Cherringham--Last Train to London (8 page)

BOOK: Cherringham--Last Train to London
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“That is true,” said Jayne. “But also with the internet, more and more he felt that those terrible people – they were going to catch up with him. Revenge never goes away for them.”

“So that’s why he had such security at his cottage?” said Sarah.

“It was partly for his beautiful puppets,” said Jayne. “But also he worried the Securitate were getting close. In fact he told me that – just the night before he died – he thought someone had tried to break in.”

“While he was in the house?” said Jack.

“Yes. He said nothing was stolen. But he feared the worst.”

“Jayne – did he ever tell you his real name?” said Sarah.

“No,” said Jayne. “I think perhaps to protect me. But I didn’t mind. He was Otto. He’ll always be Otto.”

Sarah sat back and looked at Jack. His face was stern; was he as moved as she had been by Jayne’s story?

“So I’ve told you Otto’s secret. What will you do with it?” said Jayne.

“I really don’t know,” said Jack. “All we were doing was a little background check for the school. Now with this – I just don’t know.”

“Can’t you get his puppets back at least?” said Jayne.

“We still don’t know who stole them,” said Sarah. “But I guess we can still try – what do you think, Jack?”

“Sure,” he said. “But what do we tell Mrs Harper? About Otto?”

Sarah didn’t know the answer.

“All that I’ve told you, it happened a long time ago in a country far away – isn’t that the saying?” said Jayne. “Maybe it should just stay that way. I don’t think there’s anything in the life of Otto Brendl the German jeweller that should concern Mrs Harper.”

Sarah walked with Jack back up the High Street to where he had parked in the village square.

Pretty busy for a weekday
he thought, but then remembered – it was the school holidays and the tourist season was in full swing.

Jack climbed into the little open-top sports car. Sarah leaned against the bonnet.

“So,” she said. “Where do we go from here?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re kinda done, aren’t we? We found out Otto’s secret. Seems to me the only question is what we tell Mrs Harper.”

He could see something was troubling her.

“But are we done? What about the missing puppets? Don’t you think we should try and get those back – for Otto? For Jayne?”

“Maybe – but the police are already on the case. And they have far more resources than we do.”

“Okay. But Jack – come on. Don’t you think there’s other weird things about this? That guy we saw on the road. The Russian chap asking about you down at the boat yard. Well Russian – Romanian – how would they know the difference? You could be in danger.”

“Why?”

Sarah pulled back.

“Something we saw in the cottage maybe? Something else that Jayne didn’t tell us?”

Jack also looked around.

“Or maybe it’s just some guy who wants to buy a boat? We haven't seen him since. I can check if he’s been down by the river again. Maybe it’s not even the same guy.”

But Sarah didn’t let it go.

“He asked about
you
, Jack. Why?”

Jack nodded, then a small smile. “You must think I have all the answers.” Then: “Look, I'll be careful. Remember, I'm kind of used to dealing with bad guys.”

Sarah shook her head. “As the target?”

Touché,
he thought.

“Okay, I’ll be
very
careful. And I will take care of myself. Gotta give Riley a nice long walk. Touch base tomorrow?”

“Great. Daniel’s got a match. So, I don’t know … If you think we’re finished with Otto then maybe I’ll go watch. Pretty quiet in the office …”

Jack had to wonder if Sarah struggled to make ends meet. She always seemed to have a few web design commissions. But did she get enough of them? She clearly found being an amateur detective a whole lot more fun. Was that why she didn’t want this case to be over?

A big SUV drew up next to them. A middle-aged woman with puffy grey hair accompanied by a young woman in summer top, were in the front seats. Mum and daughter out for the day, he guessed.

“Sorry, are you about to go? No parking spaces anywhere!”

Jack looked at Sarah. She shrugged.

“Talk tomorrow, Jack,” she said.

“Enjoy the cricket,” he said as she turned and headed off to her own car.

Then he smiled at the couple in the car and started the engine. “All yours.”

“Lovely!” the woman said, backing out of the way.

