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by Sally Neary

PART 2: The LettersOctober 1984, London and Cornwall

Snubby Lynton opened the signature book which his secretary had left in his in-tray, quickly read through the letters and signed them. He glanced at his watch – it was six o'clock, and he needed to be shortly on his way to get the train home. He often worked late, but tonight friends would be arriving for supper at seven thirty, and he had promised Lucy-Ann he would be home by seven. Snubby never broke a promise and didn't want to let Lucy-Ann down. I don't think I ever have, he thought.

Peter Lynton Properties was a successful property company comprising a portfolio of commercial properties built up by Snubby during the last twenty years. Extremely intelligent, Snubby had spent most of his school years entertaining his school friends to an array of tricks and jokes rather than using his brains for academic study. Having lost his parents at an early age, he had spent the holidays with a variety of relatives, mainly his cousins Roger and Diana Lynton and their parents. Conscious from an early age that he was the only boy in boarding school without any parents, he had developed a way of making the other boys admire him rather than pity him. He had always owned up when challenged and accepted his punishments with resignation, but his academic record had been a disaster. Unlike his cousin Roger, who went to medical school and qualified as a doctor, and Diana, who read English at university, he failed most of his exams, and even some of the retakes.

Snubby was a born communicator, and made most of his decisions in life spontaneously and instinctively. He either liked people or he didn't and equally instinctively knew if he wanted to do something or not. Even before he met Lucy-Ann, he had known that he wanted to run his own business. He had tried various money making schemes for some years and had learned what he needed to from watching others' successes and mistakes. Throughout the tough years of the 70s and the recession of the early 80s, Snubby invested in the share market and bought property at the bottom and sold when the market was high. Profit was then re-invested. At 46, he was a wealthy man. Intensely loyal, he stayed close to his family, and his closest friend was undoubtedly Barney Martin, whom he had hero-worshipped as a young boy of eleven, when Barney had been almost fifteen, and who had provided a strong guiding hand during his teenage years.

He finally closed the signature book, picked up his coat and made for the door, glancing at his watch. There should be time to catch the six fifteen train, he thought. Just as he was closing the door, the telephone started to ring. Blow, he thought, I'll ignore it. No, it might be important. He walked back into the office, reached across the desk for the telephone, and answered, "Peter Lynton" quickly. A well-known voice answered, "Snubby – I've caught you! Have you a few minutes for a chat?"

"Barney! How good to hear from you, mate." Snubby walked round his desk to sit down. He sensed this was no casual call. Barney would never call for just a chat an hour before he was due to go on stage. "Of course – I'm in no hurry. How are things?"

"Great in most respects," answered Barney, "but I wanted to talk to either you or Roger. I've had another letter, and this time it's more serious."

"Would you like to share the contents with me?" asked Snubby, more lightly than he felt.

"Well, firstly, the letter arrived yesterday morning, and this time not at the theatre but at home, by post. The postmark was unreadable."

"At home?" asked Snubby in surprise. "So whoever this madman is, he knows where you live!"

"Yes, and that is a worry in itself," replied Barney, "as obviously I am particularly concerned for Diana's safety."

"What does it say, and have you told the police about this latest one?"

"The letter is already in the hands of the police, as the others are, and this one makes it five now since January. Here we go:

SO YOU WILL BE CELEBRATING YOUR 50TH BIRTHDAY THIS WEEKEND WILL YOU? DO YOU KNOW WHERE I SPENT MINE? YOU WILL NEVER MAKE IT! AND CAMERON MACINTOSH WILL HAVE TO FIND HIMSELF A NEW LEAD!

Snubby listened in silence. At last he spoke and said, "Apart from knowing about your birthday, how does he know about you getting the lead in Les Miserables? It's not public yet, and I thought you had only told the immediate family."

"The only people I've told about the part, apart from Diana, are the kids, Dad, you and Lucy-Ann, and Roger, and Isabelle. I know that I can trust all of you, and only a select number in the theatre know about it. It is obviously confidential until the full public announcement later next year," said Barney. "The other thing is that I am not making a big fuss of my birthday. As you know, Diana and the kids and I are spending the weekend somewhere in the country and Diana has arranged it. I don't even know where we are going myself, and so how does he know about that?"

