Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Mid-March

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Mid-March

Lothar craned his neck back and squinted at the sky in the fading light. “How tall is that mast?”

“I’m not sure.”

“It’s too tall. You want to chop about two metres off it.”

“I have to replace it anyway.”

“Can you find a wooden mast?”

“Not these days. Not in time for this sailing season anyway. It will have to be aluminium.”

“It’s an old rig. With all that height it will push you over sideways. You want a smaller mainsail, and then a great big no. 1 genoa coming back to about here.” He was standing almost amidships. “And your no. 2 about here,” he said, pointing to the railing just aft of the shrouds. “What’s your water-line length?”

“Twenty-eight feet.”

“We could get almost seven knots out of her.”

“Really?”

“One-and-a-quarter times the square root of the waterline equals maximum speed. That’s why big guys always win. I promise you, it will go like a train.”

“I was hoping it might go like a boat.”

He laughed. “Like a boat on British Railways.”

Afterwards, in the castle, over a couple of mugs of hot coffee, Lothar sketched out the new rig for me. His eyes lit with enthusiasm. “It’s a question of balance. You want the boat to pivot here.” It made a lot of sense.

“I’ll get on the phone to the mast people tomorrow,” I said.

“Would you like me to talk with them?”

“That would be great.”

The weather was clearing. We stood at the window watching the yellow glow fading from a mackerel sky.

“Where is your companion?” he asked.

“Done a bunk.”

He turned his open-eyed look on me. “Sleeping?”

“Scarpered.” His heavy blonde eyebrows shot up, forming a question. “Went to stay with my old mate, Spider,” I explained.

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I.”

“That’s too bad. Still, women come and go.”

“But a good apprentice is hard to find. And I’ve got to get motoring.”

“Your boat doesn’t have a motor.”

“Figure of speech. I’ve got to get her shipshape.”

“Why don’t you have an engine?”

“She didn’t have an engine when she was built.”

“I agree. We are both traditionalists. Boats are for sailing. But you can’t always wait for the tide.”

“I’ll have nothing but time. Once I get fitted out.”

“Would you like some help?”

“Where are you staying?”

“The Ocean View Guest House.” He smiled. “Behind the gas cylinder.”

Lothar had the natural authority of a skipper. The first thing next morning he insisted on a minute inspection of the hull. Crouching in the mud while the tide oozed out around our rubber boots, he probed carefully with a scraper. He stood up with a frown.

“Has she been taking up water?”

“I have to pump her out now and then.”

“When she starts working under sail your balls are going to get wet. The hull is basically sound, but the garboard is a problem.” He showed me where the caulking had crumbled around the first plank above the keel.

“She had a motor when you bought her?”

“A clapped out old petrol engine. I had the yard lift it out.”

“It was bolted here? And here?” He pointed at two circular plugs aft on the garboard.

“I suppose.”

“Damn crazy fool.” Lothar stood up, angry. I stumbled back, slipped, and sat down hard in the mud. Lothar laughed and gave me a hand up. “Not you. Those damn mechanics who installed that engine. They bolted right through the skin, and the engine has been shaking her apart.”

“Looks like a job for the shipyard.” That was the end of my dream. Donald Penny’s lawyers had dug themselves in around the capital of our former business like the defenders of Moscow. And Maire’s family had succeeded in securing an injunction against probate of her estate. My cash flow was at mean low water.

“Oh, no, we do this ourselves. And we’ll sort out that list to port as well.”

And we did. There was a patch of hard-standing on the shore that the Council used as a dinghy launch in season. It was rising spring tides, and the next day we towed the Amaryllis up on to the hard at high water and set down her legs. We ordered four long lengths of larch planking from a Plymouth yard and on the day they arrived Lothar built a fire in an oil drum, set another drum half-full of water on it and we steamed the planks into shape. By the end of the week the Amaryllis had a bright new garboard plank fixed either side of the keel and we started stripping down the rest of the hull to bare wood.

Lothar bought all the national newspapers every morning. He had to order The Guardian and The Independent specially in this part of the world. He cut out the articles about Westowe and pasted them in a ruled notebook just like Eddy Starr’s. It held earlier cuttings, too, dating back to Colonel Meeker’s disappearance:


‘Westowe Waits for Missing Financier to Surface’

‘Did the Colonel Do a Stonehouse?’

‘Missing Financier Swindle’

‘Bartholomew Streb: Blighted Promise of the 60s’

‘Wrong Body Surfaces in Devon Beauty Spot’

‘Fear Stalks West Country Haven’

‘Famous Artist Found Decapitated’

‘Murky Waters Mask Meeker’s Missing Millions ‘

‘Exclusive: Missing Financier Led a Double Life’

‘Soho Sex Club Link to Meeker Scandal?’


