Walking the Dog

(Part 6 from 8)

There was a hasty consultation until someone who has seen too many cop movies yelled for us to come out with our hands up. Dutifully, like any law-abiding citizens, we trooped outside. We were bundled into the back of assorted police cars and rushed off to Cromer Police Station, sirens still wailing. They tried to split us up inside the station but we weren't having any. 

Niall stuck his face into that of the senior police officer and almost spat out his angry words. 

"Listen, sunshine, you have a bunch of Chechen nasties running all over your manor. They attacked that cottage twice tonight. We defended ourselves. There is something going down here that constitutes unbelievably serious shit, well out of your league. I suggest you ring Lieutenant Colonel Rollo Yeates of Army Intelligence immediately. He is aware of the situation and will tell you as much as you need to know."

The policeman was not intimidated in the slightest. 

"Been listening to the news, have we, sir?" 

The 'sir' was dripping with icy contempt.

"Lieutenant Colonel Yeates and two companions were killed by a car-bomb late this afternoon. Special Branch thinks it was your countrymen, sir. Now what do you to say to that?" 

His eyes flickered a little with surprise when he saw the genuinely shocked looks on all our faces. I stepped forward. 

"My name is Martin Booth and these gentlemen are in my employ. They have been assisting me to protect this lady. We met with Rollo Yeates at Felixstowe Docks around noon today. The senior Customs Officer for Felixstowe and two other gentlemen were also present. As my friend here told you, there is a gang of Chechens in the area who are trying to kill Miss Sable and her father. Her father is a representative of the Estonian Government who has come to this country bringing evidence of a terrorist plan of almost inconceivable dimensions. We handed over the evidence to Lieutenant Colonel Yeates and his companions earlier. We were also given strict instructions not to discuss the matter with anyone.

"As you can see, Colonel Yeates's death has come as a great shock to us. Even more so perhaps because these gentlemen - I indicated the twins - and I were all at school with Rollo Yeates and knew him personally. I should also point out to you that these same gentlemen served this country with distinction in the Parachute Regiment and you have no right to cast any slurs on their character simply because they are Irish. Such an attitude is both inappropriate and offensive in the extreme.

"Be that as it may, you are wasting time. I would suggest that you contact the security services as a matter of some urgency. We are all prepared to render such assistance as we can to the proper authority. I would also suggest that you send some armed police back to the cottage. You should find the remains of some eight Chechen gunmen. In the cottage you will also find two frightened dogs. I would be grateful if someone could see to them for me while we remain here." 

The policeman was visibly taken aback. 

"Just what the fuck is going on here?" he said. 

I took the question to be rhetorical. At any rate, they stopped trying to separate us and brought more chairs into the interview room. A young constable in an ill-fitting blue uniform came in with a tray of mugs of tea. Angela giggled. 

"How very British," she whispered in my ear. "The world is going to Hell and your police make tea!" 

I grinned back at her. "Don't knock it," I said, "It's a sovereign remedy for frayed nerves, gunshot wounds, bombs, fire and flood. The country wouldn't function without it." 

We all sat around and drank our tea, which turned out to be a singularly pernicious brew and waited for the wheels of the State to turn. 

We sat around for about three hours. The police left us alone but nobody was in the mood for small talk. I could see Liam and Niall were starting to get a bit antsy and did my best to calm them down. Eventually the door opened again and two plain-clothes officers came in with the local senior officer. The elder of the two newcomers introduced himself as Commander Swann of Special Branch. We rehearsed the entire story for his benefit and he listened attentively, sometimes interrupting to get clarification or to check a detail here and there. When we'd finished he gave a low whistle. 

"We'd heard rumours in the last year or so but nobody thought it was for real," he said. "You say the Felixstowe Customs were dealing with this shipment?"

He turned to his subordinate and told him to contact Felixstowe immediately. The man gave a brief nod and hurried out.