Quite a lot of people know about your birthday this weekend, Snubby thought. In fact, over 50 of us will be joining you in Cornwall to celebrate it! He couldn't tell Barney about the surprise party, of course. It would be unthinkable, and Diana would be furious.

"Have you now told Diana about these letters?" asked Snubby. "And does Roger know about the latest one yet?"

"I'm not telling Diana about them," replied Barney firmly. "I'm certainly not going to do so this week anyway, and spoil her plans for my birthday weekend. It would wreck it for her. I tried to call Rog earlier at the hospital, but he's in theatre."

"What have the police said about this latest one?" asked Snubby, trying to think for the best what to advise.

"They are obviously concerned this has taken on a new dimension and are putting extra security in at the theatre. Everyone is being searched, although they don't know why. They are also putting in some general surveillance around the grounds at home."

"Barney – I think we should bring Bill into this," said Snubby firmly. "I think you should call him, tell him the whole story and ask his advice. You know you can trust him."

"Of course I can trust him," answered Barney, "and the thought had crossed my mind."

"He was in MI5, for God's sake," Snubby went on, "and although he has been retired for twenty years now, he is still incredibly well connected. He still knows just about everyone there is to know in Government and the police. He was at a private dinner with Mrs Thatcher only a few months ago. He would know what to do."

"Ok," said Barney. "I won't call him now, because I am due on stage in just over an hour, but I promise I'll call him early tomorrow morning."

"Great," said Snubby. "I know he and Allie are in Cornwall this week. Do it."

"I feel better already, having spoken to you, old son," said Barney, smiling. "I'll let you know how I get on. Thanks, Snubbs."

"OK. Let me know – and Barney – do look after yourself," added Snubby.

Snubby replaced the receiver and pursed his lips. He really didn't like this. Thank God Bill would now be involved. He would know what to do.

He switched off the light, locked the door, and hurried to catch his train.

* * *

Bill Cunningham sat down in his armchair and looked out of the French windows to the sea beyond. He sipped his coffee and then put it down to light his pipe. He knew he should give it up. Allie had wanted him to for years. Maybe in the New Year, he thought, maybe.

It was the kind of autumn morning which he and Allie loved. It was dry and there was a slight wind. The waves were crashing over the rocks, and the sun was peeping through the clouds intermittently. Allie will be able to finish her painting this morning, he thought. The light is just right.

When Polly had left Craggy Tops to Allie in her will, it had been a mixed blessing. The place hadn't been occupied for years. It had never had electricity nor mains water, and was virtually a ruin. Its remote position, on the other hand, on the cliff in furthest West Cornwall was spectacular. They had debated what to do, although he had known what Allie had wanted. So they had taken it on – it had taken them three years to renovate it, with the help of a team of builders, and a sizeable chunk of Bill's investments and Government pension pot. He had not regretted it. He had retired at 55 from the security services, and it had been an ideal project for his retirement. They had created a wonderful family home, and he had been able to give back to Allie, Philip and Dinah the family home they had once had, and one which Jack and Lucy-Ann had also loved. This corner of Cornwall means a lot to us all, he thought, and whatever happens the family know they have this here to come back to.

The back door suddenly opened, and Allie Cunningham came into the sitting-room. Her once dark hair was now mainly grey, but still had the tuft of hair at the front which she, her son Philip and daughter Dinah all shared. Her face was flushed from the morning wind. "Bill, it's a wonderful morning. The colours were just right, and I have finished the painting. What do you think?" She showed him the completed watercolour.

"Well, you've got some of the colours on your nose," he said, wiping the paint from her nose and kissing it tenderly. "It's good – really. Well worth the effort. Do you want some coffee, Allie?"

"No thanks, dear – I must go down into Newlyn to get a few things. Philip and Caro's flight is due at Gatwick at mid-day and they should be down here for dinner by about seven. I want to pick up some fresh crab. You know how much Phil loves it."

Bill smiled. His wife was particularly happy this morning because her son was coming home. "I'll be back for lunch, Bill. Will you be OK while I'm gone?" she asked, kissing the top of his bald head.

