by Andrew Foote

Chapter 23

We didn't have to wait long before Winterton, Hellen, Sophie, Amy, Christine and Simon arrived back.

Our talks with them didn't take long. None of them wanted to leave, with both Winterton and Hellen insisting that they resumed their duties immediately.

I contemplated calling Dad, but unsure whether Mum would be there, I opted for silence.

We took our drinks through to the drawing room. I was tired, and wouldn't be the last in the parish to bed. Up at five in the morning, some busy five-plus hours checking the stock, cooking our own meals and clearing up afterwards, then coping with the possibility we might lose staff had worn me down.

I yawned, then Thilo yawned, then we had a yawning contest before turning out the lights and going upstairs to bed.

We lay there wrapped up in each other's arms, then Thilo spoke.

"I've been meaning to ask you, but where in Sicily is the villa?"

"How well do you know the island."

"Not that well, only that it's the triangular bit sitting just below Italy."

"Okay. You know it's an elongated triangle with the longest of the three sides pointing East/West?"


"So, the short side that runs like North/South. Half way down that side is the Provincial Capital Catania which is where you fly into. If you follow the coast road for about three-quarters of an hour South, you come to the rather quaint little town of Avola, - home of Nero de-Avola Wines.

Drive West for about four miles and you come to Reserva natural orientate Cavagrande del Cassibile……"

"Which means what in English?"

"Cavagrande del Cassibile Nature Reserve. The villa's in the Nature Reserve."

"Do they allow building in a nature reserve?"

"No, but the villa was there before the Italian government declared it a nature reserve.

It's beautiful there. Total piece and solitude."

"Sounds idyllic. I had visions of it being on the coast."

"A good brisk walk, - an hour or so gets you to the sea. It's the Mediterranean, but locally it's known as the Ionian Sea, but don't ask me why, 'cos I don't know!"

"Sandy beaches, or a rocky coastline?"

"Both. Good swimming too, so long as you spot the jelly fish before they spot you."



"I'll live with Coward. Those things can't be natural, like just floating around the place with no steerage, just waiting to pounce on some innocent swimmer."

"Fair comment. There's a filtered seawater swimming pool there as well, so no jelly fish, - no fish of any kind in there really."

"I'd love to visit!"

"No reason why we shouldn't be able to? Once Mum and Dad are back we'll still have three week's holiday left, and given that it's been just a tad traumatic here it might be nice to get away. I'll put it to Dad once he's home."

For what remained of the boys visit we weren't subjected to more raids, and at last we could do holiday things.

We went mountain biking over the Malvern hills, sightseeing in Cheltenham and Gloucester, then the day we went to try the dry ski slope. Everyone else in our group mastered it except me and Thilo. They would gracefully slalom down the slopes, whereas me? If I wasn't inching along, ski tips almost touching, I'd totally wipe-out trying to correct my direction of travel, turn through one-hundred and eighty degrees and sail backwards down the slope before tumbling over.

If anything, Thilo was even worse than me. He never progressed further than perfecting how not to move on ski's ever, so feeling rather embarrassed, we left the guys to it and went for a coffee.

"There's me, I'm just standing there, motionless, whilst six or eight-year-old kids go flying past me!"

"Better than the way I passed the same kids going forwards but with me going backwards before landing on my arse, I'm going to hurt later!"

"You'll survive. Anyway, we've got the boat trip to look forward to later?"

"I know it must sound stupid, but no matter how many times I go on those boat trips, I'm always disappointed when they're over. There's this sinister feeling being on deep water, but then the security of being in a boat that big gives me this silly idea that we've conquered it. Anyway, I thought that once it docks at Upton on Severn, we could all hit the riverside café and have a traditional cream tea out on the terrace. What do you reckon?"

"Cream tea?"

"Yeah, like freshly baked scones, jams and clotted cream!"

"Now, Viscount Stephen Broadhurst? You are talking serious shit!"

"I thought you'd like that given your sweet tooth, but don't get too carried away, remember it's our Birthday meal tonight?"

"Trust me. I hadn't forgotten.

What's on the menu?"

"I've no idea. I left it to Hellen to sort it out together with Winterton, but they both know the reason behind it, - a joint Birthday celebration, so I think we're in for something of a treat."

