Loneliness - Moving On

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 12

Jus slumped down on the couch.

"Fuck! What a lousy Christmas and New Year. At midnight when 1974 actually pokes its head around the door, I for one know what I'll be wishing for!"


Hey! At least it's something to tell your children about in years to come!"

" Children!! In case it slipped your mind, I'm a queer, a poof remember?"

"Ha-ha! Oh yeah! I forgot! Okay someone else's kids then. Maybe Joe's or even Matt and Kirstin's if they stick together."

"Talking of the guys? You don't think one of them might be involved do you?"

"No. I can't let myself even contemplate such a thing. They're our friends. We've none of us had so much as a cross word in all the time we've known them."

"My thoughts exactly but those bastards do seem to have inside information don't they?"

Jus peered out of the window.

"That's odd? Someone's lit 'Casio's' stove and there are people crawling all over her."

"Let's have a look…… Oh yeah! Wonder what they're doing. I guess we will find out soon enough, here comes DCI Lockwood."

Jus went to let him in but then left the boat himself returning a few minutes later.

He held his finger to his lips then said "Come on Alex. Let's walk the dogs."

He then beckoned to me to follow him outside so I called the dogs together and joined both him and DCI Lockwood on the quayside.

"What's doing down?"

"DCI Lockwood motioned us to follow him and once we were about two hundred yards clear of the boat he spoke to us.

"Right. Sorry for all the cloak and dagger stuff boys but we have good reason for it all.

We need statements from both of you but you're not allowed to be together in the same room whilst they're being taken so if I might suggest, you Alexis take your dogs for a stroll while I take Justin's statement and then we'll swap over okay?"

"Yes that's fine but why is the stove alight on 'Casio'?"

"Because that's where we're going to do it, not on your boat.

Look, once you've given your statements I'll enlighten you but not before, understood?"

"Okay. I'm off."

I walked in the opposite direction to Jus and DCI Lockwood, past 'Spook' and onwards to explore the base.

There really wasn't much to see apart from row upon row of blockhouses, all securely locked with bars at all the windows. Boyish curiosity made me look through these but I could see nothing so I walked back to the quay and studied the various boats tied up alongside.

Motor launches of varying sizes, inflatables and skiffs then the PT boat which dwarfed all of them, threatening in its battle-ship grey paintwork, two huge exhaust pipes protruding from her rear deck reminding me of the unbelievable power she could develop but now she was a silent ghost ship, connected to an umbilical cord that supplied her need for fuel, water and power.

I walked on.

Around the next bend was 'Casio' and it was as if I half expected to see my Mum and Dad sitting out on the well deck but of course they were still enjoying a well-deserved break from the confines of the boat and why not? What could they do here that would aid the situation? Dad would be bored shitless while my Mum would plough her way through every newspaper published before losing it with my Dad for moaning on about the fact he had nothing to do.

Better this way I thought.

It was then I saw Jus emerge from the after hatch accompanied by DCI Lockwood and on seeing me, Jus ran over.

"Your turn now Alex. At least it's warm in there!"

I boarded 'Casio' and sat down opposite DCI Lockwood.

"So what happens now sir?"

"I need you to make a statement about the events of yesterday afternoon. No speculation about what you think happened but only what you saw, heard and witnessed.

Happy with that Alexis?"

"Yes sir. It's cool."

"Okay then. Tell me about what happened."

"I had been relieved by Justin at the helm. I needed the toilet and a chance to warm up when I heard him shout down to me.

You see the patrol boat had taken up like a rear guard position behind 'Casio' and we had been told to radio in should we see any boat coming towards us as it wouldn't take them many minutes to reach us, anyway Justin had spotted a boat about a half mile away coming towards us so I went back up, had Justin go below and shut the engine room hatches. He passed me a pair of binoculars and when I took a look at this boat, I saw the helmsman was wearing a black wetsuit and goggles plus he looked to be armed.

I passed this onto Commander Armstrong who told me to cut right back on my speed and tie the tiller, hug the right hand bank and keep my head down.

From there on I didn't see much. I heard the PT boat then what I guessed was an exchange of gunfire but when I heard her open up her engines, I had a look over the side only to see her wheel around and ram this other boat and people jumping into the water."

"You saw nothing more afterwards?"

"No nothing.

We got a radio message telling us to make all speed to Oxford. We picked up an SBS guy at the next lock and came straight here.

That's all I know sir."

"Thanks Alexis.

