Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Monday, 25th July: 1

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Monday, 25th July: 1

“We needed money. To make a new life in Australia. Charlie was a mem­ber of Colonel Meeker’s Lloyds syndicate. He was being bankrupted. He had been hoping to cash in by selling the club property. But when Spider came back from Corsica and told him I was alive, the golden share put paid to that. He had sought Colonel Meeker’s advice in setting up my finances abroad. When I was reported missing, and then Charlie turned to him again about my insurance and so on, Meeker reckoned we had deliberately staged my demise. Charlie thought he was going to blow the whistle on us. But Meeker was in difficulties himself, and so he blackmailed us. He forced us to arrange his own disappearance in the same way. Charlie would make the financial arrangements again, I’d met some people in Corsica who could give him a new identity, and he’d cut us all in.

“I told Matty I had to go back to England to sort out financial affairs. But she insisted on coming with me. We sailed together as far as La Coruña. We had a row because she thought I was going back to Angie. In the end, at the spring tide, I just had to sail off. The weather was okay, so I confirmed the rendezvous with Charlie at spring low tide, when you could walk to the mewstone.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“A message to the sailing club on channel 80, asking for a berth, which was a coded signal meaning that I was on my way. Meeker left his dinghy in Fairfoul Bay, Charlie met him on shore to show him where he could walk across to the mewstone, I anchored off it and picked him up in my tender.

“So Colonel Meeker is alive?” I asked.

“He was a little green about the gills when I dropped him at the quayside in Brest, but he was ambulatory.”

“Where is he now?”

“Charlie set it up by E-mail with the crowd in Corsica. I didn’t want to know.” He took a sip of the brandy. “I called Matty from Brest and the landlord said she’d left. When I got back to La Coruña, I’d been away the best part of a week. It seems one day an American who’d been sailing a forty-five foot ketch around the world dropped anchor. He’d just buried his wife in Egypt and was at the bitter end of the anchor chain. A bloke in his sixties called Samuel Cody. He was on his way back home to Florida in his yacht. Matty signed on with him.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she’d never been there, according to the guy who ran the local marina.”

“A good enough reason for Matty,” I said.

Bartholomew gave me a sharp glance. “You said you hadn’t met Matty.”

Spider and I exchanged glances. “I’ve heard a lot about her,” I told Bartholomew.

“There was another reason. Cody had taken on a deckhand in Bonifacio. Her chum, Wolfgang.” Bartholomew stood up and slid back the gangway hatch. A damp fold of fog crept into the hatchway, and he slid the roof shut and sat down again. “I had the name of Cody’s yacht, Goose Girl. He had filed a voyage plan with the Comandancia de Puerto. First stop, Isles of Scilly.”

“Where did he think Florida was? At the North Pole?” asked Spider.

“I went after them. I was beating into the wind twenty miles south of Bishop Rock, in the middle of the western approaches, when I saw a boat approaching under power from the north. It was that fishing caique.”

“The one that sank you off Corsica?” asked Spider.

Bartholomew nodded. “San Vicano, it was called. And when I put the binoculars on it, there was the same evil bastard in a red bandanna with his binoculars on me. Plus the other two. We were passing port to port, but they altered course towards me.” He pointed at the hanging locker. “There’s a rifle in there. I went below and got it and pinged three shots into their rigging from about two hundred metres. They jumped about like barefoot kids on hot sand, veered off and then a strange thing happened. I got a call on channel 16.”

“Do you have your call sign on the sails?” asked Spider.

“No. That’s the amazing thing. Somehow they knew it. And even stranger, the guy said, ‘Est-ce vous, Monsieur Blake?’”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“My name now. The name in the passport of the guy who owns this boat. Who asked me to look after her when he went off to Paris.”

“What’s happened to him?” I asked.

“I haven’t heard from him since. Mind you, I haven’t left a forwarding address.”

“So, they were pals of Blake’s,” Spider conjectured. “They knew the boat and were checking if he was on it. What happened next?”

“I went up on deck and slammed another couple of rounds into their rigging. They turned and chugged off to the south-west. On my heading, up north, where they had come from, was a smudge on the horizon. That’s where I met Mr Cody. I picked up some charred bits of wood, and this.” Bartholomew rose and lifted the lid of a locker. On top of a pile of ropes was a lifebuoy with the name Goose Girl.

