By Gil Hale – firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: All disclaimers, usual or unusual, apply.
Author’s Notes: Lots of thanks to Susan Foster for permission to use elements of her sentinel universe. This is the third story in the Hippy-Goldilocks universe.
Simon was waiting patiently in the car. Very patiently. If he had to wait patiently much longer he was going back in to the hotel and dragging Sandburg and Ellison out personally. How the hell he’d managed to lose them between the party and the foyer he didn’t know, but he could make a guess: Sandburg had seen some girl he’d missed the opportunity to charm earlier in the evening, or Ellison had got involved in another macho game with one of Connor’s brothers.
That was typical, too. He should have known that when Connor said she had family coming over from Australia it wouldn’t be some sweet grey haired elderly couple. All the same, his worst imaginings wouldn’t have lived up to the reality of the four Connor boys. He wasn’t sure who’d thought up the idea of a combined Thanksgiving and farewell party for them now they were about to leave, but his own heartfelt thanksgiving was that they were taking their mayhem back to Australia. They were nice enough boys in their way; he’d be able to think of them quite kindly once they were on the other side of the globe. And now maybe he’d reach Christmas without an ulcer after all…
He looked up hopefully at the signs of movement in the foyer. Ellison and Sandburg, and about time too. A glance at them suggested Ellison had been to blame; he had a vaguely smug air, while Sandburg looked as though the evening had finally caught up with him and was walking with a distinct lurch. He flung his arms out wide to illustrate some point he was making as they came, and almost fell flat on his back. Ellison caught him efficiently, and opened the rear door for him to tumble in.
“Sorry we took so long,” he said to Simon. “Too much Australian beer; Sandburg kept falling over his feet.”
There was an indignant noise from the back seat. “That’s not what slowed us up! He stopped to arm-wrestle, Simon. If you ask me it’s a primp… primt… caveman attempt to impress Megan.”
“You’re just jealous, Chief. Especially as I won.”
“Not. It’s beneath me. Anyway, I didn’t say you did impress her, I said you tried to. She didn’t look impressed to me.”
Simon, who certainly wasn’t, glared at them both with his most intimidating Captain’s gaze. He wasn’t quite sure if it actually had an effect, or if they were humouring him, but at any least they shut up. In Sandburg’s gaze this was immediately followed by a huge yawn, and a complete failure to fasten the seatbelt, though he tried several times with increasing frustration. Simon felt the odds on an ulcer begin to rise again.
“This seatbelt is broken,” Sandburg complained. “You ought to get it mended Simon. It’s defunct. It’s no longer functssshioning…”
Before he could turn it into a comedy sketch, Jim leaned into the back seat and fastened him in. “US seatbelts don’t work when you’ve been drinking Australian beer,” he said, deadpan.
Simon smothered a grin and set off hastily. He’d driven half a block before Blair said in tones of deep thought, “You had Australian beer too.”
“Ah, but some of us can handle it.”
Simon glanced at his sentinel detective. For a man who usually had to be dragged to a social event, and who was outspoken about his feelings for the ‘holiday season’ he seemed to be in a remarkably good mood.
“Enjoy the party, Jim?” he asked, wondering whether the man would admit it.
“More than the hotel manager did,” Jim said.
Simon wondered if the manager knew they were from Major Crimes. It was a line of thought he’d rather not pursue. Turning his attention back to Jim again, he said slightly tentatively, “It must help at something like that knowing your senses won’t be a problem.”
Well it was an answer. It gave him a possible opening for something he’d been edging round talking about for some time. “This sentinel-guide thing,” he began slowly.
“No!” they said in unison from beside and behind him. He hated it when they did that, especially before he’d got the whole sentence out.
“You won’t be able to play this anthropologist card for ever,” he said firmly. “You know that most of Major Crimes treat Blair as your guide now, whatever it says on the paperwork.”
“Major Crimes isn’t the problem,” Jim said. “Sandburg has his own life. How much of that would have to go if he became my guide officially?”
“Things aren’t as bad as they were under Kincaid,” Simon said. “You’ve made a lot of the difference yourself come to that Jim. The changes you’ve made at the facility have helped.”
“Not to the people there. Anyway, it’s not just the practical arrangements. Attitudes are changing. Like it or not, Jim, a lot of those young Security One sentinels look up to you. If nothing else you’ve shown them you expect a level of courtesy in their dealings with the guides.”
There was an unexpected and not very sober chuckle from the back seat. “Kissing in the bushes,” Sandburg said happily.
Simon swerved slightly and annoyed a taxi.
“Jim?” he asked in a reasonably restrained tone.
“Not me,” Jim said, not trying to hide his amusement. “It’s probably just a figment of Sandburg’s overheated imagination. Who’s kissing who in the bushes, Chief?”
“Whom,” Blair muttered pedantically. “Kissing whom. Can’t tell you that, Jim. ‘S a secret. Wouldn’t want me to tell a secret. Not you, Jim. Jim?”
“Simon keeps swerving about. It’s making me feel ill.”
Simon instantly lost all interest in probably imaginary liaisons in the undergrowth. “If you’re sick in my car, Sandburg…”
“He won’t be,” Jim promised.
Simon calculated the remaining time to the loft. “Oh yes. And you know that how?”
“I’ve been listening to his stomach.”
This revolting thought silenced Simon, but brought a protest from Blair. “Hey. What about privacy. Man’s stomach’s his own. Why’re you listening to my stomach?”
“To be sure you’re not going to throw up over Simon’s upholstery.”
Fortunately, both for the upholstery and Simon’s sanity, they made it to journey’s end shortly after that. “Take him away and put him to bed, Jim,” he said wearily.
“Thanks, Simon,” Jim said, hauling Blair out and propping him against a handy wall. “Want to come up for a cup of coffee?”
Blair leaned over precariously to endorse the invitation, and began to fall slowly forward. Jim caught him by the scruff of the neck just in time.
Simon considered getting out of the car for coffee with the pair of them. It took him all of three seconds to make his mind up. “Sorry, Jim. Another time,” he said hastily, and started up the engine. In the mirror he saw Jim slide an arm round the kid and start him towards the door. It was only a momentary glimpse, a common enough sight—but he’d known Jim through too many years of uncomfortable isolation to fail to appreciate it. The picture stayed in his mind as he drove home. Not a bad reason for thanksgiving.
Bodie was ankle deep in mud in a field on the edge of the South Downs. It was pitch dark, raining, and although for early December the weather could probably be called mild, it was cold enough to numb his hands. Doyle, following his lead almost silently, was as miserable as a wet cat.
Bodie was enjoying himself.
Never mind that Cowley had sent them out like a couple of hunting dogs—’ Seek! Fetch! Don’t kill!” Never mind that they were probably going to spend most of the night out of doors getting colder and muddier. He was moving through the darkness tracking his man with a certainty that exhilarated him. Every sense was as sharp and clear as honed steel. He could hear the stumbling steps and rough breathing of his quarry; he could choose to see more clearly and open up the darkness. At his shoulder he could feel his partner; he was attuned to him with all his senses and some instinct beyond any of them. Tonight, no one else could have achieved what they were doing, and Bodie liked to be the best.
He knew little about the man whose clumsy movements were making a trail of sound for them to follow except that Cowley wanted him; he knew that for once Cowley himself had little information either. For some time there had been whispers, the slightest of rumours, of some organisation so shadowy it was hard to be sure whether it had any real existence at all. Cowley thought it had. Events which in themselves were not so unusual—the unexplained death of a prominent liberal politician, the disappearance of a couple of promising young army officers, an increase in the activity of a fringe political party—seemed to have some tenuous connection, just a breath of a hint that they were part of something bigger. It bothered Cowley. So much so that he had directed a surprising amount of manpower to finding something definite in the way of evidence.
For some time it had seemed that the rumours were just that; empty suspicions, fantasies. But Cowley had persisted, and a few hours ago he had received some coded tip-off, a message to him personally, that he thought might be a chance.
“It might be a way into this thing,” he’d said, giving them the bare elements of what they needed to know. “Auberon Yates. A civil servant at the Ministry of Defence. I don’t have anything definite—he might be involved, might be wavering, might be going to a meet. It’s not much, but it’s worth following up. You and Doyle get on to him and stay with him. And remember, it’s information we’re after, not a body count. I don’t want you going in bull headed. If there is a meet and you can pick them up without a bloodbath, do it. Otherwise, keep with Yates. If he doesn’t meet anyone, follow him ’til you know his life inside out. And report to me directly.”
“What do you think is going on, sir?” Doyle asked.
Cowley had shaken his head. “I don’t know, and I don’t like not knowing. There’s a feel to this that makes my skin crawl.”
They’d joked about it in the car, about Scots and their second sight—probably fuelled by the national drink—but in fact they both had a respect for Cowley’s instincts and it was keeping them sharp now as they came towards what must surely be the end of a long wet trail.
At least there was no doubt by now that whatever Yates was doing it wasn’t what good little civil servants normally did after hours. They’d picked him up a few hours earlier when he left his offices, and had kept a distant surveillance, relying on Bodie’s sight to give them the edge. Yates had headed directly out of London with the other commuter traffic; although it was wet and already dark, the traffic was slow-moving and they’d not had much difficulty keeping within sight of him. He stopped at a pub off the A24. Doyle went in after him and had noted him nervous, jittery even, but he’d only bought a drink and a packet of crisps and then headed back to the road.
Not too long after that, things had got more interesting. Yates had turned up a side road, then a more minor one. Finally he’d left his car in a gateway at the opening to a rough cart track. In his city suit and shoes, even with an overcoat on he made an incongruous figure in the muddy countryside, and it was hard to imagine any legitimate purpose that could have brought him to such a place on a December night.
Bodie and Doyle had followed him off the track, keeping to the fields and scrubby woodland which skirted it. It was hardly any worse under foot and avoided any risk of Yates contact coming up behind them. They’d been walking for almost an hour now, and Bodie could hear Yates breathing and heartbeat speed up as if he anticipated some end to it.
“What’s he playing at?” Doyle breathed, his breath a ghost of warmth from behind Bodie’s shoulder.
“He’s scared stiff now,” Bodie said. He found that in the damp air he could actually scent the fear from the man, rank and acidic. “Wait. He’s stopping.”
He moved cautiously through the darkness, able to dial up his sight ’til it was more like twilight for him. “There’s a gate,” he whispered. “Goes into somewhere open—golf course I think.”
He felt Doyle’s hand touch lightly on his arm, anchoring him and helping Doyle move through what to him must be thick darkness. He led them across the cart track into the cover of the hedge on the other side, and watched a moment longer. “He’s going into a small building. Grounds man’s hut, I suppose. Sounds like whoever he’s meeting is already there.”
“Two voices. Three heartbeats though I think. Let’s get in a bit closer; the rain’s distracting.”
They moved nearer, into a clump of trees in the rough, and he settled to concentrate. When he put his mind to it, he could dismiss the rattle of rain on the corrugated iron roof, and he realised that that hadn’t been the real problem.
“They’re not speaking English,” he muttered, taken aback.
“You speak a bit of German.”
“A bit being the operative word. They’re going at a heck of a rate, and from what I can make out Yates is babbling. He sounds as if he’s about to have a heart attack.”
“If he does you can bet Cowley will blame us for it,” Doyle said with feeling. “Well, do your best. Try and memorise what you can’t understand.”
Bodie listened a while and began to pick up a few more words. Yates seemed to be defending himself passionately against some accusation Bodie had missed—of weakness, or wavering probably. He sounded terrified; the other voice was silent most of the time. Bodie concentrated on it when it came; a man’s voice, dispassionate, perhaps enjoying the other’s fear. Then Yates’ voice rose to a high-pitched wail of desperation and broke off in a scream of pain and outrage. He wasn’t ready for it, and pulling back from the sound left him momentarily disoriented.
