Walking the Dog

(Part 7 from 8)

We walked back to the cottage. The colonel had been watching us all the while and he rose out of the evening gloom like an apparition. Angela started to tell him but he held up his hand. I could see that he was trying hard not to smile and keep his face stony but he couldn't keep the merry twinkle out of his eyes. 

"Colonel," I said, "I suspect that you understand English very well, I have asked Angelika to be my wife and would like your blessing on this marriage." 

The old soldier stared at me. "Why you think I speak English?" he said in a slow, accented voice that sounded like brick rubble sliding down a metal chute.

"Sometimes you seem to have understood things before Angela finished the translation," I said. 

He nodded. "I don't speak good but some I understand. I speak now to Angelika. She say my words to you." 

He fired off some rapid Estonian. Angela gasped and started to argue but he cut off with a gesture of his hand. He repeated something very slowly and she shrugged. 

"My father says that you must prove yourself worthy of marrying his daughter. He says, to do this, you must beat him. I try to tell him that you are not a soldier; you do not fight. He says he understands this. He says you will know what to do. I don't understand."

I did. The old boy was having some fun at our expense. 

"Tell him I'll beat him at Chess," I said, "Tell him I'll wipe the board with him." 

She looked at me as if I was mad but the colonel had understood 'Chess' at least and was grinning broadly. 

"I don't have a Chess set," Angela wailed. 

"I don't need one," I replied. "Pawn to king four." 

Throughout my schooldays, I had been a Chess fanatic. I had spent hours 'playing' without a board with a similar fanatic. Of course, when you're playing in the middle of a Latin Lesson, you don't have a board so you play in your head. It takes a huge amount of practice but I'd had plenty. 

The colonel followed me for about five or six moves and then, like most who haven't played this way before, he lost it. I had him in checkmate after eleven moves. He started to protest but I repeated each of our moves to him verbatim. He laughed and shook and his head. Then he shook my hand. 

"Clever man. You have Angelika and good chance!"

"Good Luck," Angela corrected him, "In English, you say Good Luck!" 

He grinned. "Good Luck, Good Luck!" 

He then spouted another burst of Estonian that had Angela blushing crimson. I asked for a translation but she refused. Her father roared with laughter. Then he leaned forward and kissed her on both cheeks and said something in a low, serious voice. Angela nodded, muttered a reply and gave him a shy smile. She turned to me.

"My father asks if you make me happy, if you are gentle with me. I told him you are the gentlest man in the world." 

She turned back and spoke some more with her father and they walked off together, his arm draped protectively over her shoulders. He looked back and beckoned for me to follow. Placing his other arm over my shoulder he smiled at me with great warmth. His big hand squeezed my shoulder and he spoke softly in Estonian, leaving Angela to translate.

"I have not been a good father. I was not a good husband. I spent my life as a soldier playing men's games. I am happy you will be my son. You are not a soldier and will not always be leaving Angelika as I did. One daughter is dead. I thought that I had lost this one as well. Now it is time to end this thing that I began so you may marry and live your lives in peace. Peace is the job of the soldier, not war. You have had to be like a soldier and I am sorry for this. We must fight for a little time more. We must win or there will be no peace for you. There will be no peace for anyone. You must put aside any thoughts of tomorrow while it is still today. You both have my blessing. I think you are good for my Angelika. You love her and wish to look after her?" 

I said I did.

"I know my daughter. We have grown apart in recent times but still I know Angelika. I saw they way she was with you, saw that she loved you and you loved her. This is good. This is a good thing for a father to see. I wish her mother could see it too. But now we must be ready to fight. Do you understand?"

I understood all right. He was telling me that we mustn't get distracted, that there was still danger out there. I didn't need reminding.

Chapter 15

The colonel must have been prescient because that was the night all hell broke loose. Not that we were involved, at least, not then. I got the story from Niall and, later, Commander Swann. Some of it was published it the newspaper accounts but an awful lot got suppressed by the authorities. The Establishment looks after its own and I reckon there were too many red faces in high places. I doubt even that we ever learned the full extent of the conspiracy.

