Bill's Diary 1950 (Part 3)
First edition: 2014
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1950
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1950
Type: Continuation Books
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Anyone would have stopped of course once we yelled out but in the current situation it was wise to be suspicious of any unknown person and it was Allie who called out as the figure came nearer. Emily Gump got the shock of her life at seeing us both hogtied and sitting against a haystack. She gave a shriek and peered at us as if ready to fly should we make a move and then she saw who we were.
"Lawks! Mrs. Cunningham. Mr. Cunningham ... what's happened to you?"
Allie and I had straw in our hair and dirt on our faces so we weren't exactly presentable but after looking at us closely through her spectacles, Emily knew who we were all right. She eased her way through the broken fence and approached us rather gingerly as if unsure whether she was interrupting anything. Told her we'd been set upon and I think she may have got the impression we'd been robbed and tied up so the thieves could make a head start. Didn't want to let on too much so I asked if she could reach into my back pocket and grab a knife that had been inaccessible because of the way we'd been tied. She did so and managed to slide a blade out with difficulty and use it to cut through Allie's bonds under my instructions, and then mine. I left her to ask more questions of Allie while I mentally calculated the odds of finding our foreign friends still at the cottage. 'Not a chance,' I decided but we had to hurry things needed to be set into motion.
"Thanks Emily. Thanks a million - what a break that you happened to come along this way."
Emily basked in our praise for a few moments as Allie added her thanks. Blushing, she became quite confused.
"What a thing to happen when I'm on my way to work," she told us. "I'm all of a twit."
She picked up her bag and tried to brush us down a bit but I told her not to worry we'll fix that when we're back at the cottage. She could accompany us and we'd fill her in with a few more details over a cup of tea. That made the moment for her a thrilling adventure followed by tea and biscuits was right up her alley. I put my arm around Allie and, followed by Emily, we staggered to the road and made our way as briskly as we could taking into account our aches and pains from sitting in such a cramped position all night. As we strode towards Quarry Cottage I strained my ears for the sound of a car but none came, which was not too surprising. The foreigners would have taken the prince hours ago and were possibly airborne if they were organized ... and I was sure they were.
Reached the yard and walking up to the cottage we found the door ajar. Allie gasped and I think we both thought the same no one inside! Emily came up at the rear and followed us inside where we were greeted with silence. No noise upstairs, no sound of feet on the stairs but Allie and I went up anyway to confirm our direst thoughts. The girls' beds were empty with the blankets and sheets pushed back. Dinah's clothes were hanging on a chair and Lucy-Ann's were tidily placed on her bedside locker.
I heard a plaintive cry. "Bill, not again surely! Not again ..."
I held Allie's hand and we went up to the attic room and found the door had been smashed in. No one there of course, least of all Gussy. I noted down various things Jack and Philip's beds had been slept in and their pyjamas were nearby. No sign of clothes. Gussy's were where he'd put them, folded neatly on the small table so it looks as if he'd been abducted in his pyjamas and dressing gown, like the girls. Allie and I looked at each other and I held her close - all the children missing but why not just Gussy? A voice invaded our thoughts.
"Sir, ma'am, cuppa's ready."
Thankful for the distraction, we followed Emily downstairs to the kitchen where she poured steaming hot coffee into large cups before producing a plate of crisp biscuits while Allie and I made ourselves comfortable at the oak table. I told Emily to join us and gave her a brief account of what had happened although I didn't fill her in on too much detail concerning the prince. He was a boy with rather 'High Up' parents and we suspected foul play. Emily was extremely sympathetic because she'd become very fond of the children even though she'd known them only a few days. I fetched my book and was making notes while Allie assured our housekeeper that I'd be taking action in the course of my work and I think she may have felt it was all connected with my detecting activities, which it was of course but she wasn't aware of the finer details.