Bartholomew drained his brandy glass, poured another and sat down again. “Then I found a floating body with no identification on it. I lashed it to the stern and searched the area for a couple of hours, but there was no sign of Matty or the German sailing bum. The smoke was still hanging over the scene when I got there, so if they’d been set adrift in the dinghy, I would have found them. I reckoned the pirates might have taken them on board. So I broadcast a Mayday on channel 16. I reckoned the caique would resume its southerly heading as soon as I was out of sight. I calculated where that would bring them and faked a message from Goose Girl reporting a collision with the San Vicano just north of the traffic separation zone off Ile d’Ouessant.”

“Which would bring the French Coast Guard down on top of them,” I put in.

Spider was thinking ahead of me. “And an unidentified body was just what you needed at the time — to validate your insurance claim.”

Bartholomew nodded. “Sam Cody was about my age and build. I recognised him from the description I had in La Coruña.”

“He had no head,” I said.

“He had no face. But he had a head. I had to hack it off. He was badly burned. They must have shot him in the head and then blown up the boat.” He spread his hands face down on the table, interlocking the fingers which read LOVE and HATE. Bartholomew had strong hands with stubby fingers. More like a butcher than an artist. He looked down at them. “The hands had to go, too. Then I stuffed what was left of Mr Cody into my oilies, towed him back up-Channel and dropped him off Westowe one night on a rising tide.”

“The French navy picked up the crew of the Vicano,” said Spider. “According to the newspapers, they were running drugs up from Morocco to the south coast. They’d buoy a package and sink it for pick-up by local contacts. If you knew just where and when to find it you’d need only a dinghy with an outboard.”

Bartholomew nodded. “I read about the capture of the San Vicano, but there was no mention of Matty and the sailing bum.”

Spider looked at me, and then back to Bartholomew. “What do you reckon happened to them?”

Bartholomew lowered his head into his hands. “That’s down to me. The Vicano crew probably had taken them on board. Then they may have heard my radio message. And killed the witnesses before they were tracked down.”

Spider hadn’t touched his brandy. Now he took a drink, coughed, wiped his mouth and leaned back against the cushions. “That was early February. What mischief have you been up to lately?”

“I’ve been in the Biscay ports. From Ile d’Ouessant to La Coruña. Looking for Matty. Reading the English papers. Trying to work out what to do next.”

“You didn’t go back to Corsica?”

“No.”

“What about the Scillies?”

“I didn’t want to risk going into an English port.”

“Or back to the mewstone?”

“Why would I go there?”

“Because Charlie’s been knocking out more customers for you on the full moon. Nickers. Malcolm Goodfellow.”

“And Fergusson?” I asked Spider.

“Charlie knew nothing about Fergusson.”

“Nothing to do with me,” said Bartholomew. “What’s Charlie been spinning you?”

“Maybe it’s your turn tell us a story,” I said to Spider.

Spider turned his pale blue eyes on me. “Would you believe a serial murderer?”

“Maybe. When you went in the water I went in after you.”

“You’ve always been a good-hearted sort of idjit,” said Spider. For the first time the three of us smiled. Spider drained his glass and I refilled all the tumblers. Spider shook his head at Bartholomew. “You were an idjit to let Charlie involve you with Colonel Meeker. And he was an idjit, too. That’s how I knew he was up to something.”

“What was his game?”

“There had to be a reason for Meeker to come to Westowe. And to distract any suspicion from himself, Charlie got you to write the letter.”

“Why me?”

“Because he hated you.” He said that without emphasis, as it if it were as obvious as Charlie being five-foot-eight-inches tall.

“Charlie hated me?”

“Didn’t you know?”

“What did I ever do to Charlie?”

Spider looked at me as if I were a child. “Because you always called him ‘Proper Charlie’. Because you were always playing jokes on him. Tricking him into showing us all his testicles.”

A vision flicked into my brain. A group of children standing in the woods. I told Charlie we were playing ‘Full Moon’. I got one of his sisters — Ronnie? — to bend over and drop her drawers. There was only her bottom to see. Then Charlie had to do it and we all saw his dangling bits. The girls all giggled. I saw Charlie pulling up his short trousers, glaring at me with hate through his tears.

