Neighbourhood Watch Ch. 02byStarscream_UK©
The sun rose majestically over Beckbury, burning away the cobwebs of the night long since passed as it sought to illuminate the town. The postman that morning was carrying a very important cargo -- though of course, he didn't realise it. Five envelopes. Five plain white manila envelopes made their way through the postal system and landed on five very different doorsteps. The contents of those five envelopes prompted five entirely different reactions.
"So, dinner at the big house," Mark muttered as he looked at the invitation. "Great, just what I needed -- that means I'll need to get my tuxedo back from the dry cleaners."
"Oh well, that will be nice," Abbie commented as she finished buttoning her jeans up. "Can you take a guest?"
"I doubt it," Mark replied. "Although I'll bet that you've got one of these waiting for you at home too."
"Well, if I have you can come and pick me up," She said as she made her way towards the door. "You know I hate turning up to those sort of things on my own." She unlocked the door and stepped out into the fresh air, pausing only to look back at Mark in his boxer shorts. "Thanks for your help last night."
"No problem." He said, rubbing his clean-shaven chin as his mind was absorbed with thoughts cascading out of a hundred different ideas.
At the opposite end of Beckbury a telephone rang. As she fumed at the invitation in her hands, she scooped the receiver up.
"Ash," Steph's voice was crystal clear. "What are you wearing to this little shindig that the new Lord of the Manor is hosting?"
"Something light absorbent -- then he won't see me when I shoot the bastard in his bed." Ash fumed.
"Now, now, what did we discuss in the Bentley?" Steph replied, dismissing Ash's frustration. "I'm wearing the cerise Julien, so make sure we don't clash."
"I'm so glad you could all join me this evening," Hamilton said. "You have no idea how much I've been looking forward to this night."
"Cut the bullshit Hamilton," Ash sounded irritated. "Just spill the beans -- what do you want?"
"Oooh, cutting straight to the point there Lady Ash," Hamilton responded. "Very direct. I like that." He stood up, walked away from the table and made his way to a small cupboard at the back of the dining room. As he returned the five dinner guests could see that he was holding several brown envelopes in his hands. "Okay, what say you all to playing a little guessing game called guess the contents of the envelope?"
"Guessing game?" Abbie asked.
"Yeah, you know, like you used to do as a kid," Hamilton replied as he threw one of the envelopes at each guest. "For example, let's start with you young Miss King -- what would Mommy and Daddy say if they found out that their little princess was a paid contract killer who had caused part of Daddy's business empire to crumble by removing one of his most productive executives at the behest of his wife when she found out that he was having an affair?"
"Or, what about Lady Hearne?" Hamilton said. "How would the media react to the fact that whilst you were standing dutifully by your late husband's side at all those dinner parties you'd also been in the employ of her Majesty's Research Department, wiping out all those troublesome double agents floating around the colonies during the last days of the cold war?"
"Now, to Mr Atkins, the delightful lawyer," Hamilton's smile resembled that of the Cheshire cat as he looked at Ian. "Just how did you finagle the charges of those Serbian war criminals down to effectively time served I wonder? I'm sure the world would love to hear about that. I'm also sure that everyone here in Beckbury would love to see what you've got stored in that safe of yours in your office; you remember, the one that's wired to explode should someone get the combination wrong."
"Oooh, let's not forget you either, Mr Cooper," Hamilton's gaze locked onto Mark. "Brain the size of a planet, owner of an IQ that would make you blush, and you spend your days in that garage of yours, tinkering around with god knows what. I'm sure that Lady Hearne here would be interested to learn about your trading of identities of members of the security forces with interested parties around the globe that just happened to cause the deaths of two of her protection detail. Oh, and the fact that you were behind the collapse of that building society last year. Did they ever find the four hundred million pound hole in their accounts?"
"Finally, we come to the crown jewel in this little tiara," Hamilton purred as he moved back towards his chair at the head of the table. "Lady Elizabeth Ash." He paused for a second. "I've always held a special fondness for our cousins from across the pond -- which doesn't really gel with a body count as large as yours. Do the CIA or FBI realise you're currently hiding practically under their nose here? I didn't think so. I wonder what they would do if they realised that their rogue assassin was a Brit, and hiding out here in good old Blighty?" He looked at each of them and his voice became colder. "Inside each envelope is a copy of your particular past sins and who they will be sent to in the event of any...unfortunate incidents."
"Okay Keyser fucking Soze," Mark said. "You've made your point -- you know everything about us, now what do you want?"
"Yes," Steph added as she glared at Mark. "Just what is the point of this little soiree?"
"Oh, I'd have thought that was obvious by now," Hamilton said as he leaned back in his chair. "I'm proposing a deal. You assist me to get what I want and I -- in turn -- will make sure that no one learns of your little community here."
"Well, it appears that you have us by the knackers as my old man used to say," Ian said. "So I don't see as we have any choice in the matter."