“Bodie!” Doyle’s voice was quiet but urgent and he grabbed back control. “What’s happening?”
“I’m not sure. I think…”
What he thought became irrelevant, because before they could make any move, there was a single shot from inside the hut.
“We’d better go in,” Doyle said sharply.
The man in the hut barked a sharp order at someone and fired at them with alarming accuracy. The bullet hit just above Doyle’s head. Bodie pulled him down flat on the ground. “Quiet,” he breathed. There could only be one explanation of that shot. The man was also a sentinel. He’d done what Bodie himself would have done in the circumstances—after the sound of the shot died away he’d automatically dialled up his hearing to check it hadn’t attracted attention in spite of the loneliness of the spot. Must have given him a nasty surprise to discover he had company so close.
For perhaps as much as a minute there was an impasse, then there was the completely unexpected roar of a motorbike starting up. Before they could do much more than get to their feet and begin a hopeless dash towards the hut, it had accelerated out of the door and skidded its way through the mud up the slope and away from them. Bodie had a brief impression of two silhouetted riders, a spray of wet earth and torn up grass and then it was gone.
Doyle made an empty, angry gesture and began to hurry towards the hut. Bodie followed him more slowly, calling for backup to look out for the motor cycle rider. The man he’d been listening to had been too coldly efficient to leave anything behind except a corpse. It lay in front of them when they reached the open door; Auberon Yates, promising career come to a sudden end, a precisely placed bullet hole between his eyes.
Bodie looked round the scene automatically, and realised the hut stank. He dialled down his sense of smell, but there was still enough to catch at his throat and make him cough. What was it? There was a small pool of vomit in one corner, but although unpleasant, that didn’t explain the acrid scent irritating his throat. Doyle must have smelled it too, or seen something, because he kneeled beside the body and shone his torch on the outflung left arm.
Where the watch strap should have been, a mess of raw and blistered skin, purple and bloody, disfigured the wrist. It was wet, almost bubbling, and now he looked at it the smell seemed stronger.
“Acid,” he said “Why…?” and began to cough again. Doyle pushed him outside into the cold cleaner air.
“Stay away from it. There’s nothing we can do now, anyway. Better send for the forensic boys and see if they can pick something up. Did you get Cowley when you called in?”
“He’s going to love us. One dead, and we’ve lost the other. You want to break the news to him?”
Bodie coughed heavily and managed a wheezing sound. “Think I’d better leave it to you.”
Doyle elbowed him sharply in the midriff, making him gasp for air. “There. Cured you. Can’t hear you wheezing now,” he said. “All right. I’ll do it. At least we can tell him the tip off was good. And that the contact was a sentinel.”
“With a guide, I think.”
Doyle shrugged. “Could be. You didn’t pick it up before, though.”
“I’m not bloody well bionic. I was listening to a conversation in German; I didn’t have any spare time to check out who the third person in there might be. He was being ordered about, though, and I’ll bet he was the one who threw up.”
He gathered from the look on his partner’s face that these reasons for identifying a guide hadn’t gone down too well, but Doyle only said, “Okay. Sentinel, possibly with guide. Anything else you picked up about the man?”
Bodie looked up the slope. “He wasn’t a golfer. He rode out straight over the ninth hole. Made a hell of a mess of the green.”
The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas annually failed to fill Jim Ellison with anything like a spirit of good will. If anything, it filled him with an urge to put some significant distance between himself and the other inhabitants of Cascade. There were over-enthusiastic partygoers, manic shoppers, the weather was unpleasant and crimes tended to be petty, leaving Major Crimes time to catch up on their paperwork.
That was his general grudge against the season. Worse, however, was the way ‘festive’ items began to spread through the bullpen like cheap scarlet fungi, encroaching on his personal space. His only comfort this December morning was that his desk was an area of austere sanity among the card and decoration infested surfaces. Sandburg’s red bulbous antlers, which he’d evicted earlier, were now adorning Henri’s computer, and an early card was tucked neatly in his drawer. He’d made his concession to the season by eating one of the Christmas cookies Rhonda had been offering round.
He looked round the bullpen, looked back down at his paperwork and sighed. Blair, who’d followed his antlers over to a more congenial side of the room, must have heard the sigh—Jim had pitched it accurately in his direction—but looked round without a trace of sympathy. Maybe Jim shouldn’t have made that remark about Rudolph and the rutting season…
He sighed again on principle, got up and stretched the kinks out of his spine and wondered if Rhonda had any cookies left. Simon Banks looked out of his office. “Got a minute, Jim.” he asked.
This was slightly ominous. It was usually “Ellison. My office!” for anything routine. If it turned out that Simon wanted to give him a pep talk about morale and the Christmas spirit, he would suggest to Blair that Darryl Banks would like a drum kit from them for Christmas.
Simon, though, didn’t seem to have morale on his mind. He poured Jim a welcome cup of coffee, and refilled his own. “I just had Dr Andros on the phone,” he said. “Unofficially of course. She’s got a problem she seems to think we may be able to help her with, though frankly…”
“Problem?” Jim interrupted. He’d been there a couple of weeks before and everything had been going well.
“Looks like it. She’s got a missing guide. Basically, she hopes you can sort it out and keep it off the record.”
Jim thought of how easily the new more open system could be blamed and the privileges withdrawn. “Is she sure it’s someone who’s left deliberately?”
“She didn’t put it that plainly. I’m sure she’s well aware we record incoming calls. I had to read between the lines to tell you this much. But she was certainly worried. Might be a good idea if you were to go over there.”
Jim nodded, as glad to go as he suspected Simon was to find him something to do. “Okay if I take the rest of the morning?”
“Yes, and take Sandburg, too. There are enough distractions at this time of the year without adding him to the mix.” He glanced out into the bullpen and added pointedly, “Maybe you’d like to tell me just what he thinks he’s doing now?”
Jim followed his line of sight. Blair, now wearing the antlers and a red nose, was pawing the ground in a display of reindeer machismo to the amusement of Henri and Rafe.
“I can’t imagine,” he lied, and escaped hastily, collecting Blair on the way. “Come on, Rudolph. Duty calls.”
“We’re delivering presents?”
“No. We’re going to do our good deed for the week and help Dr Andros out.”
He gave Blair what little information he had on the way. Blair was as surprised as he had been. “I was just over there last week, giving a talk. You know, the care and feeding of sentinels, no Wonderburger, that sort of thing.” He dodged the cuff Jim directed at him. “Seriously, they all seemed really happy. I can’t imagine anyone absconding.”
Jim could, under the right circumstances, but the last person he would have thought of was the one who was actually gone. It was no secret in the facility, evidently. The first three people they met all told them the same thing. Frances Levison was missing. She’d left in the middle of the night.
They found Dr Andros in the physiotherapy room. Rudi was there, working stoically through the painful exercises that were strengthening his muscles now that he had some control. Dr Andros looked as if she was having trouble keeping her mind on the repetitive movements. She was visibly troubled and straightened up with relief when they came in.
“Sentinel Ellison. Blair. I didn’t think you’d be able to get here so quickly. I daren’t explain properly to your captain on the phone. It’s Frances. She’s just disappeared without a word. It’s so unlike her.”
Jim thought of the pleasant, sensible Frances, who’d seemed if anything, brighter and happier the last time he’d seen her. At his side he was aware of a slight increase in Blair’s heartbeat, a sudden stillness noticeable in a person who was so vibrant.
“She took her clothes?” Blair said.
“Yes. Her best clothes, and some personal things. It really doesn’t look, well, sinister. But she’s such a sensible girl. I can’t imagine what would make her do such a thing.”
“I think it might be a question of ‘who’ not ‘what’,” Blair said, slightly uneasily. “I mean, you know, she’s young and pretty…” His voice trailed off.
Jim could sense his discomfort, tangible in all sorts of minor ways. He looked at him irritably. “What are you trying to say?” he demanded.
Blair had the look that Jim already recognised as masking a hasty mental judgment on how much to reveal, but before he could push the matter, there was a knock and they were interrupted.
“Krista,” Dr Andros said as the girl looked in uncertainly. “Do come in. Have you thought of anything you might be able to tell Sentinel Ellison?”
Krista flushed. “I have a letter for him. I don’t know for sure if it’s anything to do with Frances. The sentinel she was with yesterday—he gave me this, and I wondered then why he didn’t give it to Frances, and now I think he must have known she wouldn’t be here and that you’d get Sentinel Ellison. He told me it must go to him personally, nobody else at all, and I wasn’t to put it in the post.”
Jim took the envelope. “Which sentinel?” he asked.
“Cardew,” Blair said under his breath.
Jim opened it and saw that it was, and abruptly remembered the bizarre conversation he and Simon had had with Blair. Kissing in the bushes. It suddenly made a sort of sense—disastrous sense. He could just imagine the attitude of the authorities to a sentinel guide elopement. He saw Blair’s unease increase, and didn’t try to hide his own annoyance that Blair had kept all this to himself, but the letter itself was more urgent.
He put to one side a photograph that had come with it—one that looked as if it had been improved and printed from a security camera image—and scanned hastily down the scrawled sheets of paper.
You’re the only person I can trust with the information here. Don’t bother to look for us. We’ll be a long way from Cascade by the time you get this. There wouldn’t have been any future for us in the US anyway, but we don’t have a choice now.
I got myself into something a bit too big for me to handle. You know what my attitude to security and the whole thing about sentinels and guides used to be. When Kincaid was in charge that sort of arrogance went down well, and I suppose I was a bit louder and a bit more outspoken than most. There was a man who used to be about at that time. He was called Ryman, Karl Ryman. Kincaid knew him I think. Anyway, he hung round quite a lot with us when we were off duty. I ended up talking to him fairly often, and he’d ask me a lot of questions. Then you busted Kincaid and he disappeared for a while, but I met him again not too long before I met you. He was a lot more specific with his questions this time. How did I feel about what had happened to Kincaid? What about the ‘liberal’ approach that seemed to be coming in. Did I realise that there might be a better outlet for my abilities, maybe in another country—that sort of stuff.
I was interested then, or thought I was, and I said so. Ryman was cautious, but he started to make things clearer. I’m fairly sure he was recruiting, maybe for something paramilitary. I didn’t find out because things changed for me. I saw what you thought of me—took the bruises a while to fade too. Then I looked at Frances again. Didn’t take long for me to realise I didn’t like myself that much. I wanted to back off then, but I’d gone far enough to know that Ryman might see me as a danger, and he came across as kind of ruthless under a smooth talking front. I realised my way out would be to see him exposed, so I recorded a couple of conversations where he was pretty clear about recruiting from Security One and I got this photo. I went to my superior with it, and he said he’d take it up, and that I wasn’t to do anything ’til I heard from him. I don’t know how he handled it but two days ago he was killed in a hit and run. Yesterday there was a gas explosion in my apartment when I should have been there. In my book, that’s beyond coincidence. I’d already made some arrangements, because Frances and I know we’re right together and we want to go somewhere we can get married without the hassle we’d get here. We’ve decided to speed up our plans and leave straight away.
I’ll leave you to sort out Ryman—if anyone can do it you can. I’d made two copies of the photo, but I imagine the tape will be destroyed by now. I think he was targeting the military as well as security, but he must have some friends in Security One who let him know what I’d done. Please tell Dr Andros not to worry about Frances. I’ll look after her. This shouldn’t cause any trouble for the facility if you handle it right. Report that I ran because of the threats on my life and I helped myself to a guide because I needed one. They’ll believe it.
“Idiot,” Jim muttered. “Over confident, stupid, thoughtless… Why didn’t he come to me first?” He turned his anger and concern on Sandburg, who was at least available. “And why the hell didn’t you tell me what was going on. We might have had a chance of helping them to find a better way out than this.” He realised that everyone was waiting for him to explain, and briefly told them the outline of what had happened, keeping the more sensitive security details to himself.
