 1%, no more, split half and half with you - into our personal, not joint accounts.  Their risk, their 99%.  If you rock the boat on this, Chloe, you'll get us both killed and that will only be after some nastiness beforehand.  I've checked these five out.  No lone games either, using your charm.  They'll lie to you.'

'What do you mean 'no games'?'

'Love is the place for emotions and loyalty.  Business is the place for watertight agreements.  You own assets and you make arrangements to protect them under UK law.  I do the same.  If you and I both know exactly what is coming to whom and how it's coming, it makes everything much clearer.  I want you to know these things before I try to propose marriage to you. If you're coolheaded enough to listen to this, then I'll tell you.'

'I'm listening.'

'As I told Tel, the trick is not to be greedy with people such as Johanssen and company.  I'm not sure they understand the principle though.  Those people have form and strongarming is natural to them - it's not pretty the way I've heard they do it.  So naturally, I wish to protect my wife, my child and myself from that. I can only do that through the law and through muscle.  The best muscle is the physical arm of the law.  So I've made legal provision to ensure we're all right.

You've worked hard on this island, Chloe, to make it a going concern, it's in both our names, I can't sell it without you and you can't sell it without me.  The island itself though works differently.  I don't own it.'


'That's what various parties are now finding out.  It's in a dozen other people's names and if they don't wish to sell, they don't have to.  What's more, these people are each formidable in their own way, not particular, shall we say and can't be browbeaten as you and I can.'

'But that's crazy - you've lost everything.'

'Have you noticed any of them trying to take their portion?  What would be the point?  Each portion is like a piece in a mosaic - what would be the point of having it? They own the island jointly.'

'But they'll just bump you off. You're insane.'

'Why would they?  They need a manager on the island, if we make some from the sheep and gite, then why not?  They wait for Johanssen to dig, then come in and take it.'

'Johanssen would know this.'

'If he didn't before, he soon would.  So either he thinks he has enough pull inside the department which would commandeer the island or he'd cut my friends in.  That's not my affair and they know that.'

'So what's all this talk of 1%?'

'Just talk.'

'Yes but even that 1% is too much for people like Johanssen.  This could get us killed.'

'I'd give up the claim.'

'Do you know how much that comes to?' 

'A lot but you see, I've many little investments here and there.  True, I'd be beyond the wildest dreams as they say but in danger constantly.  The other way I'm more than comfortable, with no angst.'

'If you and Melissa had divorced, what would have happened?'

'Reality is she'd have missed out on the island and our business but the court would still have slugged me.'

'Those men paid you for the island, Miles.'

'And I spent it.  Not on assets but on paying for services.  She'd get about £50 in assets and half the £10 a month I make from our business here.'

'But that's outrageous.  Our business makes vastly more than that.'

'It's in our joint names.  It would be up to you if you sold in order to pay Melissa.  I'd happily sell all to you.'

'You'd do that?  Just to spite her.'

'Of course.  Why not?  If a woman is with me, she gets all.  If she departs, she gets nothing or as close to nothing as I can make it.'

'And you're telling this to your future wife now.'

'I'm clearing the air, so we both see the way of it.  You might think me awful now, even mercenary.  Or else you might actually love me.  I marry for love.'

'What if I was a really horrible woman and went with Johanssen instead?'

'You mean Ralph, of course.  I do notice things.' Her eyebrow went up.  'My plan was to slowly sign things over to you, start trust funds and as the years went by, more would be signed over to you and our child.'

'To keep me a good girl, yes?'

'Is it wrong to make sure my wife and child are looked after?  But if she was planning to move on, why would I wish for her to have anything?  I'd cast about and there might be a good woman who might want to be with me.  So I'd have to have something left for her.  I have to be loyal to the person who is my woman at that time, not to anyone else.  You're my woman - I'm loyal to you.'

'What if we divorced?'

'Same as with Melissa.'

'What of our business?'

'It would be all yours.  I have other interests.'

'This is all so negative.  How can you look at marriage like this?'

'I don't look at marriage like this.  I look at business and property like this and it's wise to.  I've seen too much bitterness among my friends and their divorced spouses and I don't want it.  I'll go to great lengths to avoid it.  I want any wife of mine to know the score and know she'll always be looked after.'

'That's horrible.  So cold.'

'Why?  Marriage is marriage, lovely, fluffy and fulfilling.  Business and property are business and property.  Two different things.'


Erik  Johanssen had some proposals, as they both knew he would.

They were seated in the admin office of the gite, a pleasant hut among the other huts, not unlike a tropical paradise joined by walkways, except that this was not the tropics, hence the triple glazing and other mod cons.  The most interesting part was the enormous wood pile, given that the island was almost treeless.

Miles sat at the round table with the five residents and Johanssen spoke.  'On the basis that the five of us will pay, we'd like to improve the infrastructure, security, stockpiles of water underground, foodstuffs ... weapons.' 

He looked hard at Miles.

'Not an issue,' replied Miles.  'Along come Special Plod and say I must keep the island legal.  I say I do, that you have assured me, on pain of leaving the island, that all is above board.'

'Depends on what we're doing.'

'If it involves Al Qaeda, Iran or any of that, you can't do it.  If it's something else and you don't plan to blow the island up, then what interest is that of mine?'

They looked at one another.  The one who seemed N2 spoke. 'What is your main concern here - being within the letter of the law or not attracting heat?'

'The latter.'

'And if we guaranteed it would do nothing to draw the security services, on penalty of our place on the island?'

'More than enough, as I've said.  Go on.'

'We'll need to dig through the floors of our huts - they'd become the entrance tubes but there'd be rooms below and of course, the tunnels.   We know there are tunnels down there already - from the war.  We'd shift the rubble initially into those tunnels and create new rooms and new tunnels.'

'But how would you get the equipment in?'

'By boat from a nearby island.'

'Tel's been talking.'

'Actually no - he's been closed about it.  It was the girl you had over here.'


'Ralph here employs her for the odd job.  We wanted to know what was so interesting down there.   Not a bad story, storing our ... er ... documents in a strongroom but you don't need the sort of blasting you've been doing for that.  You've discovered something and we wanted to test it out.'

'And this tunnelling you're doing from the huts?'

'Just tunnels.  You've been a good host, you don't bother us here, you don't ask.  It was Ralph who cleared the obstacles for the deeds to be put in your name in the first place.  Except,' Johanssen smiled and Miles wished he hadn't, 'it's not actually in your name ... is it?  Are you aware MoD are also interested?  Plus some other 'businessmen'?

'Doesn't surprise me.'

'Anything we find, we extract and refine -'

'As I told Tel.'

'And if we wished to explore under your farmhouse?'

'Then we'd move to the mainland.'

'Or even to a gite.'

'Or even to a gite.  You know and I know what you are capable of and you ask questions later.  You also know the owners of this island and that they also ask questions later.   Just so we understand each other.  1% per annum of the proceeds.'

'How would you know?'

'I trust you.'

Janssen grinned that grin again.  Miles wondered if one day he could get to like it. 'You trust us.  Very good, Mr. Forrester.  Very good indeed.  You'll not starve.   You can slowly improve your farmhouse, nothing ostentatious as we don't wish for the attention, just as you don't - it's your soon-to be wife who worries us a little.'

'Knew it would.  She knows the score and agrees. There'll be no issues from that direction. I think you could do with a straight man with a business to deal with any visitors and I think you're going to have some visitors soon.'

'And you'll deal with them, yes?'

'It's my island, in the sense that I manage it - anyone flies in, I deal with them.'

'If it remains this way, Mr. Forrester and no one wants to shift the goals, I think we have a win-win deal.  I don't think any of us are going to regret this.  And  we need to overhaul the boat.'


'Seasonal work - all watercraft need that.  There's a shipyard in Ireland.  Any issues with that?'

'No, fine.'

'Miles, we have a good agreement but you do see that this is ... non-negotiable once we start.   There's a lot of commitment on our part.'

'Goes without saying.  All right, I need to get back to Chloe.  Oh and by the way, if I hear about Ralph here going near my wife-to-be again, I'll kill him.  You'll do what you have to to me after that but that still won't bring Ralph back to life.'  He looked at the apoplectic Ralph.  'That clear to you, you thickhead, or do I need to translate it?'

He stood, they stood and he left.  They watched him up the hill as far as the light extended and Johanssen, creasing himself with laughter at Ralph, asked, 'So?'

'Double game?' asked N2.

'I think not.  He knows it's billions.  He wants 1%.  He's not greedy.  He's not a player, our Mr. Forrester.   We don't need the island in our name, we don't need the legal issues.  I think we're onto a winner here.'

'But you'll take your customary measures.'

'Of course.  Gently though.  It's best to have him onside.  And George - I mean that.  Let me do all the negotiations, right?  All right?'

The other grunted.  Ralph could contain himself no longer. 'Bastard needs a good slapping.'

'Why?' said Johanssen, soothingly. 'Why?  He's a good agent for us, we do as we please, he takes the heat.  He's been respectful.  Taking those measures shows he knows we can be ... persuasive.  Besides, he's quite well connected.  He could bring heat down we don't need.  Let's leave it for now and keep reviewing it.  And Ralph - let me do the thinking, all right?  I'd warn you too if you came near any wife of mine.'

There was silence - Johanssen knew he did have a certain persuasiveness.


And that was that,' concluded Miles, as she lay beside him on the bed, her eyes wide open at his threat to Ralph.  'Well what did you expect me to do about you and Ralph?'

'You'd never ...'

'Yes I would.  I don't waste time on empty threats. Bullet to the head, end of.  Unfortunate that I stumbled on a rock, gun went off. Now, about the stables that day.  Care to continue?'

She stared hard at him, then lay on her back, her thinking posture. 

'Laura texted me on the train and we agreed to meet at the Travellers.  Not a lot happened and we met up.  It's not a large place.  I begged her to take me to the house.   Frank was none too pleased.  I lied to you about that to protect her.'


'The stables.  I think everyone, including her, was expecting you to chase her - I've told you that.  I think you were also to be killed.'

'Either that or I was to be framed.'

'I don't think you'd have survived in prison.  I think both of you were to be killed.'

'How do you see Melissa's actions?

'From what Laura says, Melissa waited a moment or two for you to arrive, you didn't, so she would probably want to look out to see.  She would go to the door -'

'And whoever it was thought that she was leaving.  That 'whoever' had to be a girl because of the galoshes.  Plus she'd have heard me coming up from down below.  She'd assume it was me.'

'When you found her, she wasn't dead?'

'She didn't seem alive to me.'

'We don't know then.'

'I think the killer shot her a second time and then slipped away.  Those tracks down the gully were someone running and the footprints looked to me like a girl.'

'I saw Frank and Laura in the gully but that was near the house.  I was by the fence to the property and looked up there.'


'I saw you coming down the driveway.'

'How was Frank in the gully and also in the house?'

'He knew something had happened.  He skipped across.'

'Or he hoped it had happened.  He must have taken off his boots quickly - he was in his socks in the living room.'

'I'm tired.  May we go to sleep?'


Paul ordered two more coffees, then looked across at Janine.

'Let's back this up here, rewind.  We have an island which may or may not having something valuable under it, MoD are interested but being cagy.  Man who owns the island has a wife who is killed by gunshot.

There's another woman, mistress of the murdered girl's father, could be Emma, you could be Emma.  There are naughty lads living on the island, paying rent.  One of those lads has a connection with the mistress and also with the island owner's wife.

Now it appears the island is not owned by this man but by a consortium as far as we can see.

Joseph's section, within HMRC, becomes interested.  He suggests Penny Dalshiel, one of the MoD golden girls, be sent to ask a few questions.  With a wig, she could also be Emma. 

Penny tells me they're keeping an eye on someone inside the MoD and as part of that, she was in the area at the time of the murder.  Therefore, there's some connection between the MoD man and that household.  I ask her to name the MoD man at least and she says -'

'Dan Cornell.'

'Should have expected you'd be up with that.'

'But he was nowhere near the area - he was in Devon.'

'So, according to the letter we received, our Emma was at that murder scene.  We've had people on Cornell and his manner on the mobile suggests a woman he's a bit soft on - or pretends to be.  We know Laura was there, this Chloe was and now, it seems, our Penny.

Not bad at all.  So, let's run the scenarios.  You do it, Janine, I'm knackered.'

'You'd agree the question is who gains what.  Forrest gains a wife, his part of the business, a percentage, presumably, of what's dug up under the ground.  He owes nothing we know of to the girl's father, nor to the de facto wife.

This Chloe would gain.  She already has her part of the business, she may be planning something as she spends a lot of time at the far end of the island.  I think it might be a better offer, in her eyes.

Frank O'Brien has filed for bankruptcy, de-facto has left him, might try to press a claim via his deceased daughter for part of the island or business.  On the other hand, he might know something and be doing a spot of blackmail.  On this Laura?  If she were Emma?  To me, the key is through this Frank.

This Laura - she could only gain what he bequeathed.  She leaves him.  Seems a dead end there for now.  Is staying at the sister's place in Durham. 

Our brief is to identify Emma.  The murder is not actually our concern, although why Dan Cornell would be interested, why your friend Joseph and Dan's Penny would also be interested seems to bring us back to this island all the time, or rather what's beneath it.

O'Brien might well want in.  Cornell might be able to deliver that if the MoD takes over.  Why Johanssen and co-conspirators cannot see the MoD are not a problem isn't clear -'

'Unless he's promising them that it's not a problem.  Ok, there's logic in that.  How so with Penny and Joseph?'

'That's your field.'

'It may be that someone is freelancing here.  It may be that Penny is our Emma.  It may be anything.  Are we anywhere close?'

'It could turn on anything.  Someone has some dirt on someone else, leans.  I'd put money on the daughter, Melissa, trying her bit of chantage.  On whom?  Further complication - everyone knows everyone else is watching, so cards are being held close to the chest.'


The trouble came the following Saturday. 

A different helicopter landed at the lower end, five people got out and made for the gite entrance, it was locked and now, to Miles's shock at the farmhouse, two of them kicked down the door.  Chloe almost had kittens.

'It's not our business unless they come up here,” he said.  “The shotguns are loaded, the flamethrower was Johanssen's little touch.'

'Well, they're coming up here now.  This was exactly what I feared would happen, something like this.'

'As we planned, take yourself out to the kitchen and put the nozzle through the slot.  You know the signal.  I'll ask them for ID.'

They were fifty metres away when he used the tannoy.  'Stop where you are.  Who are you?'

That bought them to a halt.  'Police.   We'd like to talk to you.'

'Police don't land on someone's island in a helicopter, then kick down someone's door.  Hope you plan to pay for that.'

'Now look here,' said the senior and they advanced.  Miles boomed through the tannoy, 'This is not aimed at you.'  He pointed the shotgun away from them and fired, they went to ground.  'I repeat, that was not aimed at you.  Now please do as you've been asked and everyone's happy.'

'You're obstructing justice, Mr. Forrester.' 

'We're in mobile contact with Lytton Police at this very moment, a Constable Barnes.  If you'd like to double check with him, I'll hold on.  Constable Barnes has asked for a description of you and is checking the records to see whether you've been dispatched or not.'

'We're not Metropolitan.'

'What are you then?'

'Well, if you would just stop for a moment, Mr. Forrester and let one of us approach the door as you requested, you'd know soon enough.'

'That's what I've been waiting for.  One approaches, please.'

The senior did, he pushed a folded plastic thing through, it fell in the basket, Miles drew it towards him along the floor, stooped and took the card.  They were police of some form but nothing he recognized.  He spoke through the tannoy, 'All right, I'm unlocking the door and you can all come through.  How many for tea, how many for coffee?'  he locked the shotgun away.

They trooped through and he indicated the chairs and couch.  The senior officer spoke.

'We've been following the developments on the island - you seem to be doing very well.'  Miles inclined his head.  'We have reason to suspect that your guests include arms suppliers and are certainly armed ... as you are.  Do you have a licence?'

'Licence, plus cabinet for the shotgun and ammunition.'

'May we see the licence?'

He went over to the sidetable, took it out of the drawer and handed it to the senior, together with the man's own card.  The senior looked over it, then said, 'Now the weapon.'

He unlocked the cabinet.  'In your hand is the brochure and receipt for the shotgun we bought.  You know it's above board.'

'Know your UK law, do you?'

'Only the relevant parts and only to comply with the law.  I'm not being hostile, I'm being cautious.  What do you need from me?'

'For you to tell us what is going on down there.'  He indicated over his shoulder.

'The five of them called me down and asked if they could improve the facilities - they'd pay and would improve this end of the island too - fences and so on.  I know they're doing some digging and improvements below ground.'

'You've got a flippin airstrip here, mate,' interjected the youngest lad.

'Made of gravel?'

The senior decided to cut to the chase.

'Where are those five now?'

'You can see their helicopter is not there.   They're most likely on the mainland.  Officer, you would appreciate, with those gentlemen, that they do not like prying.  It's not my job to pry.'

'It's your job to ensure that nothing illegal is going on - no arms stores, no illegal substances.'

They weren't getting far.