Lovely.
And not for the first time he thought,
I'm not in Brooklyn anymore …

13. A Quiet Night on the Goose

Riley sat beside Jack, head in his paws. Jack had thought about having a cigar – but on a night like this?

Clear dark sky, no moon yet so the stars were so bright.

Seemed a shame to mess that up with smoke.

Instead, he sat outside on his boat and tried to figure out if Sarah was right about this ‘case’ not being over.

What had they really learned in the past twenty-four hours?

They now knew that Otto Brendl wasn’t German.

That old Otto had in fact come from Romania just before the whole Communist world began to fall apart, just like the Berlin Wall being torn down.

Then – more interesting – he was in trouble; that Brendl was, in fact, in hiding from operatives from the old Romanian secret police.

That – according to Jayne Reid – all these years later – someone still wanted to find him.

Then – do what?

Punish him? Kill him?

But the man just had a heart attack?

Isn’t
that
what happened?

At that moment, Riley stood up, stretched. He placed his head near Jack’s right hand and Jack gave him a pet.

“Time to head in, Riley?”

The Springer tilted his head left and right.

It was late. But on a night like this, you could just sit out here till dawn.

Might do that sometime,
Jack thought.

Worse ways to spend an evening.

The thoughts kept coming …

Someone had tried to break in the night before the puppeteer had died. But according to Jayne, they had failed. Then – only a couple of days later someone had actually gotten in and stolen the puppets.

Krause. Was he lying? Did he have something to do with the stolen, apparently irreplaceable, puppets?

And something else that had been niggling Jack: why hadn’t Otto told the police if he was worried about being attacked? Perhaps he feared losing his residency status. But would that outweigh his fear for his life?

And who was the man at Iron Wharf asking after Jack Brennan? In spite of what he’d said to Sarah, he hadn’t taken that report lightly …

“More questions here than answers, Riley.”

The dog’s head bobbed.
Good. He agrees.

For Jack, an imbalance in questions-versus-answers always made him feel uncomfortable.

Riley made a small noise – probably eager for his doggy pillow rather than the wood deck of the ship.

Jack stood up. “Okay, let's head in, boy.”

And Riley led the way inside the Grey Goose.

Jack had left the wicker case with the Punch and Judy puppets just inside the wheelhouse.

Did those puppets have any value, he thought? They seemed pretty standard issue as far as puppets went, at least to Jack’s untrained eye.

Still – they were all that was left of Brendl’s collection.

Now he grabbed the crate by a thick leather handle at one end, and dragged it down the steps and into the galley area. Tomorrow, when it was light, he’d look at them more closely. It was just instinct that had him hold onto them after all of the others had been stolen.

But maybe there was something else there, some ‘answer’ that he had missed.

Riley found his pillow just inside the bedroom.

“Okay, I’m coming,” Jack said.

With the night air, the stars gone, he felt suddenly tired. Despite all his questions, sleep would be good.

Minutes later, the Grey Goose was dark, and the boat completely quiet.

Jack’s eyes opened. He had been asleep. He looked at the clock on the small dresser across the room.

2:18.
2:19.

He usually didn’t wake up in the middle of the night. But now —

Riley was standing. The dog walked up to the head of the bed, then did a small circle.

Hearing something. It was probably his paws – the claws on the wooden floor – that had awakened him.

Something outside probably. Bunch of rabbits having a late dinner of greens near the edge of the river. That’s all it was …

Jack was about to tell Riley to relax.
Back to sleep. It was nothing
.

He was just about to say the words; the dog was smart and understood a command when he got one.

When Jack heard a noise.

A
rattle
. Hard to place. The sound of something being wiggled, then a creak.

One of the windows near the stern of the boat. Being forced open. They could be latched, but on such a warm night, Jack had left them open.

The sound again, now more measured: someone being careful.

Again Riley did another small circle; he made a noise, not quite a growl, as if he was aware what Jack was thinking.

Better that whoever it is … doesn’t know we’ve heard him.

