The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 48

The next morning Charlie and Samantha spent the morning getting their work in order before their journey to Windsor. Charlie decided it was time to make a move.

‘We had better get going, Sam. We can grab some sandwiches from Subway on the way.’

‘OK, I’ve made a flask of coffee to take with us and my overnight case is in the car outside.’

‘Let’s go then.’

Outside, shading their eyes from the bright afternoon sun they walked to Charlie’s old Jaguar XK 150 parked in the car park. The British racing green paintwork had faded and was peeling around the edges of the panels. The whole car urgently needed a respray. He unlocked the boot as Samantha got her bag out of her Mini and put it in alongside his. Charlie chucked the briefcase he was carrying on the back seat and got in and Samantha passed him the coffee flask, which he stashed between the small back seat and the transmission tunnel. Samantha went to get in and sat down on the low seat, bent her knees and inserted her long legs into the small confines of the passenger compartment, snagging her tights on the rusty doorsill in the process.

‘Blast!’ Now I’ve got a ladder!′

Charlie eyed up the ensnared, shapely limb and gave an appreciative whistle.

‘Hasn’t drawn blood has it?’

‘You really ought to get rid of this wreck.’ hissed Samantha, freeing herself.

Charlie turned on the ignition, started the engine and pulled out of the car park to drive the short distance to the local Subway. Stopping outside, Samantha took Charlie’s order and got out carefully, mindful of her tights. She soon got back in clutching paper bags of tasty sandwiches and they drove up the hill out of Dover on the A20, as the big six-cylinder engine purred away in front to the roar of the exhaust behind.

The Jaguar, which had been undergoing restoration in a friend’s garage and had only narrowly escaped the clutches of the divorce lawyers, was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The battered exterior concealed the expensive TWR racing conversation that the engine, transmission and running gear had undergone, until the money had run out before a start could be made on the bodywork. Driving along the M20, which cut a path through the rich, green Kent countryside, they soon joined the M25. Depending on the time of day, it could quickly turn into Britain’s largest car park. The traffic was already building up for the evening rush hour although the variable speed limit seemed to help the traffic flow. Passing Heathrow Airport they took the M4 motorway and got as far as Slough before they slowed to a halt, caught up in a traffic jam because of roadworks. Charlie was finishing off his last steak and cheese sandwich when his phone chimed with a message.

‘It’s in the briefcase on the back seat, Sam.’

She turned round, reached for the battered case and clipped the tarnished locks open.

‘This looks in just as bad state as the car.’ teased Sam.

’No, that’s quality real leather that is. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.’

Samantha took out the phone and passed it to Charlie. As he read the text, she unscrewed the top from the flask, poured in some coffee as Charlie opened up the attachment on the message. Dave Brockelhurst had sent some info and a photo of the pilot Charlie had him asked about.

‘Look at this.’ said Charlie and handed her the phone as Samantha gave him the cup. He took a gulp and gave it back as the traffic started moving again. Samantha enlarged the image on the phone with her finger and thumb. Two young pilots in RAF uniform stared back at her with wide, jaunty grins on their young, handsome faces. One had a high forehead with fair hair brushed straight back and warm brown eyes. She saw in his strikingly good looks similarities to those of her mother’s, and realised he must be her great uncle, John Faulkner, who she knew so little about. Her fledgling journalistic interest stirred, as she wanted to know more about this dark horse of the family and what he had done to be court martialed. The other pilot in the photograph was a somewhat haughty looking young man, with a pencil moustache perched on a pronounced upper lip with piercing black eyes. The grin on his face could easily be mistaken for a smirk. The arrogance of youth, perhaps, thought Samantha?

She started to read Dave’s text, which explained that the photograph of John Faulkner was the only one he had found and that the other pilot in the shot was one Lord Anthony Barker. Both had flown with 79 Squadron based at RAF Biggin Hill and Samantha realised that Barker was the brother of her great aunt, Lady Miranda. Dave finished by saying he had little information on either of them. Samantha remembered her mother telling her that the Barker family had always been aloof and very distant from her own family. Dave finished by stating that all he had found out about them was both had attended the same school together in Dover and went to Cambridge University, where they had become successful athletes and taken part in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Charlie sipped the coffee, drummed his fingertips on the steering wheel in frustration at the slow moving traffic, and glanced sideways at Samantha.

