Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Sunday, 24th July: 2

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Sunday, 24th July: 2

The last thing I saw before I submerged into the wet grey wool again was a white stick poking out through the roof of the fog bank like a ski pole in a snow field. It was either a tall tower a couple of hundred metres away or a short stick very close by. I blinked. It was the mast of the Amaryllis. It seemed to be moving, but it was only the wake of the fog drifting past. Angie was down there, enclosed in a dead white world with no sight of the moon nor of the seascape around her.

It was harder going down than climbing up. I sat down and my boots disappeared into the whiteness. I slipped into it and could see nothing at all. I turned and went down the way I had come up, slithering on my belly. Finally the sole of my boot hit something that yielded. It was the dinghy, hanging suspended, its stern invisible. The sea was a little higher and I was able to launch the dinghy and clamber inside without shipping much water. I knew where I was going now. Two strokes of the oars took me just beyond where the waves were breaking, and then I followed that line around, staying close to the rock for twelve more strokes. I turned ninety degrees to port, and four strokes brought the bow of the dinghy on to rock. I flashed the torch. It was the ledge, and it sloped up at a gentle angle. I found a crevice a few metres up and knocked the marlin spike into it with the hammer and secured the dinghy. The ringing of metal striking metal was flattened by the fog.

I kept the beam of the torch low to the ground and scrabbled up a cleft in the rock. When my head emerged from the fog into the starry sky I switched off the torch. The moon was a luminous glow behind thick cloud. Before me I could see only black shapes. I groped forward and suddenly the rock was illuminated. Once. Twice. Three times. Two metres in front of me the narrow ravine ended above the boiling sea. To my right was a shoulder of rock. I moved up it, counting slowly to myself, one-thousand-and-one, one thousand-and-two. As I got to one-thousand-and-ten the light swept the mewstone again. In the third flash I saw a boulder on the skyline that was moving.

I clambered up in the dark for another ten seconds. In the next sweep of the light I saw two figures, head and shoulders silhouetted against the sky. They merged together and I heard a short piercing shriek. A human scream or perhaps a seagull. I moved up in the blackness. On the tenth second I bent to the ground. Now there was only one figure on the summit. I could see it from the knees up, shifting across the skyline in three jerky snapshots. In the blackness I crept forward again, sharp fragments of rock gouging my knees.

On the ninth second I stood up and drew the hammer out of my pocket. I could see a whole figure now. It was facing away from me. I gripped the hammer and started forward and as I moved a second shape grew from the ground behind the first. In the stroboscopic flash of the Grise Heel light I saw the first person whirl around. The figure which had risen from the ground raised its arms high. In the third flash only one figure was standing.

In the next ten seconds of darkness I covered the ground between us. As the next beam of the lighthouse swept over the mewstone, I saw a big man stretched face down on the rock. The other figure was standing over him, his back to me, holding a club. I put my elbow around his throat, jabbed my knee into his spine and forced him to the ground. I dropped the hammer, seized the arm that was holding the club and twisted it hard behind his back. He screamed and I twisted the club out of his hand. It was an old-fashioned belaying pin. I stood up and switched on my torch. It shone on red oilies. The man rolled over and sat up clutching his elbow. I put the torch on his face. Spider shielded his eyes with his good arm.

“Who’s that?”

“Ted.”

“Thank Christ it’s you. Get the gun.”

“What gun?”

“He had a gun in his hand.” I circled the torch beam on the rocks. No gun. Spider got to his knees. “Christ, you almost broke my arm.” He reached for the belaying pin with his good arm. “Give me that before he comes round.”

I held on to the belaying pin and moved back a couple of paces, still playing the beam on the ground. “Who is it?”

“Bartholomew.” Spider took a step forward. “Give me that belaying pin.”

“Not until I find out what’s going on.”

“Fuck you, then.” Spider turned and went over to the body on the ground. It was wearing yellow oilies. Spider reached into his own pocket. I shone the torch at his hands. He was holding a short length of rope. And near where it dangled an automatic pistol was lying on the rock. We both saw it at the same time. Spider reached for it. I swung the belaying pin and cracked it down on his arm. He howled and sat down hard clutching his other elbow. I picked up the gun.

“You’ve paralysed my other arm, you bastard.”

“Can you move your fingers?”