When he returned a few minutes later, his face was grim. 

"Bad news, Guv," he said. "It seems someone got to the shipment before Customs. They can verify meeting with these people earlier today and they are quite convinced they're genuine. Seems that Colonel Yeates gave them a clean bill of health." 

Liam glared at the local policeman with an 'I told you so' sort of expression. Swann thought for a moment or two. He came to a decision and turned to face us all.

"The difficulty we have is that there is no corroborating evidence. We have the gentleman's list, of course, but, with respect, he could have just invented it. The local force found no bodies out at the cottage, either. They did find what appears to be bloodstains and some spent cartridge cases but that is all. Don't misunderstand me. I believe every word but we have no concrete evidence."

There followed a hurried consultation between the three policemen. The local man was arguing vehemently with Swann but eventually threw up his hands in a gesture of resignation. He came across to us. 

"Against my better judgement," he said, "I'm going to let you go. I don't begin to understand what is going on, and if I had my way, I'd keep you banged up safe until this is sorted. The Commander here has other ideas, however, and he insists upon your release. I will certainly require the pleasure of your company again so kindly keep yourselves available. I am releasing you on police bail in your own recognisance. That doesn't mean you're off the hook!"

The bastard wouldn't even have us driven back so we had to get a taxi. It was well past midnight when we finally got in doors. A young policewoman was playing with Trotsky and Magic in the parlour. 

"Are these your dogs, sir?" she asked me. "They're really lovely." 

I thanked her for the dog-sitting and she left with a smile. 

Angela and I were too exhausted to do anything except cuddle. I fell asleep with her cradled in my arms. I didn't sleep at all well that night and woke several times in the darkness. Angela seemed blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere at any time. It really was as if that simply having my arms around her was enough to make her feel safe. I had learned that she had not had many lovers; certainly not for a woman of thirty-five. I don't think it was because of her early experiences with the Russian soldier. It was more that she needed to feel the emotion of love before she could let her obviously passionate nature come to the surface. For her, sex without love was hollow and counterfeit somehow. I have always felt that love itself is the best aphrodisiac so I certainly could relate to her feelings.

I don't class myself as any sort of stud but I reckon I know how to please a woman. I had the very good fortune at the age of twenty to meet an older woman. It was really quite strange, looking back. Jane was thirty-four, divorced and had a couple of children. She had a lovely face but it was hard, somehow. I think she had had a bad time in her marriage and there was a hint of bitterness etched in the fine lines around her eyes and mouth. We met when I walked into her father's pub. A friend of mine was having a birthday party just down the road. It was one of those weekend-long affairs and I had wandered off to the pub for a change of scenery. Then as now, I'm not really a social animal so it was a relief to get away from the crowd.

The pub was relatively quiet and we started chatting. It turned out that she was just there for the weekend and helping out behind the bar. I invited her back to the party at closing time and we spent the night together in severe discomfort in the back of my car. She asked me to visit her at her place a week or two later. She'd sent the children away to friends for the weekend. I drove over from the University to the town where she lived on Friday afternoon. She didn't let me out of her bed until the following Sunday. I mean it. I only got up to take a piss or use the shower. She fed me steak and eggs in bed to keep my strength up. I wasn't complaining; it was every young man's fantasy.

Jane had inverted nipples and she encouraged me to suck them out. She loved having her nipples sucked and swore she could come from that stimulus alone. She taught me how to eat her pussy, showed me the divine mysteries of the clitoris. She helped me to control my own orgasm and helped me to learn how to make sex last. Every lover I have ever had since Jane should club together to raise a statue in her honour. 

