The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 73

Charlie found the strength to keep going the next couple of days, even though stricken with grief at James’s death and that the authorities had still not found his remains. Early one morning in need of some space, he drove up to the nearby White Cliffs above Dover. He turned off the main A20 on to the narrow road leading to the small village of Capel le Ferne, nestling on the cliff tops overlooking the English Channel. Parking the Jaguar in the grounds of the Battle of Britain Memorial next to the village, Charlie looked around, could not think of a better place to find solace, and got out of the car. He walked past the low wall at the edge of the car park bearing a plaque inscribed with Winston Churchill’s famous speech about the famous “Few” and made his way along the path on top of the famous white cliffs. The outline of three large propeller blades came into view cut into the grass, thrusting out from a central hub on top of which sat a stone sculpture of a pilot staring with sightless eyes into the blue skies and white cumulous clouds over the Channel. At that moment, Charlie understood and appreciated the dedication of the Royal Air Force pilots, who had fought so valiantly to keep his country free from German invasion, and the many who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

He stood looking out to sea, the tears running down his cheeks as he recalled childhood memories of them both spent in Cornwall, before their parents had been so cruelly taken from them, and now James was gone too. Charlie felt very alone. A polite cough interrupted Charlie’s thoughts and he turned towards a sprightly looking old man dressed in a smart blue blazer and beige slacks, the creases ironed to military precision.

‘Can I be of any help? I’m a volunteer here and if you have any questions I’d be very happy to try to answer them.’

‘No thanks,’ said Charlie, wiping away his tears. ‘Excuse me, I’ve had a recent bereavement.’

‘I am so sorry.’ said the old boy. ‘I’ll leave you in peace.’

‘No, it’s okay. I’m Charlie Britton.’ he said, offering his hand.

‘Pleased to meet you, Beresford’s the name, Sid Beresford.’

Charlie shook Beresford’s hand, surprised to find his handshake so firm for a man of his years.

The old boy took in Charlie’s age and remarked,

‘Was it one of your parents?’

‘No, I lost both of them many years ago. It was James, my twin brother.’

‘Oh, I really am very sorry. If it’s any consolation, I lost my brother who was also called James. A very long time ago, now.’ sighed the old man.

‘It’s the reason I work here. His name is on one of the memorial tablets over there. He was a pilot in the RAF killed during the Battle.’

‘I’m sorry, he must have been very young.’ said Charlie.

‘Nineteen, he was, but his memory has never left me. Even today, I feel he is close by. Give it some time, Charlie, and I’m sure you will feel the same about your brother as I do now. Gone but never, ever, forgotten.’

‘Thanks, Sid. I’m sure you’re right.’

Shaking hands, the old man turned and with a twinkle in his eye marched off towards the car park.

Charlie walked over to the edge of the cliff and gazed out over the sparkling blue-grey waters of the English Channel, the sun’s rays reflecting brightly off them. As he looked at the far horizon stretching away in the distance, he thought about the brave young lads all those years ago in their Spitfires and Hurricanes, fighting for their lives high in the blue skies overhead against the might of Goering’s Luftwaffe. Back in those dark, uncertain days of 1940. He was even more determined now to tell their story, in a way not told before.

On the drive back down to Dover, he decided he would be better off at work. It surprised Samantha to see him come through the door into the office.

‘How are you Charlie?’ asked Samantha. ‘You shouldn’t be back at work yet.’

‘I couldn’t stay moping around at home, Sam.’

‘Charlie, I’ve found it very hard too. I didn’t know James for very long but I liked him very much.’ sobbed Samantha, recalling James’s infectious grin and witty sense of humour.

‘You must feel terrible over his loss.’

‘I’m shattered Sam. There’s no hope of James being alive now and they won’t even find his body after this time. But I’m also very angry, because I think James’s death might not have been an accident.’

‘What?’ exclaimed Samantha.

‘There’s something you ought to know. James was an intelligence officer working for MI5 and he told me on Friday he thought he was being followed on his way down.’

‘Who by?’ asked Samantha.

″He didn’t know, but I intend to find out!

Charlie took comfort in their shared anguish for James and invited Samantha to lunch in a small restaurant nearby. During the meal, Charlie told her about the connection he had found between Lord Barker, the court martial and the Link Society. Although Charlie added he could find no trace if this was the same Link mentioned by the deputy Prime Minister before his demise at the Oxford Union. On impulse, Charlie asked Samantha if her great aunt, Lady Miranda Barker, might know something.

