The Shaking of Lower Budworthy
A Hawthorne and Benton Mystery
Arnold Goodwin, landlord of the Royal Oak in Lower Budworthy, whistled to himself as he closed up for the night. It was a fine, clear night and the full moon glowed through the windows and gleamed on the glasses above the bar. Mr. Goodwin checked the front door one last time then, still whistling, went through to the back room. As he did so a low, rumbling sound began, apparently coming from the cellar. The landlord swore under his breath and hurried to the cellar door, unlocking it with frantic haste and running down the steps without bothering to turn on the light. The sound was louder down there, the rumbling amplified by the empty barrels that stood ready to be collected by the brewery. Goodwin turned on the light and made a quick round of the cellar, checking for leaks in the couplings that connected the barrels in use to the taps above. As he moved back towards the steps, the rumbling grew even louder, and the floor seemed to shake under his feet. An empty barrel wobbled, then fell, missing him by inches. Goodwin jumped out of the way and swore aloud, then ran back up the steps to the bar.
Grabbing the telephone receiver so hastily it fell from his hand (which did nothing to improve his mood) he dialed a number from memory and when he got an answer, didn’t give the person at the other end a chance to speak.
“When are you going to find out what the Hell is going on here? What? Of course I’m not drunk! I’ve nearly been killed by one of my own ruddy barrels, that’s what!”
The voice at the other end began to speak but was interrupted in mid-sentence by the landlord.
“Don’t give me that! You could investigate it if you wanted to. The truth is, you’re afraid! You’re as superstitious as those old biddies at the tearoom. What? I should think you are sorry.” Goodwin paused to draw breath as the recipient of his tirade spoke again. The pause seemed to calm him a bit, and he spoke more slowly.
“Right. Yes, no of course. I’m sorry. Flew off the handle. Blasted barrel coming down. Look. Can’t you at least call county and ask them? Of course they won’t, they know you’re by yourself here, don’t they? Alright. Yes, yes, see you tomorrow… (a long and rather awkward pause). Look, forget what I said about it, OK? Got carried away again.” Goodwin rubbed his forehead, “Yes, yes, alright. Goodbye.”
Goodwin hung up and then stood for a moment, staring at the telephone. Now the moment had passed and the adrenalin had subsided, he felt slightly ashamed of himself. Ordinarily he got on well enough with the local constable, whose ear he had just bent, but the incident in the cellar had pushed him over the edge. He sighed, walked behind the bar once more and made his way to his rooms upstairs. His bedtime preparations completed, he switched off the last of the lights and the Royal Oak was in darkness.
At the rectory, the Reverend Edmund Stott had also been disturbed by the tremors. And, like the landlord, he had also been moved to make a telephone call, though in a less emotional manner.
“Ah! I hoped you would still be out and about. Did you manage to spot? Magnificent. Pardon? Oh, of course. Yes, it’s happening again. No, I know that, but really Bryce is out of his depth, I feel. Well, yes. Of course I’ll trust your judgement completely … that would be a great relief. Yes, goodbye.”
In his study, Sir James Trevor, Chief Constable, put the receiver back in its cradle and sighed. He couldn’t blame Stott. The tremors were getting more frequent and had, thus far, defied explanation. The village constable, usually reliable, really was out of his depth and the man sent from the geology department of the nearest university had been unable to account for the disturbances, though he had made some suggestions. If the phenomena were natural, then it wasn’t really a police matter, more a case for the local council, but the Chief Constable didn’t hold out much hope for assistance from that quarter. Then there was the question of the research facility that had opened the previous year and was still treated with suspicion by many of the locals. Really it would be better if… ah. Yes. A neutral party. His mind made up, Sir James went up to bed. He would call in the morning.
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart opened the door of his office and called to the soldier who had just walked past.
“A word with you.”
Benton entered the office and was surprised, but not startled, to see Miss Hawthorne sitting opposite the Brigadier’s desk. She stood up as he entered and held out her hand.
“Good to see you Miss Hawthorne.”
The Brigadier gestured to an empty chair, then sat down himself. Turning a file on his desk so that Miss Hawthorne and Benton could see the contents, he started at the beginning.
“I’ve had a call from the Sir James Trevor. He’s Chief Constable of South Somerset, and he’d like us to look into some disturbances at a place called Lower Budworthy.” The Brigadier raised his eyebrows, but his auditors both shook their heads. “No, well, I hadn’t heard of it either, hardly surprising, it’s a small place. Here,” he took a map from under the folder and pointed to the location, “near the coast.”
“I see.” Miss Hawthorne bent forward to get a better look at the map, “It looks quite remote.”
“It is. One of those places with one bus a week to the nearest town. Alright if you want a quiet life, or at least it was. About three months ago the villagers started reporting strange noises that seemed to be coming from underground, followed by tremors.”
“Good heavens! Earthquakes?”
“That’s what they thought at first. It’s unusual in that area, but not unheard of. But the authorities called in a geologist who told them that whatever it was, it wasn’t earthquakes.”
“Did they suggest any other possibilities?”
“Only one, that the tremors might be caused by rockfalls in caves nearby.”
“Ah, and are there a lot of these caves?”
“Turns out there are. Whole area’s riddled with them. See here,” another map, this time showing the network of caves that lay under the village and extended to the coast, “this is the village, and these caves run right underneath it.”
Sergeant Benton pointed to the first map, to a large building just outside the village.
“What’s this place, Sir?”
“That, Sergeant, is the Institute of Energy Resource Research. Opened a year and seven months ago, dedicated to (the Brigadier refreshed his memory from a note in the file) researching alternatives to fossil fuels. Solar power, that kind of thing.”
“Oh, I see. I don’t suppose it could be them causing this … disturbance?”
“It seems unlikely, given that their research doesn’t involve drilling, but as we know, anything is possible and they may be up to more than they are letting on. We’ve seen that before. (Benton nodded) Whatever they are up to, they’ve managed to upset the locals, not surprising in a small place.”
Miss Hawthorne looked up from the plan of the caves.
“Is there a village policeman?”
“Yes. Policeman singular. Capable enough, I think, but rather out of his element with this kind of thing. Sir James thinks, and I agree, that given the bad feeling between the villagers and the research establishment and the lack of an obvious explanation for the tremors, it would be better if a neutral agency led the investigation. Which means you two.”
“I see. Has there been any recent exploration of the caves?”
“Not as far as Sir James knows. The whole area was declared unsafe about twenty years ago and the main entrances closed off. Of course, that’s not to say that people haven’t been going down there but there hasn’t been any official exploration. It’s a pity, because I would have said they were the most likely place to start looking.”
“I agree. But if they are really too dangerous, we shouldn’t run the risk. The system looks fascinating though, it extends so far in from the coast…” Miss Hawthorne returned to her examination of the map and Benton took the opportunity to ask a question that had been bothering him.
“Will we be...? Will we be going as us? I mean as UNIT?”
“Not exactly. A neutral agency is one thing, but we don’t want to alarm the locals. Or scare off any villains. The Chief Constable knows, of course, and he will share as much information as he sees fit with the county HQ, but for the time being you will be researchers, with a vague connection with the University of London. I’ve cleared it with the University, so they will vouch for you should anyone enquire.”
The Brigadier looked at his watch.
“Speaking of which, you’ve got a briefing with Osgood in the workshop. He’ll show you all the kit you’ll need to take with you.”
Sergeant Benton stood up, as did Miss Hawthorne. The Brigadier closed the file and handed it to his subordinate.
“Good luck. Stay in contact and don’t run any unnecessary risks in those caves.”
“We will certainly try not to!” retorted Miss Hawthorne, “If we should need to go down into the caves, we will be taking all precautions.”
The Brigadier’s curiosity got the better of him.
“Are you an experienced caver, Miss Hawthorne?”
“Oh, I haven’t done any for years, but I did do a bit of potholing in my younger days.”
Sergeant Benton would have given a large part of his salary to see his Commanding Officer’s expression at this revelation, but he didn’t dare look. Instead, he kept his eyes carefully fixed on the opposite wall as the Brigadier coughed, then recovered himself.
“Really! Ahem! Well, let’s hope you won’t need too many of those skills.”
Benton opened the door and ushered Miss Hawthorne out into the corridor, feeling that the Brigadier would probably need a moment or two alone.
Following a visit to Sergeant Osgood, who gave them a thorough briefing on the use of the geological equipment they would be taking with them, Sergeant Benton went to his quarters to pack and Miss Hawthorne went to the canteen to wait for him and to chat to Corporal Scott and Iolanthe Grosvenor who were taking a short, but very welcome, coffee break. Benton arrived before long, and he and Miss Hawthorne made their way to the garages, where a concerned-looking Osgood was overseeing the loading of his equipment into a small van. Sergeant Benton smiled.
“All ready, Osgood?”
“Yes.” Osgood passed Benton the keys to the van, his expression still worried. “Do look after this equipment, Benton. You’re sure you remember how to use it?”
Miss Hawthorne laid a comforting hand on Osgood’s arm, causing him to jump slightly.
“Don’t worry, Sergeant, we will take good care of it. We’ve had your briefing and we’ve got your guidance written down. We’ll have it back safe and sound, you’ll see.”
Osgood grunted something that might have been an affirmative and left the garage. Miss Hawthorne looked at Benton.
“Is he quite well?”
“Osgood? Yes, he’s mostly alright now. He doesn’t go out in the field now as a rule, so I suppose sending any of his precious kit out makes him nervous.”
“Ah, I see.”
Miss Hawthorne got into the passenger seat and unfolded a map.
“Well, Sergeant, if we are going to get to Somerset before nightfall, we had better be on our way.”
Benton started the engine and the van pulled out of the garage.
The run down to Somerset was uneventful and it was early evening when the van pulled up outside the vicarage, where Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton had been offered accommodation. The vicarage was a gaunt, rambling building, in which the current incumbent rather rattled around. Rev. Stott was a tall, slim man in his early sixties. He bounded down the front steps of the vicarage with the energy of a much younger man and held out his hand in to his guests.
“Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you so much for coming all this way.”
He shook hands, first with Miss Hawthorne and then with Sergeant Benton.
“Come in, come in. Let me take your luggage. Is this all?”
“Thank you, Sir, I’ll take this one,” replied Benton, picking up the case that held his gun and ammunition. “I’ll just make sure the van is locked and the rest of the stuff can stay here.”
“Just as you like. This way!”
“It’s very good of you to have us, Mr. Stott.”
“My pleasure, Miss Hawthorne. It was I who contacted the Chief Constable, so it was the least I could do to … ah … put you up. We don’t have much in the way of accommodation in the village and I have far too many spare rooms so…” he shrugged.
The priest led the way back up the front steps and into the house. Inside, the décor reflected the Victorian exterior, with a few modernisations. The tiled floor of the hall led to a study, parlour and dining room, with a kitchen in the rear. Upstairs were bedrooms and a bathroom. When Miss Hawthorne exclaimed at the sight of the massive enameled, claw footed bathtub, its owner sighed.