I suppose the overriding lesson I really learned from Jane was that sex can have many moods. It can be funny, passionate, slow, gentle, raunchy or what-have-you. There are no rules. We did it every way and in every possible mood or combination of moods over the next few months. I didn't love her but I was crazy about her. It was one of the few truly reciprocal relationships that I have ever had. I got more sex than the rest of my friends put together; she got an eager young man with bags of stamina who was willing to be moulded. It was never going to last but it finished without any trauma or regrets. We simply had each taken from the affair what we both needed. When we stopped needing it, we drifted apart. There were no recriminations. I think she found someone to be a father to her children and I soon put my new expertise to good use with a fellow student. 

I think word of my prowess must have spread throughout the female contingent at the University. I never had to look too hard to find someone to share my bed. It was largely mechanical but nonetheless fun for that. I wasn't looking for true love and, in the most part, neither were the girls. There were one or two sticky moments when some girl or other would confuse the experience of her first orgasm with falling in love and once or twice it happened the other way about. I would proclaim undying love and the object of my affections would disappear rapidly over the horizon. Nobody got really hurt; I reserved my first experience of that particular emotion for Steph. What staggered me was how Angela had healed that wound so fast. I had thought it terminal. Angela appeared in my life like balm from Gilead. OK, I accept the circumstances were unusual and we were rather thrown together by events. It didn't matter. I loved her and I was healed.

Chapter 13

The next morning began with a Council of War. The Chechens appeared to have withdrawn from the game, at least for the present. What we were left with was the colonel's papers. The theft of the bronze shipment weakened our position a bit but we weren't looking for admissible evidence. That was a job for the police. We were in the dark as to how they would now proceed. The talk went round in circles and led nowhere. The colonel was the most gloomy. He had pinned all his hopes on British Intelligence. Swann of Special Branch hadn't been too encouraging. Elsewhere, the news was bleak. The main story on the bulletins that morning was the car bomb that had killed Rollo Yeates and his two companions, now identified as 'members of the security services.' I thought the Chechens, assuming it was them, might have done us a favour. Murdering three men to keep the story quiet and then trying to kill us would surely prove something big was afoot.

According to the News stories, the police were pointing the finger at some splinter group from the IRA that had 'claimed responsibility' as the saying goes. Claimed responsibility - admitted their guilt, more like; but not on this occasion. There was no Irish connection in the colonel's lists. This seemed to be a piece of opportunistic publicity seeking on the part of some murderous bunch of thugs. Nothing made any sense. We wondered aloud how the opposition had cottoned onto the bronze shipment in the first place. We didn't have any answers for that one either. 

"We need to find that bronze," Liam said after a deal of further aimless discussion. "If the Chechens took it, where would they take it? It's not small, you couldn't just hide it in the boot of the car or something." 

The colonel then let fly a volley of excited Estonian. Angela translated:

"My father says that they would have to have had help, need contacts here in England. We should look at his list and see if we can see someone who might fit." 

Of course, once she'd said it, it was obvious. The Chechens needed a base of operations. Mickey Cornell couldn't have been their only helper in the UK. He wouldn't have had the resources on his own. We needed to find someone with access to storage facilities. Someone who was wealthy and had underworld connections or, at very least, was known to be unscrupulous. 

We pored over the colonel's lists and identified four or five who might fit the bill. Two were Asian businessmen who had come to prominence in a scandal a couple of years previously. They had been discovered to have links with Palestinian terrorist organisations. They would certainly be up for something like an Islamic Bomb but Niall thought they would be under surveillance; they were too obvious, somehow. The colonel's notes showed them as having helped finance the project but with no other involvement. We decided to discount them for now. Another man was a known head of an organised crime gang that operated out of South London. His involvement in the affair was suspected rather than proven. There was a large question mark against him because he was avowedly racist and unlikely to support Middle Eastern causes. On the other hand, there was a lot of money involved, which would certainly tempt him.

I had a thought. 

"Look," I said, "I'll bet Special Branch are doing the same as us. I can't believe it would be anyone obvious. Let's have a look for the least likely looking ones. They'd still have to be rich, of course, but those on record as having the type of places that could be used are bound to get a visit from the police. I think this calls for some lateral thinking." 