“I’d be interested to know if any of you have seen this man around, though,” he added. “Especially today.”
He held out the picture to Krista and another girl who was in the doorway, then Dr Andros. They looked at it without recognition, but as Dr Andros moved slightly Rudi, behind her, must have seen it and made a noise that was unintelligible but sharp and urgent. Surprised Jim moved to where Rudi sat on the exercise bench. “It means something to you?” he asked as he held the photo out.
It shouldn’t have done. Rudi, as far as he knew, had been nowhere except these few rooms of the facility since he was brought to Cascade. But Rudi was reacting to the picture, his face contorted—with anger Jim thought, even hatred.
“You recognise him,” he said. “Now I wonder where the hell you’ve seen him.” The level of reaction he was getting was not compatible with Rudi just perhaps having glimpsed the man from a window. It was deeper, and he thought more personal.
Rudi looked at Jim intently as if he could somehow convey what he wanted that way. The frustration of not being able to communicate was painful to watch. Jim rested a hand gently on his arm. “It’s okay,” he said. “I get the idea. This man is trouble. We don’t want him in Cascade.”
He was never sure how much Rudi understood; even apart from the neurological damage, no one seemed certain how good his English had been before. But at some level he got the message across. Rudi relaxed a little, but his face still twisted with the need to speak. He grabbed Jim’s hand with surprising strength, his whole body seemed to contort with the struggle, and to everyone’s amazement a recognisable sound came out.
“Fear!” he said loudly. “Fear!”
The word was unmistakable, even though there wasn’t, Jim thought, much fear in Rudi—just anger and now a sort of triumph at having got the word out. Maybe he meant Ryman was dangerous. Either way, he needed to know Jim understood the seriousness of the threat.
“Okay,” he promised. “I’ll find this bastard and do what it takes to stop him.” He put his hands on Rudi’s shoulders a moment, acknowledged the shared need to protect, and when he saw that Rudi understood what he was promising, he straightened up and turned back to the others.
“I think you’d better leave this with me, Dr Andros. I don’t think you need worry about any trouble for the facility now we know what happened.”
Dr Andros nodded, but she didn’t look particularly comforted. “It’s Frances I’m really concerned about,” she said. “I don’t like to think how worried and frightened she must be.”
Frances looked at her watch and realised they were nearing the end of the long transatlantic flight. She’d wake Pat in a minute. She turned from the monotonous view out of the window and looked with affection at him sprawled asleep in the seat beside her. He looked very young like that, and rather tousled, and entirely kissable. She hugged her happiness to her warmly. She ought to be worried, she supposed, but she couldn’t manage it. Maybe things would be difficult, but at least now they were free to love each other.
Ray Doyle was cold, and bored. He remembered back when he’d first been in the police force and walked a beat. If anyone had told him then that you could be just as cold and a lot more bored working for CI5 he’d have laughed at them. He didn’t believe—hell, he doubted if even Cowley believed—anything was going to come of this surveillance. A week had passed since they lost the trail with Yates. The forensic boys had come up with nothing more unusual than the fact that the acid poured on the man’s wrist before he was killed seemed to have been intended to remove some mark on the skin. Bodie thought it possible, but to Doyle it was extremely far-fetched, and either way it didn’t exactly get them anywhere, so they were down to watching doorways. Every new place Cowley sent him to watch seemed bleaker and more unpromising than the last. It was freezing in the car, and when his R/T sounded his fingers were so numb he nearly dropped it.
“Enjoying yourself, sunshine?”
“Not a lot. Why?”
“Want to come and join me at Victoria station?”
“I’m not so sure. I’ve heard what happens to people who agree to meet you at stations. Betty told me she nearly found herself on the way to a dirty weekend in Brighton.”
“That was a misunderstanding. Anyway, we’re not catching a train, just doing a favour for a friend.”
“What about Cowley?”
“He knows about it. He says you’re not much use where you are.”
Doyle made a disrespectful noise. “I could have told him that. Okay. You there already? I’ll be with you in about three quarters of an hour.”
He found Bodie loitering intimidatingly near the station manager’s office, waiting for someone inside to sort out their security camera tapes. At least that suggested the favour wasn’t picking up some maiden aunt of Cowley’s, an alarming thought that had occurred to him as he drove.
“So who are we helping out?” he asked. “We’re not some trade off of Cowley’s with another department for a year’s supply of paper clips?”
“Nothing like that. I got a phone call from Ellison this morning.”
That wasn’t what Doyle had been expecting. “Ellison? What can we do for him?”
“Cascade have carelessly mislaid a sentinel and guide. They’ve headed here… probably for Gretna Green if Ellison’s got it right.”
“Oh very romantic,” Doyle said. “There’s going to be a lot of trouble over that. What does Ellison want us to do? I’m not stopping a wedding just because it’ll upset the immoral majority over the pond.”
“That’s not the only reason they’ve come here—in fact Ellison’s keeping that side of it very low key. There’s a more serious reason they’ve left Cascade.”
“Get on with it, then.”
“You’re getting to sound like Cowley y’know. You want to watch that.”
“Get on with it!” Doyle said. “I’m cold and I’m tired and I’ve wasted most of the day. I don’t want to waste the rest of it.”
Bodie handed him three pictures. “Okay. Here we have the young couple and the evil Mr X—Mr Ryman actually, or at any rate that was the name he was going under in Cascade.”
Doyle listened with interest to the account of Ryman’s activities and Cardew’s letter. “Well, I can see why Cowley let you lend a hand now. Sounds a bit like the recruiting he thinks has been going on in the military. Have we had any unexpected departures from sentinels?”
“Cowley’s looking into it—especially in view of our motorbike man. He’d like us to find some handy connection and Ellison would like us to do what we can for the kids.”
“Appealed to your soft heart, did he?” Doyle was amused. “Are we sure they’re in the UK? I know this one don’t I? Frances something.”
“We’ve got a definite on them coming in to Heathrow. Lost track of them after that, but we’ve got a possible on someone selling them a London guide who thinks they asked about getting to Victoria.”
Doyle was still looking at the photographs. “Who’s the sentinel? Do you know him?”
“Cardew. Pat Cardew. I met him once.”
“What was he like?”
“Brash. Arrogant. Bit of a bully. Thought he was god’s gift to security.”
“Typical sentinel then,” Doyle murmured. “Well, Frances must see something in him. What’s Ellison doing at his end?”
“Buying air tickets. Once we’d got the confirmation at Heathrow he decided to come over. Security One are taking the Ryman thing quite seriously.”
“He and Blair are both coming?”
“Yeah. Tell you what Ray—there’s this place off Soho Benny told me about—kind of theatre—I bet Sandburg’s never seen…”
Doyle cut across this ruthlessly. “It looks as though they might have finally got your tapes in there. Go and do your stuff. I’m going to walk round and chat to the workers. Mind if I take the photographs?”
Bodie handed him all three photographs and strolled into the office. Doyle leaned back against the wall a while, watched the busy flow of people through the station and thought about where anyone would have had time to notice them. It was busy all day at the moment, Christmas shoppers coming in before the commuters had really cleared. He tried among the station staff and those in the shops and they weren’t uncooperative, just a lot too busy to remember anything that wasn’t really out of the ordinary. The girl serving in the baguette kiosk looked at the photos and shrugged. “Maybe. Thing is, we’re so busy at the moment I don’t really look at people. Must be a couple of hundred like them in here every day.”
What Doyle needed was someone who did have time to look at passers by. Someone collecting for a charity maybe; he couldn’t see any now, but it might be worth checking the previous few days. Or someone looking out for ticket dodgers and petty theft. He moved to where he could see the crowds heading towards the underground. He could see one man in uniform, currently involved in opening a gate for a double buggy. Then his luck changed. He saw a thin dark youth pushing through the crowd, his hands moving deftly as he passed a woman with her handbag incautiously open. He dredged a memory up from a few years back.
“Leroy!” he shouted across the crowd.
He hadn’t lost his touch. Leroy jumped guiltily and hastily caught up with the woman again, handing back her purse. Doyle pushed through to them in time to catch the tale end of Leroy’s moving account of how he’d seen her drop it and rushed to return it to her so her Christmas wouldn’t be ruined. The woman—nice but naive in Doyle’s hasty assessment—was just taking out a ten pound note to give him to show her gratitude. Doyle looked at him pointedly. “I couldn’t take it,” Leroy said hastily. “It was no more than anyone would’ve done.”
“I should fasten that handbag up,” Doyle said to her, “or you’ll lose it again one way or the other. Not everyone’s as honest as Leroy here.”
She took that at face value, lavished some more thanks and hurried off for her train. Leroy looked at Doyle nervously as he followed him through the crowd. “Didn’t think you was a cop no more.”
“They said—well, you know… like, it’s hard for a black copper. Must have been the same for you. People reckoning you can’t cut it cos you’re a guide. Heard you’d left the force.”
Doyle smiled. “Oh, I have. I’ve moved on to higher things. Ever hear of CI5 Leroy? This’ll be a whole new experience from your regular bust.”
Leroy gawped, impressed. Doyle had miscalculated a bit though. It made him less nervous, not more. Evidently CI5 were too far out of his league to intimidate him. “CI5 Mr Doyle? I don’t do that sort of stuff. You know me.”
“I know you were telling me six years ago you were thinking of getting some qualifications and a proper job.”
Leroy shrugged. “I done a course. There weren’t no jobs at the end of it. I tried a few things, but I take a lot more money this way. You remember Shania? We got a little boy now. Seven months. I got responsibilities.”
Doyle thought about trying to point out that petty theft wasn’t the path to responsible parenting, but he knew that in the streets Leroy lived in, anyone who stayed with a girl after she had the baby, and took home some money rather than drinking and doping it away, probably was doing his best. He gave up and showed him the photos of Frances and Cardew instead.
Leroy looked at them carefully. “Wouldn’t be my choice. He looks like trouble, see. Soldier or a sentinel. Who’d dip a sentinel. Some of ’em can feel a hair land on them like we would a stick you know—well, you would know I suppose. I stay away from them.”
“You’d know a soldier or sentinel out of uniform?”
“You can usually tell. Let me see that other photo properly though.”
Doyle hadn’t been trying the one of Ryman, who hadn’t been traced to the UK as far as he knew, let alone Victoria. He held it out now, so that Leroy could see it clearly.
“You’re looking for him?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t looking for him here. You telling me you’ve seen him?”
Leroy nodded. “Yeah. I’m sure it’s the same man. He was here yesterday. Hanging about. I noticed him; not many people stay long.”
“Just hanging about?”
“He might’ve been asking questions. Bought coffee, looked at some of the shops.”
It made sense, of course, when Doyle stopped to think it through. Cardew was a threat to Ryman and whatever organisation was behind him whether he was in Cascade or not. Ryman had as good a reason for trying to pick up his trail as the authorities had, and perhaps similar resources. They’d obviously led him to the same place.
Leroy interrupted his thoughts, though. “Mr Doyle, this man—you’re saying he’s into the sort of stuff you deal with now?”
“Yes I am. Stay away from him.”
Leroy moved uneasily. “He’d be a bad bloke to get across then?”
“He certainly would.” An unpleasant idea dawned on Doyle. Ryman presented the appearance of a prosperous, inoffensive businessman. “You didn’t .. you did, didn’t you. You bloody idiot. What did you take?”
“Wallet,” Leroy said uneasily. “He never saw me though. I’m good. He wouldn’t know who done him.”
“You’d better hope not. Have you still got it?” Ryman’s wallet would be worth having, if only for the prints.