“It’s a museum piece. It takes enough water to float the Queen Mary, but parish funds are tight, and the Diocese can’t fund a replacement so…” he shrugged and laughed. “I’ll show you your rooms.”
Once Miss Hawthorne and Benton had unpacked, they joined their host in the dining room, where he was setting the table for dinner.
“I don’t entirely do for myself. My...housekeeper I suppose you might say, at least the lady who cleans the house and cooks my dinner has left us a casserole in the oven, so you won’t have to suffer my rather undergraduate culinary skills.”
He left the room and his guests smiled wryly at each other, both of them thinking that their host’s enthusiasm, while touching, might also have reflected the fact that he didn’t get many visitors. Before either of them could voice this thought aloud, Rev. Stott returned, carrying a large dish from which a savoury smell was emanating. This was followed by two smaller dishes containing potatoes and vegetables.
While they ate, Rev. Stott expanded on the information that had been given by the file.
“The first occurrence was three months ago. It wasn’t felt by the whole village, just the houses on the right side and the pub. The next was stronger and more sustained. It began on the right, as before, then spread across the village from one side to the other.”
“Has there been much damage?” asked Benton.
“Not material damage. The tremors haven’t been strong enough to damage buildings, at least as far as we know, barring a few loose tiles coming off, but the landlord of the Royal Oak has had some trouble with barrels shaking loose in the cellar and other people have had ornaments and the like broken. In fact, I myself…” he got up and went out of the room, returning a few moments later with a cardboard box. Rev. Stott moved his empty dinner plate to one side and set the box down on the table. Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton stood up to look. Inside were what appeared to be fragments of unusually thick glass. Rev. Stott sighed.
“That is what’s left of a crystal fruit bowl, given to me by my great aunt Muriel. When the tremor struck yesterday, it was close to the edge of the parlour table and the vibrations carried it off the table and onto the floor.”
“Was it a family piece?” asked Miss Hawthorne
“No, by no means. To be frank, it was hideous and I’m glad to have an excuse not to have it on display. But it is most unnerving to see household objects moving around by themselves and on a fairly regular basis.”
“Yes, I wanted to ask you about that, Sir,” put in Benton. “In the file, it says that the tremors are becoming more frequent?”
“Yes. For the first weeks there was one every two days, now there is one a day.”
“And always at the same time?”
“Give or take a few minutes. Which seems suspicious. I know that the geyser in Yellowstone Park, for example, goes off at regular intervals, but I would have expected earth tremors to be more … sporadic?”
There was a pause while his guests considered this. Miss Hawthorne was about to ask another question when her host held up his hand.
“Before we go any further with the discussion, I suggest we move to the parlour. You go and make yourselves comfortable and I’ll clear up in here and bring the coffee. No, I insist (as Sergeant Benton attempted to join in with clearing the table) I have few enough guests, so you must allow me to spoil the few that I have, whatever their reason for coming.”
Benton and Miss Hawthorne exchanged a glance that said, “told you so!” then, seeing that it was pointless to argue, made their way to the next room, where remnants of the vicarage’s Victorian past rubbed shoulders with a motley collection of more modern furniture, including the table that had been the perch of the ill-fated fruit bowl. They were soon joined by their host, carrying a coffee pot and cups on a tray. Once his guests had been served, Rev. Stott poured himself a coffee and sat down.
“Now, where were we?”
Miss Hawthorne stirred her coffee and considered.
“You were telling us about the timing of the tremors. How they seemed to be at regular intervals?”
“Ah, yes. The early occurrences seemed random. The first was, I believe, at about eight in the evening?”
Rev. Smith looked over at Sergeant Benton, who had the UNIT file open on his knee.
“Yes, Sir. And since then they’ve been at… (he checked the file) well the first week they were at eight and then at nine, the second week was a bit later and now they are … at quarter to eleven every night?”
“Yes. I admit that I have very little knowledge of geological matters, but the regularity does seem, well, odd.”
“I agree,” said Miss Hawthorne, “unless they are linked to another natural phenomenon that occurs regularly.”
The Sergeant looked puzzled.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, the map shows the caves run to the coast, here,” she put her finger on the point where the caves opened in the cliffs, “I wondered if perhaps the movement of the water at high tide could have contributed to the tremors. Connected, perhaps with some instability of the cave walls?”
“I’m afraid it can’t be that,” replied Rev. Stott. “Though it is an excellent suggestion. But the tremors coincide with low tide.”
“Ah, then that settles that. Now, about the sound itself?”
“Yes. Well, assuming that it happens again later on, you will hear it for yourselves. There is certainly rumbling, but nothing that I would associate with the sound of falling rocks. Then there is the movement. It begins at the same point every time and then moves in a definite route under the village.”
Miss Hawthorne sighed impatiently.
“I wish we could have a look in the caves. I feel sure that the key to the matter lies there. Is there no way of gaining access?”
“I fear not. The cliff entrance is accessible around low tide but both that and the other entrances were fitted with fences and gates and secured some years ago.”
“Ah. I would still like see the entrances, perhaps tomorrow? Though with low tide being so late, will we be able to get to the beach safely?”
“Oh yes, the path is clear and not too steep. The tide is at its lowest at around eleven, but we should be able to go down a little earlier. Did you bring torches with you?”
“We did. Thank you, Mr. Stott.”
Sergeant Benton looked at his watch.
“With your permission, Sir, I’d like to start setting up for later on. There isn’t much equipment, but it’ll take a while to prepare.”
“Of course, Sergeant, anything you need. Can I help you bring it in?”
“If you wouldn’t mind, Sir.”
The two men went out to the van and returned a few moments later carrying the equipment that Sergeant Osgood had given them to record and measure the tremors. After a careful half hour spent reading and rereading Osgood’s exhaustive instructions and tinkering, the portable seismometer was ready. Benton walked round it cautiously, noting the movement of the needle as his feet touched the floor. Then he sighed.
“Phew! I reckon that’s ready to go now.”
While they waited for the tremors to start, Rev. Stott diverted his guests with lively accounts of the history of the local area. For a small place, Lower Budworthy seemed to have had more than its fair share of action. The treacherous sea and coastline had caused a number of shipwrecks and led to the construction of a lighthouse a short distance from the village. And, as in many coastal communities, there were stories of smuggling.
“Yes, many families tell tales of their relatives outwitting the revenue men, or their great-great grandfather knowing a man who knew a man who could get the finest brandy or cloth, no questions asked.”
“How fascinating!” Miss Hawthorne was keenly interested, “but if the coast is so treacherous, how did they bring the goods ashore?”
“I have it on good authority that they used the caves.”
“Yes. With the entrance only accessible at low tides, they had to be careful, but it was still possible to run a shallow-bottomed boat to the beach and bring the contraband in. They would then either store it in the caves, or bring it up the cliff path. I believe that some of the gangs may have gone further in and used the caves as tunnels to bring the goods up further from the coast.”
“How fascinating. And when did the smuggling stop?”
“The historical accounts aren’t clear, but the caves were first closed off at the end of the 19th century, and there have been significant collapses since then, so I suspect that, if there was still smuggling going on, they would have had to have found another route.”
Rev. Stott smiled.
“The old legends still persist though. The smuggler who was killed in a rock fall and whose vengeful spirit haunts the caves, that sort of thing.”
“Ah, yes, those kinds of legends have a habit of lingering.”
“I’ll say they do!” said the priest, sounding more like a schoolboy, “Only the other day I had a parishioner tell me, quite seriously, that the tremors were the spirits of smugglers being hauled away to be executed by the customs men!”
“Yes, he swore that he could hear their voices. I must say to me it sounded more like...”
He broke off and jumped up from his chair.
“There it is!”
Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton could feel it too, the floor vibrating under their feet. With it came the noise, a distant rumbling that grew steadily louder and then faded again, the strength of the vibration matching the volume of the sound. The coffee cups trembled on the tray and a photo frame was shaken off the windowsill. Once the sound and movement had ceased, Benton and Miss Hawthorne went over to the seismometer. The needle had traced a jagged line on the paper, the zigzags increasing in height and frequency as the strength of the tremor increased, then decreasing again as it passed. Miss Hawthorne held down the lever that released the paper and the Sergeant carefully removed the roll, then spread the paper out on a table so they could look at it more easily. They considered it in silence for a moment, then Benton spoke.
“It looks very (he paused) regular?”
“I agree. Look at this,” Miss Hawthorne indicated the point where the tremor increased, “and here where it begins to fade. It’s at almost exactly the same frequency.”
“So, are we thinking it’s mechanical?”
“I feel it must be. I cannot think of a natural phenomenon that would produce such a result, nor such an even sound.”
Miss Hawthorne turned to the pages of sample readings they had been given during the briefing.
“This one, for an earthquake is really erratic.”
“Yes. So. Someone is up to something, using some kind of machinery and, presumably, in the caves. And you’re right about the sound. It was much too even to be natural.”
“Yes. I can think of no other explanation. But if the caves are in such a dangerous condition, what can they be doing down there?”
Sergeant Benton was about to reply when the telephone rang. Rev. Stott could be heard answering it in the study. After a few moments he appeared in the doorway of the dining room, where the seismometer had been set up.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant, I need your help.”
“There’s been an accident. Goodwin, at the pub. I’ve had a call to tell me that he has been crushed by barrels and is trapped. The doctor is out on a call, so they called me. I’ve had some first aid training, but I could use another pair of hands to help me free him…”
He didn’t need to say any more. Sergeant Benton followed him down the hall to the front door, where Rev. Stott paused to collect a first aid kit.
“Will we want the van, Sir?”
“No, it’ll be quicker to walk from here, we can cut the corner off. Don’t wait up for us Miss Hawthorne, we may be some time if we have to wait for the doctor.”
“Is there anything I can do?” asked Miss Hawthorne.
“No, the people at the pub have left a message for the doctor and phoned for an ambulance.”
Miss Hawthorne nodded and waved them off, then went back inside. She was tempted to disobey the Rev. and sit up, but it had been a long day and she would accomplish nothing by tiring herself out, so she went upstairs.
The two men made their way down from the vicarage to the pub, following a path that wound between the houses and avoided the main road through the village. The night was dark, but Rev. Stott had picked up a torch with his first aid kit, and the route was familiar to him. When they arrived at the pub a small group of people had gathered outside. At the centre of the group was a young woman, who came forward when she saw the vicar.
“Oh, Mr. Stott”
“How is he, Virginia?”
“I don’t know, they won’t let me go down. Dave Bryce and George are there and they said I should stay up here.”
“We will do all we can, the doctor will be here as soon as he gets word and an ambulance is on the way. Now,” the vicar looked around and singled out a woman who was standing nearby, “Dorothy, why don’t you take Virginia home and have a cup of tea with her. And the rest of you, (he raised his voice slightly) there’s no need for you all to wait here…” he broke off, but the edge to his voice gave the villagers the hint. The woman he had named as Dorothy put her arm around the shoulders of the younger woman, who shook her off impatiently, but allowed herself to be led away, and the others began to move away, albeit reluctantly. Rev. Stott watched them for a moment, then led the way into the pub.
