Walking the Dog

(Part 8 from 8)

We'd just started to discuss what had happened to the other three when Niall phoned. I took the call but Liam snatched the phone out of my hand and began to berate his twin in extremely salty language. His voice trailed away as he listened to Niall's replies until he stood in silence, face grave. After a brief interval he put the receiver down slowly and turned to face us. 

"It got bloody," he said. "Steve's dead and Bill took a couple of rounds. They found the shipment but got caught before they could send for the cavalry. Niall's OK and thinks Bill will pull through."

"Where's Niall?" I asked. 

Liam pulled a face. "On his way back. He said he got pissed and passed out when it was over. He's sorry he didn't call. Couldn't think straight. He'll be here in about half an hour."

"Oh! Poor Steve!" 

Angela looked close to tears. The Colonel said something filthy in Estonian. It deflated us all. Liam was blazing with fury: 

"The stupid bastard!" He was almost spitting with rage. "They found the container hidden in a barn. All three went inside. The Chechens rumbled them and opened up when Steve started to leave. They are lucky they weren't all killed. Why the fuck didn't one of them keep watch?" 

"Bad," the colonel muttered but his face was a picture of understanding. He knew Liam's anger for what it really was: relief that his brother was alive. Liam rounded on him.

"How the fuck do you know? You weren't there!" 

Then he caught himself and gave a wry smile. "At least the stupid git is all right." 

The colonel nodded, his normally flinty eyes full of sympathy. We lapsed into silence. Angela took my hand and held it like it was a crucifix. Then we heard the sound of a car approaching. 

"That was quick," I said, thinking it would be Niall. 

Liam shook his head, it wasn't the Range Rover's V8. Someone knocked at the door. Angela let go of me and went to answer it. 

A stranger's voice said, "Miss Sable? Detective Inspector Fowler, may I come in?"

Fowler walked into the parlour. He was about my age and height with silvery blond hair and a clean-cut look about him. His suit was elegantly tailored and looked expensive. I made the brief introductions and he smiled urbanely before producing his warrant card from a leather wallet. 

"Look," he said, "I'm terribly sorry to bother you but my guvnor, Commander Swann, asked me to drop by." 

He reached into an inside pocket and pulled out the photocopied pages of the colonel's list.

"The thing is, this isn't an original document." He gave me another dazzling smile. 

"As I'm sure you know, sir, we have a 'quality of evidence' issue. The guvnor asked me if you could let us have the original? We'll also need an affidavit from the good colonel to explain its provenance. We've got a special sitting at Bow Street Magistrates Court at six this evening and the CPS (he meant the Crown Prosecution Service) will need to get this one right. We can hold them all under the Terrorism Act but we are going to have to produce the real McCoy."

I nodded understanding. Evidence Rules are such that copies of documents, rather than originals, can cause problems. He produced a transfer of evidence form and asked the colonel to sign. Angela translated; the colonel's English wasn't up to the arcane mysteries of the British legal system. The old boy wasn't happy about it but he handed over the oilcloth roll with good enough grace. He asked, via Angela, for an assurance that the documents would be returned. He would need them back home in Estonia. Fowler flashed his pearly-white teeth again and promised this would be no problem. He tucked the oilcloth into an inside pocket and patted the resulting bulge. 

"Great stuff! Well, I won't keep you any longer. I just have to tell you that you have done an outstanding job. I dare say there will be some more official recognition in the not-too-distant future."

I don't know why but he grated on me. The bonhomie was just a tad overdone. He came across as an oily bastard. He made more effusive goodbyes and headed for the door. The four of us stood there. I had the feeling we were all glad to see the back of him. Angela had a strange look on her face. She suddenly paled. 

"Martin!" she grabbed my arm. "He is one of them! He had that badge! It was on the inside of his lapel!" 

We stared at her for a second or two. 

"Are you sure?" Liam asked. 

"Yes, yes!" her voice was desperate. 

