King Stephen, the Silver man and Greta the Witch

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Chapter 24 – The Sunday morning market

The fine early spring weather was drawing the crowds to the Sunday morning market. The market was laid out in canvas covered stalls that ran the length of the runway of the adjacent airfield. The market regularly attracted 10,000 people, but on a day like today when the weather was fine, it might attract double that.

Amit was dispatched to have a ‘word’ with the control tower at Blackbushe. The Chief Constable wanted to stop the light aircraft piloted by amateur pilots from overflying the Police search area on the common. It was a sign of the Chief Constable’s displeasure with Amit, that he was assigned such a trivial task. This was the type of task normally performed by more junior officers.

Even though it was only a few miles to the airfield, it took Amit longer than it should to reach the control tower because he was delayed by the traffic heading for the Sunday Market. Families attended the market together. Most of the cars adjacent to him had kids in the back. Kids of all ages, the market sold everything from antiques, meat, groceries, fashions, jeans, tee-shirts, DVD’s, TV’s, computers, mobile phones, work clothes, kitchen goods, tools, car accessories, fashion goods, cosmetics and toys. Everyone was out for an early bargain before the store-holders sold out. Amit knew from the chatter in the canteen back at the Police station in Basingstoke, that the market was notorious for selling counterfeit, stolen goods and ‘cash’ prices that avoided tax. As was often said, stuff that fell of the back of a lorry. The Police working with Trading Standards Officers raided the market on a regular basis.

He parked in an area away from the Sunday Market that was used by the pilots and passengers of the light aircraft. Thankfully there was no sign of any press. But there was a café next to the control tower, and he saw one of the satellite relay trucks parked outside. On the trucks roof, was a large folded satellite dish and several aerials. He thought that probably some of the TV broadcast technicians were inside grabbing some breakfast.

There were steps leading upto the control tower with a metal gate at the bottom. There was a sign on the gate that read Strictly No Admittance, but the gate was unlocked. He mounted the staircase to the small control tower. The door to the control tower was open to let in the warm spring air, and inside was a spotty youth, probably about 19 and an older man. Both were sat behind a desk, which had two large flat computer screen monitors and a microphone on it.

Both looked up from the desk they were sat at as Amit walked in and held out his Police ID card. The control tower gave a good view of both runways, and also of the thousands of people now milling around the rows of covered stalls at the adjacent Sunday Market. There were long orderly lines of parked cars shimmering in the early morning sun as the heat reflected from their metal body work. The parking area began on the other side of the airfield perimeter fence and stretched the length of the runway. Stewards wearing orange high visibility jackets could be seen directing the traffic into parking places. Amit estimated that the parked cars stretched the length of two football pitches. The whole area was a hive of activity. He could see smoke rising from the multiple burger vans and hot food stalls scattered around the market.

The older man was busy giving take-off instructions to one of the aircraft, and the youth stood up to read Amit’s ID card. Amit waited until the older man had finished speaking into the microphone and then said, ’I am Detective Inspector Amit Chakrabarti from Hampshire Police, are you in charge here? Amit said it to the youth, but looked at the older man. The older man stood up to shake Amit’s hand and introduced himself as Brian Paton, and introduced the youth as his son Damien. Damien also shook hands with Amit, and Brian pointed at an empty seat inviting him to sit down. Father and son were both dressed casually in jeans and t-shirts.

The voices of the pilots could be heard through the loud speaker system in the control tower. ‘Blackbushe Control this is Golf November Alpha Tango One requesting clearance for take-off.’ Brian pressed a button on the microphone in front of him and said, ’Golf November Alpha Tango One, this is Blackbushe Control, clear for take-off’. Brian clearly knew the pilot because the next message over the speaker was, ’thank you Brian, see you later, Tango One out’. Brian answered, ‘Thank you Alan, have fun, Control out’.