"Of course – I've got a number of letters to write and calls to make. I'll be fine. I'll see you later."

Once Allie had gone, he sat down with his newspaper and relit his pipe. He and Allie had had a good life together, he thought. They had been married now for thirty two years, and twenty of them had been spent here at Craggy Tops. The day when he had met the four children, Philip and Dinah and their friends Jack and Lucy-Ann, just down the cliff here, and subsequently Philip and Dinah's mother, Allie, had changed his life. He had been forty-one, a workaholic bachelor in the security services – committed to his work, but rootless, and at heart he had known there was a lot missing in his life. He had realised early on that he loved Allie and wanted her, but he had known he had to tread carefully.

She had been widowed at thirty-three, and left with two young children. Patrick had certainly not been a businessman, Bill mused, and had left her very little. What an amazing woman she was, he thought. She had built her art agency to put her children through their education, and then took on Jack and Lucy-Ann who had lost their parents in their early life. He had been concerned for her, but there had been financial support available for Jack and Lucy-Ann, and Allie had reasoned that Jack and Philip, given their shared love of the animal kingdom, would be great friends, and that Lucy-Ann would have a very positive effect on Dinah. She had been absolutely right – it had worked out well, and the family remained very close. It had taken him three years to woo her, but she had finally agreed to marry him and he had taken on the four children. He and Allie had then legally adopted Jack and Lucy-Ann.

He thought about Philip. He had always admired him and been proud of him. Philip had inherited from his father an incredible gift with animals of all kinds – even wild animals. No animal could resist him. His future career was always obviously going to be founded on this gift. He was very bright, but had become lazy during the years without a father. When he was fifteen, Bill had talked to him seriously about his future and made it clear that if he was to care for the animals he loved as a vetinerary surgeon, it would involve years of study. Philip had listened, had buckled down to it, and he and Allie had supported him through university. He had not looked back since then, he thought. Philip had wanted to work particularly with wild animals. His work had taken him to Australia, Asia, Africa, where had had met Caro, and how to Newfoundland, where he had worked for the last two years running a wildlife reserve. He and Allie had spent three weeks in June with them out there on holiday, and they had seen that it was the ideal life for Philip. It would be good to see him again.

His thoughts turned to Dinah. Dinah had always been the trickiest of the four. She had been seven when her father died and it had affected her greatly, Allie had told him. Philip, always the more balanced of the two, had consoled himself with the animal friends which he loved, but Dinah had been devastated. She had been her father's girl, and the temper tantrums and fights with Philip were the result. Bill had realised that Dinah needed firm boundaries and a lot of love. He and Allie had tried to provide this, and Dinah had matured into a confident, independent young woman, rather like her mother, he thought wryly. Yes, she had a lot of Allie in her. She had also inherited her mother's love of art and her business acumen. Art had become a complete passion for her, in fact. She had worked with Allie in the art agency, and following Allie's retirement she had turned it into an international business, with offices in London, Paris and now New York, with a team of people working for her. Bill and Allie had been amazed and proud. Sadly, it had cost her her marriage, and following her divorce five years ago, she had thrown herself even more into the business, becoming even more successful. They worried about her, but Dinah always knew she had a bolt hole at Craggy Tops, and he knew Lucy-Ann was still very close to her. Neither she, nor Philip, had had children, but Jack and Lucy-Ann had certainly made up for that, he thought.

Jack had never been any trouble. He was a straightforward kindly person, and people warmed to his naturalness and sincerity. He was a fine ornithologist and a freelance photographer, having had several books published of his photography of bird wildlife. He still had Kiki, of course. Bill smiled as h e thought of Kiki, the parrot which Jack had now had for over thirty-five years and who was as much part of their lives as any member of the family. Jack, his wife Sue and their three boys lived in North Devon, and as a result he and Allie saw more of them than most members of the family. Allie always wondered if it was she and Bill whom Jack wanted to see or the seabirds on the Cornish coast. It was actually both, thought Bill.