Spider wasn’t finished yet. “But most of all because you used to let him copy your work in exams.”

“You’re joking.”

“Because you knew he was a cheat. So he always wanted to show he was smarter than you. That’s the way people are.” He sat back and talked to the roof of the cabin. “Charlie’s scam worked all right with Colonel Meeker. But when the body floated in, which everyone thought was Bartholomew, Charlie panicked.” Spider looked at me. “Do you remember how he reacted that day when we met him outside his office and told him about it.”

“He vomited,” I said.

“Charlie’s stomach was too weak for a proper villain. Bartholomew was supposed to have taken Meeker back to Corsica with him. Charlie kept E-mailing the address in Corsica, but got no reply. Finally, he got desperate enough to send a guarded fax. And then he got an E-mail back.”

“Not from me,” said Bartholomew. “I picked up three E-mails, but I reckoned he was just panicking.”

“Did you answer him?”

“No. And I don’t have a fax. I’d told him I wouldn’t be in communication any more. It might have been a trap. Someone could have found out.”

Spider looked at Bartholomew unblinking. “Anyways, the reply said everything had gone according to plan. Which calmed him down. And then, somehow, Lord Nick found about the Meeker scam. He told Charlie he wouldn’t half mind disappearing from his problems either, if some cash could be wrung out of it. So Charlie obliged with another financial deal. And, to ice the cake, it gave him the opportunity to collect insurance on that catamaran he couldn’t sell. He needed a stooge to crew for Nickers, to make it more credible, so naturally Charlie thought of you, Ted. When you turned him and Nick down, he set up Simon instead. Which was easy because Simon was being worked on a lead by the Customs, who always had a close eye on Nickers, the best-known druggie in the west country.”

“Charlie and Nick would have killed me?”

“They reckoned you could swim. I don’t know whether they bothered to ask Simon. Charlie had repeated the arrangements by E-mail for the next full moon spring tide. He borrowed a dinghy in Grise Heel Village for a bit of night fishing and kept a rendezvous with Nick’s yacht while Simon was off watch down below. Nick was decent enough to set an alarm for him. Then he pegged the helm, tore the cockpit netting and set out in the tender. Charlie ferried him back to Grise Heel village and they walked along the path to the mewstone for the pick-up just like before.”

“Which is why Charlie had wellies on when I saw him that night,” I said. “And why he had to say he’d been to Rabbit’s.” I looked at Spider. “That was the night you pretended to be pissed and went out in Dinny’s launch. What were you up to?”

Spider moved his tumbler in small circles on the table as he talked. “It all began the night Colonel Meeker disappeared,” said Spider. “Eddy Starr was the sparks on duty that night. He picked up a channel 80 radio message to the club. From a French boat called Brise du Janvier, asking for a berth and giving an ETA.”

“So?”

“You know Eddy. He knew the Customs boys were monitoring yacht channels, and he wanted to play games too. Nobody can turn a coincidence into a conspiracy quicker than Eddy.”

“What coincidence?”

“The vessel’s name was the name of the month. Janvier. And the ETA was twelve hours later, which seemed a long time in advance.”

Bartholomew spoke. “That was the code I agreed with Charlie. To tell him when I’d be at the mewstone. He had to deduct six hours from the ETA.”

Spider grinned. “Eddy thought it was just a little unusual. And he also discovered that the boat had radioed in again to cancel the berth about eight hours later. So, naturally he wrote it all down in his little book.”

“The second message was to confirm I’d made the pick-up,” said Bartholomew.

Spider looked at me. “Eddy also noticed one of his coincidences. It was around the time of a full moon. So he got your Pixie and Poxy worked up about the next full moon. March 26th.”

“Are they C and E?”

“Eddy thinks so. I’m not so sure. Any road, they all reckoned they’d use the castle as an observation post that night, so when you happened along they had to give you a little tap on the head.”

“Which one? The big slob?”

“No. Eddy volunteered for the job. He told me he thought they might hurt you too much.” Spider grinned. “On the other hand, maybe he thought you were becoming a little too neighbourly with Rabbit. Any road, that’s all that happened.”