Niall, Bill and Steve had made their way to Southwold. They had located Brownlock's farm and parked the car about a mile away where it wouldn't readily be seen. They had gone in under cover of darkness on foot. Bill said it was just like the old days, a three-man patrol in hostile territory. The farm was in darkness but they had the feeling it was occupied. They lay up under cover and watched for about two hours. Patience had its reward. A door in one of the barns opened and spilled a patch of light out into the farmyard. Niall was looking through a nightsight and he thought that the man who emerged from the barn was Brownlock himself. He looked furtive, closing the door quickly and hurrying away out of sight behind the house. Moments later, they heard a car start and a large Mercedes crept out of the farm with its lights off. It negotiated the farm track in darkness and only switched on headlights once it was on the public road. Then it speeded up and drove off in the direction of Southwold. They made out only person in the car.

After Brownlock had gone, those who remained seemed to relax and got sloppy. The barn door opened again and this time stayed open. Three men came out. One of them lit a cigarette and Niall could make out the submachine gun he had slung over his shoulder as he stooped over the flame. They had found the Chechens. Niall stayed where he was but sent Bill and Steve to circle the farm buildings. They were better at silent movement than he was and he wanted to keep an eye on the barn. They could make out at least two more figures inside, through the open door. Bill went off to the left and Steve to the right. Niall swears he lost sight of them before they had covered twenty yards. Steve came back first. He'd discovered a Dutch barn - one of those things with a curved roof supported by steel stanchions but no walls - it was full of hay. This struck them as odd because there was no other sign that this was a working farm. 

They waited for Bill to come back. He had found a sentry and 'taken care of him.' The three of them then moved around the perimeter to the Dutch barn. The hay concealed a shipping container! Niall said there were no prizes for guessing that this was the shipment of bronze that had disappeared from Felixstowe. The container was still on a road trailer but there was no sign of the tractor unit that had hauled it. The customs seals were broken so it had been opened. They decided to check on the contents before informing Swann. As Niall said, there wasn't much point in sending for the cavalry if the thing was empty.

They slipped inside the container and pulled the door to behind them. Inside, they found the piles of bronze ingots. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed but they started to go through the piles, looking for those with the foundry mark stamped lengthwise. Sure enough, in the second pile they examined, they found four such ingots. Niall decided to pull out then and send in Swann and his men. It was too late. Steve opened the container door and stepped through. The night exploded into violence.

Steve was almost cut in half by a hail of machinegun fire before he was halfway through the door. He was dead before his body crashed to ground. Niall and Bill threw themselves behind a stack of bronze bars and readied their weapons. They couldn't see much so Bill hurled heavy bronze bars at the door until it stood open. Niall called the police on his mobile and got ready to die. He said he was convinced that their 'number was up.' The Chechens tried to rush them. Bill and Niall fired at the gun flashes. They certainly hit a couple and the Chechens withdrew. Someone threw a grenade at the container and it exploded on the roof. It sounded like the clap of doom to the two men inside. Their ears rang and their senses reeled. Bill loosed off a short burst 'to keep the bastards honest.' Niall saw them bringing up some kind of rocket launcher. He shouted a warning to Bill and the pair dived behind the stacks of ingots. 

They were only just in time as the projectile struck beside the door and exploded with stunning force. The noise made the previous grenade explosion seem like a tap on a child's drum by comparison. Bill and Niall were completely deafened. The shock would have disabled most people but those two were pros. The Chechens followed up with another wild rush. Once again they had to retreat as the two ex-soldiers poured a concentrated fire into the running figures. Niall signalled to Bill, neither could hear a thing still so they couldn't talk to each other. They made a dash for the door and flung themselves out. One rolled left and the other right, firing as they went.

As Niall told us later, they were fighting mad by now. They got to their feet and ran at the enemy, switching clips as they went. It was over quickly. Bill took a round to the shoulder and another in the fleshy part of his calf. Niall had seven bullet holes in his parka but was, by some miracle, unhurt. Two Chechens remained alive but they were both badly wounded. Much of the damage had been done when one of the terrorists was hit in the process of trying to throw another grenade. It had slipped from his grasp and exploded among his fellows. "Typical bloody amateurs," according to Bill. Niall applied filed dressings to Bill's wounds and fed him a couple of morphine tablets. He then treated the wounded Chechens. After all, they might have something to say under interrogation. Then Niall checked over the farm and the various buildings. The Chechens had obviously used the lighted barn as accommodation for he found two more inside, both badly wounded but having obviously received medical treatment. These must have been hit during the attack on the cottage. The farmhouse itself was almost empty. Only one room was furnished and this looked like it had been their operations centre. Maps of Eastern England hung on the walls and there were a couple of computer terminals. The room smelt strongly of stale tobacco smoke. 

Niall then got Bill and the other wounded men into the barn. He made them as comfortable as he could. Bill was in good spirits but light-headed from the combined effects of blood loss and morphine. Niall gathered up Steve's body and laid him out in one of the empty rooms in the farmhouse. Then the reaction set in and he began to shake. He threw up a couple of times and then went outside, breathing deeply to try and clear his head. After a while, he phoned Swann again. The Special Branch man was approaching Southwold by helicopter. An armed response unit had been summoned from Ipswich and they would be there soon. Swann asked Niall to illuminate a landing area. He gathered piles of straw and laid them an out in an 'H' pattern on a large open area of grass he supposed to be a paddock. He doused the straw in diesel oil and set fire to the pattern. He watched the helicopter land by the light of the flickering flames.

Swann hurried from the helicopter, head bent and his coat flapping in the downdraft. A dozen heavily armed Special Branch officers quickly followed him. They rigged up portable floodlights while Swann took Niall into the house. Niall told him everything we had surmised, how we had identified the farmhouse and all that happened since the three of them arrived there. Swann wasn't best pleased and kept demanding to know why we hadn't called him earlier. He'd been wasting his time in South London. Niall got mad at him and him and spat back that it was Swann who had said he couldn't act without evidence. Now he had all the bloody evidence he'd ever need. 

All the wounded and Steve's body were taken by helicopter to a nearby RAF base. 

"No need to hang out our dirty washing in public," Swann said. 

He walked away from Niall and boarded the helicopter. Niall sat alone in the farmhouse 'operations room.' Reaction set in and he started to shake uncontrollably and wept. The task force from Ipswich had arrived by then and took over the investigation on the ground. Niall was asked to write an account of everything that happened since taking that fateful telephone call from me on Saturday morning. He finished his statement and slipped away. He walked back to the Range Rover, got in and drove to the nearest pub. He told us later it was though his brain completely shut down. He was going to call us but first he needed a drink. One drink became five or six and then a dozen or more. He floated away from consciousness on a sea on Bushmills. The pub landlord sighed and helped to a bedroom for the night. 'Another bloody drunken Irishman,' he thought and left Niall sprawled, fully clothed, on the narrow bed. 

Meanwhile Swann had been very busy indeed. As soon as the helicopter had landed at the RAF base, he had dashed into the communications centre and demanded a secure line to London. He had then spoken at length with New Scotland Yard and with the duty officer at MI5. They must have loved him! Anyway, as a result of Swann's phone calls, beds were emptied all over Europe. Weary police and security personnel dragged themselves to their various Head Quarters and almost two hundred arrests were made, if you believe the newspapers. 


In the cottage in Norfolk, we were totally unaware of what was happening. Angela celebrated our 'engagement' with a bottle of 'the widow' and she got very giggly as the vintage champagne went straight to her head. Liam and the colonel drank our health in mineral water. Liam was gloomy all evening and cursed himself for letting Niall go off without him. His mood was infectious so Angela and I left him to it and went down to the studio to check out how the model was doing. The kiln was on a timer so it had switched off hours before but the process demanded that the fired clay was allowed to cool at its own rate and couldn't be moved until it was ready. 

Angela pronounced herself satisfied and said that the next day she could begin the delicate task of covering the model with a fine, even layer of wax. She promised me hard labour, mixing sand and old motor oil for the mould. Then she would heat the bronze into the mould, melting the wax in the process. The wax would run out of prepared drainage channels and the bronze would replace it. Once the bronze had cooled in its turn, she could extract the model, which by then would be inside the bronze casting. She would simply shatter it to remove it; she produced 'one off' pieces and would have no further use for it. Then her work would start again, burnishing and refining the raw piece until it was the finished article.

I have probably given the impression that Angela worked exclusively in bronze. Although that was her main medium, it was not exclusively so. She worked in other metals and stone as well but her favourite was always bronze. That metal never seemed cold to Angela. Somehow, she imbued each piece with life and movement. The rich colour of the metal added to the impression of something vibrant. I could only stand back and admire. Lacking any talent whatsoever in that direction, I cannot due justice in any words of mine to the creative process that she engaged in. I have made it sound as though it is nothing more than a simple matter of physics; of one substance having a lower melting point than another. It was much, much more than that. You'd have to witness her at work to understand. 

It was around midnight by the time she was finished and satisfied that all was well. It had taken over two hours to extract the model from the kiln and clean and prepare it to Angela's demanding standards. I found myself looking at a life-sized statue of Trotsky. It was a bit like looking at a photographic negative. The clay lacked that special quality that bronze brings. It was Trotsky to the life but life was the one thing that was missing. It must have showed on my face for Angela gave me a hug.

"It looks like his funeral mask," I said. 

She laughed and agreed. "At this stage, it does not live, it is true. The clay is dull. You will see; bronze will bring fire to him. Then it will come awake." 

I knew she was right but it didn't stop me from giving a vague shiver as if someone had walked over my grave. 

Liam was extremely anxious by the time we came back into the kitchen. He was trying to disguise it but he couldn't sit still. By contrast, the colonel was like one of Angela's bronzes, immobile but filled with blazing power. There was still no word from Niall and the other two. We sat around discussing all the plausible reasons for not contacting us but every one sounded hollow. After a while, Angela and I went to bed. I heard the colonel and Liam discussing in Russian as to who should take the first watch. Even without speaking the language I could guess that Angela's father was urging Liam to get some rest while Liam was protesting that he couldn't possibly sleep so the colonel should go ahead. Immovable object meets irresistible force. I gave up worrying about who would prevail. I trusted either one to keep us safe.

We made love very tenderly that night. It was almost a transcendental experience. I had the sense that we became very much a single being. A rich aura of warmth surrounded us. Our love was a liquid essence that flowed between us. Love is a deep mystery that only the initiated may understand. That night, we proved ourselves to be higher adepts of the rites. It wasn't our most athletic or gymnastic display, it didn't need to be. There was a quintessential purity about our lovemaking that made us weep with the utter sweetness of it. We didn't need pyrotechnics. Angela transported me to places I have never been, whose existence I had never guessed. Yet it was soft and slow, dreamlike at times and breathless at others, when her orgasms rolled and crashed like great ocean breakers. 

The darkness of the night itself had the quality of warm velvet. Our bed was an island was in a sea of dreams and hopes for the future. At times, when my brain was tumbling and spinning and my body poured out its seed into her, I could catch glimpses of our coming life together, or so it seemed. The magic was strong that night. It hummed and crackled between us. Unicorns pranced and dragons flew and fauns danced in the meadows of Norfolk. Time was suspended, the stars reversed their courses; and we made love.

I could breathe her scent. Her very presence consumed every conscious thought and seared them from my brain. For a while, we didn't notice that a thunderstorm had stolen up the coast. Once we realised, we pulled back the curtains and revelled in the display. Angela's body looked unearthly in the harsh white flash of the lightning. I saw he as a sprite, ethereal and fascinating in the oldest sense of that word. The smooth roundness of her buttocks and the curve of her breasts; the slightly convex swell of her belly falling towards the central altar at the junction of her thighs seemed to be dusted with a phosphorescent glow. It was as though she was lit from within by the love that burned there. And I knew that love was for me. My heart swelled in my chest so that I could hardly breathe. My vision swam and I caught my breath. She looked so lovely that it hurt. A physical longing consumed me that had nothing at all to do with bodies and lust. I yearned to be joined to her, soul merging with soul and mind with mind. I wanted to see through her eyes, feel with her senses the loving invader penetrating her, filling her and finding its release. 

It was a long time later that we finally fell asleep, satiated and happy. 

Chapter Fifteen

The thunderstorm had gone by morning and patches of blue sky were doing their best to pull apart the low drape of cloud that hugged the sea. We walked along the beach again though I swear we left no footprints. Some of the magic from the previous night seemed to linger about us still. It may sound callous, but I wasn't particularly worried about Niall. Angela made me feel immortal - that protection had to include my friends. It sounds lame now but I really felt that. Of course, there was no justification and anyone who wasn't consumed by the madness that had seized me could see it. Even Angela, a fellow traveller in never-never land, was concerned. I dismissed her fears with a lofty "If anything's wrong we'd have heard by now." 

I'd missed the early morning News when we went out so when I did turn on the radio on our return, the main story had really gathered a head of steam. The clipped matter-of-fact tones of the BBC announcer seemed fantastically at odds with the story he was relating. 

"Police forces across Europe have made hundreds of arrests following what appears have been to a plot by international terrorists. Sources in the Home Office have indicated that this is the result of an intensive investigation by the Security Services and Special Branch. Special Branch officers have made a number of arrests in London and elsewhere in the UK. Prominent among those arrested was Alexander Renfrew, the media tycoon. A spokesman for Mr Renfrew said that he was cooperating with the authorities voluntarily and was innocent of any wrongdoing.

"Reports have been coming in of a gun battle near Southwold in Suffolk. Local police report that a number of bodies have been recovered from the scene at isolated Newgale Farm. Those involved are believed to have belonged to an organised crime syndicate with links to Chechnya. Unconfirmed reports suggest that members of the security forces were also present. A news conference has been scheduled for midday.

"Elsewhere, it has just been announced that the body of Charles Brownlock, the controversial MP for New Malden, was discovered in his car in a lay-by on the A12 early this morning. Police are not treating his death as suspicious. Mr Brownlock, an MP since 1987, was frequently associated with left-wing causes and in recent times had become a marginalized figure on the Labour back benches."

The announcer then switched to more on the deepening crisis in the Middle East. Liam rose and switched the radio off. He looked around at us.

"It's over, then," he said. 

I can't really describe my feelings at that point. I certainly didn't feel triumphant. I can't even say I felt a great sense of relief. It was more like a feeling of calm descended on me. I looked at the others. The Colonel was nodding his head. Angela looked stunned. Only Magic seemed to react appropriately. He heaved himself up from the corner where he had been lying and stalked across the room towards me. His tail was wagging so furiously that everything aft of his shoulders was wiggling. A large wet nose pressed into the back of my hand and an even larger paw landed on my knee. His long, tatty ears twitched forward and he gazed as me as if to say "what was all that about?" Angela leaned over and hugged his neck. He look bemused; then again, he usually does.

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Eve was mighty depressed and was very very hungry. Satan was just waiting for this moment. ... Eve flushed and said "I could suck his apple while you were prickling my oyster and putting your finger in my other cherry."...