According to the press, as well as misleading Lloyds investors, Colonel Meeker had defrauded a number of people who were attempting to defraud Her Majesty’s Government, switching their offshore funds into more traditional investments: a country estate, a fleet of expensive motor cars and West End hookers. Otherwise, there was no new information in any of these speculative pieces. Lothar had submitted his own copy to a European magazine. He was that rare thing, a journalist without an ego. He laughed when he said, “Those editors are serial murderers. They decapitate my headline, cut my body copy into little pieces and bury it in the back pages.”

Over the next fortnight we worked a little longer every day as the sun inched up from the equator. When it rained we sawed, hammered and scraped in the cabin. Every lunchtime we had a couple of pints and a pie or pastie in Formerly Cromarty’s. Lothar was keen to meet all the locals and wherever he went he carried a second spiral bound notebook to jot things down in. When it got dark, most nights we would have a few more pints and a hot meal in one of the pubs before I stumbled home bone-tired to bed.

Lothar spoke every language in Europe, fragments of them anyway, sometimes in the same sentence, often with American syntax and, sometimes, accent. He had an open manner and a broad smile for everyone he met, from Superbloke to Dinny. Eddy Starr was a particular admirer, maybe because now there was someone taller he could look up to in Westowe, and so he usually joined us for our night-time sessions. Which could have been a trial, because Eddy was addicted to Diet Pepsi, and during lulls in the conversation would mouth an imitation of a German marching band. Lothar, from his alien perspective, treated Eddy as if he were quite normal, or maybe that’s how people behave around the Stammtisch in the Kneipen of Schleswig-Holstein.

“You could stand for mayor of Westowe and win,” I said to Lothar one night when the three of us were sitting in our usual corner at Formerly Cromarty’s.

Eddy scowled. “Except he wasn’t born in Westowe.” Eddy had been born in a village five miles north of Kings Ferry, at the top of the estuary, and although he’d lived and worked in Westowe for ten years, and was its only standing representative of the judicial system, he was still classed as an outsider. Like me.

“You’re right,” I said. “We’re all disqualified because we weren’t delivered by Mam Meersman.”

“I’m sorry for you,” said Lothar. “You are Englishmen, and so the other English know who you are. Where you were born. How you speak. The English are very, very timid. If you are just a little bit different, you are a threat and they put you in a place.” He pressed a big thumb down on a dripmat. It was soggy and he dented it. He beamed a smile at us. “I am very different. So I go anywhere and threaten nobody.”

“You like being an outsider?” I asked.

He laughed. “That is my profession. Everywhere I am an outsider.”

“What about when you go home to Denmark?” asked Eddy.

A shadow fell over Lothar’s face. “I don’t go home. Not since I was seventeen.” He poked me with a massive fist. “Like you, Ted. I done a bunker.”

“Runner,” I said.

“Bunkrunner?”

“Sounds like fun.”

Lothar gave me a hard stare. “It was no picnic. My father was a yo-yo. One week home, next week gone. When he was gone my mother was a whore. And when he came back it was one day ice cream, next day the belt off his trousers.”

“The fun I meant was running between bunks,” I said. “Bed-jumping.”

Lothar relaxed. “I learned that too. One day when my father stood up to take off his belt, I was looking down at the top of his head. So I thrashed him with his own belt. Then I go to Copenhagen. I got a job as a bouncer at a bordello. I had all the qualifications.”

“What qualifications?”

“Big and strong and stupid. And used to being bossed around by a madame.”

Eddy persisted. “What about your fellow journalists. Don’t you feel a part of that community?”

Lothar turned both thumbs towards the table. “Freelance, outsider is best. A community is a place to leave.” Then he leaned forward, arms on the table, piling his fists into one big mound. “But I tell you what I like. When I’m working hard with some good guys. That’s how I got into sailing. As a pimp I know nothing about boats. But I was big and strong and stupid. So they take me on as winch fodder. And I sailed everywhere. The Admiral’s Cup. The Melbourne Cup. Three times round the world. And those guys are the best guys in the world. I would die for them.”

“You’re a team player,” Eddy approved.

Lothar nodded. Then he put his arm around my shoulder. “This fortnight Ted and I are a team. Working on the Amaryllis.” He put his other arm around Eddy. “Tonight we three are a damn good drinking team.” He locked us together in a bear hug, and then let us go. “But I don’t play for society’s team. For society I don’t give a fug.”

“A fig,” I corrected.

Lothar laughed. “A fucking fig.” His pint was half-full. He gulped down the beer and slammed the glass on the table. The soggy dripmat stopped it from shattering in his hand. “But you know something? Those guys I would die for? I don’t know where they are now. I don’t remember their names.”

“Real men don’t write postcards,” I said.

“How did you get to be a journalist?” Eddy sounded like he was thinking of a new career.

Lothar grinned. “Same way you got to be a fuzz. Big and strong and stupid. And I was there.”

Eddy shook his head. “I don’t know. I think it’s important to feel part of society. With people who think the way you do. Share the same values.”

I said, “You’ll have to marry a nice Westowe girl, Eddy. Then your children will be natives.”

Eddy looked at me. “I’m working on that. But she’s playing hard to get.”