“Yeah. Not on me. I could get it for you, though. Less than an hour, if there’s no problems on the line. You think there’d be any kind of reward, Mr Doyle?”
“Just go and get it. I’ll wait for you.”
Leroy turned to go down to the tube then turned back again. “You interested in any more people hanging about?”
“I’ve seen a few today. Made me wonder if sumthin was goin on. There was a hard looking bloke over by the manager’s office a while back—dark, smooth sort—kind that smiles while he beats you up.”
Doyle grinned involuntarily, rather taken by the description. “He’s a friend of mine. Try again.”
“Oh. You got some funny friends. Hey—he was another of them sentinels, wasn’t he? I thought he might be? Is he…?”
“Don’t go there, Leroy,” Doyle said, and he must have sounded dangerous enough to make Leroy lose interest.
“All right, all right. I didn’t mean nothing. But he wasn’t the only one. I seen another hanging about too. Big blond type, real bully I’d say. Guide with him, I reckon, who looked miserable as sin.”
“Do you know where they are now?”
“They were watching the crowd when I got here. I thought they might be some sort of law, so I didn’t start ’til they’d moved. Think they must have taken themselves off.”
Doyle looked round thoughtfully. Leroy might be wrong, but he was sharp about some things, especially when they affected his ‘trade’. It might be nothing to worry about, but the scenario that bothered him was that Ryman, discovering his wallet gone, had arranged for a sentinel from his organisation to look out for petty thieving going on. If Doyle was doing this with Bodie, where would he choose to watch the crowd from?
“I’ll go get the wallet shall I?”
Doyle nodded. CI5 needed it and Leroy was safer without it. “I want to look round a bit further. Come back to me here.”
He watched Leroy go, but he was quickly obscured by the crowd. It was thicker than ever now, as shoppers returned from daytrips and some early commuters headed for home. It would be dark outside; wet, too, by the look of those coming in from the streets. He felt uneasy, and the throng of people buffeted at him, not just physically but with the emotions he couldn’t help picking up a little. He glanced at his watch. Might as well look round as he’d planned.
Instinctively he moved away from the crush. Over to the side was a more or less open space with trolleys and crates piled up. He eased back into it with some relief at escaping the pressing presence of the crowd, and then realised he was not the only person doing this. Huddled back as far as he could get among the trolleys was a man about his own age, looking quite ill. Taking in his pale, rather dirty skin, and gaunt look, Doyle thought at first he’d come in there for some kind of fix, though it was an odd place to choose. Then a woman came past whose angry mood was so strong Doyle flinched slightly from it. The man standing among the trolleys hunched over, his hands clasping round his head. Doyle remembered that feeling. He looked more carefully. The man straightened up a little and realised he was being watched. He tried to back further away.
“You want some help?” Doyle asked.
The man looked terrified, though Doyle had made no threatening move. He shook his head now. “No. You can’t help me,” he said hoarsely.
Doyle leaned back against a crate and put his hand in his pocket. Ironically, though he almost never used the medication now, he had his own perfectly legal supply thanks to Cowley. He held out a couple of tablets. The other man looked at them with an ugly mixture of fear and overwhelming need.
“Take them,” Doyle said quietly.
It was more like relating to an animal than a human being. The man came cautiously closer, then snatched them and gulped them down. His eyes were never still, glancing about him nervously, and Doyle realised it wasn’t just him causing the terror. Perhaps it was the mixed emotions of the crowd.
“Once those have had some effect, you’d better get out of here, go somewhere quiet,” he told him.
“No. I have to wait here.”
Doyle looked at him thoughtfully. It really wasn’t that difficult to get a prescription for the meds in the UK; some health districts were more sympathetic then others, but rather than being in a facility of some sort it was generally enough to have a fixed address guaranteed by someone who was considered reliable. This man looked as if he could be a vagrant; he was dirty and underfed enough.
“Why do you have to wait here?” he asked quietly.
The man beckoned him closer. “I have to wait for him,” he whispered. “He’s gone I think, but he might hear me if I’m too loud. He’s dangerous, you see. I have to be careful. I shouldn’t be talking to you.”
Doyle, trying to make sense of this, remembered what Leroy had said about a sentinel and guide hanging about. Uncomfortable apprehension made him speak sharply. “You were here with a sentinel?”
The man backed further away. He was a miserable wreck, and Doyle tried to contain his growing concern and anger. “Listen, no one has the right to terrify you like this. You’re not bonded? Then there’s no reason at all for you to stay in this situation. Anyway, it seems quite possible your sentinel has some questions to answer.” He held out his ID. “Ray Doyle, CI5. I’d like to know why you were at Victoria Station today.”
The man blinked at him. “You are a guide?”
“And I’m in CI5. That should give you some confidence in it.”
“If I’m not here, he’ll kill me. It’s not just a threat. He… that’s what he does. I can’t help it. I never wanted to help him…” His voice started to rise, panicky, on the borderline of hysteria. Doyle grabbed him by the arm, with no time for it now that his own worry was increasing.
“Where has the sentinel gone?”
“I don’t know. I’m not allowed to know anything. He was looking… all morning… I had to help. He must have seen or heard what he wanted.”
“Shit,” Doyle said, and the man flinched from his anger. “All right. You’re coming with me. What’s your name?”
“Verey. Paul Verey. But please…”
Doyle didn’t particularly want a scene, but he did want to be on the move, quickly, if someone had gone after Leroy. He took out his R/T. “3.7…? 3.7…? Bodie!”
“All right, keep your curls on,” Bodie’s voice came back. “What is it?”
“Can you come down here now. We’ve got a problem and I think I might have got a material witness.”
As he’d half-expected, one look at Bodie reduced Verey to silent, frightened obedience. They left him in the station manager’s office, with the station’s own security to watch him.
“I’ll call for someone to pick him up,” Bodie said.
Doyle hesitated. He didn’t want to inflict any more fear on the man. “Nah. He can sit here ’til we come back for him. “No one could get any sense out of him at the moment anyway.”
They were already on their way, the crowd parting a little at the harshness of their faces and their evident urgency.
“What if he runs?” Bodie said.
“He’s too scared to run. Anyway, they’re watching him. Forget about him for now. We need to find Leroy before anyone else does. He’d be safe ’til he was in the open. I know roughly where he lives. We might do it quicker by car…”
“I’ve got the light,” Bodie said, thinking about it. The blue flashing light and siren just occasionally came in useful. He utilised them now, following Doyle’s directions to a part of London he didn’t know well, where there were cheaper shops and more rubbish in the streets and the sleety rain and wind caught garish Christmas lights and made the night a flickering pattern of colours above the lighted shops. The main streets were busy here, but Doyle knew that these weren’t the quickest route. He turned down a side street, into a backstreet that was almost empty.
“Listen for any trouble anywhere ahead of us. There’s some places between us and the estate where you could mug someone without raising a flicker of interest.”
“I’m not getting anything out of the ordinary. There are people about, but nothing happening.”
Doyle knew that the chance of Bodie picking anything up in advance of an attack was frustratingly small, but he was aware of a growing sense of fear. It built in him as they hurried along, building almost to panic, and he was hard put to it to identify exactly why.
Until he realised it wasn’t his own fear.
Focussed on Leroy, he was somehow picking up what Leroy was feeling. That was it; he was sure of it. There was something recognisable in the fear, like a familiar voice. And that meant that Leroy couldn’t be far away. And given the rate the fear was building, it was more than time to find him.
“They’re close,” he said to Bodie sharply. “Leroy’s scared stiff. Must know someone’s following him, I’d guess.”
“Sorry,” Bodie said shortly. “Give me something to go on, a direction maybe.”
Doyle thought a moment. “Somewhere quiet. Two people, keeping a distance, front one setting the pace. Try that.” He gripped Bodie’s arm to make sure he didn’t lose himself as he stretched to hear around a number of streets.
“Two choices,” Bodie said after a long minute’s silence. “Straight ahead, maybe ten minutes away, or over to the left, those two moving a bit faster.”
Doyle hesitated, fearing the wrong choice. “Can’t you tell another sentinel?” he asked angrily .
“Not always,” Bodie said, still infuriatingly calm. “Look—we’d better split up. Which way do you want?”
Doyle hesitated and then chose left, moving fast now he’d made his mind up. An alley between the shops was a short cut and he began to run down it, past the bins and overflowing black rubbish bags, feeling the fear grow more tangible ’til he was sure this was the right direction. He wished he could see ahead into the rainy darkness. “Bodie!” he called, hoping enough of Bodie’s attention was still on him to pick that up. The alley ended in a morass of rain soaked cardboard boxes and he found himself in a narrow backstreet with only one working street light. The panic he was picking up was rising to a crescendo. He ran to the corner and saw the end of the pursuit.
Howling in terror, Leroy was being roughly seized by a big, light-haired man who had to be the sentinel. With streetwise instincts he kicked out at the man, but ineffectually. The sentinel was too well trained. This wouldn’t be a street brawl. Leroy must already have the wallet, Doyle thought, realising his location and that they’d been heading towards him. This would be his return journey. The man must have waited for him to pick it up, and now he’d break him in two to get it if he needed to.
There was no chance of a clear shot. Doyle’s only choice—and he suspected it wasn’t a good one—was to add his weight to Leroy’s and hope that the advantage of surprise might help him.
It did in the moment he launched his assault. The sentinel’s hold on Leroy briefly slackened as Doyle’s fist hit his kidneys and he registered a new combatant. Panicked beyond rational thought, Leroy probably didn’t even realise what had happened or that Doyle was there. At any rate, he broke free and bolted, and although that meant Doyle was on his own, he was glad of it. All he had to do now was make sure the sentinel didn’t go after Leroy and the wallet…
It wasn’t the easiest task he’d ever taken on. The sentinel was a good deal stronger and more heavily built, and although Doyle could normally handle someone well over his weight, this man was trained—military elite type training as far as he could tell. He hardly had time to assess it, or to think at all as they fought—he only knew he was having to struggle desperately to hold his own, relying on his speed and a variety of martial disciplines. Hoping desperately for Bodie’s arrival, he gave it all he’d got.
Briefly it was enough. Whether he’d have had the stamina to keep it up, he didn’t find out. The wet street, or more probably the garbage he’d run through, betrayed him into slipping slightly as he moved. The momentary unbalancing gave the sentinel an opening, and a blow that Doyle only half dodged missed its mark but sent him smashing into the wall of one of the buildings. He dropped, the wind knocked out of him, and tried to kick the man’s legs out from under him. A foot took him in the ribs, and then, still wheezing to get in a proper breath, he was hauled upright and a blow to the head sent him reeling into the wall again.
“I know what you are,” the sentinel said, the hate and contempt in him overwhelming. “How dare you touch me?”
The street began to spin about Doyle, light and dark and shadows in a giddying swirl, and he couldn’t find his voice. His mouth was full of blood, half choking him. He felt a savage satisfaction in spite of it. The man hadn’t gone after Leroy, even now he had the chance. He’d let his hate hold him here until it was too late. Unprofessional, he thought, even as another blow sent his head and back jarring painfully against the wall, unprofessional and very very stupid, because Bodie was coming now. He could no longer hear or see clearly, but he could feel it somehow—Bodie close by and possessed of a sort of cold black anger that would make him unstoppable.
The sentinel must have seen him or heard him. Doyle was suddenly abandoned, the grip on him gone. He hit the wet pavement, but he hardly felt it over the other pain. He wanted to move, to rejoin the fight, but darkness closed in on him if he even tried to lift his face from the puddles. He’d have to be rescued by Bodie, he thought dizzily. Undignified. He’d never hear the end of it.
He couldn’t get his eyes to focus on the fighting, or hear much past the hot throbbing of his pulse, but there was noise and thuds and a curse from Bodie, and then he thought running feet. It was the blond sentinel who’d broken away and run, he could sense that. Get after him you idiot, he wanted to say, but all that happened when he opened his mouth was that he started to cough blood and rainwater.
