The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 42

The following morning Dave Brocklehurst drove his large Nissan pickup truck into the car park behind the Mercury newspaper office in Dover. Because of a machine breakdown at the printers, the pamphlets were not ready and now he was about to meet a reporter, from a profession Dave did not have the greatest respect for. He cheered himself by the thought that the old film in the camera might be OK.

Walking round to the front doors, he entered the reception area and introduced himself to a stern faced woman sitting behind the desk. Taking his name, she checked his appointment time and told him to wait, pointing to one of the sofas in the corner of the reception.

Dave walked over and sat down, picked up the paper’s latest edition from the coffee table and started idly flicking through the pages. He saw a photo of an aircraft propeller that had caught in the nets of a local trawler and been dragged from the depths of the Channel. He began reading the article with interest, trying to identify the propeller to determine what type of aircraft it could have come from, when the clippity-clop of high-heeled shoes tapped across the tiled floor towards him.

‘Mr Brocklehurst?’ enquired a polite, sophisticated voice.

Dave stopped reading the newspaper and looked down at the shoes in front of him. Slowly looking up, he took in a pair of long, shapely legs, a well-rounded body topped with a stunningly pretty face and stared mesmerised into deep, crystal blue eyes.

‘Bloody hell,’ he muttered, ‘Sex on legs!’

The face cocked to one side with a quizzical look, the girl not sure what she had just heard, and then smiled.

‘Mr Brocklehurst?’

‘Yes. Hello.’ replied Dave with a wide grin, attempting to pull himself together.

‘Hello, I’m Samantha Cox. I’ll take you through to Mr Britton, if you will follow me?’

Samantha took the lead, pushing aside the door guarding the inner sanctum of the newspaper office with a crash and went on through a large room with people sitting at desks tapping away on keyboards and staring into computer screens. Following on her heals they climbed up some stairs on to a small landing. Opening a door, Samantha ushered him into a small office, where a man looked up from behind a desk. The large, friendly looking face broke into a grin, the most striking feature of which was the black velvet eye patch covering his left eye. The shaggy mane of curly, dark hair made Dave wonder why there wasn’t a mangy old parrot sitting on the guy’s shoulder and cast an eye around the room, expecting to see an old wooden crutch leaning against a wall.

‘Dave Brocklehurst? Hi, I’m Charlie Britton and I can see you’ve already met my delightful assistant, Samantha.’

‘That I have.’ chuckled Dave as Charlie raised himself up and they shook hands.

‘Sit yourself down.’ said Charlie as Samantha took some files off a chair in the corner and squeezed it in front of Charlie’s desk.

‘Coffee anyone?’ she enquired and took their orders and left, slamming the door behind her.

‘Does she always do that?’ asked Dave.

‘All the time.’ replied Charlie.

Dave sat down and glanced around the cramped interior, which reminded him of his own congested office in the museum?

‘Thanks for coming in.’ said Charlie.

‘I’ve brought the camera with me. Did your photographer fellow think he could do anything with the film?’

‘Yes, when I had a word with John last night he said he’s keen to help. I’ll give him a ring and get him up here.’ stated Charlie, picking up the phone and dialling an extension number.

As Charlie was talking on the phone, Dave noticed a framed print of an RAF Tornado fighter-bomber hanging lopsidedly from the wall behind Charlie’s desk. Putting on his glasses, he saw a 31 Squadron crest with scrawled signatures written all over it. It seemed oddly out of place with the other contents of the room.

At that moment, the door opened and Samantha walked into the office, balancing a tray of cups of coffee as an elderly man held the door back and followed her in.

‘Dave, meet our resident snapper, John Snowden. John, this is Dave Brocklehurst from the museum with the film he wants developing.’

The photographer turned, shaking hands with Dave.

‘Hello Dave, it’s good to meet you. I’ve heard from friends that have visited the museum you’re doing a damn good job there. I must make time and come along.’

‘Anytime, John. Let me know when you’re coming and I’ll give you the grand tour.’

‘You’re on! Now, where’s this camera of yours?’

Dave took the small camera out of his pocket and showed it to the photographer.

‘Blimey! Is that what I think it is? Let’s have a look.’

Dave handed it to the photographer who studied it and whistled.

‘It is a Riga! Was it a donation to the museum?’ he asked, realising that it would make a terrific addition to his collection.

‘No, it came out of a hole in the ground!’ explained Dave.

‘Well, it seems to be in very good condition.’

‘We found it in an aircraft we dug out of the ground recently. Do you think you can do anything with the film inside?’ enquired Dave.

‘Let me take it down to my den and see what I can do.’ replied John and went out of the room.

‘If you don’t mind me asking, what’s that doing up there?’ asked Dave, pointing to the print of the Tornado hanging on the wall above Charlie’s head. ‘It’s a 31 Squadron print, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it is. So the Battle of Britain isn’t just your specialised subject, Dave?’ enquired Charlie

‘No, I’m interested in most things aeronautical but anything concerning the Battle is my passion. From what I can remember, 31 Squadron was formed halfway through the First World War and were based in India. At the end of the war, they played a prominent role in Afghanistan for many years. What’s your connection with them? Have you done a story on them?’

‘Yes I did when I was working for Reuter’s, although I knew them before that as one of those signatures up there happens to be mine. I flew with them until I had an argument with a SAM missile over Afghanistan, which is how I got this.’ said Charlie, tapping his eyepatch

‘Wow, you were in 31 flying Tornados!’ exclaimed Dave in surprise.

‘Yes, I got clobbered and injured in the crash. Wearing the patch is useful as I can be intimidating or intriguing, or just plain scary, whenever the mood takes me.’

Dave laughed and caught a glance from Samantha, squeezed behind her desk in the corner who said rolling her eyes, ‘He’s not that bad, as his bark is worse than his bite.’

He smiled at her and looked back at Charlie with newfound respect.

John Snowden the photographer came back in, out of breath from his climb up the steep staircase as the whiff of developing chemicals on his clothes pervaded the small office.

‘Well, I’ve developed your film, Dave. Surprisingly enough, it was in remarkably good condition and all the negatives have come out OK. Here’s the film back and I’ve run some prints off for you.’ said the photographer and handed Dave a large, buff envelope. ‘You’ll make more sense of them than I did.’

‘Thanks John.’ Dave replied. ‘Charlie, why don’t you follow me back to the museum and I’ll give you what gen I’ve got on that pilot’

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