Authors: Margaret Duffy
Death of a Raven
© Margaret Duffy, 1988
Margaret Duffy has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 1988 by Piaktus Ltd.
This edition published in 2015 by Endeavour Press Ltd.
Table of Contents
“Ah, but in such matters it is only the first step that is difficult.”
(Madame du Deffand: to Cardinal de Polignac, when the Cardinal told her that St. Denis, after being decapitated, had picked up his head and carried it two leagues.)
Tonight we would be doing it for Siegfried — or so I hoped. My partner in our joint enterprise was still downstairs gloomily reading
It was not that he lacked enthusiasm for our project, merely the result of a week spent at Army Staff College and on the final morning, today, being required to take part in a three mile march at the double carrying full pack and rifle. On previous occasions special provision had been made for him to prove his undoubted fitness on an exercise bicycle, but this time apparently not. Typically, it seemed that I was the only one angry about it.
Siegfried, the name deliberately chosen for its lighthearted daftness in order to prevent us becoming obsessed, was the baby we had been attempting to bring into existence for nearly six months. Trying in an ordinary casual sort of way, that is; so far there had been no moves to resort to more scientific methods. Patrick has spent far too much of his life inside medical establishments since the Falklands War and I saw no reason why he should further submit himself.
Gossip columnists had enjoyed a week’s easy copy when we had remarried. Womens’ magazines had cooed over the prospect of Ingrid Langley, romantic novelist, actually falling in love again with the man she had divorced four years previously after ten years together. The gutter press wondered if it was a sympathy move on my part, taking pity on a wounded soldier who had crawled, cold and crippled, to my doorstep. But, Patrick didn’t crawl to anyone.
I had come to bed at a little after nine-thirty to rough out a plot for a new novel,
had been published late the previous September. It was now March and I had a new agent to run my writing affairs. Patrick had applied his military acumen to the world of publishing and so far emerged triumphant from all skirmishes. His first success had been to arrange the television dramatisation of an earlier novel,
, and filming was now underway on Dartmoor and in the South Hams of Devon.
I don’t usually write in bed. My desk is in the spare bedroom, cool and serene, tucked under the thatch at the eastern end of the cottage. It suits me well. If my working environment is too cosy I tend to doze and daydream.
About Siegfried mostly … During our first ten years together Patrick had wanted children desperately, or more particularly a son. But why a man normally so articulate on every other matter had kept his longings to himself still puzzles me. I’m not attaching blame. I’d been equally quiet about my own aversion to starting a family. We simply hadn’t discussed it. So the successful novelist had carried on taking the pill without telling him: Our first real bust-up occurred when he found an opened packet in my handbag. From then on our relationship had deteriorated and Patrick spent longer and longer periods away from home, ostensibly with his unit. There had been one last visit, one last blazing row, and I had thrown him out of my cottage — yes,
cottage — into the rain.
When it came to his second proposal I had had four years to do some serious thinking. Actually, for perhaps three years and eleven months I barely progressed beyond a kind of vague self-congratulatory haze: I had rid myself of him, there was a widening readership eager for my novels, good reviews, pats on the back from my editor and agent. And during these years I had married Peter, a friend of Patrick’s.
Then, just before our first anniversary, Peter was killed.
Strangely, deeply though I mourned Peter, I suddenly saw the appalling way I had treated Patrick. Instead of fond memories of Peter, all I could think of was the night I had thrown Patrick out of my house, screamed obscenities at him, smashed his classical guitar during that last terrible row.
Fate, his stubborn love for me, perhaps even sub-conscious signals of mine asking for his forgiveness, brought him back to me. He was so weak after recent hospital treatment for injuries received in the hills above Port Stanley that he fainted at my feet.
When he proposed to me a few weeks later, I had already decided what my answer would be. I say “proposed” but in truth the first thing he offered me was a job. He wanted me to be his working partner and the job was a very special one, spy hunting for MI5.
I already knew the army thought highly of him. It was one of the reasons he had been in command of a small undercover unit living in sheep pens during the South Atlantic conflict. And secretly, deep down, I too had always yearned to live a soldier’s life: mud, sweat, blood, tears and all. Perhaps I was mad. Now that was offered to me, and although Patrick has been invalided out of activities officially regarded as the real rough stuff our life together since has sometimes convinced me that I most certainly was mad to accept.
“Time for Siegfried,” I said when the man in my life appeared round the door in his bathrobe. Not film star looks by any means. No, not pretty, just sexy.
