Sam followed the signs to the beach. Beach! This was unlike any beach he had visited abroad, especially on his recent holiday with Adele. A short stretch of shingle and stones interrupted by concrete boxes and some kind of ancient artillery. He intended to stop in the car park and check out Rachel’s piece on his mobile but there was hardly any reception, and little room to manoeuvre due to the number of aging trucks with boats and trailers attached to them. He drove a little further down the beach and found that he could get a signal on the other side of the boxes.
Grudgingly, he had to accept that Rachel had written a good piece; it captured the spirit of the Village unity, and mixed facts with good humour. Of course, there were changes that he would have made for her, but it gave him a better idea of how he should be angling his own piece of investigative journalism on the drug smuggling racket. So engrossed was he, that he failed to notice that the tide was coming in, and that there was a very good reason why no other cars had parked at this end of the beach. He started up the car, but the muddy shingle gave the slick tyres little purchase. Perhaps taking Adele’s new red BMW sports car had not been the best idea. He had thought that the villagers would be in awe when they saw it, and willing to answer his questions.
Wrong on both counts.
A couple of the fishermen from the car park wandered over and asked if he needed a hand. Noting their barely hidden smirks, Sam’s first instinct was to refuse but he was no Canute and the waves were moving closer.
“It’ll cost mind. The time it takes to get a car like this safely off the beach will eat into our fishing time. Would you be the bloke who’s come down from London to interview people about the drug smuggling?”
“Yes. Just get the car out of here without it getting damaged. I borrowed it from a friend.”
“Oh. No insurance then? Better not let the local bobbies know that. Rachel says that we are to help you but only if you pay up. Says that you can afford it.”
Damn Rachel and damn her village idiots!
Sam got out of the car and tried not to wince as the grubby fisherman and his extremely muddy boots sullied the immaculate interior of Adele’s latest present from her daddy. After revving the engine and putting the car into reverse, an increasingly large group of men leaned on the front end of the car, and pushed. Hard. Once free of the mud, the car sped backwards until it was safely in the car park, and greeted with cheers and applause from the other occupants.
“Nice little car mate,” said the largest and most imposing looking of his rescuers. “But I think it’ll need a valeting before you give it back to the owner. Might be a few dints on the bonnet where we leaned on it. I think a ton should be a suitable fee for rescuing it from the sea. Cash only.”
Sam knew that he only had credit cards on him, and wondered how easy it would be to escape without paying.
“Nearest cash point is at the bank next to the Gun. My brother Jeff here is the landlord, and will give you a lift while we look after your friend’s car. Bear in mind that if you want people from the Village to talk about the drug smuggling, they’ll need paying too. May as well draw out enough to cover all your costs at once, eh?”
“Is there anyone that doesn’t know Rachel in this village?”
“Might be a few incomers, but everyone knows Mark, Lou and the kids. Those kids need every penny we can raise now that their Dad has died. That’s where the money will be going – just in case you thought that we were out to make money out of you for ourselves.”
“When did their father die? What happened?”
“Best talk to Lou or Mark about that. It’s police business so I’m not sure how much can be disclosed. Here’s Jeff now.”
Sam got into the passenger seat of an incredibly smelly truck. Jeff grinned at his discomfort. “The girls didn’t half smell after I rescued them from the beach. I suppose I ought to give the tarps a bit of a hose down one of these days. I don’t notice the smell anymore, but strangers coming into my pub say that it niffs of fish a fair bit. Here you go, I’ll hang on and give you a lift back to the car park.”
Relieved to be out in the fresh air, Sam drew a sizeable amount of money out of the cash machine using more than one of his cards to overcome the limitations. He spent the journey back leaning out of the window, much to Jeff’s amusement. The bill for safe removal of the car was settled, and a few extra £20 notes doled out to the lads who had watched the entire arrest of the drug smugglers from behind the safety of the boat park fence. Jeff advised Sam that Mrs Kneller would be his best source of information, but to be careful about what he said, as she was very fond of Lou and her family, and that included Rachel.
In the meantime, Lou had received a phone account of Sam’s stranding on the beach from one of her friends at the boat yard, and a warning that someone had let slip about Pete’s death. Mark and Rachel were still ensconced in the back room, and while she didn’t want to disturb them, she badly needed advice. Just as she was about to get Sally to knock on the door, it opened and Mark emerged looking sheepish, followed by Rachel, who was smiling. “Sorry Sis. We had a few things that needed sorting out. Are you okay?”