All four of us ran to the door and rushed outside. Fowler was halfway to his car. I shouted after him 

"Hang on a minute!" 

He turned. He must have realised we had rumbled him because he started to run towards the car. Just then, Niall appeared in the Range Rover. Liam made frantic hand signals. Niall apparently understood for at once the Range Rover accelerated off the winding track and started bucketing across the grass, cutting off the angle. 

Fowler spun around again, his lips working as he cursed us. He rapidly calculated that Niall would reach his car before he could. He turned and started to run off along the edge of the dunes. We took off in pursuit. I might not be as strong or as fit as the twins but I have always been faster. I was also better dressed for running in soft sand than Fowler, I was wearing trainers and jogging pants whereas he was in a suit. I halved the distance between us in the first hundred yards. He was now no more than twenty or so yards ahead of me. He put on a spurt and opened up a bit more of a gap. I knew then that I had him. The only sport that I had ever been any good at at School was cross-country running. Even though I didn't run much these days, I still knew how to do it. Chopping and changing pace takes it out of you. It's much better to set a cadence, get into a rhythm. 

We must have left the cottage door wide open because suddenly I was joined my Magic and Trotsky. They thought this was a great game. Magic bounded along beside me while Trotsky obviously thought it would be an even better game to catch up with the stranger ahead. Fowler threw a backward glance over his shoulder and his face showed alarm as he saw the husky bearing down on him. If you don't know your dogs, a running husky can look pretty scary. They do look like wolves even if their nature is quite the opposite. Fowler didn't know his dogs; he looked terrified. 

He angled left onto the beach. Trotsky was going flat out by this point and skidded on past for a few yards before starting to turn. I leapt to my left over a tussocky mound and went crashing down the edge of the dunes onto the beach. Magic kept pace with me until he suddenly swerved in front, causing me to attempt an elaborate side-step that didn't quite come off. I stumbled on for a couple of paces, arms wind-milling for balance. The slope was too steep and the surface too soft and slippery. I tumbled to the ground with a thump that knocked the wind out of me. I dragged myself to my feet; nothing seemed broken. Magic was in close orbit around me. His body language seemed to suggest he loved this game. I cursed him for a useless sod and staggered after Fowler. 

Trotsky, in the meantime, had approached Fowler via the Great Circle route and was rushing up on him from behind. Fowler must have heard the huffing breath or the pounding paws for he spun around just as Trotsky arrived. Trotsky gave his normal greeting jump. For the first time ever I was grateful that that dog has no manners. Fowler recoiled, throwing up a protective arm to guard against the imagined teeth. Two great husky paws impacted on his chest and he lost his balance, falling flat on his back on the sand like a kid making a snow-angel. Trotsky danced around a couple of times then took off like a cream and brown rocket after some seagulls that had caught his attention. 

I'd got my breath back by then and was less than thirty yards from him. He saw me coming, struggled to his feet and set off again at a stumbling run. Looking ahead, I saw he'd made a fatal mistake. He was running towards the estuary where a fierce ebb was rushing into the North Sea. I turned back to the others and waved them to stay on the dune path, to head him off if he tried to cut back in land. Liam, or was it Niall, waved a hand in acknowledgment and carried on at a determined jog trot. Fowler had recovered and was moving more easily but I was into my running again and was reeling in him steadily. I saw him look around wildly. His position had obviously just hit him. He pulled something white out of his pocket and began to shred it frantically as he ran. Small pieces of white confetti snowed on the beach and dispersed in the stiff onshore wind. He headed closer to the sea. 

A series of low wooden groynes lay along this stretch of beach. The sand was piled high on one side and had been excavated on the other by the ceaseless tide. We hurdled the barriers like athletes in a steeplechase. Fowler angled his run out onto a low spit of sand that curled like a protective arm across the mouth of the estuary. This spit was hidden at high water so I guessed we were about halfway through the ebb. The 'rule of twelfths' sprung into my mind. One twelfth of the water ebbs during the first the hour, two in the second, three in the third and fourth, two in the fifth and one in the sixth. The tide would be at its strongest about now. There was no way he could get across the estuary. There was something like a seven-knot tide running. If he tried it, he'd be swept away. 