We went back to the list and came up with three names. One was a senior civil servant, one was an MP and the third was a newspaper tycoon of dubious origins. All three had become involved, according to the notes, simply for money. They were linked together and, more importantly, all had the possibility of being linked to Michael Cornell. We needed to find out more about them. Information in the public domain was one thing but we needed the hidden stuff. I thought immediately of Bernie. If anyone would know how to get the dirt on someone, Bernie would; and if he didn't personally then I was willing to bet that he had the contacts.

I called him and explained what I wanted. 

"You're fishing in bloody deep waters, Mr Booth," he told me. "I don't know about this Travers geezer (Travers was the civil servant) but Charles Brownlock, MP, is a right nasty bastard. And as for Renfrew, you've only got to read that rag he calls a paper to know what he's about. Bloody thing ain't nothing but porn and attacks on decent people. If you go after him and he finds out, your name will be splashed all over that scandal sheet. Probably accuse you of cheating the taxpayer and throw in some allegations about child-abuse or drugs for good measure. You must remember what he did to Mr Young?"

I did remember but somehow it didn't matter what happened to my reputation. Three weeks before it would have bothered me. It didn't any more. The situation was too awful to let small things like personal reputation get in the way. Anyway, if he were involved, he wouldn't be in any position to blacken anybody's name for quite some time to come, if all went according to plan.

Bernie agreed that he would do some 'devilling.' He promised to get back to me as soon as he had something but said I wasn't to hold my breath. I reported the conversation back to the others and we agreed to let things take their course. There was always the chance that Special Branch would find the shipment before Bernie or his pals dug up anything interesting. All we could do was 'hurry up and wait' - as the saying goes. 

Angela, Bill and I walked the dogs. Bill was determined to get Magic to act like a proper retriever but he had little luck. I told him Magic was simply a disgrace to his breed. He was simply too daft to get the hang of it. He treated the whole thing as a huge game. He'd fetch the stick Bill hurled far out into the sea but as soon as Bill approached him to pick it up, Magic would grab it again and be off down the beach. It was hilarious to watch. Bill was getting more and more and frustrated. Just at the point we thought Bill was ready to explode, Magic would drop the stick at his feet. He wanted Bill to throw it again and start off another round of 'tease the human.' Angela and I fell about laughing. The look of controlled fury on Bill's face contrasted perfectly with Magic's daft grin. He has this habit of curling his upper lip back to expose his teeth. It's supposed to be a sign of canine intelligence but I reckon Magic was the exception that proved the rule.

It was a dull, dampish morning with curtains of rain sweeping across the flat grey sea. All the rain seemed to be falling a mile or two offshore so we were spared a soaking. Even so, the damp was penetrating and with it came the cold. We were glad to be back in the warm and we shook out our coats and settled ourselves by the fire. It was far too early to expect to hear from Bernie and there wasn't much else we could do until we had the missing information. Angela decided to start work on a new sculpture so I went along to watch her. It is one thing hearing a process described but quite another to see it put into action. 

She started to make some sketches of Trotsky. She sketched quickly. She never drew the whole dog, just portions of his anatomy; the curve of his leg, the line of his shoulders and the like. Then she did his face and captured him perfectly. One never thinks of sculptors as being draftsmen but she had real talent. I found myself staring at Trotsky's face on the paper. She had caught his expression perfectly, slightly disdainful but alert. The artist's model wandered over as to have a look for himself. He put his head on Angela's knee and gazed at her soulfully. After a minute or two of ear-scratching he decided his beauty had been sufficiently recognised and had received sufficient compliments for him to go back to his position away from the fire. In all truth he had probably just got too hot but it is easy to ascribe human reasoning to a dog like Trotsky, he's so damned bright. 