Jack pulled off the sheet, ready to slide out of bed.

Those windows, one on each side, big enough for someone to crawl into the boat.

Another grumble from Riley, louder now, and any chance of surprise would soon evaporate.

It was time for Jack to move.

His bedroom – he still found it hard to call it a cabin – was in the bow of the Grey Goose, separated from the big saloon by a bathroom and walk-in shower.

To get to the far end of the boat he would have to navigate the space in total darkness.

But he’d lived on the Grey Goose for nearly two years now and he knew every inch.

He slid out of the bed and, without making a sound, slipped on a fleece and tracksuit bottoms and found his deck shoes. Then he reached between the bed and the bedside cabinet and slid out the little ASP – the expandable baton he’d brought with him from New York. He swung it in the air and it opened and locked.

Made of carbon steel, light, just thirty inches long – it was a perfect non-lethal weapon to give him an edge if someone attacked. Holding its grip took him back five years to the last time he’d drawn a night-stick in anger.

Like this it was in the middle of the night – but the setting couldn’t have been more different. He’d been with his partner in an alleyway facing down a kid drugged to the eyeballs waving a knife.

But even now, even though he was in a little Cotswold village – there was still the danger of the unknown.

Jack pulled open the door and listened again. Riley was right behind him, seeming to understand the need for total silence.

Another scraping noise from the rear of the boat – and then the unmistakeable sound of footsteps. Jack thought fast. The intruder was coming in through the aft cabin which led directly into the galley.

If he could get there first, he could slip up the stairs to the wheelhouse and have a height advantage over the stranger.

With Riley at his heels, he moved fast through the bathroom and into the saloon, his eyes now adjusting to the darkness. A low moon gave light through the side windows, throwing black shadows across the sofa and the kitchen cabinets.

Another noise from the stern – a door opening – Jack had to be quick …

He found the steps and climbed them as quietly as he could, then ushered Riley behind him into the wheelhouse space and pressed himself into the shadow …

Below, down the steps, he had a good view into the moonlit galley and the saloon but the intruder would have to come right round to this side of the galley to see him.

He realised he was breathing fast.

Cool it, calm down, breathe slow …

The sound of a door opening. Then a shadow. Whoever it was – he was now in the galley, just a few feet away. Jack swallowed – and gripped the baton tightly.

What was the guy doing?

He’s waiting. And listening …
Jack thought.
But what does he want?

Then the intruder moved – through the galley and straight to the big wicker case of puppets which lay feet away from the steps. In the darkness Jack could just make out a leather jacket and dark hair. He watched as the figure knelt by the basket and started to undo the buckles on the big leather straps.

It was now or never.

“So what’s with the puppets?” he said.

The man spun round incredibly fast and launched himself at Jack who just had time to swing the baton. It caught his attacker on the shoulder with a loud crack but before he could raise his arm again the man had punched Jack hard in the kidneys.

Jack gasped and fell forward, his height and weight pushing his opponent back against the galley worktop. Plates and cups went flying, smashing against the floor. Riley barked.

They hit the ground together and Jack rolled and brought his knee up against the man’s groin. His spare hand punched against the side of the man’s head. From the wheelhouse Riley leaped at the intruder, tearing at his feet, his teeth bare, snarling. But then the man’s hand smashed up into Jack’s face and he felt a punch land in his stomach.

Jack felt his baton go flying.

He knew the man was younger, stronger, fitter. And now he had no weapon. The edge was gone.

And he realised with a jolt that he was going to lose this fight – and unless help came it could all go very badly wrong.

He was about to call out, when suddenly the guy broke free and scrambled away up the steps into the wheelhouse. Riley raced after him barking. There was a smash of broken glass and Jack knew the wheelhouse door had been kicked out.

The man had gone.

Riley came back down the wheelhouse steps. Jack lay on the galley floor panting, adrenaline rushing through his veins.

Riley whined and Jack felt him licking at his face. He held the Springer’s face between his hands.

BOOK: Cherringham--Last Train to London
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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