Punks, Princes, Milkmaids and Poetry – by Phil Huston
Kirklin found Caswell outdoors at the pub in Oxfordshire, dropped into a chair opposite. “It was Elise told you they were after the rust bucket? Me?”
Cas nodded, held up a finger to the waitress and pointed at Kirklin.
“They turned out punks, Caswell. Dressed up as sailor boys. I could smell the fear after I put two bouncers down the shaft. I’m surprised the lad I pulled out below didn’t faint. And nothing for my destruction but internet taught and e-bay bought door opener photocells, Chinese fireworks and drain cleaner. Crude, but deadly. Pissed me off they’d arm it with the Doc in tow.” He took his beer from the waitress, acknowledged her with an appreciative nod. “I met with Elise.” He gauged Cas, got no reaction. “We rowed a bit over her dust and cobwebs intelligence gathering. Had her log in as Dunning on the Secrets VPN and search the not-redacted crypt while I watched. They wrote off the Juliette as dangerous to their reputations in 1918. Swabbed every surface of it looking for whatever they’d done, found nothing. With sonar and free time in 1951, they pulled up two canisters the size of coffee tins from the site of the original torpedoing, no evidence they ever belonged to the Juliette, trucked them off to Sheffield and dumped them in a furnace to be sure. There’s naught about that boat but whatever story the bones might tell that worries them. Or someone.”
They sipped beer, listened to the wind blow bits of pub lunch conversation in and out between them. Cas pulled a stapled sheaf of spreadsheets from his jacket, passed them across.
“What Shona found. That the family trees of murder stopped twice, for significant periods of time. Most of the bodies were pre-Fifty-five. Only three more she can track until eighty-six when it stopped completely. Picked up again three years ago. The recent all random and unconnected, save for location.” Caswell unconsciously rubbed his freshly unstitched thigh, caught Kirklin’s eye. “Recall as Dunning told us once that he was the King who wasn’t, and the nepotism in his family favor was down to a distant Prince of Anjou shagging the milkmaid? I believed it conceit. In truth, the dairy queen’s lad was afforded landed entitlement to stop his noise. Would have been better had the milk maid shoved the Prince off and he’d run down his father’s leg. As well the egg that dropped from a stableman’s daughter in Normandy gone six hundred years and more. Dr. LeClare is the first female since the Fifteenth Century down either of those bastard lines.”
“Richard Dunning and his foul seed, perhaps this Fugitif, our Baby Doc? All down to a poncy Prince of Anjou getting his leg over, both sides of the channel?”
“Yes. And she’s ‘our’ Baby Doc now?”
“Leave it. I told her about us and Douala.” He paused, let in a fleeting memory and killed most of his beer. “Two hours later she came face up on trying to reconcile her own ‘no happy endings’ scenario without you or the Irish lass to hold her hand, and puked all over my truck.”
“We need to keep her away from that shit, Kirklin. She can’t get cynical like us.”
“I prefer ‘disillusioned romantics’.” He drained his beer glass, set it on the table and waited.
“Bloody hell, Kirklin. We know it’s not the military or the usual Secrets lot that’s running up the Juliette’s body count. Every time I think I have this one figured, I start over.”
Kirklin covered a small clam shell burn phone with his hand, moved it across the table. “So you know, Elise is still one of us. Spot on about our phones being hacked.”
Caswell covered Kirklin’s hand with his own. Kirklin raised his hand and there was a pound coin where the unseen phone had been. Kirklin stood, pushed the pound under his empty glass. “I told Elise you’d have a dog again, when you retired. She said you could have all the dogs you fancied, if you took more than a good few dance lessons. And burned your bloody guitar.”
“Poor dancer owned. She said nothing about my guitar.”
“She will.” He pocketed the spreadsheets. “All our non-numbers are on that phone, Vicar’s code. Call Elise, see if it works.”
“And say what?”
“Your wife’s buried thirteen years last month. The kids are on their own. Say something important. Put some poetry back in your life, mate. Well I know how bloody bleak it is without.”
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