When we'd relaxed for half an hour and had finished up the biscuits and coffee that substituted for breakfast I told Emily that due to the circumstances, I'd like her to take a couple of days off seeing there were no children to clear up after and I couldn't exactly see myself being here after a few hours had passed. There were things to be done and they had to start as of now. She understood and, patting Allie's shoulder, told her not to worry although I think she was near to tears herself; we'd both been impressed with her praise of the children and Kiki who " ...made the work here so interesting because they were always full of fun!" and I knew what she meant. The kids are never short of jokes and bright remarks and there's endless teasing ... especially from Philip when he's feeling at a loose end. She has a special spot for Philip and his pet, but she's very fond of them all and, telling us we only have to call, she took her shawl from the peg and, escorting her to the door, Allie, and I watched her shuffling over the cobbled courtyard and waving briefly as she rounded the corner.
We took stock.
Strangely, we didn't feel as desperate as we used to when the kids disappeared and it was probably because they'd been whisked out of our orbit several times yet had always managed to take care of themselves ... sometimes in remarkable ways. Managed to get a wan smile from Allie when I reminded her that any abductors would be stuck with a handful of children who'd caused the demise of some powerful organizations and, added to that, the kidnappers had to contend with Kiki.
"Bill," she said. "Let's keep ourselves occupied. While you're on the 'phone, I'll go up and make the beds, then later I might pay a visit to the farm and find out what's happened."
'Good idea,' I thought and after Allie had put the dishes in the sink, she went upstairs. I sat at a small writing desk by the window and looked out onto the courtyard where the sun was picking out various flowers in the boxes and tubs making me want to be out there amongst them with Allie and the children. No matter what happens, be it war or abduction, the flowers just keep on growing unaffected by either. Were they lilacs? Looked like lilacs. 'We'll gather lilacs in the spring again, and walk together down an English lane ...' Allie, myself, and the children.
I suddenly wanted to hug Allie. I raced upstairs and found her in the girls' room tucking a sheet into Dinah's bed and looking so woebegone that I seized her in my arms.
"I'll find them Allie," I said. "Don't you worry ... just give me a short time and they'll be in our hands again."
"Bill, do you really think so," she said looking straight into my eyes.
I mustered up every bit of confidence available and nodded.
Allie sighed. "Delayed reaction. I needed time for everything to sink in - being tied up and left out all night then finding they've all disappeared. It's sunk in now, Bill."
"Give it an hour or two Allie, and then you'll feel much calmer. I need time too ... I started daydreaming down there but it's all part of the process. Just keep yourself busy and I'll get things in motion."
She looked much more relaxed when I left her and went downstairs to prepare a plan. Started on the blower at 10:30 and first of all got the embassy to alert Bouvier who sounded less concerned than I thought, but then he wasn't directly responsible. Knowing the boy was targeted, the prince had been placed with the French so that a slightly enhanced degree of anonymity would be preserved but now it was me in the firing line. Bouvier said he'd inform the Tauri ambassador and I told him to pass on my assurance the case was No.1 priority. The kidnapping threat had been known of for some months due to the current state of affairs in the country but no real cause for alarm existed at the present time because the boy was needed alive and well. Nothing was said about the others because I didn't want to complicate things and besides, their whereabouts was pure speculation. I couldn't for the life of me think the prince would have been taken anywhere other than to his own country. It had to be, but what about the others ... why would the kidnappers want them?
Rang HQ and after a few words with Victor who was filling in on the switchboard for Janice who " ... was taking her usual hour for morning tea," I asked him for a direct line to Del Gianni who's currently on the diplomatic squad having discarded the office he used to man almost single-handedly. Victor sensed the urgency and in less than forty seconds Del's smooth voice with its marked Italian accent sounded reassuringly in the receiver. He asked me why I was back in Bow Street and when I told him the call had been rerouted from Brockton he immediately became 'all ears,' sensing something was up.
After reporting the disappearance of the children there was a pause as if he was weighing up what actions need to be taken and when he came on again the instructions were precise: I needed to be around. I already knew that and the next twenty minutes were spent passing on details about where we were, the layout of Brockton, the visitors, and anything else that could assist ... even describing the picnic and our glimpse of the farm lodgers' car from a hilltop.