‘What does it say, Sam?’

‘There’s a photo of two pilots, one’s my great uncle and the other is Lord Anthony Barker, the brother of my great aunt. Dave says they were friends who served in 79 Squadron but that he hardly knows anything about them, except that they were athletes who took part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and that my uncle won a medal.’

‘Sounds like something out of Chariots of Fire. Didn’t you know he’d won a medal?’ asked Charlie.

‘No I didn’t.’ replied Samantha and wondered why her family had hushed it up. Her curiosity deepened as she realised that whatever he had done must have been serious to warrant a cover up of this magnitude.

‘I wonder what happened back then and why it’s still so secret.’

‘We’re about to find out, Sam.’ said Charlie, pointing with an outstretched hand towards the large, majestic castle in the distance.

‘She’s not in today, though, as the Union flag’s flying and not the Royal Standard.’

‘What!’ said Samantha with a start, ‘We’re meeting someone in Windsor Castle?’

‘Close!’

James Britton freshened himself up in the shower after his day’s work in London, looking forward to the evening ahead. He towelled himself dry and went to the bedroom, thinking of the work he still had to do on the Antoinette, and reminded himself that he was due time off after all the overtime he had done lately. A loud clang from the ship’s bell mounted on the side of the wheelhouse outside interrupted his thoughts, signalling his visitor’s arrival.

‘Ahoy! Anyone on board?’ roared a voice.

‘Hang on, just a sec!’ hollowed back James through the open skylight overhead, pulling on a pair of Levis and a polo shirt and went out of the bedroom. He climbed up the steep companionway and opened the wheelhouse door.

‘Hi Charlie, how’s it going?’ greeted James, giving his brother a big hug.

‘Can’t complain, Jimbo. It’s lucky that I caught you in your office yesterday as you’ve been away a lot, haven’t you?’

’Yep, it’s been busy with suspected terrorist activity around the country, but it’s just online warriors with no substance to their threats.

‘Wow, who’s that, Bro?’ said James in surprise, eyeing up the long-legged blonde standing on the quayside.

‘That’s Samantha, my assistant.’ replied Charlie.

James gave her a wave and she waved back.

‘Give me a sec and I’ll be with you. I thought we’d go over to the Donkey for a pint and some grub.’

‘Sounds good to me.’

James went back inside and grabbed his wallet and phone and a bomber jacket from a hook on the wheelhouse door. He locked the door behind him and went down the gangplank with his brother to meet Samantha.

‘James, this is Samantha Cox.’

Samantha did a double take.

″Hi Samantha.′ greeted James taking in her surprised look.

‘Hi James, it’s good to meet you.’

‘Yes, we’re identical twins, although apart from looking alike we have nothing else in common whatsoever!’ he joked.

‘Your twin brother?’ said Samantha turning to Charlie, admiring James’s muscular frame and good looks and realising for the first time similar qualities in her boss.

‘So what’s a nice girl like you doing in the company of this old rogue?’ asked James.

‘Sam’s a reporter on the Mercury.’ replied Charlie.

Sam smiled as this was the first time that Charlie had acknowledged her as reporter.

They walked the short distance along the road to the Donkey House pub beside the River Thames, which had commanding views of Eton Bridge stretching over the river. The pub, overshadowed by the high wall of the Round Tower of Windsor Castle towering above it, is a favourite haunt of locals and tourists alike, having been a Windsor landmark for many years. James held open the swing doors and followed Charlie and Sam inside.

‘Evening Sally!’ he shouted to the barmaid who gave a friendly wave as they approached the bar. Charlie ordered a gin and tonic for Samantha and two pints of London Pride for himself and James. As they waited for the drinks, Samantha tried to spot the subtle differences between the two twins. She had never thought of her boss, Charlie, as a handsome man, but alongside his twin James, she could now see the same striking looks as his brother.