“Ray?” A familiar hand, using a sentinel’s sensitivity of touch to check his neck and back before he was cautiously lifted. “You with me, sunshine?”
Doyle coughed again painfully round a couple of loosened teeth. “Should’ve gone after him,” he managed.
“Where’s your lad with the wallet?”
“Bolted.” He found himself propped against Bodie’s knee while his partner checked the level of damage, capable hands running lightly over his chest, his face, tilting his chin up so the world spun again and he needed the warmth of the hand against his skin to keep him with reality.
” ‘m okay,” he tried to say.
“I don’t think so,” Bodie said. “Slight concussion, cracked rib, a lot too many bruises, cut on the back of your head that’s still bleeding. I think we’ll go and check out the nurses in A&E.”
Doyle should never have taught him to do that stuff so accurately. Was he concussed? It was difficult to argue about it while leaning on Bodie was the only thing that kept him from being flat on the pavement. Fuzzily he was aware of being lifted first into a sitting position, then to his feet, held there by Bodie’s arm. He wanted to say A&E could wait, that they needed to find Leroy, get the wallet, call for some back up. But maybe Bodie had called for backup. He kept losing track. Bodie was talking now, and he couldn’t focus on the words, only on the sound. It was oddly comforting. Bodie’s voice and supporting arms and the indefinable bond between them filled up his world ’til he was hardly aware of the discomfort of moving. He let his aching head drop against the wet leather of Bodie’s jacket. The last thing he remembered was concentrating very hard indeed on stumbling along because if it was undignified being rescued by Bodie, it would be a hell of a lot worse being picked up and carried to the car like a baby.
The wind from the sea had cleared the rain from the south east coast and replaced it with a chilly brightness. Pat Cardew was glad of the cold air as he trudged uphill. He glanced at Frances from time to time. She seemed to be enjoying the steep walk; the wind had whipped her hair about and reddened her cheeks, and she looked uncomplicatedly happy.
He glanced at his watch. Early afternoon. They’d reach Cliff Cottage well before dark. He was glad to be out of Ashford. Two nights there had convinced him it was too busy a place for him to be sure he could keep them both safe if anyone decided to look for them. Anyway, Frances’ great aunt had apparently not used the Ashford flat for some time. The neighbour said it had been shut up since the previous spring. “She usually comes for the winter,” she said. “But not this year. I’m sorry, dear. She spends the warmer months in an old family house on the coast, and I think she must have decided to stay there. Perhaps you know the place?”
Frances had smiled sweetly and avoided answering that, but she had known the place, or remembered enough from a couple of childhood holidays to think she could find it. Cardew found it easy to let her take the lead. It left him free to concentrate on being certain no one was following them.
Now as they emerged from the farmhouses and grassland into more wooded slopes, he asked. “Will your great aunt remember you?”
“I shouldn’t think so. I haven’t met her since I was a toddler. Last time I came here I was ten and we didn’t see her, just used the house as part of a holiday. Then my parents got divorced and it was my father’s family, so mother and I didn’t come again.”
“You remember the way well.”
Frances nodded. “I loved this walk down into Clyffe from the cottage. Even if she’s not there, Pat, we could get in and stay there. You’ll like it. It’s the sort of place a sentinel can guard.”
He realised what she meant when they came out onto the open cliff top, and he saw it. In spite of its name, Cliff Cottage was a sizeable house, old, with its red brick weathered by the sea wind. It stood on the top of the chalk cliffs, with wide gardens round it. It was perfect, and it somehow looked familiar; he must have been somewhere similar, though he couldn’t imagine when. When they got closer, he could see that it was in need of some upkeep, and the garden was getting overgrown, but there was smoke coming from the chimney, and he could see a reading lamp was switched on inside.
“Someone’s there,” he said. “You’d better wait while I see who.”
“Check it from here,” Frances said practically. “If it is great aunt Doris she must be well into her eighties. We don’t want to frighten her by prowling round.”
He let Frances lead him to use his hearing and ascertain only one heartbeat in the building, and that slightly frail. “I don’t know if it’s her or not, but whoever it is shouldn’t be a threat,” he decided.
“Good,” Frances said. “Follow me and stop looking so threatening.”
He’d have to ask Ellison sometime if an element of bossiness was a guide thing or a female thing or both. Out of Frances hearing, of course. He followed her between bare lavender bushes that needed cutting back, to the faded front door. Frances looked for a bell, then decided to knock. “We can get through a gate into the back garden and tap on the French windows if she doesn’t hear us,” she said, but after a long pause he could hear someone approaching the front door.
The woman who opened it was very elderly, but upright and with a sort of dignified gentleness to her manner. “Aunt Doris?” Frances said politely. “I’m Frances. I don’t suppose you remember me…”
She broke off, because the woman was not looking at her, but at Pat, as if she had seen a ghost. “Ralph?” she breathed. The little colour in her face had left it completely. She put one hand against the doorpost to prop herself up.
“Aunt Doris?” Frances said, alarmed. The woman looked deeply shocked, but she recovered herself now.
“Yes, of course. Frances. It’s been so very long since I last saw you. I’m sorry to worry you, my dear. It was just a mistake, a memory… a likeness. Of course I remember you, though I don’t think I would have recognised you. Come in, both of you.”
“We’re sorry to come without warning,” Frances said. “It’s really quite a long story.”
“Well perhaps you’d like a cup of tea while I hear it,” Aunt Doris said. She sounded more normal now, but Pat could hear the unevenness of her heartbeat. The cup of tea was probably a good idea. He wondered what the woman could have seen in him to make her react like that.
The hallway was rather dark and the furniture in it was all polished oak. Frances looked round it eagerly. “It hasn’t changed,” she said. “Aunt Doris, I’m so glad you were here. Oh, and I should have said—this is Pat, Pat Cardew. We’re sort of engaged.”
His name seemed to have almost the same effect as his face had done, though this time he could only really tell from the woman’s sudden stillness, and a racing of her heartbeat. Then she seemed to gather herself together and turned to him. “You’re very welcome here, Pat. Come and sit down, both of you.”
He was puzzled as he went into the light drawing room, puzzled but not worried. Something about Aunt Doris, a sort of gentle strength of character perhaps, reminded him very much of Frances herself. Frances was right. They couldn’t have come to a better place. Late that night, he took a last look around before locking up for the old lady. There was no one to hear, nothing but the sea. If anyone had thought they were worth pursuing, they’d lost them. Maybe no one had cared too much. Maybe they’d run fast enough and far enough to leave the consequences behind.
Bodie stretched his legs and leaned back in the rather uncomfortable hospital chair. The room was silent and dimly lit. Doyle was asleep, but not particularly peaceful. Occasional mutters of pain escaped him, and without waking he would rub at the swelling round his mouth. For the third time in as many minutes Bodie reached out to stop him.
He wasn’t supposed to be here. He and Cowley had had a… difference of opinion about it when the old man found out that Bodie had invoked his authority to demand a separate room, and put on a round the clock guard. It was hard to prove the need for a security presence, but Bodie had heard the almost obsessive hate in the other sentinel’s voice as he spoke to Doyle. There was something not quite sane about it, and he wasn’t leaving his partner alone and vulnerable. Cowley had rather doubtfully agreed to the need for some protection on the room; he hadn’t agreed at all that Bodie needed to do it himself. Luckily an urgent phone call had summoned him off to some meeting in the Home Office, and Bodie had been left to act on his own judgment.
Now he reached out yet again, and caught Doyle’s hand before he could rub his mouth and start the bleeding up. There were a couple of stitches in his lip, but the doctor had thought it would heal without a scar. Just as well, Bodie thought. He could do without any more scars. He looked a mess at the moment, with bruises coming out, and though all of it was superficial it had to be painful.
Doyle pulled irritably at his hand, found it was trapped and woke up. “Wha’?”
“I’ve got orders from a very nice night nurse. You’re not to rub those stitches.”
Doyle shifted uncomfortably. “Shit. Everything hurts. Time?”
“Four o’clock. Go back to sleep.”
Doyle seemed on the verge of obeying; whatever painkillers they’d decided were safe definitely made him sleepier than normal. But he opened his eyes again to ask, “Leroy?”
“We haven’t found him, but nor has anyone else. Now he knows someone’s after him I imagine he’ll take good care of himself. Some of the locals might know where he is, but if so they’re not talking to our boys.”
He hoped Doyle wouldn’t think of the other problem, but after a moment Doyle said, “Who got Verey?”
“No one. He ran before anyone had gone to pick him up. He’d been so quiet the station officer got careless, I gather.”
Doyle swore softly. “Damn, damn, damn. I never thought he’d run. He’d’ve been safer with us.”
Bodie had everyone available out looking for him, mostly because he was their last lead. They should have had him shipped off to Cowley straight away but it was no good saying that to Doyle, who knew as well as he did it had been the wrong call. No good, ever, thinking ‘what if’. You had to deal with what you’d got. He changed the subject, deciding the last thing Doyle needed was to be blaming himself.
“Ellison and Sandburg will be here by tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “If you get a bit more sleep the medical establishment might let you out by then. Be good to see them again.”
Doyle nodded, but he wasn’t distracted. “Verey was terrified, y’know. Why would he run? Can you imagine what will happen to him if they think he talked?”
“No good borrowing trouble,” Bodie said quietly. “Murphy and MacCabe are on it. They’re good.” He’d hoped to postpone this conversation ’til morning; Doyle was too tired and battered right now to think clearly.
“I should’ve sent him straight to Cowley,” Doyle said wearily. “If anything happens to him…”
Bodie didn’t try to argue. Instead he reached out a hand to Doyle’s shoulder, and in a way that was still rare with them, opened up the indefinable bond that still seemed to him more a partnership thing than some inherent connection of sentinel and guide. He didn’t need to say anything. Warmth seemed to spread from his hand, and he felt some of the stiff misery leave Doyle; their eyes met acknowledging what they hardly understood.
“Thanks,” Doyle said softly after a minute. “But Cowley…”
“Cowley’s safely tucked up with his hotwater bottle and flannel pyjamas, dreaming of that old bird from the Home Secretary’s office.”
“No one’s supposed to know we’re bonded… I don’t think the nurses even know I’m a guide…”
“The nurses are having toast in their little cubby hole. They’re too busy to come disturbing you. Want to know what they’re discussing?”
Bodie shook his head. “That, my son, shows just how little you know about women.”
“Clothes? Films? Babies?”
Doyle blinked, his eyes not quite as focussed now he was beginning to relax. “How d’you discuss chocolate?” he complained. “You just eat it.”
“Perhaps discuss wasn’t quite the word I wanted,” Bodie agreed, happy to talk nonsense if it sent his partner back to sleep. “More of a sort of joint eulogy of truffles and pralines and chocolate coated coffee beans. Tomorrow when we get you out of here I shall bring in whatever seems to be the general favourite; there’s a very pretty brunette…”
Doyle yawned. “Did I see her?”
“Well, possibly not in focus. But she was very sympathetic when you came in.”
“Don’t remember.” He let his eyes close, apparently losing interest in the conversation. Bodie kept the contact of the bond, but fell silent now, listening for the changes in heartbeat and breathing that would mean Doyle had finally gone back to sleep. Even when he heard them he didn’t move.
Blair looked with lively interest at the rather dingy corridors of CI5 headquarters. He found the structures of law and order fascinating. This could not have been more different from the bullpen and yet there was something similar in the professionalism of the men and women and their sense of purpose. He glanced at Jim, who looked as if he approved; probably encouraged by the lack of any sign that Christmas was approaching.