The River Severn can be a hideous place to find yourself during the winter. Heavy and prolonged rains in Wales cause the Rivers Wye and Severn to flood with most of it ending up in the Wye and Severn valleys before accumulating and merging into a torrent of water looking for the most accessible exit to the sea. Some of this makes its way down the Wye from its source in the Plymlinon mountains, down through Rhayader and Builth Wells before taking a torturous route down to Chepstow and the Severn estuary.

That's fine, but when you have the River Severn also in spate coupled with an incoming Spring tide, all the water that emptied itself from the Wye is pushed back up the estuary, meets the water cascading down the Severn, and Wham! The Severn Bore; Wave after wave of water, - some of them reaching eighteen or twenty-foot high racing up the Severn, doing battle with the serge of flood water coming down from the opposite direction, equals disaster. Villages are evacuated, homes and businesses ruined, - God knows we've copped for our share of damage, and we're up beyond Gloucester and Tewkesbury Locks!

But, then you find yourself with a day just like today. Ninety degrees in the shade, clear blue skies and a light breeze that turns the monstrous River Severn into a thing of outstanding beauty.

We boarded the 'Conway Castle' at Gloucester Docks and sat outside as near to the bow as we could. Three of the lads then went inside and came out a few minutes later carrying armfuls of cans of Coke and lemonade and we were set for the voyage.

"I wish we didn't have to wear these jackets? Breathable and lightweight they may be, but I'm still sweating like a pig, and people keep giving us strange looks."

"I know. I'm in much the same position, but think of the looks we might get if we took them off, Steve. Two kids with shoulder holsters, inside of which are lethal weapons? Looks wouldn't be the only thing coming our way. We'd get ourselves arrested."

"And we'd miss out on cream teas!"

"Yeah, and that. We keep them on, right?"

Spotting landmarks that indicated that we were maybe fifteen minutes away from Upton, I made the suggestion that we moved positions nearer to the gangway so we could be one of the first groups to leave the boat and take pole position at the Tea Shop. Conway Castle would stop at Upton, but only to allow for enough time for those who wished to disembark to do so before continuing its journey up to Worcester, but this tea room was one of those small businesses that attracted tourists in their droves and I didn't particularly want to sit inside.

Ordering cream teas for a party of eight school kids caused a few problems.

"Eight you say? Scones, a selection of preserves together with clotted cream, pots of black Ceylon tea for the same number might take a while for us to organise sir. Are you prepared to wait for fifteen minutes?"

"For however long it takes, just so long as you don't mind us cluttering up your patio area?"

"No sir. That's perfectly alright. We normally find that lads of your age have been drinking on the boat and only come here to sober up.

We'll see to your order straight away."

I had to ask to use the phone in the café to call Simon midway through our feast, so I could ask him if he could collect us in around half an hour.

No sodding signal on my mobile.

No problem he reckoned. He'd bring the Rolls so perhaps all of us could squeeze into it, so, I re-joined the others to finish my tea, but it was only moments later that a young waitress hurried across and approached us.

"Is there a Mister Viscount Broadhurst in your party?"

We all looked at her blankly, then Alun spoke up.

"There is a Viscount Broadhurst here, love? Viscount is a title, like Sir or Lord, but that's him, - the one of two stupid people who wear jackets in midsummer; dark hair, sitting next to the other idiot in a jacket with blond hair!"

Poor girl, she was so embarrassed!

I stood up.

"Try to forgive him if you can? He's Welsh. It's all down to his DNA.

What's the problem? I'm Stephen Broadhurst."

"There's, um, a phone call for you sir."

"Did they say who it was that's calling?"

"A Major someone or other I think they said."


I followed our waitress inside and picked up the receiver.

"Stephen speaking."

"Major Harrington. There's been a change of plan. Instead of your driver, it'll be us collecting you."

"Why? Please don't tell me there's been another incident?"

"No. Everything's quiet here. We just need to check a few things, so here's what I'd like everyone in your group to do.

I need everyone to switch off any portable electronic devices they may be carrying, whether that's mobile phones, tablet computers or whatever else. All off, understood?"

"If you say so."

"I do say so. This is important.

Please stay right where you are, and two personnel carriers will be with you shortly that will take you to a discrete location where I will meet you in order that I can explain things in more detail."

"Okay. We'll wait here."

"Thank you."

The line went dead, so I ambled back outside.

"That was my not-so favourite Special Forces Major. He wants us to switch off all phones, tablets, smart watches and everything else that might be used to get in touch with us. I have no idea why, he wouldn't say, but apparently, it's very important.