Both yours and Justin's statements complement each other's except for the time you were in different locations. So please read it and if you agree with everything I want you to write in your own hand, 'This statement, made by me today December 31 st 1973, is to the best of my knowledge and belief, a true and factual account of the events of the afternoon of December 30 th 1973' then sign and date it in the boxes provided."

I did as I was asked then DCI Lockwood turned to a uniformed constable.

"Sam? Go find young Justin will you? I need to talk to both of the boys ASAP."

Jus appeared about ten minutes later minus the dogs.

"Looks as if that policeman is a dog lover too! He's going to keep them company while we talk."

DCI Lockwood chuckled.

"Sam is my driver come aid and yes he loves dogs. He's got three bulldogs, big fellah's they are as well! Better not tell him about your line of business or he'll be finding all sorts of reasons for us to pop by your factory!"

"You'd both be very welcome, you know that."

"Perhaps when all this is over, we'll take up that offer Justin but right now, some important news.

You will be relieved if not unsurprised to hear that all your staff come up smelling of lavender and roses. I can guarantee none of them are involved with any of this in fact I found three of them gardening at the Mill this morning, digging out flower beds for heaven's sake!

I introduced myself as the officer in charge of that first attempt on your life and they all seemed genuinely concerned about both of you. I told them nothing of these subsequent problems just so you are aware.

Okay then.

Nine people were fished out of the river yesterday following the ramming of the good ship 'Ship Happens', seven of which we took into custody, the other two, a man and wife were the owners of said vessel which was hijacked at gunpoint and they were taken hostage.

Our seven detainees have appeared at Abingdon Magistrate's Court this morning and have all been remanded in custody pending further investigations / charges and we have fourteen days in which to bring them, apply to the court for an extension or release them without charge but before you go saying anything, the latter isn't an option as the firearms charges are already good to go as is the theft of the boat and the unlawful detention of its owners, kidnapping to you and I.

Now for the sensitive part.

Every single one of them have previous convictions so identification was easy but the interesting part was, the connection with Ireland.

All but two of them are from Northern Ireland, the other two are from Thanet in Kent and guess who else hails from there Justin?"

"No idea. I don't even know where Thanet is!"

"Your friend who organised your beatings, that's who.

His family are…….let us say 'well known' in the area as the Nuevo-riche, the posers in nice society and so we've had his offices raided together with his house and other properties he owns and we're smelling the whiff of arms dealing into Northern Ireland and possibly elsewhere but it is early days yet.

I must however caution you against repeating any of this. I shouldn't tell you really but I think you've gone through enough. Tell your parents? Well I suppose you have to if they ask but nobody else.

Do I make myself totally clear?"

"Yes sir. I think both of us understand that only too well."

"Good man Justin!

Now for the final thing for today.

Peter Baines mentioned about someone being one step ahead of us?

At first we looked at your staff but as I said, they're all fine so then we have to ask how else can they get their information? Where else are plans discussed and organised?

'Spook'. That's where!

You talk about taking a walk up Balmore Hill with the dogs, they hear it and follow you.

'Casio' which was also wired is silent but 'Spook' is where you are so that's the boat they targeted.

Conversations about going to Oxford were discussed on your boat, it all adds up. Time will tell, the experts are looking for microphones and a transmitter as we speak but I'll put money on the fact that they'll find something and then if we can lift some prints off them, BINGO!! We've got them by the balls!"

"Oh God! Something's that go on are very personal!! They're not up for scrutiny are they?"

"No Justin, they're not.

These would be one-way transmissions so no useful evidence to be gained. All we have to prove is who installed the equipment, who was listening and who actioned things."

I then interrupted the flow.

"But I know where Thanet is. It's on the Thames Estuary. My Dad talked about going that far down a couple of years back but gave up on the idea once he saw it was tidal. To have a transmitter powerful enough to have that sort of coverage would take a lot of juice to run plus the antenna would have to be massive but we're talking about something very small which we'd probably not notice. The only way that could happen is to transmit from the boat on a UHF frequency then bounce it via an HF band, maybe on the 40 metre wave length or higher."

"What are you trying to say Alexis?"

"UHF transmissions are at best line of sight so the recipient of the transmissions from the boat would have to be very close to Mapledurham. From there any radio ham worth his salt could relay it on via an HF frequency and Bob's your Uncle.

'Hello Thanet!'"

"So we should be looking for large radio antennas near to Mapledurham then."

"Yes but more than that.