A stunning blonde came up to them and introduced herself simply as Susie. She had the air Megan had, of being able to twist your head off in one move if you annoyed her, but Blair thought it would be worth the risk. He’d have to ask Bodie about her. Bodie had said he and Doyle would be here, though when they’d seen them the previous afternoon, Doyle had looked far too bruised to be at work.
“I’ll take you along to Mr Cowley,” Susie offered.
Bodie appeared from a side door as they followed her, and nudged Blair. His frank appreciation of Susie’s attractions must have been showing. “She knows more ways to kill with her bare hands than I do,” he murmured.
Blair shrugged. “What can I say. I live with danger…”
“You’ll have to brush up on your unarmed combat.”
Doyle, joining them then, said drily, “We don’t all have to wrestle women to the ground before we can get a date. Ellison seems to be managing all right.”
Blair realised that while he’d been distracted his devious partner had moved ahead and now had Susie’s wholehearted attention. He had to abandon any thought of regaining the initiative too, because they’d now reached Cowley’s office. A general glare from the Scotsman brought them all more or less to attention, and Susie went briskly off.
“Sit down all of you,” Cowley said irritably. “It’s not a parade.”
He waited a moment and turned to Jim. “I gather Bodie briefed you yesterday on our progress, or lack of it. Have you had any more success tracing the English relatives of your missing people?”
“A little,” Jim said, handing over a file. “It’s been quite difficult. Cardew’s father was brought up by his maternal grandparents, and Frances’ parents were divorced; her mother seems to have deliberately dropped all contact with the father. In both cases the paternal side would have been the English connection. We’ve made some progress with Cardew though. Apparently his grandfather was the heir of Lord Reckness, but he gave up all rights to the title and any money there was and headed for the States straight after the last war. Security One tried to contact the family, but there was only a second cousin who is now practically senile.”
Cowley was looking at the file with more interest than Blair would have expected. “So his grandfather was Ralph Cardew… I’ve heard of him. He and his partner did a damn good job for military intelligence during the last war.” He was silent for a surprisingly long time. Bodie in the end asked tentatively, “No connection now?”
“He resigned after the war. Some near disaster on their last assignment, I believe, or perhaps it was a woman. Anyway, he went off to the States, and that was it. Interesting his grandson should have gone into this line of work.” He glanced through the file again. “You’ve got nothing on the girl… what’s her name again?”
“Francis Levison,” Jim said.
Blair could feel as well as see Cowley’s sudden sharpening of interest. “Is it indeed. I knew when I saw the original reports there was something… Leave this with me. We might be able to approach it from a slightly different angle. Now for the..”
His telephone interrupted whatever he’d been going to say. Blair watched his face as his abrupt “Cowley” was followed by a long silence. He wondered if Jim was listening to the voice at the other end. Bodie was, he thought, and by his face and Cowley’s it wasn’t good news. Cowley gave some brief instructions and replaced the phone. For a moment he looked at Bodie, then he said to all of them, “There’s another lead you won’t be following up. They’ve just taken Verey’s body out of the Thames.”
Doyle turned away, fists clenched, for a moment. When he turned back he was white faced but his voice was dispassionate as he asked. “Executed?”
“Not in any obvious way. They haven’t determined cause of death yet.” His voice was brisk, and nothing showed in his face but Blair could feel an underlying concern in him. For himself he would have liked nothing better than to go and put his arm round Doyle, but he knew it wouldn’t be accepted. Even Bodie had checked his instinctive movement of support. “We should be able to find out something of his background now; prints and dental records are being run,” Cowley went on. “In the meantime, though…”
For the second time in less than five minutes he was interrupted. This time it was a knock on the door, followed by the entrance of a tall, pleasant-looking man.
“Murphy?” Cowley said, his tone implying there had better be an excellent reason for the intrusion.
“Sorry, sir. There’s this girl at reception asking for Doyle, and she says it’s urgent. And she’s got a baby with her howling like a banshee. Reception have had enough…”
Doyle, startled into attention from some remote place of misery, asked, “With a baby?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not the sins of your youth coming home to haunt you, not unless you’ve got West Indian ancestors we don’t know about.”
“Shania,” Doyle said abruptly. “Leroy must have sent her. Bring her up, Murph.”
“Not in here,” Cowley said firmly.
“He looks a nice little lad, sir,” Murphy said, deadpan. “Powerful lungs though.”
Cowley glared at him, and he went without pursuing the point, Doyle close behind him. Bodie glanced at the others, then at Cowley who had picked up the file again. “If you’ve finished with us, sir?”
“Yes, Bodie. Go and find out if she’s brought us anything useful. And make our visitors at home,” he added with a belated nod to Ellison and Sandburg. “I need to make some telephone calls.”
Sentinel hearing was not required to locate the mother and baby. An impressive volume of noise was coming from the CI5 restroom, and when Bodie opened the door it was to reveal a pretty girl extricating her breast from a tight Tshirt and hastily unbuttoned short leather jacket. The baby latched on instantly with a suck like a vampire’s and the sudden silence seemed almost solid.
“I’ll make you a cup of tea,” Doyle said to her. “Leroy sent you?”
“Yeah. He’s shitting hisself, Mr Doyle. I never seen him so scared.”
“He’s all right, though?” Doyle said, hastily rinsing a cup.
“Fine. I had a go at him for leavin’ you to it last night, though. Weren’t right.”
“It was sensible,” Doyle said, bringing her the tea.
“What, an’ leave you to get done over like that? He did come back, but your mate was mixing it by then and so he scarpered. Says he had to get that wallet somewhere safe. He did do that. I got it for you now, but you’ll have to wait a minute for me to get it. If I move now this little bastard’ll let rip again.” She looked down at the baby lovingly in spite of her words, and Blair momentarily saw her as a dark madonna in skintight leathers. “He’s a greedy little so and so.”
“Seven months?” Doyle asked. “He’s a big boy.”
“Yeah. I oughter get ‘im on a bottle, but he likes his tit.” Bodie opened his mouth, and closed it hastily at a glare from Doyle, remark unmade. Shania stroked the baby’s cheek. “Leroy’s gone away for a bit. I’m off to join him. Somewhere they can’t easy make trouble for us.”
“They?” Bodie asked.
Shania shrugged. “I dunno. See, it’s like there’s always been a load of little groups—East London’s worst—Albion party, white nationalists, all of ’em against us and Pakis and ones like you Mr Doyle. Well, someone’s kind of organising them now. Don’t think hardly anyone knows who. But they get cash. And they do jobs. Like beating you up and smashing your stuff if you cross the wrong people. That sentinel that was after Leroy—we shouldn’t’ve crossed ‘im.”
“But you’ve brought us the wallet now,” Bodie said.
Doyle shook his head. “They’ll still want to make the point though—’don’t mess with us’. And there’s plenty of thugs available to take part in a racist beating.”
” ‘S right,” Shania agreed, expertly detaching the baby and handing it to Doyle. “And Leroy don’t want beating, so don’t look for us round here for a bit. Hope you can use that wallet to show ’em they’re not so bloody big as they think.”
The baby burped happily into Doyle’s neck, and gave a good tug at a handy curl. Doyle looked alive again, rescued by this abundant vitality. He winced as the baby headbutted his bruised chin, and Bodie reached out and rescued him. “Watch it,” he said to the baby. “You’re a bully, you know that?”
“He don’t care,” Shania agreed, rummaging in a large bag. “I put the wallet in with ‘is nappies. Thought it’d be safer.” She pulled out a small transparent plastic bag with the wallet in and handed it to Doyle. “Oughter be able to get prints off that.”
Blair, entertained by the twin expressions on Jim and Bodie’s faces as a characteristic odour wafted from the bag, helped her bundle everything in again.
“We’ll get someone to drive you where you want to go,” Doyle said. “Come to that, we can arrange protection…”
Shania shook her head. “No offence, Mr Doyle, but that’d drop us in the shit with our own folk. A lift’d be nice. We can manage after that. Oops. I should’ve warned you. He often does that.”
The baby, full to bursting, had brought up a curdy mouthful onto Bodie’s shoulder. Doyle looked at Ellison and they both began to laugh uncontrollably. Blair, who’d done the baby thing in a number of different cultures and found it didn’t vary a lot—keep one end wet and one dry was a reasonable rule of thumb—took the little boy from Bodie and rubbed his back ’til he gave a resounding belch.
“Nice work Sandburg,” Jim said, still laughing. “Don’t tell me, women like men who can burp babies.”
“Don’t you tease ‘im,” Shania said, wiping Bodie’s jacket with a piece of cloth and ignoring the look on his face. “Some men’ve got the knack. You’ll be a lovely dad some day,” she added to Blair. “My Leroy, he don’t turn his nose up at nappies nor nothin’.” She held out her arms to Blair, and the baby hurled himself happily into them. “Now, Mr Doyle. You serious about that lift? I gotta go.”
“I’ll get Susie to drive you,” Doyle said. “She doesn’t look like a policewoman. And Shania—thanks for coming.”
Shania paused, nappy bag dangling, the baby on her hip. “I done it for ‘im,” she said, looking down, her face quite serious now. “I don’t want ‘im to grow up into a world like that, so it don’t make sense to do nothin’.”
Then she turned to go off with Doyle, and the room seemed much drabber for her absence. Bodie went to deliver the wallet to some appropriate department, and Jim said softly, “That’s not such a bad principle.”
“That’s motherhood for you,” Blair said. “I don’t suppose she ever gave the future much thought ’til she had a baby. Mind you, she could still have done nothing. It can’t have been easy for her coming here. She must trust Ray quite a bit.”
“She did him good,” Jim said.
Blair was silent, thinking about the body of the guide, Verey, taken from the river. He wondered how he’d died. Something about the way Cowley had spoken made him wonder if the police thought Verey had drowned himself. Out of fear?
“Did you tell CI5 about what Rudi said?” he asked abruptly.
Jim handed him a really unappetising cup of coffee. “I told Bodie. He knew Rudi. It wouldn’t have made so much sense to anyone who didn’t. In my report I just put that he seemed to recognise the photo.”
“It was an odd thing to say, fear,” Blair mused. “I mean, people don’t talk in abstract nouns normally.”
“People can normally manage more than a monosyllable,” Jim pointed out.
“I still don’t think it was like Rudi,” Blair said. “He’s… I don’t know… more practical somehow. I mean, what does ‘fear’ tell you?”
“Depends how you understand it,” Bodie said, coming back in. “Leave that stuff, it’s vile. We’ll get a decent coffee on the way. Uncle George has just worked one of his miracles. We’re going to visit an old lady in Ashford. We’ll get Ray and get straight off.”
“An old lady?” Blair asked, thankfully tipping the coffee down the sink.
“Some aunt or something of Frances. I knew Cowley had something in mind when he was reading that file. He’ll have been on the phone to retired spies or knackered brigadiers or something and dug up a connection. He’s not telling us everything I don’t think.”
“Need to know,” muttered Doyle, joining them. “You driving?”
“Can’t inflict Ellison on the home counties,” Bodie said, “and you’re not driving with a cracked rib and a head like that.”
Doyle didn’t argue; he was asleep before they’d been on the road ten minutes. Blair watched the grey wet city turn to grey wet fields. He’d read somewhere that they really had white Christmasses in the UK in Charles Dickens’ day, mini ice age or something. “What’s the date?” he asked.
“Twentieth,” Bodie said. “If this comes off, maybe you’ll be home for Christmas.”
“Doubt if we’d get a flight,” Jim said. “What about you and Doyle.”
“Working. Instead of a jolly fat man in a red suit, we’re going to get the Scottish version of Scrooge. If you’re still here, we’ll think of something to do though.”
More grey fields, a stop for coffee. Doyle woke up enough to point out that Ashford was on the Victoria line, then went back to sleep. It was afternoon before they arrived at the address Cowley had given them. Bodie rang the bell. No answer. He was just turning away when the door of the neighbouring flat opened.