‘I don’t know, Charlie’ replied Samantha. ‘As I told you before, I’ve only got to know her since moving here to start work on the paper and she got very shitty with me when I asked about the hit and run.’

‘But we’ve got to find out, Sam, as I think these societies are one and the same. Lord Barker was a member of the Link during the war and following his father’s death, I suspect his son Anthony got involved too, but they’re both long dead now. We must find out more as I have a gut feeling they’re responsible for James’s death.’ snarled Charlie.

‘Maybe she might know something.’ agreed Sam.

‘Give her a ring when we get back and ask her if we can see her this afternoon.’

‘OK, Charlie, but she’s very old, please try not to upset her.’

They left the restaurant, both leaving half-full plates as neither had much of an appetite following the terrible events of the weekend. Back at the Mercury offices, Samantha phoned her aunt who reluctantly agreed to meet them later.

Finishing work early, Charlie and Samantha drove up to Westcliffe to see Lady Barker. As Charlie went to turn into the drive of the manor house, he swerved the Jag violently in an effort to avoid a large black Audi A4 with two men inside racing out. The Audi collided with the Jag’s front wing and roared off up the road, its front indicator light dangling like an umbilical cord from the damaged wing.

‘Bastard!’ yelled Charlie, who put the Jag in reverse to back up and chase it, but Samantha placed a hand on his arm and stopped him.

‘Look, the front doors open and I’m more worried about my aunt than to take part in a car chase. It’s all right Charlie, I’ve got the Audi’s number so let’s make sure she’s OK.’

Grunting in acknowledgement, Charlie pulled into the drive and stopped outside the front door. They both jumped out, Charlie looking in anger at the car’s dented wing but Samantha grabbed his arm and they ran up the steps to see the front door wide open. Walking in across the tiled entrance hall and into the gloom of the living room, they found it empty.

‘What’s that horrible smell?’ gasped Samantha.

Charlie sniffed the air, recognising the pungent, nauseating smell of town gas.

‘It’s gas!’ he shouted. ‘Switch nothing on!’

Looking around for a gas fire in the room, he found none and realised it was probably coming from the kitchen.

‘Quick, where’s the kitchen?’

‘This way.’ Samantha cried and they went back down the hall and entered the kitchen.

Samantha screamed as she stumbled over the butler lying flat on his back on the floor, his open, lifeless eyes staring up at her. Lady Miranda, her aunt, was in a chair laying slumped over the kitchen table.

Charlie rushed over to the large cooking range and turned off the taps of the gas burners, which were wide open. Next, he quickly opened the leaded light windows to ventilate the room, as Samantha shook her aunt’s shoulder.

‘Wake up, wake up.’ shouted Samantha, shaking her aunt. Charlie lifted her shoulders from the table and leant her back in the chair.

Lady Miranda started groaning and Charlie left her and knelt down beside the butler to check his pulse. Feeling none and noticing how cold his skin was to the touch, Charlie guessed the old man had probably had a heart attack. Getting up he went to the sink and filled a glass of water from the tap, came back and put it to Lady Miranda’s lips. She took a sip, and began coming round. Samantha grabbed a tea towel and waved fresh air in from the window towards her as the old lady looked at Samantha with scorn on her face.

‘You stupid young fool! If you hadn’t been meddling with affairs that don’t concern you, this would never have happened!’ she snarled as she reached up and felt the bruise on her forehead.

‘What affairs are that then?’ interrupted Charlie.

Lady Miranda shook her head in angry silence, remembering the two thugs who had barged in earlier and attacked her and Jeeves. She realised her nephew must have sent them down from London to silence her. Miranda cursed, for she had phoned him in London following Samantha’s questioning about the hit and run accident, and warned him about the girl and that all their hard work was in danger of being discovered.

Her anger dissolved into rage as she thought about the years of risk that she had taken running and nurturing the society, since her brother Anthony had killed himself. That her nephew could even think of doing such a wicked thing, to silence her after all she had done. The insolence of the man. Had he thought she was going senile in her old age and would talk?

‘C’mon, I’m waiting.’ insisted Charlie, intruding on her thoughts.

‘Events are taking place as we speak that will change the course of history.’ hissed Miranda, screwing her face up as she looked at them both.

‘If you’re involved with my brother’s death, I swear I’ll...’ shouted Charlie, gripping hold of the old women.

‘Charlie, she’s an old…’

‘Bah! She will tell me what’s going on if it’s the last thing I do.’ argued Charlie.

‘Tell me!’ he shouted, shaking her.