If you raid someone without UHF capability you're wasting your time. This technology is still in its infancy, experimental even so you must find out who works in the industry and target them."

"How do you know all this Alexis?"

"I want to be a physicist and this is central to my studies.

Ask Justin, he'll tell you?"

"No need. I'm sold already.

Our problem is, there are so many people working at Caversham Park who live nearby that might have a handle on this type of thing, it's difficult to know where to start."

"Find what might be on 'Spook', find out the manufacturer if any, then work backwards.

Like I told you, this stuff is rare, no one makes it commercially so if it is it conforms to stuff Caversham Park might be developing then you have your source otherwise look elsewhere."

"Do you want my job? You might be good at it!

Thanks boys. You can go back to your boat once forensics and the counter- surveillance people have finished their work. We'll talk in the morning."

We loafed around on 'Casio' for a couple of hours. It seemed strange to be back on board a boat that had been my home for thirteen years having become so used to 'Spook' but all the happy memories were here.

While I know it's stupid and totally without logic it was as if 'Spook' was cursed somehow. Yes Jus was with me, our love for each other had been cemented and grown experientially on her but so had all the bad and hateful things. I drew some comfort from the fact that the catalyst, the trigger if you will, the goings on at Down House, had occurred before I even knew him.

Then an idea hit me and I mouthed it out loud.

"I know what we must do!"

Jus looked up from the three-week old newspaper he was reading.

"Huh? What do we have to do?"

"'Spook' Got to get the paint job done come the spring."

"I know it needs doing but what's so important about it?"

"I dunno really. It just occurred to me that everything that's gone down has happened since we moved onto her.

I know she's a beautiful boat, cosy, comfortable, she's our home for the duration and in most areas we're happy living on her but it's almost as if getting her finished off as we want her to look might signal a change in fortunes.

Go on. Tell me I'm stupid."

"What's happened is nothing to do with moving onto 'Spook'. You know and I know it's as a direct result of Paul and I getting caught at it.

I'm a great believer in that we make our own luck in life but if getting the repaint done helps you change your attitude, gives you a lift then that's no bad thing.

Nice things have happened since you got her as well, not the least of which being my parents albeit tacit agreement for me to be home tutored at least for last term until they see my exam results so it isn't all doom and gloom.

Our business has taken off better than we dared hope for and we've got a good bunch of guys working for us and who we now know are 110% behind us and…… we're still alive and kicking despite the best efforts of others!"

"I know you're right, you generally are but I still want to get it done.

Talking of exam results? When are they due?"

"Umm, January 10 th if memory serves."

"Are you nervous? I mean like if they're not good enough to convince your folks that home schooling is right for you then you might get sent back, okay not to Down House but somewhere else."

"No I'm not nervous! Alright they might not all be straight 'A's but I'll be well pissed off if I get anything less than 'B's."

"Mr Justin Andrew Armstrong demonstrates his new-found confidence! I love it!!"

"Dick head! It's a confidence that comes from being with you, our life together, being around your Mum and Dad and my Grandparents. Nothing more, nothing less."

"Sweet! Thanks for that! I'm still going to get her repainted though.

What about a colour scheme? Any thoughts but avoiding red at all costs?"

"Not that I'm a fan of red particularly but why do you say avoid it?"

"It's something my Dad told me. Apparently it fades very quickly, something to do with red having very little pigment in it."

"Oh, okay. So dark colours then?"

"Preferably but the downside is that she'll get bloody hot in the summer unless we screen her somehow, apply some reflective lacquer to the superstructure after painting but it costs money."

"That isn't necessarily a problem Alex? If the business is still going well then we could both take a bonus and use it to finance the work. We don't draw a salary so why not?"

"That Jus, is a stroke of pure genius! We could probably afford to get the work done professionally rather than my Dad doing it in the boathouse.

Let's give some consideration to a colour scheme and once we're back at Mapledurham we can take a walk down to Fry's Island and pick up some colour charts then when we've made up our minds as to what we want, we can get a quote."

A knock on the roof ended the conversation as Jus went aft to open the hatch.

Sam, DCI Lockwood's driver came on board.

"Okay lads. You can go back to your own boat if you like. They're all done now."

"Did they find anything?"

"Oh yes! I'm not sure quite what, I'm not a technical man but they seemed pleased with their catch. I'll let my boss explain things to you later.

Are you ready to go? If so I can lock up after you."

I don't know if I expected to find the boat in a mess or not but it was as if we'd only been gone an hour, even the tea mugs were still on the table, unwashed from earlier that morning, something Jus needed to rectify but finding no hot water, went aft and started the engine.

