Well, he and they had tried. He had felt that he had to go and spend Easter Day with Sally’s parents; after all he had nowhere else to go other than work. He had driven down in the morning and would be heading back later. He just owed it to her really, to try to keep the embers of a family life burning until they could be reunited.
The search on the ground was winding down, the enthusiasm of the local volunteers exhausted by endless nothing, police resources required elsewhere. They would continue to be registered as missing persons; the posters would remain up until the weather did its worst. The park wardens and gamekeepers would keep their eyes open as they went about their work on the moors, but his local liaison officer made no attempt to disguise his hopelessness. Well he couldn’t blame the man, they had tried, hard, but so many missing people were never found, just completely disappeared.
Her parents were in silent despair, their only child and grandson gone, so close to their home. They had attempted to make him welcome, seemed to appreciate his effort, tried to distract themselves by talking about the things he must be investigating, but her ghost was in the house, its mere presence paralysing every effort to have a normal day. They were talking about selling up, going far away, somewhere there would be no reminders; he had tried to tell them that’s not what she would have wanted, and then caught himself using the past tense. He had brushed the tears from his eyes, excused himself and come away; he would call them every day, he promised. What state they were in after he left he couldn’t begin to picture.
She opened the door and ushered in her cousin, embracing her. She was determined not to be alone for the whole weekend and had invited her spinster cousin over for dinner and to stay over if she wished. It was amazing they got on so well really, she herself was ten years younger, had been married, enjoyed the finer things in life, looked after herself and took pride in her appearance. Her cousin was a vegan, spiky, not interested in money, almost austere, never married, not even much sign of any close relationships, in another century she might have been an ideal nun in some puritanical order. They hadn’t really seen much of each other until they were both working and living in London, but now they saw each other from time to time, talked about anything other than work, or politics, which would be sure to end in an argument: perhaps two lonely souls huddling up together for comfort. Lord, she was on a downer at the moment.
They were picking their way through some tasteless vegan ready meals from the local supermarket, she couldn’t be bothered to cook such things herself, when her cousin smiled and fixed her in the eye. “So, where’s your man-friend then, Henry? I thought he would be spending the weekend with you, at least today?”
Her eyes were sparkling with fond amusement at her younger cousin’s spreading blush.
“It’s not like that, can’t be, you know… He’s got things on, higher priorities.”
“Higher priorities than making my little cousin happy?”
“Please don’t joke about it, you know why.”
“I’m not sure I do. I still can’t quite believe he hasn’t asked you to marry him or at least moved in with you. I never thought him a fool.”
“It’s not like that at all, it’s not on the table, but he’s staying here a couple of nights a week, he’s got his own room.”
Her face was burning now like a little girl asked out on a first date by the boy she secretly dotes on. “We’re just best friends, no more.”
“Or is it just the lure of forbidden fruit, the fascination of the one you can’t have? I’m not surprised none of your other relationships ever lasted, with him always just out of reach.”
Helena just looked at cousin. Stricken. Mute. Skewered.
“Still, I can’t believe he hasn’t succumbed to your wiles yet, or have you had a change of heart?”
Tell her. No, I’m not ready, not sure. You were a few hours ago. No, no, not like that, besides I promised him. All’s fair they say. Not with him, it’s too risky. Back inside, leave me alone.
“I’m comfortable with the way things are, wouldn’t want to jeopardise it, besides he’s carrying too much, he doesn’t need me as well.”
A sympathetic smile, the amusement gone from her cousin’s face.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you. Just don’t make the mistake I once made.”
“What was that?”
A couple of hours later when they were packing up for the night, her cousin turned to her and smiled. “When, if, you do see him tomorrow, tell him we may have had a breakthrough, but I’ll pass on more when I’m sure.”
That’s another weekend you’re owed that you won’t ever get back. Exmoor farm, Cotswold base, drive-byes of the two target addresses, discussions and planning with the teams in situ, the remainder coming in tonight, on top of taking Lena to her transit point.
He knew he’d upset Helena, entirely understandable: she must be thinking he had already forgotten his promise. At least she wasn’t arguing or causing a fuss, she’d just withdrawn, but not entirely: already becoming a larger presence in his thoughts.
The guilt comes.
Change your train of thought.
The restaurant closed late, even on Mondays, so Alan’s boys would enter as the last customers, disguised without looking obvious, require kicking out and then get to work. The other customers would have gone, along with most of the staff. Take the place over, search it, interrogate those there and leave in a blaze of glory.
The house, that’s harder.
They had debated it at some length. It had been agreed to co-ordinate the timing with the restaurant, so leave it until very late, perhaps one or two in the morning.
How to get access?
A break in would be too risky. Reporting a gas leak was the oldest and best excuse for disturbing someone in the middle of the night. ‘Acquire’ a white van, crudely re-spray the British Gas logo on the side, after all who’s going to look closely in the middle of the night and then, in we go.
Alan’s peer team leader, Tom, another outside stray, had been there over twelve years and was an engineer of some sort so would sound convincing. The other three were all natives; good lads like Art, but still lacking actual experience. This operation worried him more than the restaurant, harder to access, less capable teams, perhaps he should be with them? No, he would just get in the way, getting a bit old for that sort of thing anyway, besides he couldn’t risk compromise. Helena would be furious as well. Anyway, they were ready to go without him so back to the day job and her.
Park up in the street at home, unpack, repack and over to her; he would have some explaining and apologising to do, should be there by eight, approaching seven now. Street parking, even with a resident’s permit, was always a lottery and he’d had to walk almost four hundred yards from another street. Nearly there now, I’ll sleep tonight for sure.
A grey car is parked on the other side of the street, without a resident’s disc, what looks like four men inside, but difficult to tell. Key’s in the front door now, as the car doors are opening. Quick! The steel-lined front door was ajar and he was diving through it when the first bullet impacted on the surround above his head; that familiar sound of a Kalashnikov on automatic, whoever was shooting must have forgotten that they tend to pull high and left if you are inexperienced. The door won’t close, my bag blocking it. Pistol out, click the safety off, all the while a rain of bullets striking the door and the surrounding brickwork.
Enthusiastic amateurs, must be, might have a chance.
Duck low, present a smaller target, fire four shots, two oncoming gunmen drop to the floor, hit.
Two more following up behind them.
Pull the bag clear and close the door, ah! Ricochet, below my left knee, blood everywhere, pain indescribable, it’s hit the bone, must have. Four flights of stairs to safety, they haven’t got long before help arrives, I’ve hit the panic button inside the door which should hold them a while. Three flights to make, I’m crawling now, two to go, the tenant on the first floor opening their door to see what’s going on.
“Get inside now! Bolt the door, barricade it, get to the far end of your home and take shelter, call the police!”
Their door closes and locks.
An explosion outside, the building shakes, they’ve blown the door. Starting to tremble now, losing too much blood, adrenalin surging, got to make it inside, nearly there.
Boots racing up the stairs.
Too late, won’t make it in time. Lie flat on the top landing, my only chance. The first one’s bounding up, back open to me, reckless, excited by the chase. My hand’s shaking now, vision furring. First shot misses, second topples him, third is the end for him, but the fourth shooter’s past him now, firing wildly.
Damn, another ricochet, left shoulder, gun loose on the floor; it ends here?
He’s gloating, exhilarated, levelling for the final kill.
Two successive explosions, that must be it, I’ve failed, utterly, at least I posted that stick to Bowson. Dark now, I’m coming, meet me at the river’s edge…
© 1642again 2018