Taking their drinks over to a quiet table in the corner, they clinked glasses and sat down.

‘How long have you lived on the boat?’ asked Samantha.

‘Oh, about four years now.’ replied James.

‘I was admiring her from the quayside while you were talking with Charlie.’

‘She’s an ex-admiralty pinnace built in 1897 at White’s yard in Cowes, commissioned in the Royal Navy and saw service in both world wars as a coastal and harbour patrol ship. She played her part with distinction during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and there’s a plaque on the wheelhouse wall to prove it.’

‘Wow, that’s quite a history, James. Where did you find her?’

‘In rather a sorry state in the Liverpool docks. She needed a lot of work so I got a low loader truck to bring her down by road, rather than sail her round. However, that’s another story. Remind me to tell you about it next time I see you. I’ve been restoring her since.’

‘Looks like you’re doing a great job!’ said Samantha, glancing out of the window at the Antoinette as a pleasure steamer sailed upstream past a pair of swans going the other way.

Charlie listened to the other two chatting and relaxed after the drive up from Dover.

‘I’m a weekend sailor to. A friend’s got a small yacht in Dover Marina and I crew for her most weekends, weather permitting.’

‘Is that a fact?’ said James. ‘Well if you want to come sailing with me just say the word, I keep a Moody 34 down on the Solent.’

Charlie interrupted, a tad jealous of his brother’s interest in Sam and mindful of James’s usual ways with the ladies.

‘I would be careful if I was you, Sam. He may call me a rogue with this eyepatch, but our Jimbo here used to serve in the Royal Navy and you know what they say about a sailor.’

‘Is that true, James? Have you still got one in every port?’ queried Samantha with a raised eyebrow.

‘Not anymore, I’m afraid.’ he replied with a sigh and laughed.

‘What a shame but if it’s any consolation, I’d love to go sailing with you.’ said Samantha with a smile.

‘You would, Sam? That’s great, let’s work something out.’

‘If I can intrude on you nautical lovebirds for a minute.’ growled Charlie. ‘We’d better get some grub and another round of drinks in.’

‘Same again boys?’ asked Samantha, ‘I want to powder my nose so I’ll order more drinks and bring some menus back.’ getting up to make her way to the bar.

‘They’re doing chicken in the basket on the specials board on the way in. I’ll have one of those.’ said Charlie.

‘And me.’ put in James.

‘OK, I won’t bother with the menus, three chicken in the basket it is, then.’ said Samantha and threaded her way through the punters now filling the bar.

James, taking the opportunity of Samantha’s short absence pulled a buff coloured envelope out of the inside pocket of his jacket. Opening the flap, he removed a black and white photo and handed it to Charlie. It was of a young Arab looking up, wearing a turban, and taken from overhead. Charlie studied the print, noting the dark, hate-filled eyes staring back at him and the scarred tissue around his mouth. A short length of what looked like drain pipe rested on his shoulder.

‘Who’s this?’

‘It’s the bastard who fired the missile at you over Afghanistan, and that’s the launcher!’ said James, pointing to the pipe.

‘Fuck me! How do you know it’s him?’

‘A US Predator drone operating in the area at the time took it.’

‘But I thought the resolution technology wasn’t good enough in those days to identify faces?’ queried Charlie.

‘That’s right, it wasn’t. However, the NRO have been running a lot of earlier imaging taken of suspected terrorists through a new digital enhancing programme, and comparing the results using biometric facial recognition software. It’s being done to try catch more of the bastards by facial recognition cameras at border controls before they can get in to do any damage. And hey presto, this is the result.’ said James gesturing to the face in the photos.

‘How did you get hold of this?’ Charlie quizzed his brother.

‘We’ve been running the results of the new programme on our computers at work, comparing them with some unknown faces we’d like to identity. It’s made a change from checking the more usual online jihadi chatroom stuff. I noticed the date and location when the original photo was taken.’

‘What, the thirty first of October, 2001?’ snarled Charlie.

‘That’s right.’

Charlie glared at the face in the photo as memories flooded back of the attack on his Tornado.