Except, I thought, that Matty had turned up, perhaps by appointment, and someone had beaten her up. Spider went on. “And then, the night Lord Nick disappeared, the 27th of April, the lifeboat watchroom picked up a message from a French yacht wanting a berth. Le Diable d’Avril. With an ETA in ten hours. Two days after full moon. And this time Eddy was dead excited. Because in the meanwhile, the Coast Guard had circulated a list of French boats they wanted the lifeboats to keep a look out for. A list which included Brise du Janvier and Le Diable d’Avril. For some reason I don’t know, they set up an elaborate surveillance off Sheepshead Point.”

“That was the opposite direction from the mewstone,” I said.

Spider nodded. That’s why Dinny and I went out on a little private patrol. But only as far as The Devil’s Coat-tails.”

“Why?”

Diable d’AvrilApril Devil. I figured there was a connection.” He looked at Bartholomew. “I was wrong.”

“Half a tick,” said Bartholomew. He got up and pulled out a drawer under the plotting table. I moved past Spider to the cupboard and groped for my oily. The gun was still in the pocket. Do handguns work, I wondered, if they’ve been immersed in salt water? But when Bartholomew turned around, he had a chart in his hand. He spread it on the table in front of us. It was ‘Chart no. 2649, English Channel, Western Portion’. On the French side it covered most of Brittany and Normandy. It showed the English coast from the Isles of Scilly to the Isle of Wight. Along that coast a dozen positions were marked very close inshore. They were numbered 1 to 12. The precise longitude and latitude was written next to each one, down to the tenth of a minute. The locations were approximations only, they could only be plotted accurately on much larger scale charts.

“So, what’s all this?” I asked.

Bartholomew pointed into the empty sea area in the south-west corner of the chart. Someone had written a dozen names here in ink, and numbered them 1 to 12. The first one was Brise du Janvier. Its plot was off Mullion Cove, west of the Lizard. All the other months of the year were named, too. Number four was Le Diable d’Avril. That was plotted beyond Sheepshead Point, just three sea miles east-south-east of the castle.

“Where did you get this?” asked Spider.

“It was in the case with all the other charts. I thought of it when I had to dream up a code for the yacht name for Charlie. I used the first one on the list.”

Spider ran his finger down the names. “This is the same list we got from the Coast Guard. None of them are actual French-registered yachts. ‘L’esprit du Juin’. That was the message we heard the night Malcolm disappeared. Joie du Juillet. That must have been the one Charlie arranged for himself tonight.”

“Fergusson?” I asked.

Spider was tired. “Forget fucking Fergusson. Nobody knows nothing about Fergusson. Fergusson don’t fucking fit in, do he?”

Bartholomew spoke. “So who picked these people up?”

“You’ve got the list of code names,” said Spider.

“I picked up Meeker. No one else.”

“Whose E-mail address was it?” asked Spider.

“Mine. I set it up through the guy who owns the tavern on the beach at Punta Palazzo. He’s got a computer.”

“He could have been doing a bit of freelancing,” I said.

“He doesn’t know the password.”

“Who does?” asked Spider.

“Just me.” Bartholomew moved his tumbler around in little circles.

“And who else?” Spider pressed.

Bartholomew grunted. “Matty would have guessed it. It was sort of a pet name she had for me. She knew I used it for my bank accounts and such.”

“If you had this password you wouldn’t have to go to Corsica to access that E-mail address would you? You could do it from anywhere in the world,” said Spider.

“Sure. You have to reconfigure the link to your service provider. But you can do it. Whenever I got near a computer I checked. But after those three from Charlie, there were never any messages.”

Spider scratched his head. “One thing Charlie said. After the body washed in he was frantic to contact Bartholomew. When he finally got a response, it gave him a new E-mail address to use. For security, was the reason. Looks like somebody hijacked your scheme.”

“Somebody who had a copy of that list of boat names,” I said. I turned to Spider. “Was Superbloke involved in all this?”

“He knew nothing about it. It was plain to me that he and Charlie were colluding to get their hands on the club, like most of the rest of the members. But I knew Bartholomew’s golden share would stop them. So did Charlie, when I told him Bartholomew was alive. But Malcolm thought Bartholomew was dead. He was cheating on Charlie, with his deal on the side with Lord Nick to acquire the castle from Angie. It was a way to bail both of them out of their financial problems. When Nickers disappeared, Malcolm’s world started to collapse. And when Angie’s exhibition succeeded against all the odds, his game was up. Unless Angie failed to repay his loan.” Spider looked at me. “Malcolm was always an opportunist. And he saw an opportunity to tamper with the leading lights and lure you and Angie into the Frying-pan. At least that’s what Charlie figured.”