Brian looked at Amit slightly embarrassed at the lack of formal radio protocol, and he stood up waving Damien over to take over so he could speak to the Policeman. Brian took the empty seat next to Amit and explained, ‘things are pretty informal here on a Sunday. The regulars are making use of the fine weather to either keep up their required flying hours or to earn a few quid giving instruction.’

Brian paused as he listened to Damien giving instruction to a pilot. Obviously checking this was correct. The pause gave Amit chance to watch an aircraft land and immediately taxi around to join the queue of aircraft on the other runway who were waiting to take-off.

‘Anyway’, Brian continued, clearly satisfied with Damien’s instruction, ’what can I do for you?

‘We have an operation in progress on Hazeley Common to investigate the murders yesterday of two women, you may have read about it in the papers?’

Brain nodded and said, ‘terrible business’, at the same time half listening to his son.

‘I have been asked by the Chief Constable to request that your aircraft do not overfly Hazeley Common while the operation is in progress.’

‘Detective I understand, was one really beheaded?’

Amit shook his head, ‘I am afraid I cannot go into any details about the case.’ Amit fixed Brian with a stare, clearly indicating he would say nothing about the operation. Brian realised the detective was not going to go into any details, and rose from his seat and lent over the desk while his son remained seated at the control desk. Brian pressed the transmit button on the microphone.

‘This is Blackbushe control to all aircraft. Message from Hampshire Police, please do not overfly Hazeley Common today as there is a Police operation in progress. Repeat, do not, overfly Hazeley Common. Control out.’

Amit shook hands with both Brian and Damien as he left, thanking them for their help. Brian said that he would repeat the no overfly message at regular intervals. They were obviously pleased to help.

Amit stepped out on the balcony of the control tower and took a last look at the crowds milling around the Sunday Market. His stomach rumbled, and he remembered he had not eaten breakfast. He looked at the inviting site of the aircraft café below him, as he looked on, the door opened and three men walked out. They climbed into the satellite relay truck and drove off. Amit was pleased, the Chief Constable’s roasting was still fresh in his mind and he didn’t want a brush with any journalists, even if they were only the back-up teams.

He was about to descend the steps towards his late breakfast, when something unusual caught his eye. On the far side of the airfield he saw a group of horses tethered to some trees. His hunger forgotten, he reached for his mobile phone.

As Eustace led them in the direction of the Sunday Market, a delicious smell enveloped them. It was the smell of frying onions in hot fat, the characteristic smell of a Sunday morning market. Burger vans selling hot-dog sausages, bacon sandwiches and beef burgers with onions, all sizzling in cooking fat. After the mangy dog, they had eaten last night, to Greta, this was an exceedingly mouth-watering smell.

Keith had eaten nothing since breakfast the previous day, and had vomited the contents of his stomach in his anguish over Patch. His stomach rumbled at the inviting cooking smells. Despite his hunger and distress, he found the ride across the common quite relaxing. Even though his hands were tied, he had a good grip on the front of the saddle and the gentle walking motion of the horse was not unpleasant. The sky was blue and the weather warm, and apart from the light aircraft flying overhead it was very quiet. The birds were singing in the warm spring morning sunshine. Although he knew this area of the common well from his countless walks with Patch, his elevated position on the horse gave him a new perspective, and he took in the view of the scenery with new interest.

The journey also gave Keith chance to study his captors. While Eustace walked his horse ahead, and Henry held back with the line attached to his own horse, Greta and the King rode close together. They were in deep conversation. They stopped at first every time an aircraft flew over, staring at the sky in surprise, as if they had not seen an aircraft before. However, after they had seen them flying over several times, they seemed to lose interest in them.

They stopped regularly every time they came across any type of manmade object on the common. One of the first was a wooden signpost that pointed Footpath one way and Bridleway the other. Keith watched the earnest discussion about the signpost, as they examined the quality of the woodwork and the clarity of the writing. To Keith it was just an old signpost, it had probably been there for more than 10 years and was well weathered.

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