“She’s not here, dear. I keep telling everyone, she hasn’t come into town for Christmas this year.”
“Where would I find her?” Bodie asked, simultaneously with Doyle querying: “Everyone?” The woman looked nervous at the abrupt questions and Doyle flipped open his ID. “We do need to find her, ma’am. We’d appreciate any help you can give us.”
“I don’t know exactly where she lives; it’s a place on the coast, near Clyffe. That’s what I told the last gentlemen.”
“How long ago was this?” Bodie asked.
“Oh, not more than an hour. Then a few days ago there was a nice young couple. I do hope there’s not a problem, she’s a very nice lady.”
“Was this one of the gentlemen?” Bodie offered her the picture of Ryman.
“Yes, dear, I think it was. They set off straight away, though.”
Blair could see that she was quite unconscious of having caused any alarm or urgency and would happily have gone on chatting, but he found himself alone as the others with one accord turned for the stairs. “Thanks for your help,” he said hastily. “Have a happy Christmas.”
“Sandburg!” came Jim’s voice, not sounding patient. Doyle was already on the R/T to Cowley, trying to get the address of the house on the coast, as they clattered down the flights of stairs.
“Will Ryman be able to get it?” Blair asked, out of breath.
“If he found this one, he’s obviously got some sources of information,” Bodie said. The low grey cloud had turned darker and it was drizzling as they went outside. Although it wasn’t three o’clock yet, the light already seemed to be fading. Blair wondered just how bleak it could be at the coast.
The information from Cowley came as they headed along the A20. “Sounds remote,” Doyle relayed to them. “On the top of the cliffs. You can’t get all the way by car, and the earlier part’s no more than a lane. Cowley’s alerting the local force, but there’s no one particularly close.”
It was getting perceptibly dark now. By the time they were sliding up a steep muddy farmtrack over the ruts made by tractors, the light was almost gone, and the night was too heavily overcast for moon or stars to help. Doyle, in touch with the local police now, was able to give accurate enough directions, but they got to a point where the lane simply ran out, leaving only the option of a track through conifers, still leading upwards.
“This is crazy,” Bodie muttered, as they got out into a cold rain blowing hard from what Blair guessed must be the direction of the sea. “What old lady would live somewhere as cut off as this.”
Doyle motioned to him for quiet. “She is living up here,” he said softly. “The police said the people from the pub in Clyffe take up groceries and look in on her. And that means Ryman need only have asked in the pub to get directions if he spun a good enough tale. We need you two to listen. If there’s anyone up ahead of us, it must be them. No one’s going to be paying social calls along the cliffs on a night like this.”
Blair turned to Jim, who was more a warmth in the darkness than really visible. “Okay?” he whispered, resting his hand on Jim’s arm.
Jim was a moment orienting himself, then Blair could feel the slight tensing in his muscles as he focussed. “I can hear the wind and rain so loudly it’s hard to separate out other noises.”
“Listen for something that doesn’t belong out here,” Blair said softly. “A voice, maybe the click of a torch. If you…”
He stopped as Jim suddenly gripped his arm. “I’ve got them, I think… Bodie?”
“There was something electronic… a watch maybe. What d’you reckon. Ten minutes ahead of us?”
“About that. I think I can trace them now; there’s a sort of rhythm of footsteps once you tune in, even though the ground is so soft.”
“How many people?” Doyle asked softly.
“Three. Could even be four. Multiple heartbeats, anyway.”
“There’s no light,” Bodie said, apparently trying sight rather than sound. “And they’re moving at a reasonable speed.”
“So it’s odds on they’ve a sentinel with them. But they’re probably focussed ahead; they’ve no reason to be listening for us, so that gives us an advantage. Can the two of you work together—Bodie ‘see’ the way for all of us, Jim you concentrate on tracking them. We can catch up with them. Their pace will take the conditions into account; ours doesn’t have to.”
That sounded ominous to Blair as soon as Doyle said it. It wasn’t that he was unfit, far from it, and he had trekked through terrain much worse than this. But he didn’t spend the time in training that the other three did, and though he and Jim worked together, he’d very seldom had to simply follow Jim though a landscape he couldn’t see at all. Wet branches brushed at his face; if there had been more undergrowth he’d never have kept his feet; he was cold and wet and stumbling into someone at every other step. He had no idea where he was going or whether they were catching up on the other group at all. Then, suddenly, everyone stopped and he had no idea why except that the wind was so much fiercer they must have come out into the open, and while he was taking that in Jim threw him down on his face in the mud, and there was a noise that cut sharply through the sound of wind and sea. Someone had just shot at them.
“Give it up Ryman,” Bodie called. “You’re not going to get down from here. The police are already at the bottom of the road.”
No answer. Jim said low and urgent, “They’re coming back towards us.” He pulled Blair out of the mud a little and said sharply, “Get back under cover.”
Blair had no idea where cover was; he had no idea where anything was, not even Jim once Jim moved. There was a shot so close that it had to be Bodie or Doyle, then Bodie’s voice, satisfied, “Their sentinel’s disarmed. Go for it.”
Blair followed blindly, at least able to make out the black silhouettes of his own side now they were on their feet. It was really open here, he thought, staying with Jim and realising that another black and solid shape was charging into Jim. There was a confusion of noise and he had no idea who was on top, then he heard a muffled obscenity from underneath which was definitely Jim, and saw a second attacker about to add to the problems. “All right,” said Doyle’s voice from behind him, but he knew Doyle shouldn’t be in this. He hurled himself forward, tackling the aggressor low and rolling over with him.
There was a brief and painful flurry of blows; he fought with all the tricks Jim had tried to teach him, and they rolled gouging each other through the mud.
Then from behind him came twin yells of warning from Bodie and Ellison, and a howl of terror from the man he was struggling with, and there was no mud under his legs any more. There was no ground any more! Someone gripped his wrist with a grunt of effort and he realised with horror he was being held on the very edge of the cliff, his legs were over and he was being pulled down by the weight of the man he’d been fighting who was clinging to them desperately. His other wrist was grasped now. Not Bodie, not Jim, he realised. Had the police got here? His chest scraped on a brittle edge and he felt the ground give, so he and the man clutching him dangled free. There was a grunt of pain from Doyle and a gasp from the other man as they kept their grip. He felt as if he was being torn in two and his arms were coming out of their sockets, and he could hear waves sickeningly far below.
Then Jim was there.
He couldn’t look up, and he certainly couldn’t manage a rational thought, but he knew with absolute certainty Jim was there even before he felt the additional grasp on his arms. The wind still plucked at him, and the drop was tangible, and he’d pulled every muscle he’d got, but now Jim was there he couldn’t fall. Someone leaned perilously over, and the weight on his legs eased a little, then there was painful tugging and wrenching, and he was inching upwards; the man who’d gone over with him was being hauled up with him, and somehow he found room in a corner of his mind to be glad of that.
“Okay, Chief,” Jim said, then his arms were back on a solid surface, and his body too, face down in the trampled grass and earth. He’d happily have rolled in mud all night just to forget the feeling of hanging over nothingness, but better and warmer was the fierce hold Jim pulled him into. “That,” Jim said, “was a really bad move!”
“Tell me about it,” he mumbled. “No one told me we were near the edge. Did you get Ryman?”
“Bodie and Cardew have got him.”
Blair had been considering the appeal of just passing out where he was, but curiosity was a great restorer. “Cardew?” he asked.
“Turned up just in time,” Doyle said from nearby. “I’m not sure I could have held you on my own. Ellison—is that a light?”
“Cars back where we came from,” Jim said.
“Good, that’ll be the local lads.”
By the time the police had arrived with lights and numbers of men, Blair had just about got a grip on things again. The jumble of shadows in the dark had sorted itself into three other men beside themselves and Cardew: two crew-cut men who looked as if they might have been soldiers, and Ryman. The sentinel who had been with them had managed to get away. Doyle and Bodie were giving the orders, especially about Ryman—destined for Cowley’s personal attention it seemed.
Ryman seemed unruffled. He was a little muddy, but must have given up the fight very easily. “I doubt very much whether you’ll find any backing for this arrest from Security One,” he said. “I admit I talked to Cardew, but the rest was a misunderstanding. I recruit for an African state. I believe you know about mercenaries? It may be technically a crime, but it hardly warrants this sort of operation.”
“It hardly warrants crossing the Atlantic when someone turns you down,” Jim said.
“And in England we don’t like people carrying guns,” Doyle put in. “You shot at us.”
“My companion shot at you. I’m sure that if you do eventually arrest him, he’ll confirm this. I really don’t think a charge of trying to recruit a junior soldier in the US entitles me to the attention of CI5, and I do have friends who will be putting this point of view to the authorities.”
He sounded so confident that Blair wondered if it was possible for him to get away with it. Then Bodie said in the smooth tone he used when he was at his most dangerous, “Ah, but that won’t be the charge.” He yanked Ryman roughly into the light and twisted his arm up, pushing the sleeve back. Why, Blair couldn’t imagine, but Ryman seemed to be able to, and was suddenly struggling and looking much less assured.
“That’s what I thought,” Bodie said, satisfied, as Ryman’s watch fell to the ground. Pulled forward with Jim, Blair saw a mark tattooed on the inside of the wrist. It was hard to see exactly what the symbol was in the dark.
“Four?” Jim said, puzzled as to its significance.
“Or ‘fear’—at least that’s what it would sound like in some languages. Rudi was speaking all right when he told you that—but not in English.” He turned to Ryman. “CI5 will be holding you on suspicion of having been involved in an assault on a sentinel in Eastern Europe, using a prototype weapon. Since the poor bastard’s still suffering the consequences, you’ll have to have some very powerful friends indeed to get you out of that one.”
It took three policemen now to hold Ryman, and he was cursing Bodie and all of them, and threatening them with coming retribution. “You’re weak. You’re corrupt,” he shouted at they led him away. “You’ve given way to your guides and let them pollute your strength. You have no idea what you are facing. You’ll go under like your sort did before. You think you can hold back history, but you and your…”
Someone, thankfully, must have put a choke hold on him at that point. Blair shivered slightly, shaken not so much by the rhetoric but by the level of hatred and disgust behind it. Jim’s arm across his shoulders stopped the shivering, but he realised the cliff top was clearing , and he was cold, wet, sore and extremely muddy. Cardew, who had disappeared for a moment, came back. “You’d better all come with me,” he said. “Aunt Doris says don’t worry about the mud, just come in the warm.” He looked at Jim slightly nervously. “I’m sorry about all this. I didn’t imagine Ryman would be concerned enough to come after me…”
“You didn’t think at all,” Jim said. “But at least he’s under arrest now.” He glanced over at Bodie. “You two okay?”
“Doyle didn’t do that rib any good,” Bodie said, “but it’s still only cracked. Added a few more bruises. Nothing that won’t mend by itself. Does Aunt Doris have a fire and something hot to drink?”
“She calls it hot toddy,” Cardew said cheerfully, leading the way. “It’s got an impressive kick.”
Blair found that Aunt Doris was remarkably like Frances, or at least what Frances might be in a lot of years time. She welcomed them in, filthy as they were, sent them to do what they could with hot water and loaned them an odd assortment of clothes while Frances put most of what they owned in the washer. It was mostly dressing gowns and some of Cardew’s spare clothes, but Bodie fitted some old fashioned trousers. “They were my brother’s,” she said, as they regrouped in front of the blazing fire in the big sitting-dining room. “I don’t suppose they’ve been worn in more than fifty years. Now, hot drinks I think, and Frances has been baking…”
Blair looked round the room with interest and sipped something hot and sweet which seemed to have an alcohol content suited to shutting out the weather. This was what he felt an English Christmas ought to look like. The tree was in one corner, decorated with ornaments some of which would be valuable antiques. There were bowls of nuts and fruit on the tables, and greenery and scarlet and gold ribbon everywhere. The logs on the fire blazed like something out of a Victorian novel—although judging by Frances’ face, it was altogether too much of a happy ending for most novelists.