He had always loved all his four, he thought, but Lucy-Ann had always had a special place. She had the sweetest and most unselfish nature of anyone he knew. When he had met the children all those years ago Lucy-Ann had been only eleven. He had felt very protective of this young girl who had no parents and only seemed to have her fourteen year old brother Jack to care for her. Lucy-Ann had always wanted to be a nurse, and it had proved an ideal profession for her.

He and Allie had had their concerns about Snubby Lynton at first. Although Snubby had all the right values and they liked him, he had had a notorious history at school, and Richard Lynton had told him that Snubby had been impossible during his youth. Bill had been concerned that his precious Lucy-Ann would be hurt, but his fears had been unfounded. Lucy-Ann had proved to be the security and stability Snubby had needed, and he had never let her down. Certainly, they had been young and the first few years had been a struggle. While Snubby was trying out his various money-making schemes, Lucy-Ann had continued nursing as they built the family they both wanted. Snubby had become extremely successful and had given his wife and four children a very good life. But most of all, Bill thought, they had been happy, and that was the most important thing. Lucy-Ann was a contented, fulfilled woman, and he could not have asked anything more for her.

Their marriage had also connected them to the Lynton-Martins, as he and Allie called them. Bill's thoughts turned to Snubby's family who had in fact become an extension of their own. Roger Lynton was a great guy and was a surgeon at Westminster Hospital in London. He and his French wife, Isabelle, lived in London with their two girls, Suzanne and Chantal. His sister, Diana, had married their childhood friend, Barney Martin, who had now become a very successful actor.

Bill sucked on his pipe and thought about Barney. It had occurred to him many times before that, with the exception of Roger and Diana Lynton, the children on both sides of the family had lost either one or both parents at a young age. They had all experienced their challenges as a result, but in his opinion, Barney had had the toughest time.

He had lost his mother when he was barely fourteen, and had not known is father, as his parents had parted before he was born. His mother had been a circus performer, and when she died, he had literally fended for himself, sometimes with only his pet monkey, Miranda, for company. He had worked for various circuses and fairs to earn a living, moving from place to place without a proper home, and often had had barely enough to eat. Bill thought about it. It wouldn't be allowed now. Most young lads would have gone off the rails, as he knew, but Barney had not. He was straight and honest, and his luck had certainly turned when he met the Lyntons. That chance meeting had led to a lifetime of friendship, the finding of his father, marriage to Diana and a career as a successful actor. Was it chance or a twist of fate? Bill considered. Was his own meeting with his four a stroke of luck or was it meant to be? People were put there for each other, he thought. When something was missing in your life, something, or someone was put there for you. He had seen it around him all his life. But you had to look for it, recognise it, nurture it and keep it, he thought firmly. Both he and Barney had done just that. In his opinion, Barney deserved every bit of the good fortune and happiness he had. Then why, oh why was someone tying to harm him?

Bill got up and poured himself another cup of coffee and sat down to think about the telephone call he had received from Barney just an hour ago. It had concerned him greatly, and he was convinced these threats were not a hoax. What were the police in London doing? Why hadn't Barney and Snubby come to him before? Like Snubby, he was also concerned that Barney was unaware of the party to be held in North Cornwall in three days time, which was more public than he realised. Bill had been totally unaware of the Les Miserables role which Barney had been offered, but clearly the letter-writer knew about it. He had questioned Barney for about twenty minutes about the letters and potential suspects. Someone as well-known and successful as Barney in show-business was always susceptible to the attention of obsessives and lunatics. There was also the jealous husband possibility, but he had ruled that out almost immediately. Barney was as straight as a die, and obviously devoted to Diana, and despite the temptations of his profession, Bill doubted if he had ever played around during their marriage. He had in fact questioned Barney directly about that possibility, and had been reassured. He had also had his adventures in his youth and had known some unsavoury characters in his circus days. But that was over thirty five years ago!

Nevertheless, there was a threat out there, thought Bill, and in three days time, unknown to Barney, the whole Cunningham/Mannering/Trent and Lynton/Martin clan would be descending on North Cornwall, together with many of Barney and Diana's friends, to help celebrate his 50th birthday. Barney was well loved, and even Philip and Caro were flying over from Newfoundland to help him celebrate. There was too little time and too much at stake. It was time to take action.

Bill got up and walked across the room to the telephone.

To be continued...

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