“And dropping me into the Frying-pan as well was just bye-the-bye?”

“Spider grinned. “That was just a bonus. What drove Malcolm was status. With Angie dead and Bartholomew presumed dead, he could exercise his option on the castle and maintain his position as a country gentleman.”

“I suppose he was a Lloyd’s name, and all.”

Spider nodded. “They was all greedy buggers, sucked in by Colonel Meeker. Anyways, after that game failed there was only one way out. He and Nick were pretty thick and Nick had dropped some hints about his plans. Malcolm put two and two together and threatened to expose Charlie unless he furnished him with the same escape route. Charlie was furious, but as usual, he saw a way to make some more money out of his chum’s predicament. So long as the financial dodges were in place, all it took was another E-mail.”

I remembered standing with Rabbit and Charlie on the clifftop watching the dripping body twisting in the air at the end of the helicopter line. “Charlie dropped his cookies again,” I said, “when he thought it was Malcolm they were hauling out of the Frying-pan.”

“That’s when he started to get worried again. He began to wonder if all these people really had been picked up safely. Or if Bartholomew had gone completely mad and was just doing away with them. They were all carrying large amounts of cash with them, as well as bank account documentation and all the rest. Things a clever Corsican could open lots of doors with. So Charlie pressed his panic button.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s what he called it. He had agreed a coded message with each of them before they left. A different code for each. Meaningless to anyone else. It was a signal to contact him immediately. He sent three messages — to Meeker, Lord Nick and Malcolm — to the usual E-mail address, with instructions to pass them on.”

“And?”

“Heard nothing.”

“Nothing from Meeker?” That was Bartholomew.

Spider gave him a steady glance. “Nothing from nobody.”

“And then?” I asked.

“Then he cracked. And cried on my shoulder. And told me everything. And that’s why we’re sitting in this fog tonight. I told him he had to set up one more delivery. Himself. And I’d be there to protect him. Only, like the guns at Singapore I was looking out to sea, waiting for a boat, and the bastard followed him in from the land.”

“Someone did come by boat,” I said. I looked at Bartholomew.

Bartholomew drained his tumbler of brandy before speaking. “I heard the channel 80 message from the Joie du Juillet. Which I recognised from the list of codes. And I heard the ETA. So I reckoned something was going on here again.”

“Why take the risk of coming back home?” asked Spider.

“Because it was a woman’s voice. And it sounded like Matty.”

We all heard the slow muffled thump of a distant diesel engine. Bartholomew poked his head out of the hatch. The muffled sound faded into silence and he sat down again.

Spider looked at me. “It’s too soon for Dinny. You reckon Matty’s in cahoots with Lothar?”

Hope raised Bartholomew’s head.

“Matty’s alive,” I told him.

The white beard on the lower half of God’s face split into a grin and his eyes widened. “You’ve seen her?”

Spider gave us his squinty-eyed look, which meant that he was about to say something shrewd. “This German she went off with. What’s he look like? This Wolfgang.”

Bartholomew grimaced. “Big, raw-boned blonde guy. Strong as an ox. You couldn’t mistake him. Not if you were a woman. He pulled down his trousers one night in the taverna and laid it on the table. It was a bet with a waiter about the size of their cocks. He won by a centimetre. It had a wolf tattooed on it.”

I sat up. “Is Matty tattooed?”

“Matty doesn’t have a cock.”

“Thank Christ for that,” said Spider.

“Does she have a tattoo anywhere on her body?” I asked.

“No. And I’ve seen it all,” said Bartholomew.

“She has now,” I said. Bartholomew stared hard at me.

Spider avoided mayhem. “I haven’t seen his cock, but your man on the mewstone — Lothar —is Wolfgang. She went off with him.”

Bartholomew shut his eyes tight as if he had a sharp headache. Then he opened them wide, stood up and slid open the hatch cover. He spoke out into the night. “We’d better have a go.”

The fog swam in and wrapped around his upper body like a loose cablestitch jumper. I ground my teeth. He would risk everything — not for Angie — but for Matty.