“Aye. No thanks to you.”

I picked up the length of rope he had dropped on the rock. “Tie his hands behind his back.”

“That’s what I was just about to do, you fucking idjit.”

Spider leaned over the figure in yellow oilies. He put one knee into the backbone, pulled the arms back and looped the wrists together. “Is he alive?” I asked.

“He’s breathing.” Spider stood up and started towards me.

“Stay just where you are. I’ve got the gun.”

“Ted, it’s me. Spider.”

“I saw you hit him.”

“Damned right I did. He killed him.”

“Angus Fergusson?”

“No, you fucking idjit. Charlie.”

“Charlie?”

“He killed him. Just now. He knocked Charlie into The Toilet.” Spider rubbed his arm and took a step forward.

“Take another step and I’ll kneecap you,” I said. I pushed what I hoped was the safety catch on the pistol.

“Don’t be an idjit.” He stepped forward.

I squeezed the trigger and the gun went off. It tore a splinter off the mewstone to the side of Spider’s boots. A chorus of maddened mewing rose off the cliffs. As the squawks of the gulls fell back into the darkness, there was a closer sound, a groan. I shone the torch on the yellow heap. It was stirring.

“Turn him over,” I said.

Spider grabbed the man’s shoulders and heaved him on to his back. I put the beam in his face. Bartholomew had shaved off his beard, I thought. And then he opened his eyes.

I looked at Spider. “You said it was Bartholomew.”

“I didn’t see his face.”

Lothar rolled forward on to his knees. He held his yellow sleeve up against the glare. “Who are you?” I held the torch under my chin. “You’re Ted. You wouldn’t hit me. It was that other bastard.”

I shone the beam on Spider. “That’s right, mate,” he said. “Just after you killed Charlie.”

“What did you see?” I asked Spider.

“I told you. I saw him knock Charlie into The Toilet.”

“What was Charlie doing here?” I asked.

“He had an appointment. With Bartholomew I reckoned.”

Lothar’s eyes were unfocused. He sat back and put one hand to his head. Spider took a step forward. “You killed Charlie, you bastard. You pushed him down the god-damned Toilet.”

“Did you see him do that?” I asked Spider.

“He’s not goddamn here is he?”

“I only saw two people cross to the mewstone.”

“One was Charlie. That bastard must have followed him from shore. I was expecting Bartholomew to come from the sea.”

“So how did you get here?”

“Dinny dropped me.”

“I didn’t see him,” I said.

Spider raised his arms in the air, and winced with the pain. “Ted, that fucker just threw Charlie Segui into The Toilet.” He had tears in his eyes.

Lothar groaned, holding his head with one hand and pointing with the other. “He came at me with a knife.”

“Who?”

Lothar was groggy. “It’s around here somewhere. I heard it fall on the rocks.”

“Let’s all go have a look,” I said. I waved the gun at Lothar and pointed the beam of my torch up towards the summit. “You first.” I prodded Spider with the belaying pin. “You next.” I played the light just in front of Lothar and we walked in single file. It was only a few metres. Three overlapping slabs of granite framed a triangular black hole. Lothar climbed up on to the higher level and turned. Spider stayed on the lowest level. I went up to the side where I could watch them both and flashed the torch about the rocks. There was no sign of a knife. The Toilet used to moan with the motion of the waves at the base of the moonstone, but there was no sound now. I aimed the shaft of light into the hole. It vanished into blackness.

I flicked the beam on to Lothar. He was sitting on the edge of the rock, his legs dangling over the crevice where we used to wedge ourselves to use The Toilet. “He’s making it up, Ted.”

“What are you doing here, Lothar?”

“I am working with the Customs and Excise. We’ve been tracking Spider for months. That’s why I came to Westowe.”

“And why did you leave?”

“To keep an eye out for his pals.”

“Where’s Matty?”

“She’s all right, Ted. I’ll take you to her.”

“Don’t listen to the bastard,” said Spider. “He’s a killer.”

“Why would he kill Charlie?”

“I don’t know.”

Lothar spoke again. “Have you got a dinghy, Ted?”

I spoke to Spider instead. “Is Dinny coming back to pick you up?

“At daylight.”

“Be careful, Ted,” said Lothar. “He tried to kill me.”