“Really,” he muttered, “I suppose one must forgive their curiosity, but...”
“Was that the landlord’s wife?”
“No, his daughter, she lives next door. It was she who called me. Apparently Bryce, the village bobby, was passing and saw a light on in the pub. When he looked through the window he saw the cellar door open and went and called Virginia who let him in, then he and her husband went down and, well…”
By this time they had reached the cellar. Looking down from the steps, Benton could see a man lying on his back on the floor, partly concealed by barrels. Standing nearby were a short, round-faced man in police uniform and a younger man who he took to be Virginia’s husband, who was engaged in trying to shift one of the barrels that had trapped his father in law. The men looked up at the newcomers.
“George, Bryce, how is he?”
“Still out cold, he must have hit his head on the floor when he fell.”
Benton crossed the room and joined George, helping him shift the first of the barrels. George looked at him questioningly but said nothing. Seeing the look, Rev. Stott merely said,
“Oh, this is Mr. Benton,” and left it at that for the time being. The Rev. asked Bryce to go and guard the main door and watch for the doctor and ambulance and the constable departed with alacrity. While Benton and George began to carefully lift the barrels away and stand them safely at a distance, the vicar knelt down next to the landlord and began a gentle and cautious examination for injuries. As he looked closely at Goodwin’s head, his fingers running over the skull, but so softly as to barely touch the skin, his face darkened. Catching the change of expression, Benton spoke to George, partly to distract him from the vicar’s activities and the injuries to his father-in-law, but also to keep his mind on the task in hand.
“Vincent, George Vincent ... I...”
“Right Mr. Vincent, steady as she goes with this one, then we are nearly there.”
They lifted the barrel, exposing Goodwin’s legs. His right leg seemed as normal, but the left was crushed and splayed out at an unnatural angle. Vincent gulped.
“Just keep your eye on the barrel, Mr. Vincent, that’s it.”
Benton’s calm voice helped Vincent tear his eyes away and refocus. The two men carried the barrel and set it down safely with the others. Vincent wiped his forehead with his sleeve.
“I don’t understand it. He’s so careful. And after the last time.”
“Yes?” asked Benton, trying not to sound too curious.
“Well he told Ginny he was going to rope them together. One had come loose yesterday and nearly hit him, so he said he was going to make extra sure and rope them together.”
“Ah, I see.”
“And for all of them to fall, this must be the strongest earthquake we’ve had yet.”
Benton was examining the area of the floor where the barrels had been stored. His eye was caught by a length of twine and he bent to pick it up. As he did so he suddenly froze and said in a carefully level voice,
“Mr. Vincent, supposing you go upstairs and tell P.C. Bryce we’ve got the area cleared. That could be the doctor now (as voices were heard from above.)”
“Er, yes, of course.”
As the landlord’s son in law ran up the stairs, Sergeant Benton turned to the Rev. Stott, the piece of rope in his hand. What he was about to say was interrupted by the arrival of the doctor, followed by two ambulance men carrying a stretcher. Benton turned away again and quickly dropped the rope. Rev. Stott got up from his place by Mr. Goodwin’s still unconscious body and greeted the doctor.
“Stott. Good to see you. Has he come to?”
“Not yet. We haven’t moved him. George and Mr. Benton (the vicar indicated Benton, who exchanged nods with the doctor) took great care moving the barrels, so I hope we’ve managed to avoid hurting him. Apart from the leg, there’s two injuries to the head, here (they both bent down and the vicar carefully indicated the area) and here.”
Doctor Elphick met the vicar’s eyes.
“Ah, I see. Interesting. Very well.” Then to the ambulance men, “Right, get that leg splinted and a support on his neck and we’ll get moving.”
He stood aside to let the men get to work. Benton joined him and the vicar at the bottom of the stairs.
“Who found him?” asked the doctor.
“Bryce, or rather, Bryce and Vincent.”
“I see. Well, if he gets over the concussion, we may hope to pull him through, but that leg will need surgery.”
Shaking his head, Dr. Elphick followed his colleagues as they carried their burden carefully up the stairs and out of the pub. Benton and Rev. Stott followed them in silence. Outside, the vicar exchanged a few words with George Vincent, then led the way back to the vicarage. Rev. Stott opened the front door quietly and led the way to the study without turning on the hall light. Once inside, he fetched a decanter and poured two brandies, one of which he passed to Sergeant Benton, then sat down behind his desk. Benton took a seat on the other side of the desk and the two men sat in silence for a moment. Having taken a sip of his drink, Benton began
“What did you find?”
“You saw then? I hoped my face wasn’t giving me away.”
At that moment there was a gentle tap at the door, which opened to reveal Miss Hawthorne.
“I heard you come in. Is there… was he badly hurt?”
Rev. Stott fetched another chair and poured out a brandy for Miss Hawthorne, which she accepted gratefully.
“I was about to tell Sergeant Benton. There was an injury that worries me.”
“Yes.” The vicar leaned forward, his chin on his hands, “According to what Bryce and Vincent said, and how we found him, I’d have expected him to have hit the back of his head on the floor when he fell. But there was a swelling over his left ear, it was beginning to bruise, and I cannot, for the life of me, work out how he could have sustained that injury when he fell, or after he was trapped.”
“Then ... you believe he was attacked?”
“I wish I could think otherwise, but I can’t. But Sergeant Benton found something in the cellar too?”
“I did.” Benton put down his glass, “Vincent told me that Mr. Goodwin had roped the barrels together, after he was nearly hit by one of them yesterday, but there wasn’t any rope round the barrels when we got there. Then I found some, thrown in the back behind the other barrels. The end had been frayed a bit, but it had been cut through.”
“Then that means...” said Miss Hawthorne
“What it means,” said Rev. Stott with a deeply troubled expression, “is that one of my parishioners has tried to murder another.”
Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton were silent at this. For a minute or two nobody spoke, and they avoided each other’s eyes. Eventually, Miss Hawthorne asked, tentatively,
“Had, has he any enemies?”
“Enemies? I don’t think so. He has a hot temper, but it’s the kind that blows up then blows over, I think mostly people just put up with him exploding every now and again. He told me he’d been shouting at Bryce last night for not investigating the tremors, but, by the next day, he had sought him out to apologise.”
Rev. Stott put down his empty glass and sighed.
“Whatever has happened, we still need to rest. I’ll call the Vincents tomorrow morning, until then there is little to be done.”
He stood up, as did his guests.
Breakfast the following morning was a silent affair. Rev. Stott obviously disturbed by the events of the previous night and Miss Hawthorne and the Sergeant, tired by their journey and the late night, left him to his thoughts. A phone call to the Vincents’ which established that Mr. Goodwin had regained consciousness and that the operation to set his leg had been a success brought some relief, but there was a cloud hanging over the vicarage which Miss Hawthorne and Benton could do nothing to dispel. Rev. Stott was determined to assist his visitors, however and after giving them the news from the hospital, asked what they had planned for the day. Miss Hawthorne was studying the map.
“This research station, Mr. Stott, have you ever been inside?”
“No. I believe there was an open day shortly after it opened, but I missed that, for some reason.”
“Are visits permitted?”
“I wouldn’t say they were encouraged … but on the other hand there’s been no actual hostility from the staff. In fact, there has been very little from them at all. It was expected that the workers would become part of the community here, but they appear to be entirely self-contained. I believe Bryce calls in now and again, but, for the most part, they keep themselves to themselves and have deliveries of food and equipment.”
“I see.” Miss Hawthorne exchanged glances with Sergeant Benton, who nodded, “in that case we will have a look at this establishment, from a distance at least, and closer to if we can.”
“I wish you luck. Mrs. Hobson has made some sandwiches, so you won’t need to come back for lunch.”
“Ah, thank you, then we will be on our way.”
The investigators gathered their kit for the day quickly, Benton, after a moment’s consideration, leaving his gun behind, in case they managed to get into the research centre and had to pass through security. They left their host attempting to bury himself in work, the study window open but the door locked. Miss Hawthorne looked at the window and sighed, as she as Benton made their way down the drive.
“It has been a shock to him.”
“Yes. He thought he knew these people, but now?”
The path from the village took them out onto the moorland that surrounded it on three sides. The sun was bright, and a refreshing breeze stirred the heather and pulled wisps of Miss Hawthorne’s hair loose to wave around her face. A ten-minute walk brought them within sight of the research centre. A massive, three-bladed wind turbine towered above the buildings, which, with their small, evenly spaced windows and white walls, had the appearance of temporary demountable buildings stacked on top of each other. The centre was surrounded by a high fence, topped with rolls of barbed wire.
“Hmm,” said Benton, looking at the fence through binoculars, “nobody is getting over that fence in a hurry.” He lowered his gaze from the top of the fence, “and there’s a security guard too,” he watched the uniformed figure as it walked by the buildings, “and he’s armed.”
“I suppose one would expect a certain amount of security at a research establishment, but, in a place like this, that does seem a trifle excessive,” remarked Miss Hawthorne who was studying the map.
“I’d say so. Doesn’t seem likely they’ll let us in for a visit.”
“We can but try. But even if we do get in, it’s unlikely that they will show us anything conclusive.”
“Mmm. My word. They must have some equipment in there, look at the size of that generator!”
The Sergeant passed the binoculars to Miss Hawthorne and pointed.
“Yes, yes I see. Surely that cannot be powered by one turbine? I know very little of such things but … oh!”
At that moment a lorry pulled out from behind the generator and drove along the inside of the fence towards the front of the research centre.
“An oil driven generator?”
“So much for not using fossil fuels!”
“Indeed. Shall we move on, we don’t want to be seen paying too much attention to the place.”
“Good idea. Where to now?”
Miss Hawthorne picked up the map again.
“According to this, there should be an opening from one of the caves about 100 yards west of here.”
“West it is, then.”
Miss Hawthorne returned the binoculars to Benton, who hung them round his neck, then folded the map to a more manageable size. They reached the opening before long and both crouched down to look. The opening was scarcely bigger than a rabbit hole, but an iron grille had been placed over it, with a small warning notice attached. Sergeant Benton shifted slightly to get a closer look.
“I don’t think people are getting in through this one.”
“No, certainly not!”
“Wait a minute, do you feel that?”
Miss Hawthorne leaned closer to the grille, then stepped back, a startled look on her face.
“Yes! A definite breeze, is it cooled air from the caves or?”
“I’d say it was ventilation. It’s too steady for a breeze. Whatever is going on here, it looks like the caves are back in use, and they’ve had an upgrade.”
“In which case I will be very interested to see the opening on the beach. But that must wait for low tide.” Miss Hawthorne stood up, “shall we have lunch now? I’d prefer to eat before we beard the researchers in their den.”
“Sounds good to me!”
A patch of higher ground surrounding the vent provided a suitable place to eat and Mrs. Hobson’s sandwiches proved to be of the same quality as her cooking of the previous night. After packing away the sandwich wrappers in his shoulder bag, Sergeant Benton stood up and helped Miss Hawthorne to her feet.