Once Angela had made enough sketches, we went through to the studio and she began to make the clay model that would eventually form the mould. She worked quickly at first, throwing great handfuls of clay into position and roughly shaping them with her hands. Eventually she had a Trotsky-sized mass of wet clay that was only very roughly the shape of a dog. Now things slowed as she shaped and scraped until the outline of a husky was unmistakeable. Suddenly she said something in Estonian that didn't need translation and crumpled the whole thing back into a lump of shapeless clay. She smiled at me ruefully. 

"It was the wrong proportions." 

She started over, moistening the clay and her hands from a wooden tub of water she kept nearby for the purpose. 

It was obviously very physical work and soon beads of perspiration appeared on her forehead and upper lip. She paused long enough to strip off her sweater and continued. She was wearing a sleeveless sort of vest under the sweater and now I could see the play of her muscles as she kneaded and pounded at the clay. It was a fascinating sight and I was utterly enrapt. Once more a recognisable husky appeared out of the clay. It was almost as if there was a real dog inside, pushing his way out through the clinging earth. 

Angela's face was a study in concentration. She didn't frown as some do. Her expression was grave, her eyes focussed and lively. I felt I could almost see the force flowing out of her hands into the model, bending the wet clay to her will. At length she was satisfied. She had produced a replica of Trotsky in size and outline. Now she began the delicate task of sculpting the detail. She worked with what appeared to be a cross between a spatula and a scalpel. Soon I could see Trotsky's face appearing under her hands. It was perfect. She captured the flare of his nostrils and the way his blunt muzzle sort of blended into the rest of his broad face. She worked faster; the clay was beginning to dry. I knew this was the critical time.

We had been in the studio for nearly six hours without exchanging more than a handful of words. The time had flown by. I had risen only once to turn on the lights as dusk fell. I heard the others making dinner but felt no hunger myself. I was utterly absorbed watching the woman I loved doing the thing she was created for. At long last she stood back and plunged her hands in the water butt to wash away the clay. Her face was streaked in sweat and her arms must have been aching like the devil but she showed no signs of slacking. 

"Now we must fire the model," she said and strode across to the electric kiln to bring it up to the required temperature. 

Her skin was glowing and her eyes danced with a bright and feverish light. She was exalted, lit by the creative fire within. Strangely, I didn't feel excluded. I felt a part of something wonderful and, to me, utterly mysterious. I had watched some ancient esoteric rite, had seen the goddess summoned and the sacrifice performed. It was, in short, like magic. Angela stalked the model she had made. She stared from all angles, moving closer once or twice to administer the finest of finishing touches. At last she pronounced herself satisfied and asked me to assist in moving the model on its specially designed little trolley into the kiln. 

"Don't touch it," she warned me, "push it by the base. Slowly, slowly!" 

We eased the model into the kiln and she gently shut the door. 

"Even the draft from that door can disturb it," she said. The firing was to be slow at a low temperature. 

If the heat was too fierce, we ran the risk that the clay would shatter or be too brittle.

"Now we wait." 

Angela smiled at me and came to rest her head against my chest. I could feel the tension in her back and shoulders so I made her sit in the chair from where I had watched her and began to massage her. Her singlet was soaked in perspiration and she stripped it off. I used my fingers to prod and pummel the knotted muscles and watched her visibly begin to unwind. Her fair skin was smooth and silky to the touch.

She got up once to dim the lights and then slid back into the chair. 

"Where were we?" 

She murmured dreamily and looked back at me, her eyes soft now, the fierce light dimmed to a residual glow. The depth of my feeling for her consumed me, could there ever have been a more wonderful creature? I moved around the chair and encouraged her gently to lie back. I began to work on her shoulders at the front and then switched my attention to the corded muscles of her stomach. It was easy to understand now how she remained so firm and toned. The effort expended had been more than Steph could have managed in a month of workouts. "My legs, also, Martin, please, " she said and obliged by lifting her hips so I could ease off her jeans. I went and locked the studio door and returned to start work on her in earnest. 