Was that the thump of Dinny’s diesel engine I heard an hour ago, or had it been the blood in my brain? I walked up past Lothar and shone the torch down into the passage between the mewstone and the shore. You could not clamber down into that chasm with your hands tied.

I turned to Lothar. “We’ll come back and collect you at dawn.”

“Ted, I’m your friend.”

“So is Spider, and I’ve known him a bit longer.”

Lothar leaned forward, beseeching. “Maybe he is a killer, Ted.”

“My tender’s on the ledge,” I said to Spider. “You’ll have to row.” I gestured with the gun in my right hand and the torch in my left. “My hands are full.” We started down the ridge towards the blanket of fog now moving up to meet us.

“Ted.” It was Lothar. I turned and saw him standing silhouetted against the stars. “Untie me. My hands are freezing.”

“Don’t be an idjit,” Spider growled.

“We’ll be back,” I said to Lothar.

Wind doesn’t always blow fog away. If the air remains warmer than the water, it just rumples it like a blanket. Short steep waves slapped against the wall of the mewstone and we took on a lot of water when we launched the dinghy. I sat on the port tube at the stern holding the gun and the torch while Spider rowed. A cross-sea broke over his shoulder.

“You’d better start bailing, Starsky,” he said.

I looked at the gun, put it in my pocket, and reached down and found the little plastic bucket that was secured to the dinghy by a lanyard. I started to bail. I knew when we cleared the outlier. The wind was fresher in my face, yet the waves were not so steep. I stopped bailing and shined the torch ahead in a 180 degree arc. I could see twenty metres of slapping waves, before the beam was absorbed by the wall of whiteness. I heard something above the whistle of the wind. The high-pitched metallic clanking of wind in rigging.

I held my hand up to Spider. “Ease off.”

He rested his oars and let the dinghy toss with the waves.

I shouted into the wind. “Angie.”

In the beam of the torch Spider’s face twisted in anger.

“You didn’t bring her out here?”

“Angie. Ahoy.”

“You stupid bastard.”

“Shut up and listen.”

We heard no answering voice, but above the whistle of the wind came the unmusical clank of the metal shrouds.

“It’s to port,” I said.

“Starboard,” said Spider.

In both directions water merged into fog like the inside of a clouded globe.

“Switch off the torch,” said Spider. “There, behind us.” He pointed just above my head. Spider spun the dinghy about and started rowing. And then I saw it. A dull green light flickered through the fog. Angie had lit the running lights.

“A bit to starboard,” I said. Spider put his back into it and in half a dozen strokes we came alongside the Amaryllis. The wind was stronger now and she was heaving on her anchor chain.

“Angie,” I called again. But there was no answer.

“Your anchor chain’s too short,” said Spider, and after he tied the dinghy on, he went up forward to let it out. I clambered down into the cabin and opened the forepeak. There was no one there. Spider rapped on the forward hatch. I unlatched it and his face leaned into the opening, tinged red in the light of the starboard lantern. “Didn’t you have a life raft?”

“It’s stowed on the coach roof. Right next to you.”

“Not now it isn’t. Where do you keep your flares?”

“Aft in the lazarette.”

When I got out into the cockpit Spider was digging into the lazarette. “Give me the torch,” he said. The plastic container of flares was missing.

“Some fucking sailor you are,” said Spider.

“She must have taken them.”

“Why did you bring her along?”

“She stowed away. She reckoned you were meeting Bartholomew out here.”

Spider looked back in the direction of the mewstone. “She’s gone there. Alone with that murderer.” He had to shout above the wind. It was shrieking through the shrouds now. The Amaryllis shuddered on her chain. “What genoa have you bent on?”

“Number one.”

He frowned. The wind drove thick shreds of fog down the length of the boat. We were at anchor, but the Amaryllis seemed to be moving through the water, pitching and yawing. “It’s gusting five, six maybe. A working jib would be better in close quarters. But let’s get going.”

We reefed the main, then Spider disappeared into the fog at the bow. A few seconds later he shouted “Haul away.” I pulled in the jib halyard and winched it up hard. Then I heard the heavy measured rattle of the anchor chain falling in lengths on the foredeck. Before Spider shouted “Anchor’s up,” the Amaryllis lunged her head away from the wind and the tiller bucked. I sheeted the port jib sheet in hard and we slid away like an express train into the woolly darkness on an easterly heading.

