Loneliness - Moving On

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 8

We were woken by a bang on the roof. No accidental bump this, it was meant to wake us. By my standards we had overslept, the clock showing 7.15am so cautiously I peered through the curtains and was relieved to see a policeman on the lawn. I swiftly through on some PJ's and asking Jus to do the same, I opened up the stern hatch. I was met by DCI Lockwood.

"Hello Alexis. I was rather hoping we wouldn't meet again, for all the right reasons you understand but it seems your Justin's problems follow him around. Is he here?"

"Umm, yes. He's just……"

"No problem. I can wait."

"Mr Lockwood? Can I say something before he surfaces?"

"Of course you can. Go ahead."

"He's really beating himself up about this last episode. Yesterday it was all I could do to stop him crying. He sees it as his fault all this has happened and while I can get him to calm down, he's like a cat on a hot tin roof, frightened of his own shadow almost. He actually believes someone wants him dead."

"Tell Justin to take his time. You and I will go for a stroll. I'll tell you everything I know but then it has to be up to you whether or not to go with my advice, okay?"

I called down to Jus telling him to put a light under the kettle as we had visitors and I'd be back shortly and as DCI Lockwood and I walked up the path towards the house he began to explain a few things to me.

"This is all off the record for now Alexis but from what we can gather so far, and it is very early days remember, it would appear that someone does indeed want Justin out of the way and not only that, they want you out of the picture as well. At this stage we can only hazard a guess as to why, the impending court case against the boy Donaldson perhaps? His family are, how can I put this, 'connected'. Not all of his father's business dealings are legitimate touching on the illegal, certainly the Inland Revenue are very interested in him as are Customs and Excise but so far he's been clever enough to avoid prosecution but the resulting publicity that would follow his son's court case would, in turn, expose him to unwelcome attention by certain members of the tabloid press. What I'm trying to say is that with you and Justin umm, unavailable to give evidence, no court case, no prosecution therefore no adverse publicity. Do you get what I'm trying to say?"

"Someone has a contract out on us, right?"

"An American term I'd prefer not to use but essentially yes. Someone was paid, maybe being paid to silence both of you and by making it look as if it was an unfortunate accident, no suspicion could be directed at anyone in particular."

"Shit! So we're not out of the woods just yet then?"

"I fear not but remember this is only supposition, not hard and fast fact."

"So…… where do we go from here? We're sort of vulnerable while everyone's away. Jus will crap himself when he hears this!"

"I have one idea that might just work. Are you still in touch with your Ghurkha friends?"

"Not since Jus was found, no. Why do you ask?"

"We could provide a level of security but that normally means a safe house, something I'm sure you wouldn't like but if you could get your boat up to Oxford and onto the canals and if those boys could provide you with a bodyguard we could pretty much guarantee your safety."

"Oxford? In these conditions? You have to be having a laugh!"

"We would perhaps organise an escort from the Thames Conservancy, a powerful tug or something. You'd be perfectly safe I can assure you, then with a minder to watch over you, you should be as well protected as you could ever be. If it were possible to organise this with the Ghurkha lads and on the understanding they didn't go around killing anyone, we could guarantee their anonymity and immunity from prosecution."

"I don't know. I only spent a day with them, that's all. I hardly know them well enough to go asking for favours."

"Justin's Grandfather perhaps?"

"He's away visiting friends in Wales and I don't know how to contact him."

"In principle though. Would you be happy if I could sort things out?"

"Yes I think so but Jus has to be in on this. No secrets, no messing around at the edges. He has to know everything otherwise he'll guess. He isn't stupid and he'll know I'm hiding something from him and then your hitman will only have him to worry about cos I'll already be dead!"

"Fair comment. Did I hear the word tea earlier?"

Jus looked at me and swallowed hard, then turning to DCI Lockwood said

"Is it really that serious? Couldn't we just stay here? Come January 6 th we reopen the factory and capable as he is, we can't expect Joe to do everything?"

"Firstly, yes it is that serious if what we think is a possibility. Secondly you will be under surveillance constantly, that is if we can organise things and my feeling is that it won't be an issue. So far as your coming back to the Mill? Transport will be on hand. For you it's safer this way and for us to involve the Ghurkha's is more cost-effective and less of a strain on our resources."

"It has to be done, doesn't it? We can't spend however long looking over our shoulders can we?"