He groaned. “Every morning up at five, tea and a crust. Lectures until noon, soup and a crust. PT and more lectures in the afternoon, tea and two crusts. Lights out at eight.”
“With cocoa and a crust?”
“If we were lucky.”
“The calendar,” I reminded him ruthlessly.
He sank on to the bed. “You’d have thought we were conscripts by the way we were treated.”
“You’ll feel much better when you’ve had a shower and shave.”
For answer he subsided like a crash-landed hot air balloon and appeared to go to sleep. I nudged him with one foot and then again, harder. He really was asleep, breathing deeply and evenly.
“You’re a fine inspiration to a writer,” I complained, and then smiled to myself, remembering my as yet unwritten novel,
. In nearly every way Martin Celeste
Patrick, or at least the Patrick who had sailed to the South Atlantic.
I looked at him as he sprawled rather gracefully beside me on the bed. Dressed, there is only one indication of the appalling injuries he had sustained, a slight limp when he is tired. Certainly his gait is somewhat unique, developing over the months as he became stronger into a slightly sinister lope. But not sufficiently outlandish to make it obvious that below the right knee he has an artificial leg.
Martin Celeste too was tall, had grey eyes and was always thin, whatever he ate. His greying black wavy hair usually, like Patrick’s, badly needed a trim. But Celeste hadn’t fought in the South Atlantic so that was where the similarity ended. Because of his Falklands injuries Patrick looks older than his thirty-nine years. Until he grins and then there is the boy I first fell in love with when we were both at school.
I gathered together the notes I had just made, promising myself that I would find the first rough draft of
and take another look at it. It would be a very long novel, perhaps the work of many years.
My hesitation was because I knew that
would be quite different from all the others I had written: less cosy, more true to life. At this stage in my writing career I might be taking a risk. Perhaps I was drifting into a new style already, I thought, my gaze on a passage of my notes that I realised I had been reading over and over until I knew it by heart. It would have to be censored. My work was not yet associated with passages of quite such explicit love-making. I leaned back, closed my eyes and re-composed the episode in my head, only to finish up with something even more torrid.
“That’s porn,” I muttered.
“What is?” asked Patrick sleepily.
“I’ll show you,” I said, and undid his bath robe.
Colonel Richard Daws, veteran of Malaya and Northern Ireland, came into his office, apologised for keeping me waiting, tossed a file into an already opened lower drawer of a filing cabinet and slammed it shut with one foot.
“Filthy morning,” he growled, glaring briefly at the rain sluiced windows.
I produced my gift, a
from Harrods’ patisserie, definitely his favourite. It was our little conspiracy, the occasional sneaking of cakes past his secretary. She disapproved, saying that the fresh cream was bad for him. This was probably true but so was being alone in the world, I reasoned, and no longer having a wife to indulge him now and then in his love of cream cakes.
We both enjoyed the ritual that a pastry of such flawless lineage demanded. The Colonel took two cups and saucers, kept wrapped in a clean tea towel, from a drawer of his desk — bone china, Wedgwood Black Astbury, not the usual Poole Pottery for every day — and poured us both coffee from a jug on a hotplate. Whatever the china, his coffee was always superb.
“Are you working?” he asked, deftly and unselfconsciously coping with a cloud of pastry crumbs.
on the drawing board,” I told him. “And the shooting-script of
has been sort of referred back to original author. The director isn’t happy with it and thinks I ought to have been allowed to write it in the first place. All in all I’m fairly busy.”
“Thomas Fuller,” mused Daws. “‘They love dancing well that dance barefoot upon thorns.’ Is that right?”
I smiled at him and his blue eyes twinkled back. Really he was far too nice to remain a widower. Every time I met him I put all my single friends’ names through my mental computer hoping to find just the right partner for him, and always drew a blank. They simply weren’t good enough.
“Did you ask because you have a job for us?” I enquired, knowing that by doing so I would lose the pleasant social Daws in exchange for Daws of the steely stare, upholder of the realm.
“Canada,” he replied, wiping his fingers on his handkerchief. “Full team.”
“Tell me about it,” I requested, wondering why it wasn’t a job for MI6. That is the security service responsible for gathering intelligence overseas, MI5 looks after domestic counter-intelligence. D12 is a small unit under Daws’ command that deals with foreign efforts to interfere with MI5’s work.
“Hear about the British engineer — Andrew Quade — killed in New Brunswick last week?”