“Thank you. And now to try and effect an entry.”
Benton led the way down the hill towards the road that led to the research centre. The entrance was as forbidding up close as the side had been from a distance. A gate was let into the fence, also topped in barbed wire, and a security guard stood inside. Unlike his colleague, he didn’t appear to be armed, but his expression didn’t encourage friendly conversation. Ignoring his forbidding aspect, Miss Hawthorne approached the gate and addressed the guard in her breeziest manner.
“Good afternoon! My colleague and I were wondering if we could arrange an appointment to visit. My name is Hawthorne and we…”
“I’m sorry, no visitors.”
“Oh, what a shame. We weren’t expecting to be let in immediately, we wouldn’t want to interrupt this vital work. Could we perhaps come tomorrow? We are in the neighbourhood for a few more days and ..”
“No. No visitors.”
“Oh, well. I’m sorry to have troubled you. May I give you my card?”
The guard grudgingly accepted the pasteboard square and tucked it into his pocket. As he did so, a phone rang close at hand. The guard went into a hut that stood next to the gate and took the call, watching Benton and Miss Hawthorne through the window as he did so. The call over, he came out of the hut and, to Miss Hawthorne’s surprise, unlocked the padlock holding the gate closed.
“Oh, how very kind, I… John?”
Benton followed her inside casting a thoughtful glance towards the security camera mounted on the gate. If he and Miss Hawthorne wanted to have a look inside the research centre, it appeared that someone in the centre also wanted to have a look at them. As he and Miss Hawthorne waited inside the gate, two figures approached. One wore a suit and had a rectangular badge on his lapel. The other, Benton realised, he recognised from the previous night. It was Constable Bryce. The man in the suit walked up to Miss Hawthorne and offered his hand. Constable Bryce seemed not to see the other visitors. He brushed past Benton and made his way quickly out of the gate, picking up his bike from where he had leant it against the fence and riding away at speed. Benton watched him go with a curious expression on his face. Then he became aware that he was being introduced.
“… and this is my colleague, John Benton.”
“How do you do? Ian Wiveliscombe, I’m the director here.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Now, how may I help you?”
“Well, we are here for a few days to measure the earth tremors and report to our college, and one of our colleagues in the department of ecology mentioned the work you are doing here, and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to see if you would let us in, even for a brief look!”
“I see, well I think I can give you that. Our laboratories are off limits, of course.”
“But if you would like to come to my office, I can give you an idea of the scope of our operations and what we hope to achieve.”
“Thank you, that would be most kind.”
“Then follow me, please.”
The director led the way down the central drive to the largest of the office buildings. As he scanned a card to enter the building, Benton took a few steps towards the building on the other side of the path.
“Ah, Mr. Benton, this way please.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I got distracted for a moment.”
“Yes, well, I wouldn’t advise you to wander off. We have pretty tight security here.”
“No, of course, I’m sorry.”
The director opened the door and ushered his unexpected guests inside, Benton exchanging a meaning glance with Miss Hawthorne. Clearly the centre employees were not above a few gentle threats to visitors. Their host led them along a featureless corridor, punctuated with identical doors to a staircase. On the first floor, Benton and Miss Hawthorne were ushered into a large but sparsely furnished office. A desk stood near the window, enabling it’s owner to have a view of the path below. A round table surrounded by metal framed chairs stood on the other side of the room, and one of the walls was covered with cutaway drawings of the turbine and other pieces of equipment. A monitor, set into the surface of the desk, gave an explanation of the director’s knowledge of their presence. Benton, in keeping with his newly adopted absentmindedness, wandered over to the window. The director motioned to Miss Hawthorne to sit down at the round table and was about to go to the window when Miss Hawthorne spoke.
“John! Do come and sit down. You must excuse him, Mr., ah,”
“Ah, yes. He is a very competent geologist but he does have a tendency to get distracted at times.”
Benton, looking suitably abashed, came away from the window and sat down. The director relaxed a little and began to give what was obviously a well-rehearsed speech about sustainable energy resources, including solar, tidal and wind power, the last of which was the focus of the research centre at Lower Budworthy. Having given his introduction, the director then invited his guests to look at some of the diagrams on display. Having been primed by Sergeant Osgood, Miss Hawthorne and the Sergeant had questions ready, which their host appeared happy to answer. After this, the director apologised profusely, but said he had meeting in a few minutes time and would have to ask them to leave. Miss Hawthorne smiled understandingly and held out her hand.
“Oh, we wouldn’t dream of imposing on you any longer. This has really been a most interesting visit.”
“I’m glad to hear it, I’ll just get one of my men to show you out.”
Wiveliscombe pressed a button on his desk and spoke briefly to his secretary. A few minutes later, a tall, heavily built security guard came to the office and was instructed to escort Miss Hawthorne and Benton to the gate.
“Well, good bye, and thank you again. Do come on John!”
This to Benton who was still looking at the technical drawings.
“Oh, sorry, yes, thanks a lot!”
The guard led the way quickly through the buildings and down the drive, then saw his charges out of the gate and closed it behind them with a vigour that caused Miss Hawthorne to remark
“and stay out!”
“Yes” said Benton as they began the walk back to the village, “He was chosen for effect, wasn’t he?”
“I should say so. Did you notice anything else?”
“Apart from their work not being particularly new?”
“yes, I saw that, it was exactly what Sergeant Osgood told us about, that kind of research has been going on for years.”
“Mm. I did notice that Constable Bryce looked scared out of his wits when he left.”
“Really? That is interesting.”
“And one of the buildings, but I’ll have to check on the map to make sure.”
Benton refused to be drawn on his theory about the buildings, instead suggesting that they go back to the vicarage before anyone from the centre came to make sure they weren’t hanging around. Miss Hawthorne saw the sense in this, and they set off at a brisk pace.
Once he was sure his visitors had left, the man who had introduced himself as Wiveliscombe made a phone call.
“I’ve seen Bryce. He’s falling to pieces; you’ll have to do something. No, he’s very much your problem I should think…”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“You better had. Then we had those two from UNIT nosing around too.”
“What? You let them in?”
“It seemed less suspicious than keeping them out. I think they swallowed the story, but they could be a nuisance if they are going to be hanging around much longer.”
“How long do you need?”
“No more than a week at the most. The last consignments are almost complete.”
“Good. Leave Bryce and UNIT to me.”
“I intend to. I suppose I shouldn’t ask what you intend to do? I wouldn’t underestimate them, that big fellow looked like he would be handy with his fists.”
“Oh, I think we are a match for them. In fact, we might be able to deal with Bryce and your big fellow all in one go. Kill two birds, so to speak.”
The person at the other end hung up abruptly. The director put the phone down and shuddered. His partner was efficient, but sometimes brutally so. All things considered he would really prefer not to know what they had in mind for Constable Bryce and Mr. Benton. Trying to distract himself, he picked up the phone again and dialed.
“Yes Mr. Brookes?”
“All going smoothly, we’ll be ready to move the last load by Thursday.”
Wiveliscombe, or possibly Brookes, hung up and turned his chair to look out of the window. All they needed was a few more days. Blasted UNIT interfering. Oh well, they would be taken care of.
When Miss Hawthorne and Benton arrived back at the vicarage, the vicar had emerged from his study and was having a late lunch in the parlour. He questioned his visitors eagerly about the research centre and snorted with laughter when Benton mentioned the name of the director.
“Well, really! I doubt that’s his name. Look, here.” Rev. Stott pointed to a village on the map of Somerset. That’s Wiveliscombe. If he wanted to choose an alias, you would have thought he’d have chosen a less obvious one.
“Ah. It did sound a bit odd.”
Miss Hawthorne was looking at the plan of the caves.
“Sergeant, what did you mean when you said you needed to check the maps?”
“Oh, right, yes. The building over here… (Benton drew a quick sketch of the centre as he had seen it and pointed with his pencil) it looks as if it is over the mouth of a cave … see?” He took the plan from Miss Hawthorne and put it side by side with his drawing.
“So it does...”
“I can’t believe they would do that unless they were using the cave for something, that’d be the last place you’d want to build.”
“I agree. And with what we know about the ventilation...”
“Ventilation?” Rev. Stott asked, bemused.
Miss Hawthorne explained their discovery on the moor. Rev. Stott leaned forward and rested his chin on his hands again, his expression torn between confusion and curiosity.
“Miss Hawthorne, I have been living in this village for thirty years. I thought I knew Lower Budworthy and its inhabitants. Now I’m beginning to wonder if I know anything at all!”
Miss Hawthorne placed a sympathetic hand on his arm.
“I do understand.” Thinking that Rev. Stott was, perhaps, not ready to hear about her personal experience of renegade Time Lords and vengeful aliens at Devil’s End, she left it at that. Bringing her companions back to the matter in hand, she took out her notebook and prepared to compile the evidence.
“So, we have a research centre that appears to do little or no research, but has a large and powerful generator. One of the buildings is on the site of an entrance to the caves, and at least some of the caves seem to have been fitted out with a ventilation system.”
“Yes. And the village has been disturbed with a mechanical noise and vibration, which I think we have to connect with the centre,” added Benton.
“Agreed. And we have now established that the director of the centre is using a pseudonym.”
Miss Hawthorne looked at her list.
“As I see it this leaves us with the following questions: firstly, what is going on at the research centre? Secondly, how far does the conspiracy extend? And thirdly, can the attack on Mr. Goodwin be connected with the activity at the centre?”
Sergeant Benton looked thoughtful.
“Well, we can’t answer the first question yet, not until we’ve had a look in the caves, or a closer look at the centre, which won’t be easy. As far as the second one goes, I reckon that Bryce is definitely involved, even if he’s just looking the other way while the others get up to whatever it is they are doing.”
“Sergeant!” protested Mr. Stott.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I can’t see a way round it. We saw him leaving the centre, looking scared out of his wits and you said he went there regularly.”
“Well, yes, but?”
“Then there’s the attack on Mr. Goodwin. The day after he gave Bryce an earful about him not investigating the tremors, he’s attacked. And Bryce is first on the scene.”
“But the door? He needed George Vincent to let him in?”
“That’s what he said. Supposing Goodwin let him in earlier on, Bryce attacks him, hits him on the head, maybe with his truncheon, tips the barrels over him and then lets himself out, locking the door behind him, ready to raise the alarm later on?”
Stott shook his head.
“I can’t believe it. I wouldn’t have thought for a moment he was capable of such a thing,” he said.
Miss Hawthorne spoke quietly.
“I’m sorry we’ve distressed you, Mr. Stott, but I believe Sergeant Benton is right. From what you have told us, I don’t think Bryce was acting of his own accord, he must be under some malign influence from the people at the centre.”
Rev. Stott sighed.
“I still don’t want to believe it, but I fear you are correct. What is our course of action to be?”
Miss Hawthorne considered.
“Well. I suggest that we keep our plan to look at the caves tonight at low tide and see what information is to be gained there. If we can get sufficient evidence, we can pass that to the county police and let them take over.”
“That’s a more difficult question. I wonder if you could...”
