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Down by the Riverby Julie Heginbotham
The Five Find-Outers and dog take a jaunt in a boat on the river. But nothing is ever simple when Fatty and his friends are around, and the picnic soon becomes a hunt for treasure!
"Lisa, nice to see you again," smiled Bets, turning at the sound of the rear garden gate opening and closing, causing Buster to raise his head to view their visitor, before dashing over for the usual fuss everyone made of him. "Come and join us."
Once Buster had finished his greeting, Larry and Pip stood and kissed Lisa, and pulled out a garden chair for her. The afternoon was filled with glorious sunshine and they were enjoying the heat in Fatty and Bets' garden.
"Cool beers all round," began Fatty, walking from the kitchen carrying a tray of cans and glasses. "Hello Lisa, what a nice surprise." He placed the tray down on the table, saying, "Help yourselves," and kissed Lisa, before sitting down and picking up one of the cans.
"Do you want a glass, Lisa?" asked Bets, handing one over to her.
"Thanks, Bets." She smiled.
"School holidays I suppose," said Larry, after taking a long drink of the cooling beer.
"Yes, six long weeks." Lisa smiled at everyone. "That's the advantage of working in a school – the holidays."
"How's Hilary?" asked Pip, enquiring after Lisa's grandmother.
"Fine," Lisa nodded with smile. "Where's Daisy?"
The others looked at each other with a knowing grin. Lisa didn't know that Daisy had married Paul, and they proceeded to tell her about the wedding and their honeymoon in Cornwall.
"That was quick," Lisa grinned. "They only met earlier this year. I remember seeing him at the play. Are they back, yet?"
"They got back two days ago, but we've not seen them," said Bets, looking around at the others with concern. "Maybe I should call?" She looked at Fatty.
"Daisy will pop round when she's ready to," said Fatty, firmly, raising a brow.
Larry and Pip exchanged silent glances which Lisa didn't miss.
"What's the mystery?" she asked, puzzled.
Before anyone could answer, the sound of the garden gate had everyone turning to the sound, and Buster raced over to say hello to their visitor with his usual enthusiasm.
"Hello Paul," said everyone.
Paul greeted them all with a smile, but looked worried.
"Where's Daisy?" asked Bets.
"I don't know," came his answer. "I thought she might be here."
The others looked at Paul in puzzlement. "Don't say you've lost your wife already," began Lisa, in jovial tones. "You've only been married five minutes."
Paul looked around at everyone with a weak smile. "She's been gone about two hours now. I've been all around the village."
"Did she say where she was going?" asked Larry, frowning in puzzlement.
"No," was Paul's vague answer.
"Have you had a row?" asked Bets.
Paul shook his head. "She's been a bit quiet since we came back."
Paul didn't seem to want to give anything away, probably because Lisa wasn't aware of the secret they'd all only just learnt.
"You must have said something," Lisa shrugged. "Trouble with you men is, you don't know what you say." She sent Fatty a tantalizing smile. "I guess Fatty is the exception though."
Bets sent him a mischievous wink. It amused her to see Lisa always trying so hard to get the better of Fatty and embarrass him. But that was something she'd never be able to achieve, he would always be one up on everything.
He rose from his chair and, standing by Lisa, cupped her head in his hands, and kissed her head, saying. "Lisa, we all love you dearly, but right now isn't quite the time for your flirtatious humour. We're worried about Daisy." He turned to Paul. "You've only just told her, haven't you?"
He nodded. "Last night. I didn't want to spoil our time at the hotel, and quite frankly, I've only just had the courage." Paul looked really worried and concerned, and looked like he needed the support of everyone around him.
"Told her what?" asked Lisa, now bursting with all this secrecy that she knew nothing about.
"Not now, dear," said Bets, firmly, standing up besides her husband. "We must all split up and look for her. Pip, Larry, can you both go and walk along the river heading eastwards. Lisa, can you walk back to Hilary's and keep your eyes peeled for Daisy."
"You can walk with me, Paul and tell me what all this is about," said Lisa, rising from her chair.
"No. Paul you must go back home in case she comes back," put in Fatty firmly. "We've all got our mobiles so contact Paul first if anyone finds her before contacting the rest of us. Bets and I will drive over to Maidenhead. Come on, Buster, time for a car ride."
"Why Maidenhead?" asked Paul, gently shaking his head.
"Surely you know that's where Roger is buried," said Bets. "It's the only other place where Daisy could be."
Paul sighed deeply, tapping his head with his hand. "Of course. Stupid of me not to have remembered."
"In the early days when Daisy was on a downer, that's where we'd always find her," said Larry, matter-of-factly, "sitting by Roger's grave."
Paul shook his head sadly. "I had no idea."
"No point in beating yourself up about it, Paul," said Fatty. "Let's all get searching and find Daisy as soon as possible."
* * *
Fatty and Bets found Daisy, kneeling at Roger's grave, whilst she carefully tied up the small colour stones within the knotted kerbs. She looked up at them both with a weak smile, tears threatening to fall from her eyes.
In a quiet voice and helping Daisy to her feet, Fatty said. "Come on, let's sit for a while. Much easier on the knees."
Daisy accepted his help and together with Bets they sat on the nearby form. Bets handed her a tissue and linked her arm through Daisy's. "Paul is a good man, Daisy. I'm sure Roger was really proud to know he had a twin. Why else would he have been dashing over to tell you the news he'd just learnt?"
Daisy wiped her eyes. "I know. It's just the shock of knowing that Roger's death was intentional, even though it was mistaken identity."
"Paul's lived with this guilt for as long as you've lived with losing Roger," said Fatty, softly. "You can't punish him any more than he's already punished himself over the years."
Daisy looked at Fatty and nodded. "I know. I've no intention of punishing him. What's done is done. What's past is past, the present and future is what matters now, and my happiness with Paul. I just wanted to say goodbye to Roger one more time, and say I was sorry in the way he had to die. I know Paul's blamed himself all these years, and hopefully our happiness together now, will help him to forgive himself."
Tears formed in Bets' eyes and she hugged her dear friend tightly. "I'm glad you feel that way, Daisy," she said. "Roger will be happy for the both of you, I'm sure."
Daisy smiled with a nod. "He was a good man, and so is his twin. They are very much alike and I'm lucky to have a chance at happiness."
They all sat silently for a few more minutes, whilst Fatty used his mobile to tell everyone that Daisy was safe and fine. Then they walked slowly back to the cemetery car park, where Fatty had parked his car under a group of over-hanging trees to shade the excited Buster, who's head was leaning out from one of the half opened windows on hearing his master and mistress approaching.
* * *
Paul was waiting anxiously, standing by the opened front door of the cottage. Fatty pulled up outside and Paul rushed forward to open the rear door to help Daisy out. He hugged her tightly as she alighted from the car, so happy to see her once more. He glanced across at Fatty, who stepped from his car and was smiling at them both, learning one hand on the car's roof.
"Take your wife inside and keep an eye on her, old man," he grinned with a wryly smile. "We'll see you both later at the Water's Edge, and we won't take no for an answer."
"We'll both be there, won't we darling?" he said, looking at Daisy, kissing her head. Daisy looked up at him and smiled. Then turning to Fatty she said, "Thanks, Fatty, we'll see you both later, around eight."
Fatty threw them both a smile, and with a nod got back inside the car. Bets looked out from the passenger side window and gave them both a cheery wave, as Fatty drove the short distance back to the White House.
* * *
"Hilary, Lisa, come and join us," called Fatty, as he saw them both enter by the door. They smiled and came over.
"What are you having?" asked Pip, rising from his chair. They gave him their order and sat down at the table smiling at everyone.
"I hear congratulations are in order," began Hilary, looking at Daisy and Paul.
"Yes, thanks," said Daisy, glancing at Paul, with a smile. "We had a lovely honeymoon in Cornwall. The others joined us the second week for a few days."
"Lovely," Hilary smiled. "Tell me all about the wedding."
Daisy and Paul between them talked about their wedding and honeymoon, joined in occasionally by the others, only interrupted once by Pip returning with another round of drinks for everyone.
Once Hilary and Lisa had heard everything about their day and honeymoon, Hilary said, "There's a lot of activity down by the river. Stalls and tents and a small fair are being set up ready for tomorrow. From what we heard they're going to be there for about a week, sort of summer fair."
"That sounds good," said Bets, looking around at everyone. "Reminds me of the fairs and sideshows that used to be there when we were kids. Do you remember?"
Everyone nodded. How could they ever forget the fun they used to have down by the river, especially when they had a mystery to solve?
They started to chat about those days gone by with fondness, telling Hilary and Lisa some of the mysteries they'd solved down by the river.
"You know, I seem to live more in the past these days, remembering all the happy times we had as kids," said Larry, seriously, looking around at his friends with a sadness in his eyes. "If only one could turn back the clock and relive those times again."
Everyone knew what he meant and nodded. All except Lisa of course. "You can't go back," she pointed out. "You have to live for now, today."
"You'll understand one day what we mean," Fatty smiled at her.
Lisa just shrugged and grinned.
"I've often thought I'd like to write about our mysteries, put them all in a book," said Larry, suddenly. "Under a pseudonym. A good old fashioned name, like Enid Blyton."
"You can't," said Bets, grinning over at him. Fatty's memoirs are featuring many of our mysteries as children."
"Oh," said Larry, nonchalantly with a shrug. "Just a thought."
"I used to love Enid Blyton books," Hilary said, with a smile.
"I did," said Bets. "We've still got all ours, haven't we Pip?" She looked at her brother.
"You've got them all, I expect," he shrugged. "I haven't any."
"Mine and Larry's are in a leather trunk, up in my attic," put in Daisy. "I must get them down and go through them one day."
Talk then turned to children's reading, adult reading and various other subjects before Fatty said, "Well I think it's time Bets and I said goodnight, otherwise Buster will be wondering where we are."
Hilary looked at Lisa and said they'd better start their walk back along the river before it got too dark.
"Pip and I can easily walk you back home," said Larry, rising from his seat. "Our wives are still away in Australia for a few more days yet, so we've nothing to hurry back for."
"Well if you're sure," said Hilary, with a smile. "That would be much appreciated."
Everyone made their way to the door. Pip and Larry took the river path with Hilary and Lisa, and Daisy and Paul walked with Fatty and Bets until they reached Daisy's cottage, then after saying 'goodnight' they walked hand in hand back to the White House.
* * *
"Oh, look, Fatty!" said Bets, with a small laugh. "An old balloon man. Reminds me of when you were down here many moons ago disguised as 'an old balloon woman'.
The others all looked towards the balloon seller and laughed. "The balloons have changed somewhat though," said Daisy. "They'll all halogen with character faces. Not the brightly coloured balloons Fatty was selling."
"How I would have loved to have seen you in your disguise, Frederick," smiled Lisa, with a raised brow.
"We didn't recognise him," said Larry, with a grin. "Bets here spotted him."
"Yes, even back then Bets had a huge crush on Fatty," Pip said, with a wicked grin.
Bets smiled at everyone good-naturedly, and gave Fatty's arm, which she was linking, a squeeze. "You know very well that it was Fatty's clean finger nails which gave him away."
"Sounds like you had a lot of fun solving those mysteries of yours," put in Hilary.
"Arts and crafts stall," said Daisy, suddenly, looking over to her left. "Come on Bets, let's go and look."
Bets followed Daisy, and were joined by Hilary. Buster pulled on his lead, wanting to follow, but Fatty pulled him gently back. Lisa came up besides Fatty and linked his arm. "I was born too late, Frederick," she said, softly. "I would have loved to have known you back in your young 'Find-Outer' days. Young Bets would have had a little competition."
Fatty looked at the wicked gleam in her eyes as she spoke. He smiled wryly and with a raised brow said, "Yes, I think I would have enjoyed the challenge of keeping you in check, my dear. But I'm just a little too old now to take on such a challenge."
Lisa laughed good-naturedly. "We're never too old for a challenge, Frederick."
Fatty laughed, and patted her hand. Lisa loved Fatty, as the grandfather she'd never known. She loved his smile, the way he spoke and more importantly she always felt safe and secure in his company. She put her head against his arm, then with a smile said, "Tell Gran I'll see her later, I've just spotted someone I know."
"She's a character," said Pip, watching Lisa, pushing her way through the crowd, towards the boats.
"You can say that again," said Fatty, with a grin. "Bets is beckoning us over, she must have found something she wants me to pay for."
They all spent a pleasant afternoon walking amongst the stalls and fairground attractions. At four o'clock they found a quiet spot at the edge of the water, and laid out the picnic they'd all made a contribution to. Lisa joined them just as they were setting up.
"Just in time," said Bets. "Take the cake and cut it into eight pieces if you will. Fatty, can you stop Buster from taking our sandwiches?"
"Buster, behave yourself," said Fatty, gently pulling him away from where he had his nose in one of the baskets.
"Well, this is pleasant," said Hilary, smiling around at everyone as she stretched out on the rugs, and tucking into a sandwich. "Where did you get to, Lisa?"
"I've been booking us a picnic cruiser for the day after tomorrow," she smiled, looking very pleased with herself. "It's for the whole afternoon, and has toilet, cooker, cutlery, crockery, everything on board that we'll need. All we have to do is bring the picnic."
Lisa's words were greeted with, "Oh, fabulous. Smashing. That'll be great."
"That sounds wonderful," said Daisy, looking pleased. "You must let us know how much it costs so we can all chip in." The others nodded in agreement.
Lisa looked pleased, but shook her head. "It's my treat, for everyone. After all, we younger generation have to look after you 'oldies'."
Her joviality was followed by, 'Cheek of the woman, less of the old."
"Will Buster be able to come?" Bets enquired.
"Of course," Lisa confirmed, fondling his ears. "We can't leave Buster out. He's part of the team."
"I'll look forward to that," said Larry, "it's been years since I boated on the river."
Everyone agreed that it would be wonderful to spend an afternoon cruising the river.
At the end of their picnic, while everyone was packing up, Paul kept glancing at his watch. "Why do you keep checking your watch?" Daisy asked him quietly.
Paul smiled at her, and grinned as he indicated at someone walking towards them. The others looked over to where Paul was looking.
"Well, I never," said Fatty, with a smile. "If it isn't our old friend, Edward Tupping. We don't see him for years and then suddenly it's twice within a fortnight."
* * *
"Sit down and make yourself comfortable, Ern," said Bets, indicating to the settee. "I'll pop the kettle on."
Ern – who these days went under the false name of Edward Tupping -- sat down next to Daisy and Paul. They'd all decided to walk back to the 'White House', so that they could chat properly and in private with their oldest friend. Hilary and Lisa had walked back home, after the picnic, making sure that the others didn't forget the booked river cruise and that they'd all meet at the jetty, not far from where they'd just picnicked.
Ern was looking around him. "So you finally decided to return to Peterswood and your family home," he said to Fatty.
Fatty smiled with a nod. "Both Bets and I have always wanted to come back here, and after my retirement it seemed the obvious thing to do. Especially after Mum died."
"So the Find-Outers are all together once more." He looked around at the others. "You're very lucky to have such good friends, Paul. I remember feeling really proud to have joined The Find-Outers in a few of the mysteries they managed to solve."
"Yes, Ern was a great help," said Pip, leaning forward to help Bets place the tea tray onto the low table before everyone. "How many did you help in, Ern?"
"Five I think," he said, thoughtfully, looking at Fatty.
Fatty nodded. "You could be right, Ern. We first met you when you were staying with your uncle, and we solved the Hidden House."
"Tally-Ho, was another," put in Bets.
"Vanished Prince," was Daisy's contribution.
"Strange Messages, and Banshee Towers," said Larry. "So you're right, Ern. That's the five."
"Speaking of the mysteries," said Larry, suddenly in deep thought. "What about the gem stones the Prince gave you, Ern? You left them for Fatty apparently, and we only discovered them last Christmas."
"Oh, yes," said Daisy, nodding at Larry.
Fatty and Bets also nodded as indeed did Pip, all anxious to see what Ern's explanation was.
"Good heavens, I'd forgotten about that," exclaimed Ern, his eyes lighting up in surprise. "And you say you only just discovered the stones?"
Fatty began to relate the tale to Ern, who listened in silence.
"Well I never," he said, in complete amazement, once Fatty had explained. "It was Sid and Perce who thought up the idea of leaving the stones for you to find, Fatty, as they knew you loved your mysteries. So they helped me to make up that poem, in fact, it was mainly all their work," Ern had to confess. "I went along and hid them in the old coat I'd seen hanging in your shed days earlier – when I called to introduce you to Sid and Perce. I also left the letter in your shed, then thought I'd better just tell your mother I'd called. If I remember rightly, she was in the garden anyway, by some roses."
"Mum never mentioned you'd called," said Fatty, shaking his head. "So we knew absolutely nothing about the stones or the clues to their whereabouts. Fortunately, for us, when the shed was demolished, Mum and Dad must have boxed everything up, put them in the attic and the rest is history."
"How come you never mentioned the stones, when we next saw you, Ern?" asked Daisy.
"I can't quite remember," said Ern, trying to think back. "I expect I just figured you'd not found them, and then as time went on I forgot all about the stones. They didn't look much anyway; I remember thinking at the time."
"They were in a raw uncut state," said Fatty. "There was a diamond, a ruby, sapphire, opal and an amethyst. I sold them and divided the money amongst us. You must have some of that money now, Ern."
Everyone nodded and agreed with Fatty.
"That's kind of you, but I really don't need the money," said Ern, feeling quite touched that his friends would share their money with him. "I've plenty for my own needs, Fatty, and I know that my wife Bernice is well looked after."
The others all insisted but Ern was adamant, he'd wanted them to have the stones and that was the end of it.
"Well if you won't accept any money," began Fatty, "then you'll have to accept a holiday with us all, at our expense, and that includes Bernice."
Everyone's face lit up at Fatty's suggestion.
"Excellent idea," said Pip.
"Sounds good to me," said Larry, rubbing his hands. "Where do you suggest, Fatty?"
They all started to discuss holiday destinations and possible dates. Ern had to smile, and glanced over at Paul once or twice, who was listening intently, nodding his head in approval every time Daisy mentioned a destination.
"I'll make some preliminary enquiries and let everyone know and then we can make our final decision," said Fatty, looking around at everyone's nodding heads.
"Anyway, Ern," began Larry, "you've not told us what's brought you to Peterswood."
All eyes were on Ern, who seemed to falter at Larry's enquiry, before he said. "I'm on my way for a secret meeting with Bernice."
He glanced quickly over at Paul and back again at his friends. Fatty didn't miss that look. It was almost as if he was quietly asking for Paul's approval in some way. Instantly Fatty's alarm bells started to ring. He sensed that Ern wasn't saying the real reason for his visit, and what's more he felt that Paul knew, but wasn't about to say.
Innocently the others quizzed Ern on how long he was going to stay and when did he hope to go back to his job at the hotel in Cornwall. Fatty couldn't help notice the evasiveness in Ern's tone and the sly glances between him and Paul.
Fatty noticed that it was with a sigh of relief that Ern announced he really did have to set off for his secret visit with Bernice and that if time allowed he'd call on everyone before he returned back to Cornwall.
Once everyone had left and Fatty was closing the front door, Bets looked at him with a wryly smile. "Do I detect you don't fully believe Ern's reasons for being here?"
Fatty smiled at Bets and cupped her face in his hands planting a kiss on her lips. "You know me too well, my dear. But what bothers me most is that Paul knows exactly what is going on, and poor Daisy is totally oblivious to all this."
Bets expression was full of concern as she looked at Fatty. "I do hope Paul isn't going to let Daisy down, Fatty. I really don't think she could handle that. Not after what she's only just learned about Roger."
Fatty nodded silently. Bets was right. But there was nothing he could do about it.
* * *
It had been planned for Fatty and Bets to call for Daisy and Paul, as they had to pass by their cottage on the way to the jetty. Pip and Larry were going to meet everyone at the jetty and Lisa was collecting the cruiser with her grandmother, Hilary.
Approaching Daisy's cottage, Fatty and Bets were surprised to see just Daisy waiting outside for them.
"Where's Paul?" Bets asked.
"He's not feeling quite up to it today," Daisy informed them, looking a little disappointed. "He's been gardening all morning, and I told him not to overdo it. His leg is troubling him and so he said he'd rest it up this afternoon and I was to go along anyway and enjoy myself."
"That's a shame," said Fatty, feeling suddenly guilty as a flash of doubt crossed his mind at Paul's excuse.
"I'm sure he'd be okay just sitting in the cruiser," said Bets. "We can always drive down to the jetty if he doesn't feel like walking."
"I've tried to persuade him, Bets. But he says he'll feel better just resting his leg up for the afternoon."
"Let's leave him to rest up then," said Fatty, starting to walk on with an eagerly pulling Buster who was always ready for a walk.
The others were already at the jetty when they arrived and getting into the cruiser that Lisa had tied up.
"Just in time," Lisa called to them in amused tones. "I was just about to set off without you all. Where's Paul?"
"Cried off, because of an aching leg," said Fatty, wryly.
Once everyone was aboard and Buster had taken the front seat looking out from the front windscreen, Fatty untied the rope and boarded the cruiser, placing the rope safely in the well by the steps leading to the cabin.
Sitting behind the wheel at the front, next to Buster, Lisa put the cruiser into gear and off they went. Bets and Daisy started to put away their picnic safely into the cupboards before sitting on the side benches and looking out from the windows at the passing scenery. Larry stretched up and slid back the long roof to get a cool breeze into the cruiser as the afternoon was sunny and warm.
Everyone enjoyed the gentle cruise along the river heading towards Marlow. They were only allowed to do three or four knots and Lisa piloted the boat well. Buster was in his element sitting at the front, and watched all the wildlife and ducks as they swam alongside the cruiser, hoping for a few tit-bits from the passengers. They'd been cruising along for an hour when Lisa said, "I'll pull alongside a free mooring when we come upon the next one." She turned to look behind her at everyone. "We can then picnic sitting on the bank, unless you want to stay in the boat. There is a table we can set up."
"I don't mind either way," said Daisy, looking around at everyone. "We can brew tea here on the boat, everything has been provided, even the matches for the stove."
"We'll decide when we come upon the next mooring," said Bets. "Buster will probably want to have a run around anyway."
"There's one ahead," Lisa informed them. "Will you get the rope ready to secure the rear, Frederick."
Fatty nodded and Larry stood up, saying. "I'll help tie the front securely."
Fatty opened the door to the outside steps and took up the rope, ready to step onto the wooden mooring. Lisa opened the front window and threw the front rope towards Larry, who had stepped onto the mooring, to secure his side.
"All done," said Larry, "you can switch off the engine now, Lisa."
Everyone stepped off the boat and onto the wooden mooring, which joined the small half circled grass bank. Buster rushed around sniffing into the hedges.
"This is very pleasant," said Hilary, with a smile. "It's almost like a small island, and we're the only ones here."
"Just the way we like it," returned Pip, smiling. "I'll bring out the picnic baskets. Anyone helping me?"
"Why, can't you manage such a simple task?" said Lisa, with a grin.
Pip good-naturedly pulled a face at her.
"I'll put the kettle on for tea," said Daisy, stepping back on board.
Bets went to help Pip and together they bought out the rugs and picnic baskets.
They spend a leisurely hour just sitting on the bank and watching the other boats go by. Lisa checking her watch had worked out that they could only go a little further up the river, then they would have to turn back to enable them to get back for the allotted time. With everything packed back on board and Larry having untied the front, Fatty untied the rear and quickly climbed aboard.
They had only gone along for a short way, when Fatty, who was looking out of the window on the port side suddenly, said, "I don't believe it. Surely that's Paul and Er... Edward Tupping."
In his amazement, he'd almost said Ern's name, then remembered that Hilary and Lisa were in their company, and knew nothing of Ern's secret.
Daisy was at Fatty's side instantly, looking to where he indicated. Sure enough, sitting on the opposite side of the bank, under a huge green umbrella, Paul and Ern were fishing. "Whatever is going on?" she said, in strong tones. "Lisa, you'll have to turn round and stop over at that side of the bank."
By this time the others were also looking over at where Ern and Paul were fishing. "No," said Fatty, urgently. "We can't let them know we've recognised them."
"I've got a right to know," said Daisy, firmly. "Paul's lied to me and I'm not happy about that."
"Fatty's right, Daisy," said Larry, pushing her down onto the seating. "He and Edward must have a very good reason for being there." He looked at her with a raised knowing brow, not wanting to say too much in front of Lisa and Hilary.
"Larry's right," said Bets, with a smile. "Let's just carry on with our cruise and pretend we've not seen them."
"Easier said than done," shrugged Daisy, not feeling happy about the situation.
"Maybe he'd already arranged to go fishing with his friend," said Hilary, innocently, "and didn't like to say. He's obviously planned on getting home before you anyway, Daisy."
"That must be it," said Pip, making light of it, but feeling just as puzzled and bewildered as the others.
Fatty kept glancing at the fishermen, and trying to work out exactly what it could be they were watching. He looked out the window on the bank they were passing, trying to see what would be in their eye level. The only thing they had passed was a rundown waterside pub, in the process of being refurbished. Could that be what they were watching?
Feeling that old instinct creeping up inside him from many years of policing experience, Fatty leaned over to where Lisa was at the wheel, saying, "There's a small mooring just here, can you pull in for a few moments."
"Of course," said Lisa, obligingly, and steered the cruiser besides the small mooring.
Fatty was soon out of the boat and securing the rope, whilst Larry, who had followed him was doing the same to the front. Everyone had watched Fatty in silence wondering what on earth he was up to. He stepped back on board and popped his head into the cabin, saying. "Pip, you come with Larry and me for a moment, I just want to check something out."
"Where are you going?" asked Bets, watching her brother leaving the boat.
"We won't be long," said Fatty, with a smile. "Make yourselves some more tea, and keep Buster inside, I don't want him following me."
The others watched through the windows as the three of them took a path towards some hedgerows, which would take them onto a small road beyond.
"Looks like they're heading towards that old riverside pub we've just passed," said Lisa, turning from the window. "I wonder why?"
"Has this something to do with Paul, I wonder?" said Daisy, looking across to where Paul and Ern could just be seen on the opposite bank.
"I'm just as puzzled," said Bets, shaking her head.
"I'll pop the kettle on for some tea," said Hilary, filling the kettle from the small tap. "I don't know what Frederick's up too, but I'm sure he won't be long."
Lisa was stroking Buster who was staring at the door, wondering where his master had gone. "I've a good mind to follow them and find out exactly what's happening."
"Frederick wants us to stay here, Lisa," Hilary reminded her.
"Gran, since when do I do what I'm told? Besides, if there's something going on and it sounds like there is, then I want to be in on it."
"If anyone's going then it should be me," said Daisy, firmly. "It's my husband who for some reason is being deceitful."
Lisa picked up Buster and dropped him onto Bets' lap. "If anyone's going then it's me." She looked at Daisy. "You stay with Gran and Bets, I'll just take a quick look and get back before Frederick knows he's been followed."
Before anyone could say 'no', Lisa was out the door and onto the mooring and following in the footsteps of Fatty, Pip and Larry.
* * *
"The Ferry Inn," said Pip, looking up at the old sign that was hanging off the iron frame that once secured it safely. The rest of the building was surrounded with scaffolding and from inside men at work could clearly be heard. The road they stood on was just a narrow lane, which led into what was once the pub's car park.
"This is what Ern and Paul are watching, I'm sure of it," said Frederick softly, looking up at the building.
"But they're watching it from the front," said Larry. "This is clearly the back."
"So what does that mean?" asked Pip, puzzled. "That Ern and Paul are expecting something to happen from the river side."
"If my hunch is right," began Fatty, "I think they're expecting someone approaching from a boat, and that someone I suspect is the escaped man who was involved in the gold bullion robbery where Ern was working undercover."
"I'd forgotten he was still at large," said Larry, slowly. "So if that's the case then the gold must be hidden away somewhere in this pub."
Fatty looked at Larry and nodded. "That's exactly what I was thinking."
"But there's no evidence of you being right, Fatty. Ern and Paul could be innocently fishing," said Pip.
Fatty looked at him and grinned. "I personally don't think that Paul would let Daisy down by going fishing instead of accompanying her on the river."
Pip nodded his head thoughtfully. "True, but Ern is retired."
Fatty raised a knowing brow. "You're never retired from the department that Ern worked for, Pip. They own you from the day you join to the day you die. He may not be fully active, but for innocent surveillance." Fatty left the words in the air.
"But there's men working inside," said Pip, matter-of-factly. "How on earth is he going to manage to recover what they stole?"
As they stood looking at the building a couple of the workmen came and stood outside, and nodded to the watching three. Fatty started to walk over and the others followed him.
"Quite a job on your hands," said Fatty, looking at the men, who sat down on some bricks, obviously having a break. "How long has it been empty?"
"Only a couple of years, this time," one of the men answered.
"This time?" said Pip, puzzled.
"It's been empty off and on over the last twenty years," came the reply. "It's a bit off the beaten track from the road here, and the river frontage has never really had enough mooring space. But a brewery's taken it on this time, and we're refurbishing the whole pub and the frontage is going to be extended with plenty of mooring space for boats."
"Still a long way to go, though," said Larry, looking at the building's rundown state.
"Mmm. But it is expected to be ready by next summer at the latest," came the returned answer.
"It's already attracting quite a lot of interest," another man put forward. "Just the other day someone was asking when we hoped to be finished."
Fatty's ears propped up. That could be the very person that Ern and Paul had been allocated to look out for. "I wouldn't have thought you'd get many people walking past this way," he remarked.
"This guy pulled up along the old mooring in a rowing boat," they were told. "He did try and take a look around the front but we had to tell him he wasn't allowed to tie up as this is classed as a building site."
This was interesting news to the others. So Fatty's hunch was correct, the gold bullion from the robbery over twenty years ago could well be hidden on the premises.
"We'd best leave you to it," said Fatty, nodding at the men. They started to walk back to the boat, discussing between themselves, that the inquisitive caller could well have been the very man that Ern and Paul were keeping a watch for in case he decided to return. Which they agreed would be more than likely, if the gold was hidden away in that building.
As they walked past the tall hedgerows, Larry thought he heard something and stopped suddenly to listen.
"What's wrong?" asked Pip.
"Funny, I thought I heard a sort of stifled sound."
They looked to where Larry thought the sound came from, but could see or hear nothing.
"Could be a small animal rustling the leaves," suggested Fatty.
"More than likely," nodded Larry.
They arrived back at the cruiser to quite a surprise. Tied up not too far from it was a small rowing boat, and the biggest surprise they got was to see a boat alongside theirs, with Paul and Ern, leaning forward and talking to Daisy, Bets and Hilary.
"Oh Fatty, thank heavens you're back," said Bets, in relief. "Paul and Ern have been telling us about someone they're watching. He tied up his rowing boat and headed off in the direction you took."
Fatty raised a concerned brow at the use of Ern's name. Noting this Bets quickly added that there had been no choice but to put Hilary in the picture.
"He escaped from prison just over two weeks ago," put in Daisy, "and it seems he's after retrieving some gold he had hidden away."
Fatty nodded at Ern and Paul. "I thought as much, when we spotted you fishing on the opposite bank. He was here the other day enquiring about the pub we've just seen according to the men working there."
"Sorry I couldn't say anything before," began Ern, "but Paul and I..."
He was suddenly interrupted by Hilary, as she looked around saying. "Where's Lisa? Didn't she catch you up, Frederick? She left shortly after you did."
"What?" Fatty looked at Hilary concerned. "We never saw Lisa."
"I've just had a thought," said Larry, looking worried. "What if that stifled sound I heard was Lisa, and that man has, for some reason, captured her."
"Oh no!" shouted Hilary. "Frederick, you must do something. She could be in some sort of danger."
* * *
"Let's not panic," said Pip, trying to calm the rising panic he could see in Hilary's face. He turned to Paul and Ern. "Do we know if he's dangerous?"
Ern and Paul looked at each other and shrugged. "Not sure," said Paul. "Our instructions were to keep watch only."
"There are men undercover inside the building," said Ern, "and we are in radio contact."
"I think we'd better retrace our steps," said Fatty, glancing at Hilary anxious face. "We've got to do something."
"I agree," said Larry. "Let's get going."
"I'm coming too," said Hilary, rising from her seat. "I can't just sit here and wait."
"We'll all come," said Bets. "We can make it look like we're out for an innocent stroll, walking our dog."
Ern nodded. "Okay, I'll make radio contact and let the others know just in case."
So leaving Ern and Paul to tie up their own boat, the others set off, at a gentle walking pace, as if taking an afternoon leisurely stroll, an eager Buster pulling on his lead. They soon came upon the 'Ferry Inn' and stopped outside. Nothing could be heard, not even the men working inside.
"We've got to go in," said Hilary, looking at Fatty. "Lisa could be in danger."
"But we don't know if she's in there," said Daisy.
"Where else could she be?" snapped an anxious Hilary. "We've not passed her."
Everyone was looking at Fatty, waiting for him to suggest something. But Fatty knew that this was a situation that needed special handling as they didn't know what they were dealing with. He still couldn't help thinking that Ern and Paul knew more than they were saying.
Buster wondering what everyone had stopped for, starting barking and looked towards the building. "He's heard something," said Larry, glancing at the others.
"Then let's take a look," said Hilary suddenly, walking off towards the opened door before anyone could say anything. But before she reached the door, the workmen from inside were walking out and right behind them was a man holding a gun in one hand and holding tightly onto Lisa with the other. They were all just as surprised and anxious to see Fatty and the others as they were to see them.
"Lisa!" shouted Hilary, stopping in her tracks.
"Keep back, Gran," Lisa ordered her. "The gun is loaded." She suddenly winced in pain as the man tightened his grip and dragged her nearer towards him on seeing the audience before him.
"You hurt her and I'll do you some damage," shouted Hilary, beside herself with rage at the scene before her.
Bets and Daisy took hold of Hilary as she quivered with rage and anger.
"Just stay back all of you, or this woman gets it," the man shouted, looking at everyone, the gun waving in his hand.
"Look mate, what's this all about?" said one of the workmen, shaking his head in confusion. "We're just doing a job of work in there." Fatty recognised him as one of the men they'd spoken to just a short while before.
"Nobody would have been the wiser if this nosey interfering woman hadn't crept up on me and spotted the gun," shouted the man, pulling Lisa closer towards him, his arm clearly tightening around her neck. Lisa pulled at the tight grip that was beginning to block her airway. "No one would have seen me hiding inside until the coast was clear and I could have recovered my belongings which I left inside years ago."
Fatty glanced over at the men who were closely watching the man's every move. Could these men be working undercover, he thought to himself, and said, "But the gold bullion you stole doesn't belong to you."
The man looked at Fatty in surprise. "How on earth would you know that?"
"Because I'm ex-Commander Frederick Trotteville and I was working on that case when you first stole the gold bullion."
The workmen looked on in complete amazement, at Fatty's words which had clearly stunned the man holding the gun, for Lisa felt him release a sigh and his grip around her neck loosened slightly enough, for her to take a very big risk. Without contemplating the outcome of her actions, she suddenly swung her bent elbow into the man's stomach and with a clenched fist threw her hand back into his face. Instantly his grip was released enabling her to take a few running steps forward, until she heard a loud bang and felt an agonizing pain shoot through her lower leg as she crumpled onto the floor, feeling dazed and falling as in slow motion.
Everything happened so quickly then. The man was overpowered by the workmen who had rushed forward, knocking the gun from his hand and securing his arms behind his back before locking them together with handcuffs. Bets and Fatty were instantly at Lisa's side, as she lay dazed and screaming on the floor. Daisy and Larry were holding tightly onto Hilary, trying to keep her calm, and Pip feeling totally stunned was looking on, holding tightly onto Buster's lead.
Suddenly appearing from out of nowhere, Pip noticed Ern who was on a hand held radio shouting that a M.O.P. had been shot and an ambulance was required immediately.
Bets was putting her nursing skills to good use, making Lisa as comfortable as possible and doing her best at reducing the blood flow from the wound. Fatty was kneeling at her side, cradling her head in his arms and muttering soothing words into her ear.
In the distance Fatty could hear the sound of the ambulance's siren and sent Bets a look of relief. Lisa looked at him through the tears in her eyes, her voice and body shaking with the shock. "I'm sorry, Frederick. I messed things up. I'm so scared."
Fatty kissed her cradled head and whispered into her ear. "Everything will be fine, my dear. The ambulance is here now. You'll be up and about in a few weeks time."
Lisa sent him a grateful look as his face became a blur before her eyes and she sank gratefully into oblivion.
Fatty looked at Bets with deep concern as he felt her body go limp in his arms but she gave him a reassuring smile and said that everything would be fine.
Thankfully the ambulance crew took charge moments later and Lisa and a very shaking and crying Hilary was transported away to the sounds of the sirens.
"I can hardly believe what's just happened," said Larry, softly, still feeling as stunned as everyone else at what had just taken place. "Those workmen must have been the undercover men that Ern mentioned."
Fatty nodded his head, still feeling rather shaken and full of concern for their friend Lisa. He glanced over at Ern, who was now talking with Paul and a few other police officers.
Daisy was looking angry as she looked over towards Ern and Paul. "I hate all this cloak and dagger business." Bets came over towards her and put her arm around Daisy.
"Let's just hear what they have to say before we make any rash judgements," she smiled, trying to calm her friend. "We've all had a bit of a shock."
"I know what Daisy means," said Pip. "At least when Fatty was in the force, Bets knew what was going on. Paul and Ern seem to have a lot of secrets."
It was a very downhearted company that took the cruiser back to Peterswood. Larry took the wheel, with Pip sitting next to him. Paul came back with them and sat with his arm around a shocked and shaken Daisy, whilst Fatty cradled a weeping Bets in his arms, her pale coloured trousers smeared with blood from Lisa's wound. Ern had stayed to report the incident to his superior officers and the escaped prisoner had been spirited away inside a police car. Buster seemed to be the only one who was enjoying the trip back on the river, as he sat upright, watching the passing wildlife and ducks that once again were intent on following their boat.
* * *
The following day Ern called in to see Fatty and Bets and quickly explained that the gold bullion had been found in the cellars of the 'Ferry Inn' behind a false wall. Apparently they learnt that when the escaped prisoner had heard from the workmen, just a few days before that most of the cellar was to be rebuilt, he knew he had to act swiftly to remove the hidden gold before it was discovered. With the case now closed Ern was on his way to spend a few quiet days with his wife, Bernice and would be in touch with them all in a few days time.
"How's Lisa?" he had asked, rather lamely, feeling responsible for her outcome.
"She's recovering well, according to Hilary. We'll pop along and see her sometime tomorrow," Fatty had replied with a smile.
Ern had nodded his head and smiled rather sheepishly, before making his departure.
* * *
"Well you're looking a lot better," said Bets, with a smile at Lisa, kissing her cheek. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better," said Lisa, with a smile, leaning back on the soft pillow after kissing everyone. "It's so nice to see you all."
"Hilary's been keeping us updated with your progress," said Fatty, and I believe you'll be out soon."
Lisa nodded happily. "Hopefully, once I've seen the physio. I was lucky the bullet went straight through my leg. I won't be back at school for a while though."
"I should think not," said Daisy, firmly. "You can't teach games just yet."
"You enjoy the rest, while you can," said Larry, noticing a quick flash of sadness that had crossed her face at not being able to return to work.
"I wouldn't be in this mess if I'd listened to Daisy," Lisa confessed.
"There's no point in going over old ground," said Pip. "At least you're on the mend and that's the main thing."
Everyone agreed and gave Lisa words of encouragement.
"It all happened so quickly," she began, with a shake of her head. One minute I was following you and the others, Frederick, keeping a short way back out of sight, and the next minute I was almost on top of this man, hiding by the hedgerows and loading up his gun."
"What happened then?" asked Larry.
"He made a grab at me, and pushed me down behind the hedgerow just as you and the others were heading back to the boat."
"I thought I'd heard something," nodded Larry. "If only we'd investigated further."
"You weren't to know," said Lisa, "and I couldn't call out, as he had his hand over my mouth."
"You must have been so terrified," said Fatty, feeling guilty. "What happened then?"
"He had the gun pushed into my side and made me walk with him to the pub. No one saw us, and we crept inside. He said he was going to hide me there until he'd finished what he came to do. But somehow, his plan went wrong, and we were discovered. It was almost as if the men inside were looking for him."
The others listened intently to what Lisa had to say. "That makes sense," said Pip, "as we know Ern was going to radio in about Lisa, when we set off to look for her."
"When they saw he had a gun pointing at me, they had to back off and he ordered everyone outside, and we followed," she finished.
"It sends a shiver down my spine just thinking about it," said Bets, with a shake of her head. "You were very brave to do what you did, Lisa."
"I had to take the chance of escape. I didn't think for one minute he'd pull the trigger."
"Well it's all over now, so you just put all your efforts into getting better," said Daisy, patting her hand.
Lisa smiled at everyone, and picked up the grapes that Fatty and Bets had brought in and handed them round. Daisy, Pip and Larry had brought her some flowers which the nurse had taken away to arrange into a glass vase.
"Didn't Paul want to come?" Lisa said to Daisy, popping a grape into her mouth.
Daisy shook her head. "I told him not to. I can't help feeling that if he and Ern hadn't been on the lookout for this man, then none of this would have happened."
"It's not their fault," said Lisa, good naturedly. "I should have stayed on the boat."
"Hindsight is something we all wish we had," said Fatty, with a smile.
"I guess I should have realized that taking the Find-Outers out for the afternoon, down on the river could well lead to something else," said Lisa, looking at them all with a grin.
"That's true," said Larry, good naturedly. "At least we've got a nice quiet holiday with Ern to look forward too."
Lisa's brows rose enquiringly.
"You must get better as soon as you can, because you're also invited," said Fatty.
Everyone agreed and Lisa looked so pleased. A holiday with the Find-Outers, now that was really something to look forward to. "Quiet holiday, you say, Larry," she said, with a wicked grin. "I wouldn't speak to soon going by the reputation of the Find-Outers."
Everyone had to laugh. "Now there's a challenge you can't refuse, my dear," said Fatty, throwing her a wryly smile.
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