"I don't need to tell you this is serious Bill. These kidnappers are professionals as you probably realize but no one would have expected them to hone in on you in such a short time so the odds are that you and your wife were under surveillance long before the boy was taken into your care. From what you've said I think I'll put in a request at the next meeting that we refer this to Ionescu at the consulate.
"Thinking what I'm thinking?" I asked.
"Agente sotto copertura!"
"We're speaking the same language if I'm interpreting you correctly."
Del said, "They'll have to do some checking but right now I need you here, Bill, and don't worry too much because it won't do any good - we still don't know enough to worry about. You never know ... those kids of yours from what I've heard, might turn up tomorrow."
He had a point I suppose, but the odds were stacked against it and after telling him to give me a few hours I put down the receiver. Hopping back upstairs I collided with Allie who was just about to descend with a pile of laundry. Helped her pick it up, kissed her as penance for my violent act, and went to get my other notebook from the bedroom. Came back down and informed Allie that we won't be together for a day or two and although she understood, it was sad to think our 'wonderful holiday' had come to this no kids, no prince, and we wouldn't even be together. Would like to have taken her with me but the flat at Whittaker St has been let and I'll have to stay at police lodgings which aren't all that wonderful. Besides we have the cottage for the next week or so and the Ellis's are on hand. Emily could provide some company as well and they should be safe because, now Gussy was gone, I had a feeling that no threats from foreigners were in any way imminent.
My darling's organizing prowess has always been her strong point. Allie disappeared and shortly she came down the stairs with my 'going away' case and spare jacket.
"Everything you need is inside," she said with a peck on my cheek.
"I need you."
She laughed and explained that she couldn't fit in. It was good to hear her brightening up and I think we realized that, unlike previous times, there was not such a prevailing sense of hopelessness. We both agreed this was due to the fact that 'those children' could look after themselves in the most unfortunate circumstances whether they be unceremoniously dumped in a remote valley or perhaps imprisoned by villains inside a mountain.
"They'll be all right won't they Bill?"
"Allie," I said " ... if they're in Britain the children will get word through somehow and if they've been taken off with the prince, which I'm beginning to think is more likely, they'll have to be looked after. The perpetrators need Gussy in good health and, if I know him, he wouldn't be happy to see his friends ill-treated ... and remember Allie he's royalty."
Pep talk or not, Allie looked even more relaxed and after kissing her goodbye, I was into the car and away down the driveway. Turning into the road I blew another kiss and watched her in the mirror as she waved me out of sight. Driving fast along the country roads I collected my thoughts and sorted all priorities, then relaxed and fantasized. Thought idly of Kiki - if the kids were going to continue having their extraordinary adventures for the rest of their lives, why couldn't I start up a course of intense bird training? With plenty of treats for bribes, could a bird be taught to take notes? Trapped in a castle high up on a cliff the kids could tie a message to Kiki's leg and if she was trained to take it to the first human she saw, a rescue process could be organized much sooner than in the past.
No thought had been given to lunch because the children's disappearance had wiped out any thoughts of hunger and the convivial cuppa with Emily had been our only sustenance. Moments of desperation have a habit of wiping any hunger pangs in the Mannering family and I was quite happy to wait until the evening. Reached Stourbridge round 14:15 and managed to bypass the inevitable road works by carrying on to Banbury and making good time, I was cruising into Watford at 16:30. Felt a little spent after the trip no doubt due to the uncomfortable night we'd endured in some farmer's paddock. Reached The Embankment and rather than dropping into Bow Street, I drove direct to the Yard and, leaving the car in good hands, made my way up to the third floor.
Feeling very much at home striding down the green carpet past wooden panelled walls, I walked the 'mile' and knocked on Del's door before going in. Luckily he was still there sitting at his desk and a big smile came over his face when he saw me.
"Bill, come in, come in." Del's the epitome of Italian hospitality and waving me over to the sofa he came out from behind his desk.
"Coffee and Biscuits?"
"Yeah, and plenty of bikkies thanks Del, seeing I've had no lunch."
After opening his secretary's door and whispering a few instructions Del joined me.