‘Never!’

Charlie leaned closer to her. ‘I’ll tell you what I know, Lady Miranda. Your father and brother should have been shot for treason for their disgraceful actions during the war, and if you’re involved with this secret society, I want to know. So you had better start bloody talking or. . .’

‘Charlie, give her time to recover, she’s. . .’ soothed Samantha

‘I know, she’s only an old lady!’ Charlie spat.

‘What about John Faulkner, your poor husband. He fought for his country and his reward was to be court martialed on the lies of your brother and actions of your despicable father.’

‘Stop it!’ Lady Miranda cried out.

‘Enough!’ she sobbed, as everything got too much for her and started to break down.

‘If you have one ounce of a conscience, you’re tell me everything. Who killed my brother? Tell me!’ shouted Charlie, grabbing her again and shaking her.

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she breathed out a long sigh.

’I . . ., I only wanted to save Anthony, my dear brother from being arrested as a spy.

‘Go on.’ ordered Charlie through gritted teeth.

‘I only wanted to protect him as he could be so foolish. I went in the pub that evening and identified the RAF officer who would give evidence against Anthony and waited for him outside. When he came out, I followed him down the road in the Rolls and ran him over.’

‘Didn’t you realise the officer was going to give evidence on your husband’s behalf?’ uttered Charlie, with an incredulous look.

‘Of course I didn’t! I was confused and only thinking of Anthony. If I had only known the consequences then, I would never have killed him. Oh, if I could only turn the clock back.’ she cried.

‘I killed my darling husband, Johnny and could never look his sister, Catherine, my good friend, in the eye again.’ she sobbed.

‘So you admit to killing Squadron Leader Long.’ asked Samantha.

‘Yes, I drove the car away and parked it in a layby close to the main road to Dover. Then I thumbed a lift and an army truck going that way stopped and dropped me off at the ambulance station in Dover.’

‘How could you do such a thing?’ cried Samantha.

‘I don’t know. I never thought Johnny would get so depressed after the verdict. He died shortly afterwards in a flying accident. I took his spirit away and killed him. In hindsight, it would have been so much better for Johnny to be alive, as I soon realised he was by far the better man.’

‘That’s all very well but what about my brother and this odious society that has murdered him?’ demanded Charlie.

‘I’ve told you more than enough, young man. I should never . . .’

Lady Miranda cried out as Charlie gripped her wrist and began to twist it.

‘Charlie!’ shouted Samantha.

‘Tell me, you old hag!’ he growled, twisting it harder.

‘You’re hurting me.’ cried out the old woman.

‘I’ll break every bloody bone in your body if I have to.’

‘All right!’ Lady Miranda screamed, her resistance gone and she slumped back in her chair.

‘As you know, the Nazi invasion never happened, ruining father’s plans. When he was killed in the bombing, Anthony took over the running the Link. However, he was lazy and made a mess of it and then I found out he was being blackmailed for some indiscretion, probably by someone from one of the seedy nightclubs he used to frequent in London. The police arrested Anthony when he got caught in the act with another man at the end of the war, and in a fit of depression hung himself in a police cell.’

‘So he got his just desserts. Who ran the Link then?’ demanded Charlie.

Lady Miranda looked at Charlie with hate-filled eyes.

‘You!’ Charlie hissed, as she nodded her head.

‘So you’re responsible for my brother’s death!’ gasped Charlie.

‘No, I was in charge for many years and kept it alive during that time, but Anthony’s son, Thomas, is now the leader.’ she replied.

‘Who?’ barked Charlie. ‘Thomas Barker?’

‘No. Thomas is Anthony’s son from a marriage of convenience and when he got older he took an invented courtesy title of Westcliffe, to save embarrassment over the circumstances of his father’s death.’

Charlie realised that the change of name was the reason he could not trace any connection between the Barker family and the present day Link.

‘Where is he now?’ demanded Charlie.

‘I don’t feel well. I need an aspirin. Samantha, there is a bottle in that cupboard over there.’ asked Lady Miranda, pointing with her hand.

Samantha went over and opened the door, rummaging around until she found the bottle right at the back.

Shaking it, she found just one left inside, took it out, and put it on the old woman’s upturned hand.

Miranda reached for the glass of water on the table as Charlie waited impatiently for her to finish. With a gulp, she swallowed the pill, which had lost some of its strength over the years. Lady Miranda, one of the evil heads of the Link and without realising her dream of a nationalistic UK, died in agony a few minutes later from cyanide poisoning.

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