Simon's not going to collect us, his men are, and they'll take us somewhere so things can be explained.

There's nothing wrong back at Malvern, by the way."

Ten minutes later, and two armoured personnel carriers slowly made their way down what is supposed to be a pedestrian walkway, and came to a halt outside the café.

We stood up and walked over. Two soldiers stepped from the vehicles leaving the driver in the cab, and asked for me.

Pete pointed me out, and the soldier snapped to attention and saluted.

"Please? Salutes aren't necessary."

"You hold an hereditary title Sir. It's protocol."

"Is that so. I never knew that. Perhaps I should insist on your Major doing it then!"

"You could try Sir, but I would like to be elsewhere when you do!

Might I suggest we board the vehicles and get on our way? We're becoming celebrities here."

We travelled for about five miles before turning into a driveway.

I tapped our driver on the shoulder.

"This takes us to Croome Court. Are you sure we should be here?"

"It's fine. We have a hidey-hole here."

"I thought that Bill bequeathed it to the National Trust?"


"William. The late lamented Earl of Coventry. He was a friend of my Fathers before he cooked his liver trying to drink dry the entire world's supply of Cognac.

I was his Godson, God rest him."

"I heard he was something of a character!"

"Lovely man. Had the time of day for everyone…… especially if you happened to run a pub!"

There can be few sights as awe-inspiring as an English Country Mansion, and Croome Court met all the credentials.

This place was massive with its forty-plus bedrooms, banqueting hall, state rooms, ball rooms, libraries etcetera. People see Malvern Park as the quintessential country house, but compared with the likes of Croome? It's like a three-bed semi.

We were driven around past the main entrance to a side door where we were asked to leave the vehicles and follow our escorts down a sort flight of stone steps.

At the bottom, a door took us through to an ante room filled with racks of electronic gadgetry and a number of people, both military and civilian, sitting working on God knows what bits of kit, then beyond that, a conference room where we were asked to take a seat.

"Help yourself to coffee or soft drinks. Once Major Harrington gets here we can make a start.

I'm going to give you Jiffy-bags on which I would like you to print your names, then place inside them, all personal electronic devices to include phones, smart watches, tablet computers and anything else you might have with you that could facilitate any kind of communication.

We are going to inspect them, check their operating systems for malware or bugs before altering their IP address, but at no point will we be accessing any personal data unless, that is, we come across anything that warrant us doing so, but even then, it'll require your written consent.

This shouldn't take too long. We are aware that you have a formal engagement this evening, so we promise to get you back to Malvern with plenty of time to spare."

We didn't have to wait long before Major Harrington arrived, and after offering his apologies for interrupting our afternoon, went back over the ground previously covered by his Sergeant, but adding a few details along the way.

Our laptops had been vetted together with checking the phone lines into the house. They were in the process of scanning every room of the house for listening devices and surveillance equipment, but so far nothing had been found.

"The security services will install counter surveillance measures that will alert them to any unauthorised activity, then once your phones have been declared okay to use, we'll take you back to Malvern.

One other thing? Your Spooks Stephen. They need to speak to you, so could you be available tomorrow morning for about ten o'clock?"

"Yes, that's fine. I assume they want Thilo to be present?"

"Sorry. Yes, they do. I meant to tell you, but with so much going on, it slipped my mind."

"Worry not. You're here to protect us, not to act as a messenger, and please believe me when I say that it's really appreciated."

A faint hint of a smile maybe?

"Thank you.

Now, let me see what happening with your phones."

Twenty minutes later found us walking back to our transport back to Malvern Park, but then I was belayed by Major Harrington's voice attracting my attention, so I turned and walked back towards him.

"Stephen? We didn't manage to get off to an auspicious start; the middle bit wasn't too good either, was it. But what you and your friends have demonstrated to me, is that you're all very strong and determined individuals, not frightened of pitching in once the bell rings. If any of you were my sons, I'd be extremely proud of you, so can we call a truce and shake hands like the men we are?"

"You're right. For my part, I was scared for my friend, not me, but my defence mechanism has always been one of defiance. God knows, it's landed me in more hot water than I care to remember, so it must've seemed to you as if you were wet nursing some spoilt brats who had managed to rattle someone's cage. I took your attitude towards me personally, reacted to it as per my track record. I spat back, and that was wrong of me.

I'll gladly shake hands with you Major."

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 (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) 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