I was barely ten yards away now. Fowler skidded to a halt. I saw his arm come back and caught a flash of yellow tumbling end over end against the dull grey loom of the sea. He had flung the oilskin roll of documents out into the turmoil of water that marked where the wind-driven waves did battle with the rush of the tide. Sandbanks and currents further confused the sea into a nasty chop of broken grey and white, shot through with the muddy silty stream of the river itself. He turned to face me, a look of triumph on his face. 

"No fucking evidence!" 

His scream was high and joyous but his right hand was fumbling with the latch of a shoulder holster. 

A black shadow flashed over the dirty ochre of the sand. Magic hurled himself into the water, jumping to breast the breaking waves. Fowler's triumphant look vanished in a flash. He crouched, pistol extended in both hands, and fired. He got off three shots before I hit him. Angela told me afterwards that they saw me take off in mid run and launch myself at him. He must have been turning back towards me because my head smashed into his nose and I heard and felt it break. We crashed to the ground. Fury of a type I have never experienced must have lent me wings. I was incandescent with rage. The bastard was shooting at my dog! I lost it completely. I was howling like a soul in torment as I leapt on him. I smashed my fists into his face. I bit, gouged, kicked and thrashed. I didn't hear the crack of the revolver or feel the wind of the bullet that blasted past my face. I didn't feel the pain of the resulting powder-burn nor was I aware of the skin on my knuckles splitting. I just kept pounding him until Niall arrived to pull me off his senseless body. 

"Christ!" Niall said, "remind me never to upset you, Martin. You've damn near killed him." 

My vision swam back into focus and I looked down at Fowler. His face was not recognisable as that of a human being. Blood oozed from his shattered nose and from a number of cuts around his eyes and mouth. I had driven his front teeth through his upper lip and bitten off the top of his right ear. He was breathing harshly through the open mess that had been his mouth. I spun away from him, sickened by what I'd done and vomited onto the sand. 

Suddenly I remembered Magic and stood, gazing frantically out to sea and bellowing his name. I could see no sign of him. Angela and her father arrived, panting heavily. Angela had run back to call Swann and her father, typically had run to get a weapon. He stood there now, a heavy black automatic trained unwaveringly on Fowler who had started to groan and twitch as consciousness returned.

"There!" said Angela, "there he is!" 

I followed her pointing finger and could just make out a small black dot in the confused sea. He was about a hundred yards out and being swept further by the tide. 

Some instinct must have told him that he couldn't fight the current. He was swimming parallel to the shore. The tide pushed him further out to sea but he kept going. 

"Oh my God, I've lost him," I groaned.

"No!" Angela said. "He's trying to get out of the current. If he can get to the shelter of the spit, the tide will be less without the water from the river. I've seen the little fishing boats do it lots of times." 

We watched in agony as Magic fought the roiling water. He swam on strongly though still receding further from the beach. It must have taken him ten minutes or more to claw his way out of the current and a further twenty to creep towards the spit where we stood, yelling encouragement. I could see the yellow roll clamped in his teeth and I knew he was going to make it now. I laughed with relief. 

"Good Dog!" I called to him. "Good Boy! Come on Magic!" Then I laughed again. "You know, when he gets that roll ashore he's just going to chew it up. He never got the hang of retrieving." 

The others stared at me. Magic staggered as a wave caught him and then he tumbled over as it broke over his head. Angela gasped. A soggy black shape reappeared in the foam and then he his paws touched bottom and he was struggling out of the backwash. His flanks were heaving with effort and he looked, if you'll excuse the expression, dog-tired. 