I started at her feet, manipulating each of her toes and massaging the soft balls of flesh beneath each one in turn. She sighed dreamily as I squeezed the insteps of her feet and stroked my thumbs over the soles of her feet. Then I took each leg in turn. I rubbed her calf muscles and kneaded my hands deep into their softness. She was utterly relaxed now, looking back at me with hooded eyes. When my hands reached her thighs, her legs fell open and I worked my way into the soft tissue of her inner thighs. She shifted her bottom forwards in the chair and grinned at me. I leaned up to kiss her lightly on the nose. 

"Don't stop now," she said. 

I used a lighter touch to stroke her thighs and gently rubbed the backs of her legs, lifting each one in turn. I was conscious now of the musky scent of her body. Little tufts of pubic hair were showing each side of the crotch of her panties and I made a show of tucking them back in, not quite but almost, touching her sex in the process. We were both now well aware of the game and were playing it with all our might. Her eyes had a misty cast now and a languorous smile played about her full lips; she moistened them with a flick of her tongue and I felt my mouth go dry. I stroked her hips, easing her panties down just a fraction so her pubes just showed above the waistband. Then I worked on her abdominal muscles, gently pressing my thumbs into her yielding flesh. I leaned forwards and flicked my tongue into the sweet hollow of her bellybutton. She sighed deeply and stroked my hair as I trailed kisses over her stomach and chest, pulling up short of her swelling breasts that seemed to be engaged in battle with the straining fabric of her bra. 

Skipping over her bra, I kissed the swelling upper slopes of her breasts and nibbled softly at her neck. I climbed her body like a vine, nuzzled her ears and then our mouths sought each other and we kissed slowly and deeply, our tongues wrestling and competing. I slipped my hands behind her and, after a brief fumble, unhooked her bra. She eased it off with a shrugging motion. Her nipples stood out proudly. I wet my finger and circled it round and round her areola. Her breasts seem to swell visibly under my hands and she arched her back to offer more of them to my touch. Still I stayed away from her nipples and placed a line of silken kisses on the underside of each breast. Each time I would approach her nipples but shy away at the last minute, giving the barest flick with the tip of my tongue. 

Her skin had the tangy taste of salt and I covered every exposed inch with little licks and kisses. I could tell I was really getting to her and her hips began a slow undulating dance of their own. I made a sudden grab then and captured both her breasts in my two hands, stroking my thumbs over the rock-hard tips and she gasped. I caught her breast in my mouth and sucked in as much as I could cram into my eager mouth, flicking her nipple with rapid strokes of my tongue. At the same time I pushed her panties to one side and slipped first one and then two fingers into her wetness. She bucked against my hand and I rotated it back and forth against the swollen nub of her clit. All the while I was sucking on one breast and cupping the other in my free hand. She started to come and I dived between her legs to suck on her clitoris. This drove her over the top and she grabbed my head, pulling my face hard into the junction of her thighs. 

She seemed to be coming non-stop. Her hips were rearing and gyrating furiously and her fingers tore at my hair so hard it made it my eyes water. At length, she pushed me away. 

"No more, please, I can't stand any more, my Martin," 

Her skin was flushed and there were bright pink patches at her throat and on her cheeks. Her eyes were wild and unfocussed and her hair was matted with a fresh batch of perspiration. I don't think I have ever felt so pleased with myself. There is something totally marvellous about pleasing one's lover to the point of delirium. I lay across her body as she came down, tracing kisses up and down her ribcage until she giggled. 

"Ah, that was wonderful," she said. "Now it is my turn to drive you mad!" 

I shook my head. I felt no desire at all for myself just then. I had had my satisfaction from hers. 

"Later, my love," I told her, "That was enough for me just now." 

And if it hadn't been, the beautiful smile she gave me then was more than enough for any man. 