Spider clumped back into the cockpit. “You can put her about now.”

I held course.

“Put her about,” he commanded.

I slid my hand into my pocket of my oily jacket. “The gun is in my pocket. And it’s still pointed at your kneecaps.”

“I’ll point it up your ass if you don’t turn round for the mewstone.”

“I’ve only got your word about Lothar.”

“My word was always good enough for you.”

“That’s kid stuff.”

“So what are we, but a couple of grown-up kids?”

“Your trust account is empty.”

“You’re going to leave Angie out there with that killer?”

“I’ve got a choice of killers.”

“You don’t think I’d hurt Angie?”

“Somebody tried to hurt her. And me. In the Frying-pan.”

“I spotted that bucket on the leading light.”

“Funny that. Most people would never see it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Get into Westowe and call out the lifeboat.”

“I’m the fucking coxswain, for fuck’s sake.”

“Puts you in a good position to know everything that’s going on.”

“Like what?”

“Like drugs and such.”

“Okay. You go get help. I’ll go back in the dinghy.” The dinghy was hauled up close on the stern. Spider reached for the painter.

I nudged him with the barrel of the gun which was in my pocket. “If you do that I’m going have to shoot you.”

“Okay, mate, but just in the foot please. A coxswain needs his kneecaps.” He stepped over me and took the painter in his hand. I took the gun out of my pocket, and aimed it at his legs. He looked at me over his shoulder and turned back to undo the painter. I pointed the gun up in the air and fired it. The sound echoed off the cliffs. I dropped the gun back into the pocket of my jacket and grabbed him around the throat with my free arm. Spider thrust his head back hard into my nose. The pain blinded me and I fell back on the cockpit floor. The tiller wrenched out of my hands, the Amaryllis swung up into the wind and shipped a huge following wave over the stern. She wallowed, sails flapping like gunfire. There was blood and sea water in my mouth. I struggled to my feet, pushed the helm up with one hand and reached for the jib sheet to surge it to free the sail. The Amaryllis lurched to starboard and I lost the tail of the sheet. The boat heeled hard to port and the gunwales streamed with sea water. The Amaryllis leapt forward, lying on her side. I felt for the winch. There were three turns on the drum and the bottom turn, the one leading from the sail to the drum, had been thrown up over the other two. A riding turn. The sheet was jammed solid and the big genoa, full of wind, was driving our nose into the sea. I let the main off, but the Amaryllis barely faltered. I was reaching for the jackknife swinging from my neck to cut the sheet rope when I heard Spider shout.

“Help! For Christ’s sake, help!”

The dinghy was gone. Spider was hanging off the stern, his arms wrapped around the guard rail stanchion. It was bending under his weight. It was probably the first time in his life Spider had asked anyone for help.

“Kick your seaboots off,” I shouted.

“I can’t.”

The safety line was rigged to an iron eye imbedded in a stern rib and rising up through the deck planking. It was fixed about a metre short of the transom where Spider hung. I pressed open the clip of my safety harness, freed it from the safety line and grabbing the line in my left hand leaned out over the guard rail with the clip in my right. I forced the clip and its trailing rope through the shoulder of Spider’s life jacket and tugged it back to fasten on to the safety line. It was inches short, so I clipped it around the mizzenmast instead. I stood up, grabbed the collar of Spider’s lifejacket with both hands and hauled. He got an elbow on the deck, and grabbed the top of the guard rail. A gust hit the Amaryllis just then, knocking her flat on her side. The guard rail snapped, and Spider pitched into the sea. I clung on to the mizzen. Spider was being dragged through the water face down, like a sea anchor. I took up some slack, undid the clip and it flew out and struck him in the face. But still his body came with us. The clip had wedged into his life jacket. The ring stitched to my life jacket was taking the full momentum of his weight trailing pell-mell through the sea behind the Amaryllis. With one arm wrapped around the mizzen I reached for the knife around my neck to cut him away. Then I thought again. What would Spider do in a case like this? A life buoy was mounted on the lazarette hatch at my feet. I yanked off my boots, clipped the line attached to the life buoy to my life belt, tossed the buoy over the stern, and let Spider’s weight drag both of us after it into the rushing wake.