Lou relayed Sam’s sorry tale to much laughter, then the conversation turned more serious as she explained that Sam knew about Pete and wanted to find out more.
“He’s always had a nose for a hidden story I’m afraid. He won’t pull his punches either.” said Rachel, wanting to spare her friend as much exposure as possible.
“Can I suggest that the three of us talk to Sam together?” said Sam. “I can give him the official version; Rachel and I can support you Lou, and stop him if he digs too deep.”
“What can I say? My ex-husband was involved with drug smugglers who beat him up so badly that he died from his injuries. There’s no way you can sweeten that, is there?”
“Isolate the facts as people know them. Pete was beaten up and turned up here in desperation. I took him to hospital, but he never regained consciousness so we won’t know how much involvement he had with the smugglers until it goes to court.”
“I can’t do this Mark.,” said Lou, torn between fury and sorrow. “I’m angry again with Pete and what he’s put us through again. I’m sad that my children have to watch their father’s name being dragged through the dirt and, I’m sorry Rachel, but I’m so furious with Sam after the way he’s treated you, that I just want to punch his lights out.”
Rachel put her arms around Lou and held her very tight. “Mark, you are more than a match for Sam – personally and professionally. Would you speak for Lou and the children? I’m afraid Sam tends to home in on vulnerabilities and could probably use Lou’s feelings to write something damaging.”
“You can tell him Mark, that if I talk to anyone about anything, it will be Rachel.”
“You are so capable Lou.” said Mark. “But having been absent for so many years, I welcome the opportunity to be a real big brother and stick up for you and the girls. Any tips Rachel? You’ve been Lou’s sister for a long time, and you know Sam better than anyone.”
“He’s just pulled onto the driveway in a red BMW that I’ve never seen before. Are you still under cover Mark or are you allowed to be a proper policeman again?”
“No need for pretence for now. What did you have in mind?”
“Start off by checking his insurance. I have a feeling he may have borrowed the car from Adele, and he won’t have bothered about such a trivial thing as arranging insurance when he’s in a hurry. Get him on the back foot; who knows you may even have the grounds to get the car impounded. Does that sound vindictive?”
“No, it sounds really cool.” said Lou. “While you have a chat with him in the backroom Mark, Rachel, the girls and I can take Pluto for a walk into the village and say thank you to our friends. We’ll wait in the living room until the coast is clear.”
Mark grinned and went outside. He introduced himself to Sam, personally and as a detective inspector, taking out his official mobile as he admired the car. “Nice little car. You must be making a good wage to buy one like this.”
“It isn’t actually mine. A friend lent it to me as I was in a rush to get down here.”
“It’s fully insured in your name then?”
“Ah. I’m not sure if she put me on the insurance actually. Is that a problem?”
“It might be. Would you come inside please, while I make a few calls?”
“Where’s the dog? I don’t think he likes me.”
“He’s going out for a walk shortly.”
Mark looked over to the living room window and suppressed a smile as he saw the curtains twitch. He led Sam into the back room, closed the door very firmly and made some calls to check out the status of the car. The sound of giggles and Pluto’s happy bark as they left the house, gave Mark the opportunity to explain to Sam that he would be speaking on behalf of his sister, and officially as the detective in charge of the investigation. News from the station came through very quickly; not only was the car uninsured, but Adele, in a fit of pique, had reported it stolen. The car also had several unpaid congestion and parking fines. Mark took the car keys from Sam, and arranged for a tow truck to remove it to the police pound.
Sam was not happy. “Is Rachel behind this? Just because we split up; I didn’t think she could be so spiteful.”
“It’s you that’s broken the law Sam, not Rachel. You’ve taken a car without permission; you aren’t insured and there are a number of fines that your girlfriend couldn’t be bothered to pay. How is any of that Rachel’s fault?”
“The Rachel I knew would never have done this to me. She used to be such a compliant person.”
“I don’t know Rachel as well as my sister does, but what I do know is that she has been a good friend to Lou and the girls. I think that she is more concerned with their welfare than yours, and according to Lou, it’s good to have the real Rachel back again.”
“Hang on a minute! Aren’t you Rachel’s landlord as well? Is something going on between you two?”
“Rachel has been staying in my spare room since she came down. I’m away a great deal so she’s been looking after the house – and Pluto – in my absence. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to arrest you once the car has been taken away, and transport has arrived for you, so feel free to ask me some questions about the drug smuggling ring before I read you your rights.”