I could hardly believe my ears. Ever since Peter, a Plymouth policeman, was killed by gunmen there has been a series of strange coincidences to remind me of him, almost as if he is haunting me.
“Of course I have,” I said. “He was a friend of Peter’s, and of Patrick’s once. I spent most of last weekend in Launceston trying to comfort his wife.”
Daws never wastes time on conventional reactions. And perhaps it was not such a coincidence after all. Because of the nature of his job Peter had known hundreds of people in Plymouth and the surrounding countryside. He and several others, including Andy Quade, had been involved in a joint Services and Police boys’ club project. Now they were both dead.
I said, “A few years ago, when Andy left the Navy, Peter talked him into trying for the police, but he was getting on a bit by then and they weren’t too happy about the Chinese laundryman episode.”
“What was that about?” Daws asked in off-hand fashion. But his eyes glowed. He loves being given snippets of lurid military gossip.
“A laundryman on the
where Andy was serving went berserk with a knife and sliced a young AB to ribbons. Andy shot him without being ordered to.”
“And the police turned him down!” The Colonel’s eyes almost disappeared as he screwed up his face in amazement.
“The police do mistrust
heroism,” I said. He must be all too aware of police sensitivity to firearms but the attitude of every military man I have ever met is “Go and sort the bastards out” when it comes to real trouble. Their training makes it a natural reaction.
Daws, meanwhile rummaged amongst the paperwork on his normally tidy desk and disinterred a flimsy sheet of paper, its muddy colour identifying it as a Ministry of Defence internal memo.
“As I expect you’re already aware from his wife there were no other vehicles involved,” he said. “The police in Port Charles think that Quade may have swerved to avoid hitting a deer … or that he had been drinking and misjudged the bend. We’ll never know of course, the car was burned out.”
I tried to quell the remorseless mental images of a man trapped and burning to death. “Rubbish on both counts,” I told him. “Knowing Andy I’d put money on him hitting the animal deliberately and then cutting it up for someone’s freezer. As for drinking … well, he didn’t.”
“Didn’t drink!” Daws exploded.
“Just fruit juice.”
“An ex-Fleet Chief who didn’t drink!” Clearly, Daws thought I was having him on.
I shook my head. “He caught hepatitis in Hong Kong shortly after he joined the Navy and was very ill. A Surgeon Commander read the Riot Act over him — stay on the wagon and your liver might see you through. What on earth has Andy’s death to do with D12?”
He looked at me over the tops of his glasses and I knew that we were about to enter that part of my life governed by the Official Secrets Act. He said, “Quade was employed by DARE — Devonport Admiralty Research Executive. Heard of it?”
“Vaguely,” I replied. “Don’t they have an office over a building society branch in Royal Parade, Plymouth?”
“The entire premises are theirs — the building society just uses the ground floor.”
“So DARE have moved out of Devonport?”
“Not entirely. They keep a drawing office at their old place near the Naval dockyard opposite Albert Gate. All above board — they work on unrestricted stuff there in case anyone’s nosey.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “Andy was working on something sensitive and there are suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.”
“You’ve just confirmed that there are,” Daws said, a rare smile twitching the corners of his moustache. “All right — no secrets. Christopher Fraser, the managing director of DARE, received what he regarded as a crank letter just before the team of which Quade was a member went out to Canada to work on a design contract. He took it to the police when he heard about Quade and it was given to me.”
“Question,” I said. “Don’t people usually destroy crank letters on receipt?”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“You misunderstand,” he assured me, fixing me with the famous steely gaze. “The thought came into my own mind the moment you began to speak. A writer’s intellect can be very stimulating.”
Patrick insists that when I am very, very pleased my reaction is the same as that of my cat Pirate and I sit with eyes half closed, silently purring. Pleasure notwithstanding this was a bouquet indeed from the Colonel, a man slow both to damn and praise. Much more importantly, it was one of the first indications he had given me as to my personal usefulness other than merely being Patrick’s wife and occasional cover.
“The letter’s down in analysis now,” Daws was saying. “Nothing much to go on — the usual blackmail kind of thing — words cut from newspapers and magazines and pasted onto a sheet of A4 typing paper. If I remember correctly it ran: ‘Withdraw from the project now and everyone will stay alive.’ Pretty childish really. A skull and crossbones had been drawn at the bottom.”
“Surely he couldn’t renege on the contract?”