She was interrupted by the telephone bell. Rev. Stott hurried to answer it and returned a few moments later looking both puzzled and worried.
“It’s Bryce, he wouldn’t give his name, but I recognised his voice. He insists on speaking to you, Sergeant.”
Benton went to the study without a word. When he returned, he looked even more concerned and had a piece of paper in one hand. Miss Hawthorne raised her eyebrows as he came in and asked
“He says he wants to talk. But only to me. He wants to meet me tonight at (he consulted the note in his hand) where the coast path meets the Upper Budworthy Road? And I’m to come alone.”
Miss Hawthorne frowned.
“I don’t like it, John. Insisting you go alone, it could be a trap.”
“I know. I don’t like it either, but I’ll have to chance it. I can’t miss the chance to talk to him. But you’ll have to do the caves without me, if I meet him at ten.”
“We’ll manage,” said the vicar unexpectedly. Miss Hawthorne and Benton looked at him in surprise.
“Well, of course I’m coming into the caves. Assuming we can get in, that is.”
Miss Hawthorne relaxed a little and smiled.
“Thank you. And, Sergeant, if you aren’t back by the time we return, I shall call UNIT and the Chief Constable.”
“And I’ll do the same for you.”
“Then we are agreed. And now, if you will excuse me gentlemen, I shall take our notes to the garden and begin to collate a report.” Gathering up the notes, Miss Hawthorne left the room, leaving the two men smiling ruefully at each other. Sergeant Benton spoke first.
“That’s us told then!”
“Indeed. Well, I did little enough of my sermon this morning, I suppose I should make another effort.”
“And I’ll sort out my equipment for this evening.”
Rev. Stott decided not to enquire what this “equipment” was as he had a shrewd idea that he wouldn’t like the answer. Instead, he went back to his study. Benton went up to his bedroom, where he cleaned and loaded his gun, then checked the batteries in his torch. That done, he sat on his bed to read the novel he had brought with him until it was time for dinner. Dinner was a quiet meal, as the diners were all preoccupied with what was to come later that evening. After the meal they separated again, Miss Hawthorne to her room to crochet and consult the plan of the caves, Benton to look at a map and work out the best route to his rendezvous, and possible escape routes in case of an ambush, and the vicar to his study to prepare for evening prayer the following day and wonder what on earth he had got himself into.
At half past nine, they reconvened in the study. Miss Hawthorne, to her fellow investigators’ considerable surprise, was wearing overalls and carrying two hard hats, one of which she passed to Rev. Stott. Benton was dressed in dark clothes, so as not to draw attention to himself. He carried a torch in one hand and a slight distortion of the fabric of his jacket under one arm showed that he was armed. Rev. Stott led the way to the main road and then to the cliff path. Torches weren’t really necessary in the bright moonlight, and the party made quick progress along the edge of the cliff, until they reached a point where the path spilt, part of it going down towards the sea, the other carrying on along the clifftop.
“Well, here we are. Good luck Sergeant. Straight along for about another 200 yards and you’ll be able to see the road.”
“Thank you, Sir, good luck to you. Good luck, Miss Hawthorne”
Benton turned and continued to walk along the upper path. Miss Hawthorne looked after him for a moment, then sighed.
“Well, Mr. Stott, let’s get on.”
“Yes, this way. It’s quite smooth but there is the occasional rough patch, so take care.”
The vicar led the way, proceeding cautiously and shining his torch on the path to show up any uneven ground. After about ten minutes he and Miss Hawthorne had reached the beach. The sand was damp from the retreating tide and their footprints disappeared behind them as they walked to the cave mouth.
“Here it is. This is the gate and..."
Rev. Stott stopped talking in astonishment as he put his hand on the gate. At his touch, it swung silently open. Miss Hawthorne moved her torch to shine just inside the entrance. A thick chain and padlock were piled to one side. She looked questioningly at the vicar, then, without waiting for an answer, went through the gate. After a moment’s hesitation, Rev. Stott followed her. The opening of the cave was dark, but, after a few yards, there was a glow of light. Miss Hawthorne turned off her torch. Not daring to speak, in case there were others there who would hear her, she beckoned to her companion. They crept along the corridor formed by the cave, until they reached the source of the light, which proved to be electric lamps, mounted on the walls at intervals. Between the lamps were square boxes connected to broad tubing, which Miss Hawthorne recognised as the ventilation system she and the Sergeant had encountered from above. The floor of the cave was almost artificially smooth, save for two parallel grooves, about four feet apart, that ran along the length of it. The two explorers walked a little further, following the lights and the grooves in the floor, until they reached a point where a smaller cave branched off from the main one. Suddenly, voices could be heard and a faint rumbling noise shook the cave wall. Rev. Stott pulled Miss Hawthorne into the smaller cave and they flattened themselves against the cave wall as the sound grew louder. The voices stopped, but the rumbling got louder and louder until a vehicle of sorts appeared, accompanied by two men in dark overalls. The vehicle was composed of five wooden crates mounted on metal frames, with small metal wheels underneath, linked together to form a train. A battery pack was mounted on the frame of the front crate, and connecting cables showed that the entire contrivance was powered by electricity. One of the men carried a bulky remote control, with which he seemed to be regulating the speed of the train, the other carried a tool bag. Both men wore heavy, insulated gloves. From their hiding place, Miss Hawthorne and the vicar watched the train of crates go by. Once it had passed and the sound had faded, they crept out into the main cave. Rev. Stott looked at his companion and whispered.
“What do we do now?”
“Follow them, I suppose? We need to get out again and there are some gaps in the wall, should we need to conceal ourselves. The alternative is to wait here until they come back, but by then the gate will probably be secured and there is no guarantee that we will be able to open it and we will not have learned what is in those crates.”
With that, Miss Hawthorne set off, back the way they had come and Rev. Stott, after a brief hesitation, followed her. They made their way cautiously back down the corridor, staying close to the wall and making as little noise as possible. The corridor curved as they neared the entrance, and Miss Hawthorne stopped and peered cautiously around the corner. A boat was pulled up on the sand outside the cave, shallow-bottomed, but strongly built. The two men who had accompanied the train of crates were dismantling the frames and removing the crates using ropes and setting them on the floor of the cave. Two men in waders were carrying a crate to the boat, using the ropes as handles. The crates were clearly heavy, as the boots of the sailors sank into the sand as they walked. Miss Hawthorne ducked back round the corner. Unless the men moved away, they were trapped. If the gate was closed on them and they were unable to open it, they would be at the mercy of the tide, or of the guards of the research centre at the other end of the tunnel. Rev. Stott, who shared her concern, looked at her questioningly, but she shook her head. At that moment, one of the men in the tunnel called to the sailors in a low voice.
“Oi! Hurry it up you two, we’ve got to get moving.”
One of the sailors turned and spat derisively.
“Huh! You give us a hand and we’ll hurry up.”
The man in the tunnel swore, but spoke to his mate and, between them, they lifted one of the freed crates and began to carry it towards the boat. For a moment, the coast was clear. Miss Hawthorne and Rev. Stott slipped out of the gate and dashed for a rocky outcrop at the foot of the cliff, where they could conceal themselves until the men had gone. When the final crate was loaded, the men from tunnel closed and padlocked the gate and disappeared into the caves, and one of the sailors shoved the boat off the sand and then jumped aboard. His shipmate started the outboard motor and the boat headed out to sea. When the beach was finally deserted, Rev. Stott came out from behind the rocks.
“I think we have the place to ourselves again.”
“I’m very glad to hear it. Well, we know that smuggling is still very much alive in Lower Budworthy.”
“Yes. What could it be? Those crates were heavy.”
“For the time being, we had better leave that aside. We have seen the criminals at work and that will do for now.”
“Yes, of course. We had better be getting back.”
“Yes. How long before the tide turns?”
Rev. Stott looked at the luminous dial of his watch.
“About another half hour, plenty of time for us to get up the path.”
“Good. Then let us not delay, I want to get back and make sure that Sergeant Benton has returned safely.”
“Yes, this way.”
The vicar led the way back to the bottom of the path and they climbed back up. Clouds now covered the moon and a breeze had sprung up, catching at their hair and clothes as they climbed. At the top of the path, Miss Hawthorne stopped.
“Do you hear that?”
In the distance, the faint sound of a siren could be heard.
“We must get back. It could have no connection but...”
She set off quickly across the moor. Rev. Stott caught up with her after she had gone a few yards.
“You don’t think?”
“I don’t know. I believe that siren came from the village, so it may have nothing to do with Sergeant Benton, but I will be much happier when we know he is safely indoors.”
When Benton left his companions at the top of the cliff, he had walked briskly along the path in the direction he had plotted on the map. The moon gave ample light for him to follow the path and he was glad not to have to use his torch and risk the light attracting attention. After the 200 yards mentioned by the vicar, he saw the Upper Budworthy Road crossing the moor to join the cliff path and quickened his pace. Benton had almost reached the rendezvous point when he heard the unmistakable sound of a shot, close at hand. He dropped to the ground, then, when the shot was followed by silence, crawled forward, his gun in his hand. Just ahead he could see a glow that looked like torchlight. As he got closer, the Sergeant saw a torch on the ground, the light showing the shape of a body lying next to it. Benton got up into a crouch and, keeping low, moved closer to the body. By the light of the torch, he could see that it was the body of a man, dressed in a police uniform. Benton’s heart seemed to spring into his throat. The man was lying on his back, his eyes staring sightlessly at the sky. It was Constable Bryce. His face was contorted in an expression of shock and the round, dark hole above his left eye showed where the fatal bullet had struck. Sergeant Benton shifted slightly to examine the wound. At that moment a bright light shone from close at hand and a voice shouted;
“Stay where you are!”
Benton turned, blinking in the light. The voice came again.
“Put the gun down!”
Benton lowered his gun slowly to the ground and raised his hands. The next moment he was hauled to his feet, his arms held behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see that he was being held by policemen, or, at least by men in police uniform. The owner of voice approached. Squinting in the torch light, Benton could make out a man in plain clothes, slim, but well built, with an angular, high cheekboned face, dark brows and dark curly hair. The man turned the full beam of his torch into Benton’s face, making the Sergeant wince and close his eyes.
“Take him to the van, we’ll get his story at the station. There’s no use in struggling Sergeant, you’ll only make it worse for yourself.”
Benton had tried to push forwards towards the plain clothes man but was restrained by the officers holding him.
“I didn’t shoot him. I heard the shot, and I came. You can see, I haven’t fired. Check my gun!”
The plain clothes man picked up Benton’s gun from the ground with a gloved hand and opened the chamber.
“So you haven’t. Well.”
Extending his arm, the man fired one shot into the ground.
“Now you have.”
Benton was silent with horror. The man pulled a bag from his pocket and dropped the gun into it, then passed the bag to another uniformed officer who had just arrived.
“Dig that bullet out, Briggs and then make sure everything’s ready for the pathologist.”
“And now, Sergeant,” with a malicious smile, “let’s get you safely put away for the night.”