He came across the sand at a shambling trot, dropped the oilskin roll at my feet and subsided onto the sand. He was panting and his pink tongue lolled out of one side of his grinning mouth. He didn't even have the energy to shake himself. A bright red furrow ran across the deep black of his back where one of Fowler's bullets had scored him. I flung myself down beside him and hugged him. Trotsky decided to rejoin the party at that moment. He walked up jauntily, sniffed at the still-prostrate Fowler, raised one aristocratic back leg and pissed all over him. He wandered over to where Magic and I were crouched on the sand and began to lick Magic's injured back with gentle delicacy. Magic gave him a look that seemed to say 'thanks, mate.'

We walked back to the cottage. Liam and Niall half carried, half dragged Fowler between them. They had secured his hands behind him with his own handcuffs. He didn't look in any state to try anything. Angela sat me at the kitchen table and bathed my burned face and injured hands. I winced as he pulled a splinter of tooth out of my right knuckles. My hands had started to swell and the skin was rapidly turning the colour of an aubergine where it wasn't just raw flesh. I'll never make a boxer. The whump-whump of helicopter blades announced the arrival of Swann. I left it to Liam to explain. I was in that state of post-adrenalin torpor. I could hardly keep my eyes open. Swann took possession of the oilskin roll. He knelt down beside Magic, who was as knackered as I was. Magic opened one bleary eye and managed the faintest twitch of his tail. "Good boy," said Swann. He made his farewells and left after extracting a promise from us all to attend him at New Scotland Yard the following afternoon.

I yawned loudly. "I guess it really is over this time," I said.

"Yes," said Liam. "At least is for us. I have the feeling Swann's work is just beginning."

The End


Last night, Angela and I made love for the first time in our new home. I managed to sell the mews house in Kensington within a week of it going on the market. That stirred us up a bit and we found this place. It's not all that big but it is pretty and the acre and a half of gardens is perfect for the dogs. Just down the road is Battle, where William the Conqueror beat Harold Godwineson in 1066. The coast is a mile or two further on. A small lake bounds our house on the northern side and as I write this, a local builder is restoring a low stone outbuilding. It will make a very fine studio.

Commander Swann was, as predicted by Liam, very busy indeed in the weeks that followed and the papers have been full of revelations about the depth of the plot. At our own request, our names didn't appear anywhere. Only the colonel, identified simply as a member of the Estonian Security Service working under deep cover, got a mention. Swann decided to take no action against Niall, Liam and Bill for their illegal actions and the last I heard from the twins, they had just got a government security contract. Bill has recovered from his wounds and has joined Liam and Niall full-time. Liam has just about forgiven Niall for getting pissed and falling asleep.

Two days ago, before we moved out of London, Angela and I took Magic and Trotsky for a last walk in Kensington Gardens. We were wandering along towards the Round Pond when I heard someone calling my name.

"Martin! I say, Martin Booth!" 

It was Steph. She was sitting in the passenger seat of a very expensive piece of Italian engineering. We strolled over. Angela's arm was firmly gripping mine and she leant into me slightly. I could almost feel her hackles rising. Steph smiled sweetly up at us. The man beside her could have been a male model. He gazed at us disinterestedly. 

"Hello, Steph," I said. I gave my feelings a quick once over. Nothing. 

"A little bird tells me you're getting married, Martin, can this be true?"

"It is."

"And is this the lucky lady? Do introduce us, darling."

"Steph, meet Angela; Angela, Steph."

"And how did you two love-birds meet? Somewhere boring, I expect?"

"Oh yes," said Angela. "It was very boring; walking the dogs."

"I see you still you still have those smelly animals, Martin."

I grinned. "We couldn't want for better," I said. 

Steph sniffed. "Each to his own. 'Bye, darling, must rush." 

Trotsky ambled up, sniffed at the Ferrari and pointedly pissed on the front wheel. I let him finish before pulling him away. Angela and I walked off laughing, the shout of outrage ringing in our ears.

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