I heard the engine start but over the noise I didn't hear Jus talking to DCI Lockwood until they entered the main cabin.

"Sorry about yet another intrusion boys but I promise you it'll be the last one of the day!

I just thought you'd like an update to let you know what we found during our search of your boat and full marks Alexis, they found what they believe to be a UHF transmitter and several microphones.

We managed to lift some very clear fingerprints from the transmitter casing which have been sent to our forensic boys for cross-referencing, the hardware has been taken not to Caversham Park just in case there is an involvement within their ranks but to GCHQ in Cheltenham.

Have you ever heard of GCHQ?"

We both shook our heads.

"GCHQ or Government Communication Headquarters is one of the most secure installations in the country if not the world. You cannot even sneeze in there unless you have total security clearance which even I do not have.

They will take to bits the devices found on your boat and try and determine from whence they came, each component will be scrutinised for its country of manufacture, the methods by which it was assembled, soldering techniques and so forth. This all takes time but I have requested a priority report so a couple of days will see some information on my desk."

"So the boat is clean now?"

"Yes Justin. You can rest easy."

"It all seems surreal. Balmore, the last couple of days on the water, the ramming and to find ourselves here? I'm having a problem understanding it all."

"Okay. Let me put it bluntly.

Someone wants to see you and Alexis dead.

We think we know who that is and their motivation but thinking isn't enough to secure a conviction. We need hard evidence and that takes time, not only to gather but also to collate. Only when we have all the pieces of the jigsaw in place can we go to court but fortunately our prime suspects have already put themselves in line for a long period behind bars but there's a downside. If we don't press ahead, their legal team will do all they can to circumvent our efforts so speed is of the essence."

All this time I'd remained silent allowing Jus to ask the questions but now I needed to ask some.

"You mentioned before an Irish connection. IRA?"

"No we don't think so. The IRA are interested in achieving home rule and while their means of achieving their aims might be abhorrent, they steer clear of things that might be otherwise termed as criminal so no, that connection we think is a red herring. Actually my belief is, the killing of two perfectly innocent schoolboys would actually cause them to give us information if they had any. They hate those who use the flag of Sein Fein in order to commit acts that would otherwise diminish their reputation amongst their followers.

A splinter group?

Perhaps but not the main organisation but again, our Anti-Terrorism guys will find out soon enough."

"This all getting very heavy-weight isn't it."

"Try and look at it this way Alexis.

There's a chance here, an opportunity to break up a massive criminal organisation. Murder, gun-running, abduction, kidnapping, links with terrorism cells, not to mention tax evasion and extortion. Ye God's! The list goes on! Before you know it, there will be a senior DCS in charge of this lot!"

"You'll still be on the scene?"

"I have a meeting with our Deputy Chief Constable tomorrow morning where I expect to hand control to a more senior officer. I intend to ask if I might stay on the case but that's up to my DCC and whether he thinks it right."

"But it would make sense if you were, I mean you know all the background and stuff."

"I would have to stay with the team at least in the short term for that very reason but once whoever takes over is fully up to speed with everything, then we will have to wait and see what happens."

"Will you let us know what happens? You've been very kind and dare I say, understanding of our situation and circumstances and we'll miss you."

"Thanks Alexis. I appreciate that but please don't worry about…… you know, your relationship. I'll make sure everything is explained fully. You won't get any grief I can assure you.

Okay then, I'd better make tracks. Be sure to call me if you have any concerns. Even if I'm off this assignment, nobody will mind you talking to me and also once it's over I'd like to know how things are going so, you have my number? Use it!"

We both showed DCI Lockwood off the boat and to his car. Handshakes all round, a cheery wave from Sam and they were gone.

We ambled back to the boat, both of us deep in thought, Jus especially was very quiet.

Finally he spoke.

"Gonna miss him Alex? He was like a safe pair of hands. I trusted him."

"Me too but they're all probably like that once you scratch beneath the surface but you're right, he was a nice man even though he's the fuzz!"

"Tut-tut! You've got to get out of this mind-set that all coppers are bastards!

Look at that PC Whatshisname that caught you night swimming and took you to the Hospital that night you found me. He was an okay bloke don't you think?"

"Okay, okay I give in!

Yes he is a good bloke. He still stops and talks if he sees me in Caversham. He's a laugh actually!"

"There you go then!

Talking about having a laugh, do you want me to cook supper?"

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead