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Hide & Seekby Sally Neary
PART 5: Conclusion – July 1986 – Lincolnshire and Cornwall
The road is clear, and I am making good progress, thought Bill, as he drove along. It was a fine morning in early July, the kind of midsummer morning that made you feel good to be alive, he thought. The Lincolnshire countryside was so different from Cornwall, much flatter in general, but with so much more space. He came to the sign he was looking for, and turned right off the A15. Another twenty minutes, and he would be in Boffame.
We have a lot to discuss this morning, Gus and I, he thought, as he drove along. He and Allie had driven up from Cornwall the previous day and stayed overnight with Snubby and Lucy-Ann in St Albans, and Allie had remained behind to spend the day with Lucy-Ann. We have just over two weeks to go, he thought, and we will know if our gamble has paid off. It had certainly been a gamble, and there were risks, but it seemed to be the only solution. They had to flush them out somehow, and this seemed to be the only way.
He saw the Boffame sign ahead of him, and turned right. He drove through the village and looked for the turning which he now knew so well and turned left. Within minutes he came to the drive and turned in slowly. What a terrific house it is, he thought, as he drove down the drive towards Rat-a-Tat House. The early morning sun was shining on the lake to the right of him. He passed the boathouse and drew up slowly in front of the house itself.
He had learned from previous visits to handle the knocker on the door with care. He lifted it carefully and knocked gently. It still sounded loud to him, and within minutes the door was opened by one of the house-staff. "Good morning, Mr Cunningham, please come in."
He entered the hall, and was shown to the sitting-room. Gus was already walking purposefully towards the door to greet him. "Bill, good morning to you. Thank you so much for coming."
They sat down, and Bill was offered coffee. "Well Gus, we have a lot to discuss this morning."
"We certainly do," said Gus, thoughtfully. "Do you think this is going to work, Bill?"
"My hunch is, yes, and we will know by 18th July."
"My concern, as you know," said Gus, leaning back in his armchair, "is that all this is so mixed up with Dinah and Alastair's wedding. Despite the security which we will obviously have in place, I am concerned that the whole situation will cause a shadow over their special day."
"Well, let's look at the facts," said Bill. "We knew that the Telegraph and Daily Mail had got hold of the story that Dinah was remarrying, and they planned to make a feature of it, following on from the art fraud scandal which we uncovered last year. When Dinah received the calls from the two newspapers, she called me immediately to ask my advice. At that stage, neither newspaper knew exactly when the wedding was due to take place. It was her idea to feed them the wrong date, a week earlier than the actual date of the wedding, and to provide interviews which ensured there was significant coverage, including details of some of their adventures in their teens. She also wanted to ensure that she referred to their involvement with your family."
Bill laughed. "Before she called me, she obviously had the whole thing worked out. She saw it as an opportunity to raise the profile of their wedding in such a way that your enemies would immediately assume you and your family would be attending, and they would come looking for you. Assuming that they used a scanning device of all newspapers each day to highlight any mention of your name, she wanted to ensure the story would be picked up by them. I have to say," he laughed, "I don't think I could have thought of a better plan myself."
"Yes, Bill," said Gus, sipping his coffee, "but what if they discover that the wedding is actually to take place a week later, on Friday 25th July. The true date could so easily be leaked by a guest or anyone taking a serious interest."
"Well, if they do, we will be ready for them," said Bill. "As you know, Alastair has agreed to all this, but has asked that security continues to be provided in the week up to the wedding and on the day, to be totally sure and to put their minds at rest."
"That is of course guaranteed," said Gus, quietly.
"The advantage, of course," continued Bill, "is that the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson will be taking place on 23rd July, and the newspapers will be full of that in the lead up and the few days following. Even if the true date leaked, it is hardly likely to get any coverage."
"That is true," said Gus. "Bill, tell me, how does Allie feel about this?"
Bill lifted his coffee cup to avoid answering that question immediately, and said, "Allie understands, and is assured that full security will be in place from now until after the wedding." He turned to Gus. "Let's go through the plan."
"St Jude's Church and the whole area within a five mile radius is being watched, including Craggy-Tops. That will continue until the day of Dinah and Alastair's wedding on 25th July. If we assume your enemies are planning their attack on you on 18th July, they are bound to investigate the area in advance, probably during the week before. It is highly unlikely that the key man will be there until the 18th. We therefore need to identify his accomplices when they make their investigation."
"Will they not just be picked up at that stage?" asked Gus.
"No," replied Bill, firmly. "If we pick them up, the whole operation will be blown, and we won't get the key man. We simply need to identify them at that stage through photography, which will inevitably put us on the right track. We go for the kill on the 18th."
"And if nothing happens?" asked Gus.
"If nothing happens, that means that the newspaper coverage of Dinah's wedding has not been traced by them, and they won't be targeting you on the 18th, or the 25th, the day of the wedding. That means," said Bill, smiling, "you are not in danger. Having said that, I would be amazed if that is the case. I believe this is the best way of flushing them out."
"Mmm," said Gus, refilling both cups from the percolator. "You know, Bill, Dinah never ceases to amaze me. When I first met her when I stayed with you in my youth, I was terrified of her. I remember on one occasion when I threw a book at Kiki, she actually physically assaulted me. I had never been struck by anyone before, and I haven't since."
Bill laughed softly. "Dinah had somewhat of a temper in those days. She has that firmly under control now, and reserves it for really important things. Having said that, Alastair has had a very positive effect on her, and she rarely flares up now. If she gets uptight, he seems to have a way of just calming her down."
"When we were kidnapped all those years ago and taken to Borken Castle, I was very afraid." Gus sat back in his chair, sipping his coffee. "I knew what the consequences could be, that my uncle was likely to be killed and I would be put on the throne at just eleven years old. Lucy-Ann was also very afraid and also upset because she was parted from Jack. Basically, Philip and Dinah looked after us. They were both so strong and brave – they are very alike actually. In other words, when the chips are down, she has enormous courage. I am just so concerned that something may go wrong on their wedding day, and I will not forgive myself if that happens."
"Gus – let's be clear," said Bill, patiently. "The newspapers got hold of the story that Dinah was remarrying, and if we had not intervened, they were likely to have discovered the true date of the wedding. That would have then been published and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all could turn up. We would have had no control over that."
"Yes, I see that, Bill," said Gus.
"And so," said Bill, smiling at Gus, "we have a plan in place, and we now just have to allow it to unfold. In three weeks, Dinah and Alastair's wedding will take place at St Jude's, and we just hope that by then you will be a free man."
"Yes, indeed," Gus looked at Bill directly. "We will know soon enough."
* * *
Bill stood amid a group of trees at the top of the hill. His telephone device suddenly flashed. He answered, "Cunningham."
"A car is moving slowly along the road towards St Judes's. It's about half a mile away, but has taken the narrow track towards the church. It's a dark blue Daimler, and we have the number."
"Keep it in sight," answered Bill.
"Sure sir," answered the voice.
There was a pause. "It is definitely heading for the church," continued the voice. "There are two men in the front two seats. I have a feeling this is it."
"Remember, no action – just all possible forms of identification," said Bill sharply.
"They have got out and they are walking towards the church," continued the voice. "We know the church is open. Let's see what happens."
"They have started to walk round the church. We have zoomed in on them. They are definitely not English – dark haired and southern or eastern European." There was a pause. "They are talking, and now walking over to the car-parking area. They are now taking photographs," continued the voice. "They are photographing the church and the car-park," the voice paused for a moment. "They are now walking round the church to photograph it from all angles. How interesting – they are now turning outwards and taking photographs of the countryside around. I have a feeling they are surveying the site ready for action."
"You bet they are," said Bill grimly. "They are doing their homework, just as we guessed they would. Five days to go before 18th July, and they are sussing it all out."
"They are now walking towards the church, and yes, they have opened the door and have gone inside," said the voice, more urgently. "We are now timing how long they spend in there." There was a long pause. "They have come out again – two minutes and thirty seconds – that means they have not had time to plant anything. They are not planning an explosion, then, as far as we can see. Not unless there is a return visit."
"No – I don't think that is the plan," said Bill quietly. "I never did. They are just planning to target him in the usual way. How soon will you be able to get identification?"
"Two hours," replied the voice, "providing there is a record, but that is likely. And that will tell us a lot, or at least confirm our suspicions."
"They are now getting back in the Daimler, and they are turning round", the voice continued. "Yes, they are off."
"Right – I want the report as soon as you can get it. And we need identification," said Bill firmly. "Our hunch was right – they are going for the 18th. We must continue with twenty-four hour surveillance – and it is then all hands to the deck, and we pick them up. Right?"
"We'll be ready for them sir."
* * *
Bill opened the front door of Craggy Tops, shut it behind him, and began to walk towards the cliff path. Today was the day. They now knew that the two men sighted five days previously were two registered Tauri-Hessian activists, and so they could now be certain what their plan would be. The wedding was expected to take place at noon, and so Gus' enemies would be in place well before that. His thoughts turned to Allie for a moment. He knew she was deeply concerned about the whole situation, and how this was overshadowing Dinah and Alastair's wedding. We have to succeed, he thought, and resolve this, and then next weekend will be straightforward.
He walked for about half an hour, enjoying the warmth of this lovely summer morning. I hope the 25th is as fine as today is going to be, he thought. Dinah and Alastair deserve it. Nothing, absolutely nothing, must go wrong. Despite his confidence in the operatives in place, and his long experience, he still felt a deep core of fear that something unexpected would happen to mar Dinah's wedding day. And if that happened, he thought sombrely, he knew Allie would never forgive him.
He walked back towards Craggy Tops. It was nine thirty – there was nothing more he could do until the call came, and he didn't expect that for at least an hour. Home for some coffee.
* * *
Bill's telephone flashed and he answered it immediately, "Cunningham." "The blue Daimler is back," said the voice, grimly. "This time there are three people in the car, and they have taken the road to the church."
"Right – you know what to do," said Bill rapidly.
"They are driving away again," said the voice urgently. "Well, we didn't expect them to park near the church," said Bill. "It would be too apparent. They are likely to park up the hill, and then travel down on foot."
"They are pulling into the walkers' car-park at the top of the hill," said the voice. "Keep them all in sight," said Bill, "because they are likely to separate when they are operating on foot."
"Yep, that's exactly what they're doing," reported the voice. "They are now moving towards the church but separating in several directions. Don't worry, we have them all covered, and we will go for it when they reach their target points."
"Steady now," said Bill quietly. "Get everyone ready."
There was a long pause. "They are all in situe," said the voice. "Two of them are in the midst of bushes overlooking the parking area near the church, and the third is hidden in a bush on the hill overlooking the church. None of them is now moving. They are obviously ready for a long wait."
"Right, go for it", said Bill grimly.
There was a prolonged pause. Bill timed it – five, ten minutes. The time went on. He had experienced this type of scenario throughout his long career so many times, but it mattered to him today more than ever before. Come on, he thought, come on. His telephone crackled to life at last. "We've got 'em, and just one injury – to one of them, that is." cried the voice. "All over sir. We will report back."
Bill closed his eyes. "Thank God," he said quietly to himself. "Thank God."
* * *
"Mother, can I help you carry in anything?" asked Dinah, as her mother filled two large tea-pots. "You can take in the cake and scones, dear, and I will bring in the trays. There are fourteen of us with the twins and Leo and Sebastian. Perhaps you would refill the kettle, ready for the next pot of tea."
"Of course. Lucy-Ann will help me." Dinah refilled the kettle, and then she and Lucy-Ann followed Allie into the sitting-room, where the family were now seated.
"I can't remember when so many of us were gathered here together. What are the boys doing exactly?" Allie looked up at Jack.
"Our three and Peter and Will are all back at the hotel playing snooker," said Jack, smiling. "They don't often get together, and they are enjoying themselves. "Don't worry, they will be down to see you tomorrow, Aunt Allie."
"Good, we'll look forward to seeing them," said Allie, as she handed round tea to the family. Dinah and Lucy-Ann followed her with cake and scones.
"Well, here we are – less than forty eight hours to the wedding, and we are at last all together", said Allie. "And thank goodness, Gus' enemies have now been captured, and this entire horrible business is all over," she said feelingly.
"Yes." said Bill. "It was one of Paritolen's nephews behind the whole thing. His uncle was the ringleader at the time of the attempted coup in the early 50's, and he paid the ultimate price for treason. The law in those days in Tauri-Hessia was unequivocal. Paritolen's family were firmly on the side of the communists, and not only did they hate the Torquinels but they wanted to prevent Gus making progress in freeing his country from communist rule. They know how the mood is changing."
"Are you sure that everyone involved has been captured?" asked Philip. He was still feeling jet-lagged, although he was trying to hide it, as he and Caro had flown in from Newfoundland the day before.
"Yes. This was not a widespread activity," said Bill. "It was a family vendetta, aimed at getting rid of Gus, and making him pay for what his family had done. We will obviously maintain security until after the wedding, but I really doubt there is any further threat."
"You have carried out a very professional operation, Bill," said Alastair. He was sitting next to Dinah, his arm around her, enjoying being with this family which he had grown to love. He smiled across at Philip, whom he knew was trying not to fall asleep on the sofa opposite. "Phil, wake up," he said. "You'll be my best man in two days' time. I need your support."
"Don't worry, I will be awake on Friday morning, making sure you don't back out," smiled Philip lazily.
"Not a hope," said Alastair, squeezing Dinah's shoulder.
"And what is more,"said Dinah, happily, "Gus, Anna and the boys will now be able to come to the wedding quite free of any fear of attack. I am really pleased about that."
"Not quite," said Bill, looking at her directly. "I have something to tell you, but I must just firstly collect something from my study." He left the room as the rest of the party continued with tea. He returned with a beautifully wrapped box and letter. He placed it down on the coffee-table in front of Dinah and Alastair.
"Gus has asked me to tell you that he and his family will not in fact be attending the wedding," he said quietly. "He has asked me to give you this wedding gift and a letter."
"Oh," said Dinah, looking up at him. She looked at Alastair and opened the letter. They both read it silently together. Having read it, she swallowed hard, and looked up at him. "Shall I read it out to everyone?" she asked.
"Yes, darling. You read it," Alastair said softly. Dinah began to read the letter.
Our dear Dinah and Alastair
"Well, are you going to open it?" asked Bill quietly. Alastair began to unwrap the box carefully. Dinah opened the top and opened up a layer of tissue inside. She carefully lifted out a bowl and put it on the coffee table. It was fine porcelain, coloured in brilliant shades of coral, turquoise and cobalt blue, interleaved with gold. It was in mint condition. She lifted the bowl, turned it over and put it down again on the table. "It's exquisite", she said softly. "It must be eighteenth century, and it has the Tauri-Hessian royal crest on the bottom of the bowl."
"How enormously generous," said Alastair. "It must be very valuable."
"It is," said Dinah.
"May I suggest," said Allie, "that we keep the bowl in our safe until you have both returned from Venice?"
"What a good idea," said Alastair. "We'll come down to collect it when we get back."
"Gus has also written to me," said Bill, "and left other gifts for the family, and also for Barney and Diana for allowing them to stay at Rat-a-tat House. He has also offered," he added, "for the whole family to join him and Anna in a winter holiday next year at their family chalet in the Austrian Tyrol."
"Terrific," said Philip, who loved ski-ing. "We'll be over for that."
"I am sorry Gus and Anna won't be with us, but I expected him to make that decision," said Bill. "We can now all relax and look forward to Friday. Let's just hope the forecast is right – because the day is expected to be a good one."
* * *
"We have five minutes until the two cars arrive," said Bill. He looked immaculate in his grey suit. "How about a few informal photographs just before we leave. I must have a photograph of my three best girls."
Dinah, Lucy-Ann and Allie stood together, laughing. Dinah wore a pale ivory silk suit, which fitted her to perfection. The lapels of the jacket were covered with fine pearls, matched with pearl buttons down the front, and the pencil slim long skirt was very flattering. She wore a tricorn shaped ivory hat with small veil, and elegant pearl ear-rings and a row of pearls which Alastair had given to her the evening before as a wedding gift.
Lucy-Ann, as her maid of honour, wore a similar but simpler suit in pale amethyst, which suited her auburn colouring, offset by a small feathered hat. Allie wore a suit of warm pink and a smart pillbox hat. All three women wore a corsage of flowers of ivory, lilac and pink.
"The cars are here," said Bill, looking through the window. "The first one is for you and Lucy-Ann, Allie. Dinah and I will follow in the one behind."
The cars were soon on their way to the church – a short five minute drive. As they drew up, Dinah could see Jack standing outside, Alastair's sons, Leo and Sebastian, standing at his side.
Jack opened the door, and helped her out. "Wow Di, you look terrific," he said, kissing her softly on the cheek. "You will be glad to know that everyone is here, and there are no uninvited guests. Most importantly, Alastair and Phil are waiting at the altar and Phil has even remembered the ring, which is a miracle in itself."
Dinah laughed. Jack smiled to himself. He had known she would be nervous, and he had succeeded in making her laugh and relax.
"Best of luck, Di," he said. "We three will now go inside, and the music will start in a couple of minutes."
Dinah, Bill and Lucy-Ann stood at the entrance to the church. Lucy-Ann straightened Dinah's jacket. "I'm right behind you," she whispered.
"Are you ready?" Bill turned to Dinah.
"Yes I'm ready," she said softly.
"You look truly beautiful, and I couldn't be more proud," he said, smiling at her glowing face. "Here we go."
The music began, and the congregation stood to their feet. Dinah looked up towards the altar of the small village church which she knew so well. At 6'2", Alastair towered over most of the guests, and she could see he had turned round to look at her, Philip at his side. He held her eyes, his handsome face full of love for her, and suddenly her nervousness disappeared. She became oblivious of everything around her other than him standing ahead of her.
This is my moment, she thought, as she began to walk down the aisle on Bill's arm towards him, my very best moment ever. It has all come right...
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