“Who’s the lucky girl?”

“Mrs Harris.”

“Who?”

“Veronica. Charlie Segui’s sister. She works in his office.”

Eddy didn’t notice me choke on my beer. His attention was on Lothar, who had his notebook out. “Charlie Segui was at the inquest. Bartholomew’s barrister.”

“Lawyer,” Eddy corrected.

Lothar thumbed through the pages of his notebook. I sneaked a look, but it was written in Scandihooligan. Or Serbo-Croat for all I knew. “You had a theory about the disappearances,” Lothar said. “The coroner wouldn’t let you speak.”

“Nothing official,” said Eddy. “And you can’t attribute it to me.”

“No problem,” said Lothar.

Eddy pulled out his identical notebook, shuffled the pages and leaned forward. “January 28th,” he read out. “The night Colonel Meeker disappeared. Two days past full moon. Moon rises at 2017. And stays up all night. High water at 0031 GMT. So you’ve water enough and visibility enough.”

“For what?” I asked.

“To take a small boat straight across The Devil’s Coat-tails.”

I snorted. “Into the Frying-pan?”

“No. He was meeting them further out.”

“Who?”

Eddy whispered. “The drug-runners.”

I leaned back and snorted again. Lothar leaned forward and whispered, “How do you know that?”

Eddy sat back in his chair. “I don’t really.”

“But you suspect something,” said Lothar. “What they wouldn’t let you say in court.”

“I made a mistake there. I can’t say anything until I have some evidence.”

“But you’ve got something to go on,” said Lothar. He looked up at me. “Maybe we can help.”

“It’s probably just a coincidence.”

I was interested now. “You never can tell, Eddy.”

Eddy looked over his shoulder to see if the drug-runners were at the next table. It was empty. “I was on duty as sparks in the lifeboat watch­room that night. There was a call from a boat on channel 80 asking for a berth. A French yacht.”

“What was the name of the yacht?” asked Lothar.

“You’ve hit it,” said Eddy. “It was called — wait a minute.” He consulted his notebook, then sounded out an approximation of the syllables, “Brise du Janvier.”

“So what?” I asked.

“So,” Eddy said, “Janvier means January in French. And it was the last week of January.”

“So what?” I asked again. Lothar was more sympathetic. “They were calling the marina?”

“No. The sailing club. It runs a few visitors’ moorings just off the fairway.”

“And Brise du Janvier never arrived?” asked Lothar.

“You got it. I asked Charlie the next day. He said they radioed again later to cancel.”

“Charlie Segui?” Lothar asked.

“He’s secretary of the sailing club,” I told him.

“Because he’s Bartholomew’s lawyer?”

“No. That’s just a coincidence. It’s a small village. Everybody wears two hats.”

Lothar frowned, then brightened. “I know. Because they’ve got two faces?” He smiled — we all did — while he jotted that information down in his notebook.

“I checked with HM Coast Guard and they confirmed both messages,” Eddy added.

This was news to me. “The Coast Guard keeps a record of routine channel 80 messages?”

“I can’t say anymore.” Then he said more. “But I’ve got my reasons for believing the name of the boat is important. Coincidences don’t just happen.”

“I thought that was the definition of coincidence,” I said.

Eddy snapped his notebook shut and patted it like a fat wallet. “Like the fact you were the last one to see Colonel Meeker and the first one to find his dinghy. I put them all in here. My little book of coincidences.” He looked up at Lothar, “Has anybody got round to asking you where you were on the night of January 28th?” His question sounded as casual as a summons. None of us had to consult a notebook to recall that was the night Colonel Meeker had sailed into the sunset in his pea-green skiff.

Lothar must have had his collar fingered quite a lot in his time, because he didn’t miss a beat. “I’ve got a copper-bottomed alibi.”

“I have to check out everybody,” Eddy apologised.

Lothar grinned. “Give Police Sergeant Murray a tickle.”

“Tinkle,” I interpreted.

“Never heard of him,” said Eddy.

Lothar looked pained. “Your colleague. Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.”

“Where’s he stationed?”

“St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. We played gin rummy most of the night, January 28th.”

“What were you doing in the Scilly Islands?”

“Waiting for the Tradescant.”

“I thought you came up from the Med with her.”

Lothar shook his head. “I was booked on as navigator for the last leg: Scillies-Cork-Bristol-Westowe.”

“How’d you get to the Scillies?”

“A boat delivery.”

Eddy referred to his notebook. “Would Police Sergeant Murray remember all this?”

“He can look it up in his book.”

“You were booked?”

“Drunk and disorderly. But it was a send-up.”

“A fit-up?” I guessed.

Lothar nodded. “I wasn’t drunk. Just disorderly.”

“You’re sure that was the 28th of January?” asked Eddy.

Lothar laughed. “You don’t forget where you spent your fiftieth birthday. Another coincidence.” He tapped Eddy’s notebook. “One for the book.” Even Eddy had to laugh.