"There's a meeting tomorrow at nine ... Big Boss'll be there and meanwhile you can have the adjoining communications room downstairs to ..."
"Right! We'll give you a line out to anywhere you fancy, now what do you want?"
I told him there needed to be a complete check done on all airports although I was sure the findings would be 'Nil.'
"I'd say you're right on that count Bill but it's already in process."
I was pretty sure the hunt would call for a trip to the prince's own country and I volunteered there and then. Del expressed himself as he always does with a lot of hand-movements as we discussed the details although, as he said, everything had to be confirmed by the Big Cheese - after all we were dealing with royalty at High Government Level. Shortly the door opened and Del's secretary edged her way through with a tray bearing a pot of tea and utensils including large white serviettes. I looked at her in 'observation mode' ... early thirties with features reflecting an Italian ancestry. A mass of dark brown hair framing a finely etched face; olive skin contrasting pleasantly with a magenta lipstick. An attractive female all round and with good dress sense consisting of a navy coloured outfit that sported a large zip down the front. The material looked like it was made of that acrylic stuff they're experimenting with. Interrupting my exercise, Del introduced her to me as 'Donna' and as she gracefully shook my hand, I was told she'd been with Del for six weeks, was doing an advanced secretarial course at night school, and that she lives in Maida Vale.
"How did you know my current favourites are Shortbread Fingers?" I asked spotting the familiar 'Walker's' label on an opened packet. Del raised his eyebrows.
"We make it our business to know, Bill."
"Pete put on the job was he?"
His dark eyes crinkled as he surveyed me.
"Pure coincidence - they also happen to be mine."
Donna left us to indulge ourselves, and I got stuck in whilst illustrating some of the background as to what had taken place in Brockton. As there was nothing I could do until tomorrow it was a comfortable session with Del filling me in on the current state of affairs. All air facilities were being contacted including those of the Government and one or two on the continent. Any connected R.A.F, Police, and private air personnel were also included ...
"... Which brings us to the south coast," Del said putting down his cup and selecting a piece of shortbread. "You know our contact there so how about doing the honours before beddy-bye."
"Sure," I said. "Next on the list and by the way ... where's Pete?"
"Due back from enquiries in about half an hour so drop in on him - first floor, number 38."
I knew the office. Pete, who's currently working currently at the Yard, has been hard at work with some of the crew on his case ... and achieving good results.
After about twenty minutes, Donna came in to take the tray and I bid goodbye to the couple. Del's divorce came through six months ago, and ... I wonder! Made my way downstairs to Communications and found Dennis in his usual spot. Asked for a line and went into the side room to communicate. Sat down and after looking through my notebook I got a toll line to Hertfordshire and dialed Haileybury. The secretary answered and after mentioning my name and police interest I asked for the Head. In a matter of seconds, I heard his voice booming down the receiver.
"Christopher Smith here ... is that you Mr. Cunningham?"
I acknowledged and got straight to the point. He remained silent taking in all I had to say and then in a quieter voice he thanked me and said a rumour had been leaked but as it was 'High Level,' he'd been given only the rudiments.
"We were just informed that the prince might not be returning due to some problems regarding his inheritance," he said. "The call had come from the French Consulate and it also enclosed the gist of a telegram sent to London from the prince's country of birth - Tauri-Hessia. Incidentally, call me Christopher old chap."
I told him to address me as 'Bill 'and we spent a few minutes discussing the prince's background. Finished off by telling him that no absolute threat to his safety is perceived - he's the Royal Heir after all and all members of his family are held in great respect.
"Furthermore, we are inclined to think of Torquinel as more of a 'bargaining chip' if it could be put that crudely."
"Thanks for the information Bill," he said. "I'll pass it round to the staff if I may. What you've stated will give us a little peace of mind. He's kept his grades up which is no mean feat seeing he's still having a bit of trouble with English and by the way, he's not a bad kid although his background tends to make him a little arrogant; what he needs is a very firm hand with definite limits set."
I agreed and thinking back to my talk with Gussy, concluded I had done just that so, whereas it may not make me Father of the Year, I think it raises my status a little. I thanked the Head for his time (almost called him 'Chris') and after saying the prince's disappearance is not being publically acknowledged just yet, I put the receiver down. Wrote a memo to the effect that at 18:05 on April 8th Christopher P. C. Smith of the college had been notified as to the prince's current status. Placed it in Matt's pigeonhole.
Looking at my book again, I dialed Broadstairs and waited while various clicks and humming noises sounded. Then a voice came on.
Wrong number They were side by side in my address notes. I asked if Sergeant Blackwell was there and was told he'd left a couple of years ago, so rather than waste time explaining, I just said it was a wrong number and hung up. Blackwell gone! Seems such a short time since I'd called in on him when passing through although a date beside the number actually showed 1946! That was the Krimmel operation and now here we were once again searching for missing children who were no doubt embroiled in some intrigue. The more I thought about it, the more I felt they had been taken off with the prince because it would avoid the chance of them being interviewed and perhaps giving any descriptions or other information that could help with the investigation. If that had occurred, it would have given us an excellent start on the case but the abductors obviously had too much at stake for that to be allowed. Matt's boys would be in action now, summoning help from police establishments all over Britain but I doubted there'd be any sightings other than in the South or South West so once again I dialed, using the other number and after a long wait (probably had stairs to climb) a querulous voice came on the line.
"Thaddeus?" I asked.
"Yes, who is it?"
I guess he's there for life but after all I suppose it is his life.
"Cunningham. Bill Cunningham."
There was a pause and then
"Bill! Don't you remember? I visited you about four years ago on enquiries about some missing children. Police case."
"Children? Bill! Cunningham ... Bill Cunningham of the Metropolitan! Yes, I remember. You called round and I gave you what information I had about a flight over the coast and I remember you telephoned me a few weeks later after I read in the paper all about what you'd been up to. That was very kind because I'd wanted to know if anything I'd told you had been of help."
"Thaddeus, you were quite a hero and it was all down to your vigilance."
Rogers sounded as if he was happy to have someone ring him up.
"How very nice to hear from you again ... how's life? Are you keeping well?"
Sounding very conversational, Thaddeus said, "Blackwell in the village called round after you and your friends cleared things up I think it was in October - and he presented me with a cheque that came from some reward fund, at least that's what he told me and I was also given a certificate from the London Headquarters."
"I was very glad to hear about it. Sergeant Blackwell's gone."
"You didn't know?" Thaddeus asked.
"I didn't but then I hardly knew him ... we only met once when I called into the High Street before visiting you, and I've only just found out. We move around a bit in the Force."
"Quite true I suppose. I think he went to Whitby. Either there or to Redcar Blackwell likes being near the sea because he's got a boat and does a bit of fishing. Wouldn't mind knowing where he is so that I can send him a card."
"You never know, he may have shifted again," I said. "I'll ask around and when I get his address I'll let you know."
I imagined him sitting in the comfy chair with his good-natured 'monkey' face expressing pleasure at being contacted.
"Are you in your quarters?" I asked.
"Yes I am and just about to make myself a cup of tea."
"Tea eh? You must be making the money ... Thaddeus, I wonder if you could possibly help me again!"
"You say the word old boy and I'd be more than happy. What would you like to know?"
I thanked him and asked if there could be any chance that a 'plane had ben recorded passing over the coast some time late last night - and then I had to wait for about ten minutes whilst he climbed up inside the lighthouse to fetch his register. Eventually I heard him breathing heavily over the 'phone.
"I have the record here and am just going through it ... "
A feverish rustling noise could be heard as he checked the last entries and then he expostulated.
"Yes. I can help you ... April 8th, 1950 at 4.27am - Modified Showa L2D flew over and headed southeast. No aircraft scheduled at that time so it hadn't originated from a regular airport."
I mentally praised him - Thaddeus is a very helpful contact.
"Any other information Thaddeus? Doesn't matter how remote it might be to you, I'd like everything you have on this one."
"As it happens I have two postscripts," Thaddeus said sounding quite exhilarated at his observations being so sought after. "I contacted an associate who specializes in aircraft spotting and he told me that one of his group was awake at the time and said it flew over his house."
"He lives in Little Dewchurch," said Thaddeus after flipping a few pages over.
I told him to hold on while I sped out to the main room and asked for a detailed map of Shropshire. Back to Thaddeus and he hung on while I examined the layout. Little Dewchurch wasn't a million miles from Brockton. I told Thaddeus that no aircraft as yet had been reported fitting in with the hour and I asked him if he had any knowledge of private airfields in the specified area. To my amazement, he said that his friend had mentioned a stretch near Ley's Wood (I was scribbling fast) where aircraft had been spotted a few times. The runway had first come into prominence during the war when spies had been under surveillance and it was now on private land.
It didn't mean all that much but every bit of information had to be noted in case a fragment turned out to be of use. With the prince's country in mind, I asked Thaddeus if he knew where such an aircraft might be used in the eastern European locale and he went away to consult some more of his papers before returning and telling me that the particular 'plane had been deployed quite often in an area encompassing the Balkan Peninsula including some of the nearby capital cities.
That was good enough. It was fairly obvious that the kids had been taken out of Britain and I thanked Thaddeus profusely.
"One thing," I asked. "How come you were up at that hour?"
He chuckled. "I work shifts but prefer rising early although not every morning. Fortunately my lighthouse duties are often called upon at night."
"Of course," and after a few more thanks, we called it a day. It had been an enlightening conversation and unless tomorrow's meeting brings lots of fruit, I could easily see myself leaving these shores. Picked up the telephone again and made another call. Allie's voice came through and she sounded awfully glad to hear me. Told her the latest and asked how she felt. She sounded good and said the shock was wearing off and after some serious thought she had pretty well tied in with my idea that the children were up to it. I agreed wholeheartedly, mainly to steer her away from the qualms she'd had in years past when the kids had been on there own in some Godforsaken place. I had to encourage her and surprisingly, it wasn't all that hard. I felt this was the way to face what had happened, after all - wasn't No News classed as Good News? I reminded her of that and after exchanging kisses and telling her I'd ring tomorrow we hung up. Dennis wasn't at his post when I exited and most of the day-shift had disappeared so I hung round the entrance reading the police bulletins for about twenty minutes then went out and surprised Pete as he got out of a police car.
"If it isn't Bill. Still enjoying married life," he asked shaking my hand vigorously,
I told him he should try it sometime and asked if he was doing anything this evening.
"Nothing I can't put aside," he informed me and we arranged to meet for a drink and dinner. After a brief exchange he went inside while I got my case and went across the road and down to the accommodation block. The rooms I'd been using on and off during my stays away from Hampshire had been occupied during the shortage so after getting a key, I went upstairs to acquaint myself with a similar self-contained flat containing combined sitting room and bed area, kitchen and bathroom with shower all serviced and shiny. The flats must have been upgraded. Smoking a cigarette I relaxed for half an hour listening to the news, then showered and changed into a more respectable outfit before leaving the building and making my way at a leisurely pace from Whitehall to the Embankment. It was good to be in London again - and on a pleasant evening. I'd deliberately chosen the longer route because it was a change to have no important deadline to meet. Dark shapes could be picked out moving along the Thames some of which were briefly lit up when the light from a street lamp revealed the decks of ships with the odd figure moving amongst the crates or standing on the bow checking positions. I walked past gardens with seats amongst the bushes where people sat enjoying the peace after a day at the office and where lovers talked and basked in the solitude they'd found for themselves. I passed a few would-be revelers who were making their way towards the lights of West End for a night's entertainment. Found myself humming A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square because I was thinking of Jack. How would he fare at taming a nightingale? Philip? Allie? No, but she had tamed me and I imagined her here at my side.
Turned and walked up to the Strand, past the Lyceum and on to Bow Street where I found Pete standing outside our watering hole looking at his watch. He'd expected me to be there before him and as I'd been taking my stroll at leisurely pace we were lucky to get a table although I think if we had been found wanting, Norm would have searched out a niche for us. After all the Yard clientele is important to his business. We both had the lamb hotpot and a pleasant time was had by all - 'all' meaning Pete, myself, and a handful of staff from Operations who were having one of their nights Out On The Town. They knew about my loss and several words of sympathy and encouragement came my way. After the usual news update in detail, Pete and I discussed my imminent assignment it appears we have to wait a few days for intelligence to come through from various channels. Pete went through the gist of several meetings he'd attended that stressed 'protocol.' When dealing with royalty, facts had to be established in concrete before we acted upon them and although he sympathized strongly with the children's predicament, I could understand the logic. We were also dealing with a friendly country that was currently unstable, whose facilities we needed and yet, despite this uncertainty, I let on to Pete that Allie and I had considerable faith in the resources of our children.
Pete understood and we touched on other circumstances when the 'gang' had found themselves in strange places yet somehow had always managed to access food and housing, not to mention their uncanny ability to wander around in enemy territory with abandon.
'When I first met your troupe they were dancing around Nazis and living in a cave if I remember rightly."
"Something like that," I said thinking back. "Sure, I have qualms but it's balanced with their very real sense of survival and anyway, we can't do anything about it right now Pete, so let's try to keep in the present otherwise I might find myself wanting to jump into a plane and take off."
Pete understood as a good friend does and we turned our attention to enjoying the atmosphere, and quite risquι floorshow. Jokes went from table to table amongst those colleagues who understood the subtle inferences and what with the food, excellent ale, and conviviality I was able to forget the intensity of my darker thoughts for a while and enjoy the break. It was 23:30 when we decided to call it a night; Pete and I left the others and went outside into the cool night air for an argument as to whether the lamppost outside >i>The Marquess had two lights on, or one. Pete had parked round the corner so I was driven to the front door of my temporary digs and we just sat in the car. After a fag and relaxing chat about life and times, he was away to Tufnell Park while I let myself in to brew up a nightcap. (00:50)
Made a brief call before visiting the Yard to collect Pete's jacket. He'd left it in the restaurant last night and Norm had called the Yard with a message from The Marquess of Anglesey. According to Pete who'd rung me as I left for Bow Street, Bernie who'd answered the call had initially thought it was the real Marquess of Anglesey - apparently it's a genuine title! All sorted out in no time at all of course and as Pete's off today, I picked up the jacket and continued on down the road to collect a ledger and other papers from my office desk. Everyone was either late for work or out on enquiries, and apart from Robert manning the front counter, I could hear Ray's voice in an earnest conversation coming from a side room. Placing Pete's jacket on the hook, I collected the needed folder and was away by 09:10. Flagged down a taxi seeing no one with a staff car was anywhere about and I didn't have a half hour to spare for the walk, although I would like to have made it a contemplative stroll before starting what I could see as an intensive assignment.
Went straight to Matt's office on my arrival and he greeted me warmly. After some chitchat to establish where we each stood in the Game of Life, he spoke into the intercom and announced I was here. We vacated his office and took a lift up to the boardroom where Stu greeted us. Stu's hair is always brushed well back and his spectacles make him look a bit like a professor with a slightly sour, inquisitorial look as if he was contemplating a problem. His looks however belie a razor-sharp mind and a sense of humour that often manifests itself with a sudden laugh as if someone had suddenly tickled him. He'd come prepared with sheaves of documents and a clipboard that had his inevitable pencil chained to it. Stu never uses pens if he can help it.
"I do a lot of rubbing out," is his excuse and that's fair enough because it explains why he's never wrong ... or at leas appears never to be wrong. He was as sympathetic as anyone could be for a man who doesn't show too much emotion and I could see it was genuine.
"I've heard all about it, Bill and we'll do our level best to get on top of the problem."
There were no recriminations about the prince disappearing when he was in my care and I think that would have been because my record (hopefully) speaks for itself. It could have happened to anyone in the Upper Echelons. We had been on holiday. There had been no hint of a coup up to the time of the disappearance. No one had been able to foresee the Count's plan because the greatest pains had been taken to conceal any detail, and other recent intelligence showed he was a past master at manipulation. Together with the Prime Minister's wife, an intelligent woman, they wielded considerable power.