"No Justin. It's too much of a risk to the point I could insist that you're taken into protective custody and I will if you don't agree to this alternative. Will you let me sort everything out??

Jus looked at me, questions in his eyes so I answered for both of us.

"Yes okay. It makes sense I guess. We'll do it but I would like it if Corporal Baines was one of the guys. I got to know him pretty well."

"There are no guarantees we can pick or choose, he might well have been deployed elsewhere but leave it with me, I'll see what I can do.

We go with it, yes?"

"Yes okay but you are still investigating what happened to us are you?"

"Yes but there's not much we can do until after Christmas. Our leads in the form of the tyre tracks and footprints have to be analysed by forensic experts and they're on leave until the New Year but we are quietly digging into the backgrounds of the people we think are responsible but it all takes time which is why I need you out of here."

Jus interjected.

"Why are you involved? I mean you're based in Newbury, not Reading?"

"On the instructions of my Chief Superintendent Justin. I know you and your background so it speeds the progress not having to go over old ground and besides, I wanted to head up this investigation. I was very pleased he asked me. Now if you'll forgive me, I'll go and see what can be done regarding the Ghurkhas. For the time being there are officers watching the property. Nobody can come or go without them being noticed and if either of you need to go anywhere, ask them and they will escort you. You are not to leave the confines of these grounds alone."

Jus nodded his head.

"After what you've told us I doubt we'll leave the confines of this boat, let alone the grounds!"

The following day came a knock on the roof. I was busy cleaning the boat so Jus went aft and answered it. I could hear muffled conversation then he reappeared together with our visitor in the shape of Corporal Baines.

"Hello Alexis! How's life treating you then?"

"Hi Peter! Wow this is an honour!"

"Well I don't know about that! We were asked and were happy to accept the job of guarding you in the event of another attempt on your lives and we will be nearby until this situation is resolved."

Jus was quick to ask "We? There are more of you? And that gun. It's real isn't it?"

"Ha-ha! Yes it's very real Justin! There are four of us, all armed and all highly trained in the art of stealth. No one will know we're here but you will be under surveillance at all times, day and night. This should be the last time you will see me until this is over unless, that is, your attackers are foolish enough to come after you again. If you go out, you will be followed, discretely of course so as not to arouse suspicions, even you won't notice them but they will be there in the event that things turn nasty."

"Alex told me what you did out there on Buckleberry Common. I want to thank you and I'm sorry to have put you to so much trouble."

"No thanks needed Justin. Try and look upon it as a training exercise. It's good to get out of camp once in a while. May I ask you something?"

"Sure. Ask away."

"Taking of stealth. How on earth did you manage to avoid detection the way you did? There were hundreds of people looking for you but nobody so much as caught a glimpse of you. The only clue we got was when one of those Springers found your handkerchief."

"I've walked the common many times and I know shortcuts and detours. My problem came when I hit the main road so I stuck to the fields mostly then when I came to the outskirts of town, I travelled at night, ducking into doorways and alleys if I saw anyone."

"Remarkable considering your injuries. You must be very tough."

"Me? Tough? I'm a wimp!"

"Not a bit of it! As I said to Alexis, if I had recruits with just a fraction of your ability, tenacity and staying power I'd be happy. Never look upon yourself as anything other than what you are, one tough cookie."

Jus blushed.

"I still don't like the look of that gun!"

"It's standard issue for us. A nine millimetre semi-automatic machine pistol capable of firing off two hundred rounds a minute. Nice and light to carry but absolutely lethal in the right hands. The wrong hands as well for that matter. My Sargent-Major has extended an invitation to both of you to spend a day at our base if you would like. You could try firing one of these in our training area."

"Oh cool! Thanks!"

"Okay then. I'm going to make myself scarce. Remember just live your days and nights as would normally, take the dogs for a walk, and go to the shops, up to the Mill or whatever. I promise you, you will be in no danger whatsoever. At least one if not two of my boys will be in line of sight so you've nothing to be concerned about."

"Leaving the boat, I'll be in panic mode. Had I'd been on my own I'd be dead now."

"No need to worry Justin. All avenues are covered. Just behave as if nothing is bothering you. Most likely who ever made moves against you think what they did was enough. Boating tragedies are unfortunately common-place and hardly ever get reported in the press but if they catch on and try again? We will be waiting for them and I promise you, they won't know what hit them. I'm off now. See you another time."

And with that he left.

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