Chapter 14

We waited all the next day for Bernie's call. There was nothing on the News, no big stories of mass arrests or a conspiracy uncovered. The papers were still running with the car bomb story although there wasn't much new to report. They had discounted the claims of the IRA splinter group and fingers were pointing towards Bin Laden and his gang. At least they were now fishing in the right pond even if they were still wide of the mark. What we were dealing with was even out of Bin Laden's league; it had to be State-sponsored in a big way.

I went through the lists again with Angela to translate those entries in Estonian, Russian and German. The likely picture that emerged was of a core of individuals at the centre of the plot with a lot of others who had been suborned to look the other way or otherwise collude with the schemers. Some probably didn't even know what they were involved in. A minor official on a border post somewhere paid $5000 to look the other way when certain lorries passed. He probably thought it was contraband of some sort but wouldn't dream he was turning a blind eye to the deaths of millions. 

Apart from the central characters, it wasn't easy to see what many of those listed had to bring to the party. Our three prime suspects were a case in point. Perhaps the civil servant could provide false documents to allow stuff move cross border without too many questions but the MP and the tycoon didn't seem to offer much at all. We puzzled over this for a while until Liam had the idea of looking on the web to see if we could gain any clues from what these two posted on their official web-sites. I'm hopeless when it comes to computers but Liam and Niall don't go anywhere without a laptop. They plugged into the telephone line and we had the usual www - worldwide wait - while they searched. Renfrew's newspaper had its own site and we trawled back through its archived stories. These were mostly prurient celebrity tittle-tattle and attacks on the Government, The Europeans, illegal immigrants and single mothers. Most of the site was devoted to softcore images of vapid-looking naked girls with surgically enhanced breasts. A real intellectual, our Mr Renfrew.

He also had his own web page where he rambled on about his philosophy and the need for freedom of the Press. It didn't tell us a thing as to why he should be involved but his name was on the list. Charles Brownlock, MP had a strident site. It was full of the usual politicians' rubbish but with the slant of always portraying Charlie Boy in the best possible light. The most interesting thing to us was a section that contained transcripts of all his speeches. We read the turgid maunderings of this spiteful little man without too much enthusiasm. He had one cause, it appeared: to trample on those who made money. Profit was the root of all evil. He was rabidly anti-capitalist and unashamedly socialist. That wouldn't make him too popular in his Party, these days.

Travers, the civil servant, had one of those free-hosted sites with pictures of his prize-winning begonias or something. I'm no gardener but Travers was an absolute fanatic. Nothing political or inflammatory there. They seemed strange bedfellows, the right-wing newspaperman, the left-wing politician and the begonia grower. I couldn't see a link for the life of me. It was Niall who found it. He flicked back and forth between the various sites. His face was a study in concentration. Finally, he turned to us with three pages cascaded side by side. 

"There, you see?" 

I had to confess I did not and the others looked equally nonplussed. 

"The lapel buttons," he said. They all have some little flower badge in their lapels." 

We all stared hard at the photographs on the websites. Each man had a formal picture of himself in a business suit, smiling at the camera. Each had a little emblem in their lapel. It looked like a carnation or something similar. Angela's father told us that he he'd seen this badge before. He'd noticed it a couple of times being worn by other people on his list. It hadn't been worn by everyone and the meaning escaped him. We tried searching under 'carnation' or 'pink' but nothing helpful showed up on any of the search engines. There is an old saying: 'once is chance, twice is coincidence and three times is enemy action.' The little flower obviously had some meaning. We checked out a few more on the list who had websites. We found two others who displayed the badge in photographs of themselves. One was a German politician and the other an American radical who had made a name for himself for attacking big business and tying up major corporations in complicated lawsuits. The German didn't seem to have done anything much more than get himself elected and was pretty anonymous even in his own country. It was hard to see nay connection between these five other than the little emblems.

"Could it be an international charity?" I asked. 

Liam shrugged. "If it is," he said, "It's bloody ineffective if none of us recognises its logo." 

"I think it is some sort of sign," Angela said, "it helps them recognise each other." 

Liam agreed. "And if anyone asks, it's a charity or political club or a branch of the bloody Lions or something. It makes sense but it is insecure." 

"Not necessarily." Niall disagreed. "If there is absolutely no other connection. But it doesn't conform to any normal pattern of the terrorist cell, I grant you."

Even I understood that. Terrorists usually organise themselves in such a way that each little group doesn't know any other little group. That way, if one lot get arrested, the damage is limited to that cell alone. It's classic Che Guevara. 

"I think I'll call Bernie," I said. 

I dialled his home number and he answered on the second ring. He didn't have too much to report but he had found out, through a contact in Land Registry, that Charles Brownlock had purchased a small farm near Southwold in Suffolk. He had bought the place a couple of years ago but it wasn't listed as either of his addresses and wasn't remotely near his inner-city constituency. We were all immediately struck by the proximity to Felixstowe. 

"Right," said Niall. "I'm going to take a look. Bill and Steve, you come with me. Liam, you and the colonel stay here with Martin and Angela." 

Nobody argued but just as they were getting ready to depart in the Range Rover, I pulled Niall to one side. 

"This has gone way too far, Niall. If you find anything, I want you to promise me that you'll call Swann at Special Branch and let them run with it. I feel bad enough about getting you and Liam involved. All right. I know we're friends and I know you think you owe me. Consider all debts more than paid in full. And please, be bloody careful!"

"Martin, there are old soldiers and there are bold soldiers. There are no old, bold soldiers. We'll simply check the place out and if there is anything amiss, I promise I call the boys in blue."

With that, they left. I still felt uneasy but could see no alternative. We couldn't go to Swann with what were, let's face it, just a bunch of suppositions and conjecture. Angela and I walked the dogs along the beach. We held hands and talked quietly about what the future might bring once this was all over. 

"I don't want to stay here afterwards," Angela said. "It will never be the same. I felt at peace here but now that is gone." 

"You could come to London," I said. 

She smiled. "Where would I work? It is too expensive in London. I could not afford a studio and Frau Meyer is already too generous."

"We can sell my house, move out of town a bit and buy somewhere that has the room for a studio. Somewhere with a garden and green fields nearby to walk the dogs in." 

" What are you saying, my Martin, that you would like us to live together?"

"Yes. I would like very much for us to live together. If you want to, that is." 

"I think I would like that very much, too."

"Then it's settled. As soon as we get back, I'll put the house on the market and we start looking for somewhere. It will need to be near a mainline so I can get to London easily. Maybe in Kent or Sussex."

"It will need to be near a river or a lake. Magic must have his swims!"

"Of course. We should be able to get somewhere with a good-sized garden so they can play outside. It will be much better than Kensington Gardens."

We walked on, planning our new life together. I could work from home quite a bit, so we would need a study. Angela would need a big room or out-building that we could convert to a studio. There would have to be nice walks nearby and a good train service within easy reach. We were both aware that something was hovering in the air between us, unspoken but implied. My mouth went dry and my stomach turned over. I turned towards her. Her eyes were huge and she licked her lips, a quick, nervous gesture. 

"I, uh, shall we make it official?"


"Um, I mean to say, er, that is. Oh shit! Angela Sable, will you marry me?"

She didn't say a word. She stared at me with those huge eyes brimming with unshed tears and gripped both my hands tightly in hers. Suddenly she burst out with a bright peal of delighted laughter. "If my father will permit it, my Martin!" She flung herself against me, rocking with mirth. Tears streamed down her cheeks but her face was alive and radiant with happiness. 

"When we were small, Vika and I would sit and discuss who we would we marry. When my father heard us, he would growl. 'I will not permit any daughter of mine to marry any man who does not pass the TEST' he would say. But he would never tell us what this 'test' was. 'You will see when the time is right,' was all he would ever tell us.' Now I will find out!" 

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