Shocked and bewildered by the turn of events, Benton was hustled down to the road, handcuffed and put in the back of a police van. One of the constables got into the back and sat opposite his prisoner, the other got into the driving seat. The plain clothes man banged on the hood and the driver started the engine. They drove quickly towards the village, with lights flashing, but no siren until they reached the main road. The streets were empty at that time of night, but the sound of the siren brought some of the inhabitants to their windows and some bedroom lights were switched on as they went by. When the van reached the police station, Benton was taken out and led inside. The station was a small one, with a front office and interview room on the ground floor and cells in the basement. The constable who had driven the van entered Benton’s details in a ledger, then escorted him downstairs, where his handcuffs were removed, and he was shoved unceremoniously into a cell. As the key turned in the lock. Benton sat down on the edge of the bed that was the cell’s only furniture and put his head in his hands. His mind raced as he tried to make sense of what happened. He had been set up, that much was very clear, and so had Constable Bryce. Perhaps whoever was responsible had decided to solve two problems at once. Benton shuddered. He was clearly in the hands of real police officers, they wouldn’t have brought him here otherwise, but… the picture of the plain clothes man firing his gun swam before his eyes. He looked up as the hatch in the door was pulled aside and the mystery man looked through.
“Sergeant. Comfortable? Good. I don’t suppose you’d care to tell us where your friends are this evening? I tried to call to let them know where you were, but they don’t seem to be at home.”
Benton shook his head and looked down at the floor.
“Oh, I see. Well, I can call again later, and perhaps you’ll feel more like talking in the morning. Sleep well.”
He was about to close the hatch when Benton asked;
“Who are you?”
“How rude of me, I quite forgot. I’m Inspector Gibson, South Somerset Constabulary.”
“That’s how you knew who I was.”
“Yes, I was informed of your activities by the Chief Constable. At first, I just let you amuse yourselves, but, when you started to be a nuisance, I had to take action. And poor Bryce really wasn’t up to the job, his nerves were all to pieces.”
“So you killed him?”
“Oh, no, Sergeant Benton. You did. Now I suggest you get some rest, and we will talk again in the morning. Good night.”
With that the Inspector closed the flap and flicked a switch beside the cell door, plunging the interior into darkness. As there was nothing else for it, Benton laid down on the bed and closed his eyes. He didn’t think he would sleep, but, worn out by the shock and the speed of events, he did.
When Miss Hawthorne and Rev. Stott reached the vicarage, the house was in darkness. The vicar opened the door and turned on the light, checking on the key hook to see if the spare key he had given the Sergeant was there. It was not. He turned back to Miss Hawthorne and shook his head. Miss Hawthorne ran up the stairs and knocked on Benton’s bedroom door, then opened it. She came slowly back down again and shook her head.
“He isn’t here.”
“Perhaps he and Bryce went somewhere together, or Bryce gave him some clue he had to follow up on straight away.”
Rev. Stott opened the door to the study.
“Well then we must wait for news. Come in and have a brandy while we do.”
His guest smiled wanly.
“Thank you. I daresay it’s silly of me to worry, he’s a trained soldier, after all, but,”
The telephone rang, making them both jump. Rev. Stott ran into the study and picked up the receiver, Miss Hawthorne following him.
“Vicarage, Reverend Stott speaking. Yes. Yes. (silence while the caller spoke) I … I beg your pardon? He … Yes, yes, Inspector. Good bye.”
He put down the receiver and looked at Miss Hawthorne.
“Constable Bryce has been found, shot dead and Sergeant Benton has been arrested for his murder.”
The colour drained from Miss Hawthorne’s already pale face.
“Where… where have they taken him?”
“To the police station in the village, I believe. Inspector Gibson called me from there, at any rate.”
“I don’t believe it. Murder? There must be a mistake. Or some foul play.”
Rev. Stott sat down beside her.
“If there is, we will find it out.”
Then a thought occurred to her,
“I must call UNIT, the Brigadier must know.”
Rev. Stott handed Miss Hawthorne the receiver and quietly left the room, leaving her to make what he knew would be a difficult call.
The Brigadier had been working late and was about to leave the office when Miss Hawthorne’s call came through.
“Lethbridge Stewart. Hello, Miss Hawthorne, what? WHAT?”
He listened as Miss Hawthorne gave him as much information as she had.
“I’ll call the Chief Constable first thing in the morning we’ll get this sorted out. I suppose you don’t ... no, of course I’m not suggesting ... no. Miss Hawthorne. And the caves?” Miss Hawthorne recovered herself a little and reported what she and the vicar had discovered. “Smuggling, eh? Very well. Stay where you are. I’ll call you as soon as I have any news. Yes. Yes, goodnight Miss Hawthorne.”
Sergeant Benton was woken the next morning by a loud knocking on the door of his cell, followed by the hatch being drawn back and a small tray, with a plate of toast and mug of tea on it being thrust through the opening. Benton got up and limped across to the door, his muscles stiff from the previous night’s exertions and the hardness of the bed. He took the tray and the hatch slammed shut. So, they were going to feed him, at least. The Sergeant sat down on the bed and put the tray down next to him. It wasn’t much of a meal, but it lifted his spirits a little and made him feel a bit more himself. He wondered if the Brigadier knew. Probably. Miss Hawthorne had probably phoned him. Miss Hawthorne. If the Inspector was prepared to frame him for murder, he wouldn’t stop at much. Characteristically, Benton’s concern was more for the safety of his colleagues, rather than himself and he hoped that the Brigadier would send reinforcements or get Miss Hawthorne safely away before anything could happen to her. Frowning, he finished his breakfast and put the tray on the floor, then swung his legs onto the bed and laid down. There wasn’t anything he could do but wait and see, so he might as well rest while he could.
The Brigadier hadn’t waited long before calling the Chief Constable. At six in the morning, he was in his office and waiting for his call to be answered, drumming his fingers impatiently on the desk. After what felt like an eternity to the Brigadier, Sir James’ voice came quietly over the line.
The Brigadier didn’t beat about the bush.
“Sir James. My Sergeant has been arrested. Can you explain to me how this happened?”
The Chief Constable sighed.
“Constable Bryce is dead. Sergeant Benton was found alone at the scene with his gun drawn, and was taken into custody.”
“Has he made a statement?”
“Who was responsible for the arrest?”
“Inspector Gibson of the South Somerset Force. I’d informed him of UNIT’s presence in the area before you arrived so he could cooperate if necessary.”
The Brigadier snorted.
“Cooperate!” then he controlled himself, with some difficulty, “I’m sorry, Sir James. You have my condolences for the death of Constable Bryce, of course, but Sergeant Benton is my concern.”
“I quite understand.”
“So what happened?”
“I don’t have all the details, but I gather from Gibson that Bryce had arranged to meet Benton, a struggle took place and Bryce was shot at close range. A bullet was recovered from the scene and one round is missing from Benton’s gun. I’ll be honest, Brigadier, it looks bad for your man.”
“What possible reason would he have to shoot Bryce?”
The Chief Constable began to lose patience.
“I don’t know. I only spoke briefly to Gibson last night. He told me there was a struggle, it may have been self defence.”
The Brigadier had been thinking.
“This Gibson, he was very much on the spot wasn’t he?”
“What are you implying?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing at all. I was merely wondering how he and his men came to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to arrest my Sergeant.”
Another sigh came from the other end of the line.
“They were on their way to arrest Bryce. We have been concerned about his conduct for a while, and Gibson tells me that evidence had come to light suggesting that he was involved in the attack on Arthur Goodwin. Gibson and his men were driving to the village when they heard the shot on the moor and stopped to investigate.”
“Really?” asked the Brigadier in his flattest voice. “You’ll pardon me, Sir James, but that sounds like too much of a coincidence. I want to speak to Sergeant Benton. I take it your Inspector will arrange that?”
“You are implying that Gibson is somehow involved?”
“I can hardly think otherwise, can I? But, leaving that aside, I am Sergeant Benton’s commanding officer and, as such, I am entitled to have contact with him. May I also remind you, Sir James, that it was you that requested our assistance with this investigation, which could have been undertaken by your own officers. That alone suggests to me that you have doubts about your force, even if you won’t admit it to an outsider.”
There was a long silence, finally broken by Sir James.
“Very well. Yes. I’d had concerns about the investigations into the tremors. The lack of results was suspicious and Bryce had been behaving erratically, but I didn’t imagine that Gibson …”
“Well, you’ll have to imagine it now. I refuse to believe that a competent inspector would be unaware of a major smuggling operation in his county.”
“Yes. Miss Hawthorne’s last report confirms it. The research centre is a cover operation for smuggling through the caves.”
“Quite. The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“What am I? You’ll have to give me time. You must see that I can’t interfere with the arrest, but I’ll get you your call. For the rest…? If Gibson is implicated how many of his officers are also involved? And how much do the smugglers know about the investigation?”
“That’s what we need to find out. My suspicion is that they have arrested Benton, not only to get him out of the way, but also to question him about the investigation.”
“If you’re right about Gibson, I agree. I must have time to think.”
“Don’t be too long about it, Sir James. And get me that call.”
“I will. As soon as I can. Goodbye Brigadier.”
The Brigadier hung up and gazed into space for a moment. He had been shaken by the news of Benton’s arrest, but the clouds had begun to clear. What he needed now was action, but he had to wait for news from the Chief Constable. The Brigadier reached for the telephone again. Was too early to call Miss Hawthorne? Probably not. Lethbridge Stewart smiled wryly as he dialed. The call was answered by Rev. Stott after a short interval.
“Hello, Vicarage, Rev. Stott speaking?”
“Mr. Stott? Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart here. Is Miss Hawthorne available?”
“Yes, yes of course. One moment.”
A pause, and then Miss Hawthorne’s voice was heard at the other end of the line.
“Brigadier? What news?”
“I’ve spoken to the Chief Constable, he is going to arrange for me to speak to Sergeant Benton."
“Oh, that’s something, at least.”
“Yes, not much, but we will have to be satisfied with that for the time being. It’s clear that Benton has been the victim of a conspiracy, the police evidence and the circumstances of his arrest are a lot too convenient for my liking.”
“I cannot believe he is guilty.”
“Neither can I, but, unfortunately what we believe is neither here nor there. The evidence is against him.”
“Then what can we do?”
“At the moment? Very little, it appears. I will let you know of any developments as soon as I have news.”
“In the meantime, Miss Hawthorne, I would advise you not to venture too far afield. You’ve given us evidence of the smuggling operation and Rev. Stott has corroborated it. There’s no need for you to put yourself at risk. Understood?”
“Well then, goodbye for now.”
In his cell, Sergeant Benton had fallen into an uneasy doze. He opened his eyes as the cell door opened. A uniformed constable stood in the doorway, a gun in his hand. He stood back and gestured to the room beyond.
Benton stood up and moved slowly out of the cell, keeping his eyes on the man with the gun. A table stood in the centre of the room, bare, save for a telephone. Inspector Gibson was seated on one side and indicated the empty chair on the other side with his hand.
“Sit down, Sergeant. You’ll excuse the precautions, we don’t often have prisoners who are trained in combat.”
Seeing nothing else for it. Benton sat down. The Inspector passed a sheet of paper across the table.
“Your statement. Here.”
He pushed a pen towards Benton. Benton glanced at the page, then pushed it away.
“I’m not signing that.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“Because it’s not true.”
“I see. We have your gun. And your bullet. If you decide not to confess it will be our word against yours. Who do you think will be believed? An undercover representative of a shadowy military outfit, or the local police, pillars of the community?”
Forgetting the armed guard, Benton lunged across the table. Instantly, two men grabbed him and forced him back into his chair.
“Dear me, I can see how your temper might get the better of you. So you won’t sign?”
The telephone on the Inspector’s side of the table rang.
“Yes? Yes, put him through.” Gibson turned back to where Benton was sitting, still held by the two constables.
“A call for you, Sergeant. Hold him! (as Benton began to struggle) Really, Sergeant, you aren’t helping yourself. Ah, yes, that’s better.”
The guard with the gun produced handcuffs and fastened Benton’s wrists to the back of the chair. Inspector Gibson waited for a moment, then brought the receiver round and held it up to Benton’s ear.
“Benton, are you there?”
The Brigadier’s voice was the most welcome sound his Sergeant could have heard.
“Listen, Benton, we won’t have long. We are going to get you out of there, but you’ll need to bear with us.”
“How are they treating you?”
“Well, enough, Sir,” replied Benton, feeling that , with a gun to his head and surrounded by uniformed thugs, he could hardly say otherwise. Then, because he needed to say it aloud again,
“Sir, whatever they tell you, I didn’t kill him.”
“Understood, Sergeant. Hang on. We’ll get you out.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Yes, well, I think that’s long enough,” said Gibson, replacing the receiver. “And now, Sergeant, how about making all our lives easier and signing your statement?”
“Still? Very well, we must see what else we can do to change your mind, but for the moment you can have a little more time to think it over.”
He gestured to the guards, who opened the handcuffs and removed them from the chair, then pulled the Sergeant to his feet and escorted him back to the cell.
Gibson left the room and went upstairs to the desk, where one of his men was on the telephone. Seeing his superior officer, the constable held out the receiver.
“That you, Gibson? Brookes here.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“We’ve got ahead of schedule. The men managed to get a double load out last night so we’re ready to start dismantling.”
“Did you, er, solve our problem?”
“Part of it. I’m about to go and get us some insurance. How would you feel about having a guest for a while?”
“Good, excellent. I’ll be along shortly.”
Gibson hung up on Brookes’ questions and smiled. He exchanged a few words with the constable at the desk, then summoned the officers from the basement, went out to his car and drove away followed by his subordinates in the van.
At the vicarage, Miss Hawthorne was doing her best to wait for the Brigadier to call. She had finished a written report of the events of the previous evening and taken her crochet to the garden, but, despite her usual patience, she couldn’t stop looking at her watch. Eventually, Miss Hawthorne decided that a short walk might clear her head a little. She needn’t go far, just along the road and back. Miss Hawthorne went back through the house to find her host. She met him in the hall, bag in hand.
“I’m sorry, Miss Hawthorne, I have to go and see one of my parishioners. She’s been ill for some time and I’ve just had a call to say that her condition is serious.”
“I quite understand, I was going to go for a stroll, oh, not far (seeing the questioning look on his face) just for some fresh air.”
The vicar nodded, understandingly.
“Of course, take my key, you’ll be back before I am. I’ll see you later and perhaps we will have had better news by then.”
“Yes, thank you Mr. Stott.”
Miss Hawthorne took the key and followed her host out of the house. The vicar set off towards the centre of the village and Miss Hawthorne towards the moors. The day was fine once again and the fresh breeze and being surrounded by nature lifted her spirits a little. At first, Miss Hawthorne followed the main road, then she turned aside and began to walk over the moor. A sudden noise made her look back. The research centre gates were open and a heavy goods lorry was pulling out onto the road. Miss Hawthorne stood and watched as the first lorry was followed by a second. What was happening? More from habit than from the hope of seeing anything, she had brought the binoculars with her. She walked on, close to the place from where she and Benton had observed the generator and the oil lorry and raised the binoculars. A lorry was parked outside one of the buildings, possibly the one which had been built over the cave mouth and men in overalls were walking backwards and forwards, loading what looked like pieces of mechanical and electrical equipment into the back of it. Miss Hawthorne dropped the binoculars on their strap and made her way quickly back to the vicarage. Once inside, she ran to the study and dialed the number for UNIT Headquarters.
“Corporal Scott? This is Olive Hawthorne. Is the Brigadier there?”
“Yes, Miss Hawthorne, he’s here, he was about to call you.”
A pause, and then;
“Lethbridge Stewart. That you Miss Hawthorne?”
“Brigadier. The research centre is being dismantled! There are men loading equipment into lorries and...”
Miss Hawthorne broke off, suddenly and the Brigadier heard a scuffling sound in the distance.
“Miss Hawthorne? Are you there? Miss Hawthorne?”
There was a moment’s silence, then a male voice came over the line.
“I’m afraid not, Brigadier. Miss Hawthorne is, ah, indisposed at present.”
“Who is this?”
“I’m sure you can work that out for yourself, Brigadier.”
“Now. Listen carefully. We have both your agents. You know what has happened to Sergeant Benton. We are taking Miss Hawthorne somewhere for a bit of peace and quiet for a while so we can finish our work. Should you make any attempt to interrupt our work, or to rescue your agents, or mount any kind of attack, that peace and quiet will become permanent. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes,” replied the Brigadier in a low voice, “perfectly clear.”
“Good. Don’t try and contact us, we will find you when we are ready.”
Gibson hung up and turned to Miss Hawthorne, who was being held by one of his men, who had a hand over her mouth. She glared at Gibson, who smiled.
“Dear me, it seems that Sergeant Benton isn’t the only one with a temper. Bring her along. Don’t think about calling for help, Miss Hawthorne, there really isn’t anyone around to hear you.”
At his words, Miss Hawthorne was hustled out of the house and into the back of the police van. She couldn’t see where they were going, but her sense of direction told her that the research centre was the likely destination.
At UNIT HQ, the Brigadier slammed the receiver back in the cradle and stood up, bristling with anger. He walked to the window, then back to his desk, possible courses of action running through his mind. The idea of leaving the criminals to complete their work and get away repelled him, as did the idea or abandoning Sergeant Benton and Miss Hawthorne, but mounting a large scale attack was clearly out of the question. Once again his fingers drummed on the desktop as he thought. And Gibson. How many officers were working with him? Could any of the police in the area be trusted? Was it checkmate? Surely not? Suddenly a light came into the Brigadier’s eyes that his enemies would do well to fear. He picked up the receiver and dialed an internal number.
“Miss Grosvenor. My office. Quick as you can.”
Not waiting to hear her reply, the Brigadier hung up and then dialed again, this time an external number.
“Sir James? Lethbridge Stewart here. I’m going to need your assistance...”
Sergeant Benton looked at his watch. Nearly five. He hadn’t been given any food since breakfast, which, he assumed, meant either that his captors were hoping he would sign the statement on the promise of a meal, or that they had forgotten about him, which, he admitted, didn’t seem likely. A sudden noise outside made him sit up. The cell door was thick, but he could hear the sound of footsteps running down the stairs. Preparing to defend himself if necessary, Benton got up from the bed and backed into a corner of the cell. He heard the key rattle in the lock, then the door opened and a familiar voice called
“Get out of there, man, what are you waiting for?”
Benton came out of the cell and found the Brigadier and, to his surprise, Iolanthe Grosvenor waiting for him. The Brigadier smiled as his Sergeant emerged from the cell.
“There you are Benton, alright?”
“Yes, Sir, I,”
Anything else he might have said was forgotten as Iolanthe ran forward and threw her arms round him. The Brigadier had had an idea for a while now that Iolanthe saw Benton as a sort of adopted elder brother and the strength of the hug she was currently giving the Sergeant confirmed that impression.
“Steady on, kid. I’m alright.”
Benton returned the hug, then gently disengaged himself.
“What’s the plan, Sir?”
“They’ve got Miss Hawthorne. Where, I’m not entirely sure, but our best guess is either at the research centre or in those wretched caves. The research centre, or some of it at least is being dismantled, so if we want to stand any chance of getting to her and catching those swine we’ll need to act quickly.”
“Yes, Sir. Er, just us?”
“For now, yes. The Chief Constable is bringing in reinforcements from outside the county, but we can’t risk a large show of force while Miss Hawthorne is still in their hands.”
“You’ll need this,” the Brigadier passed Benton a holster and gun, “we’ll see about getting your own one back later on. Now we’d better get moving. I want to stop off at the vicarage so Miss Grosvenor can get the radio set up to coordinate operations.”
The Brigadier led the way up the stairs. Benton stopped in surprise at the sight of the constable who had been left on guard lying on the floor, apparently fast asleep, then shot a sideways glance at Iolanthe, who blushed a little and nodded. They got into the Brigadier’s car, which was parked outside and set off at speed towards the vicarage. The Brigadier glanced at his Sergeant.
“When was the last time you had something to eat?”
“Early this morning, Sir.”
“There’s food in the glove box, help yourself.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Benton opened the glove box and found a bag containing sandwiches and a currant bun, which he quickly devoured. In the meantime, they had reached the vicarage and the Brigadier jumped out of the car and ran to the front door. His knock was answered by Rev. Stott, looking deeply troubled. The call to his parishioner had been a decoy. He had reached her house to find her in excellent spirits and bewildered at the idea that she was at death’s door. When he got back, he had found the vicarage door open and Miss Hawthorne gone. Benton stayed in the car while Iolanthe followed Rev. Stott and the Brigadier into the house, the Brigadier having fetched a portable two way radio from the car.
“I am so very sorry, I wish I had been here.”
“Don’t apologise, Mr. Stott, chances are there wouldn’t have been anything you could have done.”
“Well, if I can help in any way?”
“You can stay here with Miss Grosvenor and monitor the telephone and radio with her. I’m expecting the Chief Constable to be in contact shortly and you’ll need to relay any information he may give you to us in the field.”
“And Sergeant Benton?”
“Safe and well.”
“Quite. All ready Miss Grosvenor?”
Iolanthe, who had been setting up the radio, nodded.
“All ready, Sir.”
“Good, you’ll hear from us shortly, I hope.”
“Good luck, Brigadier.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stott.”
The Brigadier ran back to his car and drove away. Rev. Stott sighed and went back into the house. If nothing else, he supposed, he could keep Miss Grosvenor supplied with cups of tea.
As the Brigadier’s car neared the research centre, the radio crackled.
“Answer that, would you Sergeant?”
“Greyhound four, over?”
“Greyhound four this is trap five” Iolanthe’s voice sounded oddly distorted by the radio “We have news from the CC. Over.”
“Good, listening, over.”
“News follows, reinforcements secured, expected time of arrival approximately … twenty minutes from now. Over.”
“thank you, trap five, understood, over.”
“Good luck, greyhound, out.”
The Brigadier pulled into the side of the road and stopped.
“We’d better walk from here, no point in announcing our arrival by driving up to the gates.”
The two men got out of the car and began to walk towards the research centre. Benton pointed out the security camera at one side of the gate, and they made a detour to stay out of its range, then waited. A few moments later, one of the lorries spotted by Miss Hawthorne drew up inside. The security guard opened the gate and held it open as the lorry inched forward. As the driver paused to check for oncoming traffic, the Brigadier and Benton ran forward and through the gate, the lorry concealing them from both the camera and the guard. Once inside the complex, they paused in a corner behind a stack of empty crates.
“Right Sergeant, you’ve been here before. Where are they likely to be holding her?”
Benton looked around the corner of the crates. All around them were piles of wood, metal and electrical parts, some of which were being loaded into another lorry by a small group of men. Benton could just see a figure he took to be Inspector Gibson, standing by the entrance to what he mentally termed the “cave building.” The only building that seemed to be untouched by the chaos and general destruction was the main building, where he and Miss Hawthorne had been taken. He pointed it out to the Brigadier.
“Over there, Sir, Director’s office. It’s out of the way and they can watch the security cameras from there.”
“Right, lead the way, Sergeant.”
Benton led the way, staying close to the walls and doing his best to keep out of the way of any cameras. The door of the office building stood open, and the two men made their way upstairs. A uniformed constable stood outside the door to the director’s office. The soldiers approached silently, their boots muffled by the carpet. At the last minute, the guard turned in their direction, but it was too late for him. Benton lunged forward and dealt him a blow to the jaw that made his head rebound off the wall and knocked him out, his body sliding down to the floor. The Brigadier looked down at the unconscious man and raised his eyebrows.
“Well, I’m glad you’ve got that out of your system, Benton.”
Benton grinned briefly, then became serious again as the Brigadier stood back from the door and gave a whispered count down from five. At one, Benton put his shoulder to the door and pushed. The door gave way on his second try and the two men charged through the doorway and came to a sudden halt inside. Brookes was seated at his desk, seemingly frozen in the act of turning his chair towards the door. The Brigadier ran over to the desk and put his gun against Brooke’s temple.
“Where is she?”
Brookes pointed silently to the other side of the office. Miss Hawthorne was seated on one of the metal framed chairs, her wrists tied to the frame and a scarf obscuring the lower half of her face. Benton was by her side in an instant, pulling the scarf off her nose and mouth and then cutting through the cords that secured her wrists with his penknife. Once her arms were freed, Benton helped her gently to her feet and offered his arm for support. Miss Hawthorne smiled at him.
“Thank you, John, rescuing your damsel in distress yet again!”
“You’re welcome. Let’s get you out of here.”
They walked back across the office, where the Brigadier had secured his prisoner.
“All safe, Sir.”
“Good. Glad to see you, Miss Hawthorne.”
“And I you, Brigadier.”
“What do you think, Sir, shall we make a run for it?”
The sound of engines outside drew them to the window. Two police cars and a large van raced through the gate and screeched to a halt on the central path. Armed officers piled out of the back of the van and, given a signal from a senior officer who was standing by one of the cars, they fanned out and began a steady progress through the complex, the overalled workers fleeing before them, the renegade policemen opening fire.
“I think, Sergeant, that we’ll be better off up here for the time being.”
Benton grunted in agreement, then pointed to a figure who was approaching the building, apparently unnoticed.
“Look, Sir, Gibson.”
“Right. Stay here with Miss Hawthorne, Benton.”
“That’s an order, Sergeant.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Benton, trying and failing to hide his disappointment.
The Brigadier hid a smile as he left the room, as far as he was concerned, Benton had had quite enough action for one mission, not that he was going to tell him that. Staying close to the wall, the Brigadier made his way quickly down the stairs and out of the building.
Outside, the Chief Constable’s reinforcements had encircled the front of the building over the cave mouth. Shots had been fired from within and the police had fallen back and were sheltering behind a ring of crates and other detritus. The officer in charge, an Inspector Bruce, had taken cover behind a pile of scrap metal and was in hasty conference with his second in command.
“Derwent, take five men and go round to the back. We’ll draw their fire.”
Derwent looked across and caught the eyes of a group of officers nearby.
“Ok! You lot, with me!”
The men signaled their understanding and, ducking low behind the crates, made their way towards the building. As he saw them leave, Inspector Bruce gave the order to open fire. Immediately shots came from inside the building. The officers outside didn’t try to advance, but kept up a steady barrage on the entrance, dodging in and out from behind their defensive barrier. A sudden yell came from behind a pile of oil drums and plastic sheeting and one of the men dashed over to help his colleague who was trying to stem the blood flowing from a wound in his shoulder. A shout came from inside the building, followed by silence and a yell of “Cease Fire!” outside. Then the doors opened fully and the men inside came out in silence, their hands above their heads, followed by Derwent and his men. Then the cleanup operation began. Ambulances arrived to take the wounded for treatment, either to the hospital, or to the medical wing of the county prison. Uninjured prisoners were taken in vans to county headquarters, where the Chief Constable was overseeing operations. Pausing to take stock, Inspector Bruce looked at Sergeant Derwent and asked,
“Where’s Gibson? Did anyone see Gibson? Check the vans, quickly!”
Gibson had almost reached the front gate, when the sound of a footstep behind made him stop. He turned, quickly, but could see nobody. Gibson let out a long breath. He was getting jumpy. Not too far now though, he had a forged passport in his pocket and his share of the profits was on the way to a bank account in his new name and. The noise again. He stopped and looked back over his shoulder. When he turned round, there was a soldier in front of him. A senior officer by the look of it, gun drawn and a look of cold rage in his eyes.
“Inspector Gibson,” said the Brigadier, “we haven’t met.”
Gibson’s lips drew back from his teeth in a mirthless smile.
“Trying to frighten me? Are you allowed to shoot civilians?”
“Probably not,” replied the Brigadier evenly.
He holstered his weapon. There was a moment’s pause, then the Brigadier stepped forward and punched Gibson. The inspector fell back, gasping, clutching at his bleeding nose. The Brigadier pulled a pair of handcuffs from his belt and knelt down to secure his prisoner. As he did so, he leaned forward and whispered in Gibson’s ear.
“Really, this is much more satisfying.”
He then stood up, pulling Gibson up with him and led the inspector back through the complex to hand him over to Inspector Bruce. Sergeant Derwent put Gibson in one of the cars and gave him a handkerchief to stem the flow of blood from his nose. The Brigadier then led the way up to the director’s office, where Brookes was added to the list of those detained, and Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton could make their way out and back to the vicarage.
After an emotional reunion with Iolanthe, Miss Hawthorne was ordered to rest by Rev. Stott, supported by the Brigadier and Benton. She argued, but gave way in the end and went upstairs on the understanding that she be called as soon as there was any news. The rest of the party sat in the parlour talking over the action of the afternoon and filling in gaps in each other’s knowledge. It was close to nine in the evening when the Chief Constable arrived. Miss Hawthorne had come down for dinner and was sitting with the others when Sir James was ushered in by his old friend.
“I thought I would come and give you a final report, for now at any rate. I owe you all that much after helping to root out the nest of vipers in county HQ.”
Miss Hawthorne spoke first.
“Have they confessed?”
“Some of them have begun to talk. Some of them are still loyal to Gibson, curse him. The men from the research centre have been a little more communicative, particularly as we’ve recovered all their equipment and timetables, which should allow us to track their distribution network.”
“And what was it? I mean, what were they moving in those crates?”
“Currency. Forged coins and notes. They had a whole printing operation set up in cave under that research building, powered by that monstrous generator. We found a box full of the stuff. Nothing high value, but enough to cause serious problems if it got into circulation.”
“I see, and the caves had been prepared while the forgeries were being produced?”
“Yes. The main run, which you explored, had been cleared out by some Edwardian entrepreneurs, who had wanted to turn it into a local attraction. Brookes and his men added the lights and ventilation and worked the grooves in the floor. The first noises were caused by the creation of those grooves.”
Rev. Stott looked up in surprise.
“But I knew nothing of these enterprising Edwardians. How is that they had been so completely forgotten?”
“Hard to say. The money fell through, of course and there were doubts over the safety of the project. Then there were some rock falls in the side caves and the whole thing was shut down and the gate closed again. When Brookes and his crew were prospecting for a location with concealed access to the sea, they checked the caves themselves and found they had little work to do. They chose to move the currency by boat to try and avoid detection on the roads, I believe. The cargo would be split and moved in small boats to a number of small ports and marinas around the country and distributed from there. Luckily for us, we managed to find a lot of their distribution list intact. They were planning to burn it all in the cave, but the access hatch became jammed during the fight so they couldn’t get down there, either to destroy their records or to escape.”
The Brigadier, who had been enjoying a glass of Rev. Stott’s brandy, asked,
“Who was behind it? Gibson? Or was he just the enforcer?”
“Brookes was the brains behind the operation. Gibson came in as a partner. Now we’ve had a proper look at his record, he’s been running a number of scams under our noses for years with his gang at County HQ. This was to be his last big pay-off. He had a fake passport and was planning to go to Spain and live off his ill-gotten gains.”
Sir James sighed.
“Poor Bryce. I feel I let him down badly. Gibson was blackmailing him, in effect. Bryce was being paid to turn a blind eye to the goings on at the centre, but was feeling increasingly uneasy. When Goodwin began to kick up a stink about the tremors, Gibson bullied Bryce into attacking him, telling him, Bryce that is, that he was in too deep to back down and that Goodwin needed to be put out of the way. After the attack his nerves really started to go and he appealed to Gibson, who promised to cut him loose if he would do one last thing…”
Benton cut in;
“Meet me on the cliff path.”
“Precisely. The man had no idea he was going to his death.”
Silence fell, until the Chief Constable shifted uncomfortably in his chair, then reached down into the briefcase he had brought with him and took out Benton’s gun.
“Ah, Sergeant, your property.”
Benton took the gun without a word.
“I don’t need to add, of course that the charges against you have been wiped from the record.”
“Thank you, Sir,” replied the Sergeant in an expressionless voice.
Another awkward silence, broken by Rev. Stott, who sensing the atmosphere in the room, thanked the Chief Constable for coming and offered to show him out. Sir James departed, to general thanks and, when Stott returned, the others were discussing plans for their departure on the following day. Genuinely disappointed at losing his guests so soon, but aware of their many commitments, the vicar thanked them for their help once more, and offered to accommodate any of them should they wish to come back and visit “under happier circumstances.”
Sergeant Benton considered the offer, then replied;
“To be honest, Sir, I’ll be glad to be back in the city for a bit. I know the countryside is meant to be the place for peace and relaxation, but it never works out that way for me.”
The Brigadier, smiling to himself, softened his subordinate’s words with thanks to their host, then he and the Sergeant turned to their maps to plot their routes to Devil’s End, UNIT HQ and, Benton hoped, a bit of peace and quiet.