“Of course not. Besides, DARE needs this kind of prestige business. It’s precisely what Fraser’s been working towards for years, a toe-hold in the international field.”
“I suppose he might have thought the letter was from a disappointed rival.”
“It’s possible,” Daws conceded.
“Is all this to do with the Canadian Frigate programme?” I asked, adding when he looked surprised, “I do read all those defence publications that Patrick brings home.”
The Colonel poured out more coffee for us both. “DARE are designing the controls system. It’s a bit hush-hush in more ways than one — all supposed to be the product solely of Canada, but they haven’t built a warship for over twenty years and now haven’t the technology.”
He frowned. “Not in a way I would have thought likely to result in death threats. And the frigates are needed — badly. Everyone over there, and that includes members of the general public, are fed up with their Armed Forces being regarded as something of a joke. I should imagine that if there’s political dynamite it’s on this side of the Atlantic. DARE are doing a lot of work for Trident.”
Curiouser and curiouser. I said, “So you want me to go out there and collect material for a novel while Patrick and Terry lurk in the undergrowth?”
“You remember when you went to stay the weekend with Lady Ann, ostensibly as my sister-in-law, because she thought one of the staff was watching every move she and her husband made?”
How could I forget? Lady Ann’s husband was quite a senior man in MI5 and thought his dear lady was imagining things in her old age. Treasured memories of those few days included Patrick, helped by Terry, the third member of our team, trying to look professional while disguised as a fencing contractor, and taking nearly the whole of the Saturday to put in three posts. And then, looking very much unlike a fencing contractor, somehow being outside the drawing room door through which the miscreant, who proved to be no more than a common or garden jewel thief, was just about to bolt.
“Like that,” Daws said. “I’ve been asked to provide some operatives to help protect the team. I thought a man and a woman arriving together would look more normal. The Major mustn’t use his real name though because you’re sufficiently famous for it also to be known who your husband is. People might put two and two together.”
I meekly agreed, thinking about a certain fencing contractor climbing through my bedroom window, then forced myself to concentrate on what Daws was saying.
“It’s being arranged. Very easily as it happens. The company actually building the controls system, Nasonworth Electronics of Montreal, has an Englishman, David Hartland, as one of its directors. Hartland has a weekend home in Port Charles and has made it available to the DARE people since Quade’s death so they can all be together under one roof and kept under the eye of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Everyone’s taking the threat very seriously now.”
Daws leaned forward and spoke more quietly. “It’s entirely my idea that you’re going. I have my reasons for you there. Above all remember that David Hartland does not know that you’re involved in the security services. He’s been told that you know there’s some kind of trouble — no more. He won’t question that and you’ve nothing to fear from him. In a way he’s our man in Montreal.”
I opened my mouth to speak but he forestalled me.
“On the surface it might look as though this is MI6’s problem but I’ve stuck my neck out because I’ve a feeling that it might be more important to some people to smash DARE than to slow down the Canadian Frigate Programme.”
“What cover will we be using?”
“A replacement for Quade must be sent.”
“A consulting engineer only skin deep?”
Daws realised that he was still holding the memo and placed it back on his desk with a deliberateness that reminded me of someone laying a wreath. “The Major’s not too happy about it.”
I got the impression that Patrick had said no but somehow without actually defying orders.
“I see his point,” Daws continued slowly. “He knows absolutely nothing about electrical engineering and even if the DARE people help him out he will still have to attend meetings with the shipbuilders and Nasonworth.”
“Terry has an HND in something to do with electronics.”
“No,” Daws said without hesitation. “That won’t do at all. I want the Major himself within the household so he can keep a close watch on internal security. From what Hartland tells me his entire grounds are crawling with RCMP personnel so it would be a good idea for Meadows to live rough nearby and do his own surveillance. It’ll keep a check on their standards too.”
The old school, I sighed inwardly. Absolutely out of the question to have an officer with snow inside his collar while his underling basked in the warmth indoors.
After another short silence Daws cleared his throat and said, “Seen him lately?”
I came out of my reverie with a jolt that left a nasty resonance, a bit like the aftermath of hearing a horse kick a piano. “You mean you don’t know where he is?”
I forced myself to think clearly. “I last saw Patrick the weekend he came back from his yearly assessment. Friday the 14th of last month.”
The Colonel’s gaze went to his calendar on the wall but I already knew the date, the 23rd of April, a Wednesday.
“And he hasn’t contacted you at all since then?”