Frances and Cardew between them were telling their side of the last couple of weeks. It sounded to Blair as though they’d been incredibly lucky, but he nudged Jim to stop him pointing this out. Cardew was nothing like as brash as he used to be; he was actually quite likeable as he sat next to Frances and said how grateful they were to her aunt. “We just turned up on her doorstep and she took us in. She’s been incredibly generous to us.” He turned to smile at Aunt Doris, who was looking at them both with affection.
Blair glanced involuntarily at Doyle, who was quite certain not to approve of old ladies taking strangers in, but Doyle’s eyes were shut. He was sitting on the floor leaning against Bodie’s chair, and what with the heat of the fire and the physical toll from the fight on the cliff, he’d evidently given up trying to stay awake.
“I couldn’t have turned you away,” Aunt Doris said gently. “And I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s a joy to have you here for Christmas. Both of you…”
She looked as if she might be thinking of saying something else, but there was a peremptory knock on the door and Cardew went to open it. Blair could feel both Jim and Bodie come alert, like a couple of guard dogs, though he wouldn’t have made that comparison aloud. He could hear nothing himself, but they must have been able to, because they shared an amused glance and then Cardew brought George Cowley in.
Cowley, though he must have followed the same path as they had done, looked neat and tidy and no mud seemed to have had the temerity to adhere to him. He greeted Frances and her aunt with slightly old fashioned courtesy. “It’s been many years since we met, Miss Levison,” he added to Aunt Doris. “I’m delighted to see you so well. I hope these lads aren’t making a nuisance of themselves.”
“Certainly not,” Aunt Doris said. “I invited them to come in, and they’re more than welcome. And really, Mr Cowley, I don’t think this poor boy should have been on active duty at all.” Doyle’s battered looks had drawn a good deal of sympathy from her, and she looked at him kindly now as he slept propped against Bodie’s knees. Cowley gave both his men a withering look, but Doyle didn’t wake up to notice it and Bodie just said, “I hope Ryman reached you safely, sir.”
Cowley glanced at the two women. “Unfortunately, Mr Ryman took his own life before he even reached the police station,” he said. “However, you do seem to have made some useful deductions about his activities Bodie, and the information we’re getting from prints on that wallet looks like confirming them. I’ve been in touch with Willis, who is in London for the holiday. He thinks, as I do, that this is just one symptom of something we need to deal with quickly and decisively.”
“Why ‘four’?” Jim asked. “Does that mean anything?”
Blair had been thinking that one over. “Fourth Reich?” he asked. “It would make sense.”
Cowley nodded. “Exactly, Mr Sandburg. We have been aware of some problems in Eastern Europe. This seems a stage beyond what we’ve seen so far.”
Cardew, his mind apparently not on the bigger picture, asked uneasily, “Did you mention me to Controller Willis, sir?”
“I did,” Cowley said. “And while you seem in considerable need of discipline and training, I nevertheless requested for you to be transferred to CI5. Willis approved that. Since that makes you my responsibility, I felt at liberty to deal with some of the chaos you seem to have caused. Your departure from Cascade will not stand against you and your engagement now has official approval.”
He had silenced them all. They stared at him, and the spitting of the logs in the fireplace was the only sound for almost a minute, then Frances said, “Thank you, sir. That’s wonderful news. But how… I mean, we didn’t expect…”
Cowley sipped the whisky Cardew had fetched for him as if he was choosing the right words. “Willis is the last man I would call a sentimentalist,” he said in the end. “However, it seemed to both of us very appropriate that you should have come here. Your grandfathers served this country outstandingly in the last war, and..”
He glanced at Aunt Doris.
“I hadn’t said anything to them,” she said quietly. “But now, I think I would like them to know.” She smiled at Cardew. “You’re so very like your grandfather. To look at and I think in character. He was brave and reckless and… well, very charming. He and my older brother were very close friends.”
Frances looked at her wide-eyed. “So Pat’s grandfather and mine knew one another?”
“Yes, but your grandfather was my younger brother, Frank—you were named for him. Ernest, my other brother, and Ralph were the same age. They were inseparable at school, and during the war they ended up together in military intelligence. I’m sure Mr Cowley could tell you much more about that than I can. Ralph and I were engaged, then as the war came to an end in Europe, he and Ernest were involved in a disastrous mission on the Russian border. Ernest was left behind, and we believed he’d been killed.”
“Was he?” Frances asked, totally captured by the narrative.
“No, though he was badly hurt. By the time he escaped back to England, I’m afraid I’d let it come between myself and Ralph—not deliberately, but it had the same effect. He’d left for the States before we knew Ernie was alive, and married Pat’s grandmother soon after that. Then in the early nineteen fifties I believe—and I think Mr Cowley would know—he and Ernie were asked to go once more to Eastern Europe. This time, neither of them came back. Ralph’s wife had a son by then, and went to live with her parents. Frank kept in touch a little, but we had heard nothing of Ralph’s family for years before you two suddenly appeared on my doorstep.”
“No wonder you looked at me as if I was a ghost,” Pat said.
“You look so very much like him as he was last time I saw him,” Aunt Doris said. “And I’m happier than I can tell you that you and Frances will be together. Put a log on the fire, Pat. It’s not really a ghost story; let’s talk in the light. Mr Cowley, can we get you another drink, or perhaps a mince pie?”
The fire blazed up and took the shadows of the old story with it. Cowley accepted a second glass of malt, which glowed gold in the firelight. “We mustn’t trespass on your hospitality much longer,” he said politely. “We have a number of loose ends to deal with.”
“Oh, I’ve invited them to stay for the night,” Aunt Doris said. “I’m sure you can spare them for that long. Anyway, their clothes won’t be dry for hours—they can hardly go back to Clyffe like this.”
Blair leaned back on the sofa, blessedly warm and quite sure Aunt Doris was a match for Cowley. Pity they couldn’t introduce her to Simon. Frances, brighter and happier than ever now she knew Pat’s future was safe, brought out quantities of cake and snacks. Cowley stood up to leave, but not before Aunt Doris had made him promise that Bodie and Doyle would be allowed to return for Christmas. “And you two of course, if you’re still in England,” she added to Blair and Jim.
“I’m sure we will be,” Jim said. He wasn’t talking with his mouth full, but that was only because he’d swallowed fast. “We’d love to come.”
“Good. Frances and I will enjoy ourselves cooking a really big Christmas dinner. Now Pat, show Mr Cowley back along the path, and lock up for me please when you come back. Frances, I think we should sort out some bedrooms. It’s getting late.”
Later still, Blair listened to the sound of the sea and the wind, audible now the house was silent. Normally he would have enjoyed the sound. Tonight, it reminded him all too vividly of those few minutes when there had only been Doyle and Cardew’s grip between him and the ocean. Jim, who’d given Blair the bed and opted for the mattress on the floor, sat up as if he’d taken up mind reading. “There was probably a ledge a few feet down,” he said. “We can go and take a look in the morning.”
“You have got to be joking,” Blair said, and then realised he was. “Oh, really funny, man. I thought you weren’t going to be this cheerful again until we were safely past Christmas. What’s caused this good mood?”
“Well it could have been the mince pies… or the sausage rolls… or chocolate log. Or possibly…”
“If you get terminal indigestion I hope you’ll remember you deserve it.”
“… or possibly the fact that I’m quite happy you didn’t really fall off a cliff, and Cardew, whatever he deserves, seems to have come out of this well, and that we’ve generally done our bit for the light in the darkness stuff.”
“Oh.” Blair felt the warmth of his pile of blankets seep into him and unknot aching muscles. “Can’t argue with that one. I’m glad too. I just wish that the sea didn’t seem to be in here with us every time I close my eyes.”
Jim got up, took the heaviest blanket from the pile and hooked it along the curtain rail. It dimmed the noise of the wind and the sea remarkably. “Better?” he asked.
It was actually. The room seemed a lot cosier, and the elements back where they belonged. He wriggled the blankets into a cocoon, and took a last glance at Jim in the light from the landing. To his surprise, the sentinel was still sitting up, alert. He looked as if he was listening. Sleepy, but ready to make the effort to wake up if he was needed, he asked, “Everything okay?”
“What? Oh—yeah, it’s nothing. Nothing that matters.”
He actually sounded embarrassed. Blair tried to look at him suspiciously, hampered by the lack of light and the fact that his eyes didn’t really want to stay open. “Jim, what were you listening to?”
“I wasn’t listening, I just heard.”
“Look, I heard someone downstairs, okay. I just checked it out.”
“Well, let’s just say Cardew and Frances were saying goodnight.”
Blair started to laugh. “Kissing by the Christmas tree? You know Jim, that’s kind of full circle… Hey. You’re not still listening are you?”
“Okay, okay, I was just wondering.”
“Go to sleep, Sandburg.”
“Oh, come on.”
“I was just saying…”
“You don’t want to go to sleep grouchy. The spirit of Christmas Past might come and get you.”
“You think I couldn’t kick his ass?”
“Well, that would certainly give a different dimension to a traditional and well loved Christmas story. The Bruce Willis version…”
“PLEASE will you shut up and go to sleep, Chief!”
Blair could never resist being asked nicely, and anyway, his eyes had accidentally shut. He hoped he would dream of finding a dangerous blonde under the Christmas tree.
Jim, who’d been looking forward to closing his own eyes the minute he got some peace and quiet, leaned back with relief—and found that he now felt annoyingly wide awake. He dismissed the thought that this had anything to do with the fullness of his stomach, and lay and listened to the soft noises of the house a while. Someone walked along the landing and stopped at the far end, where he knew a small window looked out over the Channel. He’d heard Cardew and Frances go to bed. Doyle had barely woken up enough to put one foot in front of the other when they pushed him upstairs; Jim could recognise his breathing, very slightly affected by the cracked rib, and he was deeply asleep now. Aunt Doris was moving quietly in her bedroom. That left Bodie. Some shared sentinel instinct keeping them awake? Blair would probably say it was the mince pies.
Very quietly, careful not to disturb Blair, he moved out onto the landing to join Bodie. He found him leaning against the wall, watching an ocean that would have been invisible to any but sentinel sight, though the wind had finally broken up the cloud cover.
“Problem?” he asked under his breath, though Bodie looked entirely relaxed.
“Not tonight,” Bodie said. “Just watching the tide. Wondering what’s going to come rolling in on us next year. Thinking about Canute.”
“King who tried to turn back the tide?”
“That’s the one, though to be fair I believe he was making the point you couldn’t.”
Jim thought a while, watching stray sparks of starlight catch on far distant waves. “He should have built a sea wall.”
Bodie turned to look at him, then laughed softly. “He should, shouldn’t he? Perhaps we’ll manage that.”
“We won’t have to do it on our own, at least.”
Bodie glanced at him in perfect understanding. “They do make a difference,” he agreed.
They stood a while longer, and watched the sea swell and break. The tide, Jim realised, was on the turn. In silence, they saw it begin to roll its power back again.
Doris Levison found she needed little sleep these days. By the light of her small bedside lamp, she turned over the pages of an old photo album. It was so long since she’d looked at these pictures. She saw herself, young and pretty, her brothers and Ralph in cricket whites. Other pictures from a Christmas at some house party. It was so many years ago and it seemed as familiar as yesterday. They were bittersweet memories, but she wouldn’t be without them, and with Pat and Frances here now, the bitterness seemed to fade and the happiness remain. Frances would like to see the photographs. She’d show them to her in the morning.
~ End ~