We sat down at the vast table only to rise again as Stu opened the door and admitted Scottie who strode in to shake our hands before directing all to be seated. He settled himself at the head of the table and Stu took a chair directly to the right ready to pick up any reference that might be needed. Sir Harold looked at me before commencing and expressed his genuine sorrow about the whole affair.
"Bill, we'll do everything we can to sort this out and our reps are already meeting with the Tauri Movers and Shakers. Believe me, no stone will be left unturned with this case because it's at diplomatic level and that's my specialty as you are aware. I know them all at the Foreign Office and I'm pulling rank as far as I can, so rest assured."
I thanked him and so as not to waste any more time, Matt started things off by explaining exactly what had been done in the last 48 hours while Stu scribbled away on his board. I gave my account and left out nothing.
"Doctor seen you both?" Scottie asked and I told him we hadn't been hurt in any major sense just a few bruises and a lump on my head, but it was healing fast.
"It's your fitness that keeps you healthy," Matt said winking at me and he was probably right seeing I don't let my workout schedule lapse like many do.
Matt said. "Bill, I've received the report of the conversation you had with Rogers and it looks like we need someone at the Tauri end."
I nodded my head as he continued.
He addressed Scottie, "I can't see wild horses keeping him here Harold," and turning to me, " ... you want to go don't you Bill?"
Once again I nodded and waited whilst Scottie spoke a few words with Stu who'd ceased writing and was gathering his papers. Our leader is a man of action. The activity dissolved into general discussion and finally Scottie packed up what papers he had and said,
"Nothing more needs to be covered here so take note."
Reading from a page Stu thrust at him he announced,
"Three days are needed to wind up the ambassador's enquiries at both ends, so we'll meet in Communications on April 12th at 00:09 sharp. See you later Bill - and Matt, if anything comes up inform O'Neil and he'll get through to me tout suite; right now I'm off to the embassy." ... and with that he got up and left the room accompanied by his faithful aide.
"Jolly kind of him to take a personal interest," Matt said and I agreed. Scottie hardly ever comes in these days due to semi retirement and someone else has even been using his office but his contacts are immense and I sensed special concern for one of his own staff's kith and kin ... and of course, the seriousness that had arisen. Royalty is Royalty after all.
I'd like to have gone back to join Allie but thought it best to get stuck into any work that had mounted up. I wanted nothing else on my mind when the trip came up and I was sure it would. I wasn't currently engaged in anything of great importance and as four of the children involved were mine and Allie's, I was obviously the most eligible however I'd need at least one companion although I couldn't think who that might be but anyway, it wasn't my worry. I wouldn't be sent alone so Matt or someone in the know would find a staff member to accompany me. Matt and I went downstairs and had lunch together before I left, and to get my mind off the children, I spent the afternoon in my office tidying up the workload. There was quite an amount and I got through a good portion of paperwork with a resolve that the next three days would be spent on fixing up anything else that needs attention.
Matt invited the lone visitor from Hampshire to dinner and I readily accepted, so he collected me in his Triumph Roadster which was duly admired. I could see he was proud of it.
"We'll have to get your mind on other things," Matt had said to me at lunch and I thanked him for his kind gesture.
"Don't you believe it," he said. "We're shouting you to the pictures and as I want to see Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, I need your support.
I laughed out loud telling him I'll do my best but it was no good. After Betty had served us with dinner fit for a prince, I was ready to go along with whatever she suggested despite Matt looking urgently at me, but in good humour seeing he was on his third glass of wine ... and it certainly wasn't going to be, as Betty stated -
" ... any beautiful blonde from whatever or wherever! We're going to the Rialto!" ... so the Rialto it was to see Bitter Rice.
Good choice. Really enjoyable movie and even Matt was singing its praises as we emerged from the theatre and walked to the Woottons' car to discuss all aspects particularly the crime vein that ran through it. Matt and Betty dropped me at my lodgings and with waves and loud "Goodnights," they took off for St. John's Wood while I climbed the steps to my apartment. (00:05)