‘So who is the bastard?’ queried Charlie, looking at the face with his remaining eye.′

‘One Mohammad Aziz, a British citizen born here of Afghan descent.’

‘Does anyone know where he is now?’

‘Latest intelligence’s put him somewhere in Syria, after things got a bit too hot for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He’s climbing up the intelligence services popularity list and now goes under the name of the Viper. Hey up, your mate’s on her way back. Better stuff it in your pocket Charlie, although I doubt you’ll get it framed and hung on the wall, will you?’

‘No, but if I ever come across this bastard, he’ll regret the day he was born.’

‘I don’t blame you.’ agreed James.

‘Have I missed anything?’ asked Samantha, sitting down at the table.

‘Nah, we’re just catching up.’ said Charlie with a grin.

‘The drinks and food are on their way.’ she confirmed.

‘So what’s the story on the deputy PM’s death, Jimbo?’ enquired Charlie.

‘Hang on a sec, bro, is it ok to talk about this in front of Samantha?’ asked James, reaching for his pint.

‘Sure it is, she’ll be helping me put the story together.’

‘Don’t worry, James, mum’s the word.’ joked Samantha, tapping the side of her nose with a finger.

‘OK, Charlie, but you didn’t get this from me, all right? Maybe there’s something not quite kosher about what happened. After you rang yesterday I had a word with a pal of mine who was on the detail to watch over the deputy pm at Oxford.’

‘They didn’t do a very good job of that, did they?’ jibed Charlie.

‘Do you want this titbit or not?’

‘Sorry, go on.’

‘He told me he recognised an operative from MI6 in the building earlier in the evening.’ said James, leaning closer to his brother. ‘That’s strange as they usually leave all internal security to MI5. What is stranger is that they rushed the body to the Westminster mortuary in London for the post-mortem examination, which is a long way to go considering he died in Oxford! It would have been normal to take him to the local mortuary.’

‘So it might not be a straightforward death.’ prompted Charlie.

’Possibly not, as the Westminster mortuary is the one MI6 always uses for any dodgy deaths!

Charlie gave a low whistle, ‘Thanks for the tip, Jimbo. It’s a start and we must see what more we can find out.’ he said, looking over at Samantha.

‘Oh!’ exclaimed James, remembering the other envelope in his pocket. ‘I got a copy of the record of that court martial you wanted.’ He took it out and gave it to Charlie. ‘I had a quick read through but can’t see why they should have restricted it.’

‘Thanks, Jimbo, I’ll look at it later.’ said Charlie put it in his pocket.

At that moment, the barmaid brought the meals and drinks over.

‘I’d like to propose a toast.’ said James, raising his pint and with a twinkle in his eye looked into Samantha’s deep blue eyes.

’The wind that blows, the ship that goes,

And the lass that loves a sailor!′

‘Cheers everyone!’

Clinking their glasses together, they started on the food and enjoyed each other’s company in the busy pub until closing time. Finishing their drinks, they made their way outside and Charlie and Samantha helped James, slightly the worse for wear, and made sure he got safely up the gangplank back to his boat. They walked to the steps beside Eton Bridge, crossed over the road, down the other side to the Jaguar parked in the Riverside car park and got their overnight bags.

‘We’ve got two rooms booked in the Old Trout Hotel just down the road,’ said Charlie, ‘Does that remind you of your Great Aunt Miranda?’ quipped Charlie.

‘Behave yourself!’ scolded Samantha and reached out for Charlie’s hand, buoyed by the gin and tonics and smiling to herself, as she remembered the compliment paid earlier by the great Charlie Britton, confirming her new status of fellow reporter. However, the icing on the cake had been meeting the dashing James.

‘What does James do now?’ enquired Sam.

‘I’d like to tell you Sam, but its way above my pay grade.’ chuckled Charlie.

As they entered the hotel, a British Airways Boeing 737 climbed low overhead, outbound from nearby Heathrow on its way to the Costa del Sol in Spain. Packed with tourists heading for their holidays on the Costa’s sun-drenched beaches, the pilot apologised over the intercom for the abnormal weather of high winds and heavy rain expected at Malaga Airport, to the groans of his passengers.

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