"Oh, you don't," Hamilton said. "I just thought it would be fun to see the looks on your faces when I announced my intentions." He took a sip from his glass of wine. "Now, to business..."
... "So, let's get this straight," Ian said as he swirled the whiskey around his glass. "You want us to break into a Ministry of Defence research installation and steal a bacteria sample?"
"Oh, it's a little bit more than a bacteria sample," Hamilton answered. "I want you to steal the Screamager virus." The room was silent.
"Fuck off." Mark said. "No chance."
"I've heard of that before," Abbie added. "I was paid to steal it, only I couldn't get hold of it within the window I had."
"Well, I'm obviously having to play catch up here," Ash said. "Would someone please explain to me what this screaming me-me is."
"It's a doomsday virus," Mark said. "Unleash one drop of it and you create a plague more virulent than the Black Death was back in the day. One hundred percent fatal -- no exceptions."
"I thought that they'd destroyed all the samples of it?" Steph asked.
"Not according to the inventory at Pendle Hill Laboratory," Hamilton said. "Which is where you'll be stealing it from."
"Look, you realise that there's no vaccine for the Screamager virus -- you release that and everyone -- I mean everyone -- is dead." Mark said. Hamilton nodded.
"I have no intention of releasing it, I'm simply using it as a bargaining tool," He said. "Once I have possession of the Screamager then I will inform the authorities that unless they wish me to unleash it on the general population, they will evacuate the centre of London so you can steal what I'm really after."
"And what's that?" Ian asked.
"Ooh, patience Mr Atkins," Hamilton replied. "You need to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk." He stood up and walked towards the large wooden double doors at the end of the dining room. "And now, I bid you all a good evening. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
The five of them filtered out of the dining room through the other set of doors, entering the main hallway and were directed to the exit by a rather bulky looking butler. As they made their way towards the exit, Mark felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Okay Steph, spit it out." He said without turning around.
"If I'd known that you were responsible for the deaths of Tom and Peter I'd have buried you the first day you set foot in this town." Steph whispered. Mark nodded and turned to face her.
"Fine, if that's the way you want to play this then go ahead," he said, his voice calm and reasoned. "However, I'll warn you now that I won't go down without a fight and you can guarantee that whatever you do to me, I'll reply threefold."
"Don't threaten me young man." Steph's voice was stern, yet she saw something in Mark's eyes that was different, something almost alien in its aspect.
"Then don't threaten me," he responded, aware that everyone else in the room was watching the pair of them. "You've no idea of what I'm capable of. You think I'm some geeky little nerd, but don't let the glasses fool you - you're positively last century compared to me." Mark stepped back and turned away for a second before he looked back at Steph. She could see something boiling away under the surface, like there was something he wanted to get off his chest but he was prevented from saying it. He spun on his heels and stalked out of the building.
"Mmm, awkward." Ash said, and then followed Mark. Abbie looked at Ian, who then left the room. Steph looked at Abbie, who took a step towards the older lady.
"If you want," Abbie's tone was hushed, almost conspiratorial. "I could do him for you -- I can get close to him and deal with it. He might not see it coming from me."
"Thank you for the offer my dear," Steph said. "But when the time comes I want to be the one to do it."
Once they were outside of the warm confines of the Manor house, the quintet seemed to be dispersing towards their cars.
"Look, we need to talk about this." Ian said. Everyone stopped in their tracks, looking at each other.
"Okay -- what about Ian's place in ten minutes?" Abbie asked. Steph looked at Ash, then at Mark.
"Why there?" she asked.
"It's neutral ground." Mark said. "Well, as neutral as possible under the circumstances."
"I think we need to establish some ground rules," announced Ash once they were all seated in his musty study. "And the first one is quite simple. There's no way I would trust Hamilton with a deadly virus. If something went wrong and he was heading for a fall I judge that he would release it without a second thought. Does anyone disagree?" She waited a moment then when no one responded she continued. "Second though, I would really like to find out what he's really after if a doomsday virus isn't it."
"You have a point," said Abbie. "I'm curious about that too." Steph and Mark nodded, noticed each other doing it and abruptly stopped. Ian sat there with his hands steepled, giving nothing of his thoughts away.
"And thirdly," said Ash with a small smile, "I'm sure we could all think of things to do in a deserted central London for a few hours!" At this Ian couldn't restrain a predatory grin. After a moment Abbie joined him.
"So what you are saying dear is that we have to find an appropriate substitute for this Screamager virus." Steph took a deep breath and then continued reluctantly. "It seems to me that Mr Cooper is the only one of us with the technical ability to come up with something suitable."
"Why thank you, Lady Hearne," said Mark. "But do call me Mark, after all, I'd rather be on first name terms with any potential executioner," He looked across at Abbie at this point as well.
Steph sniffed. "I'd much rather call you a hearse! My guards were good men. However," she continued as Mark opened his mouth to retort, "I am unsure that all my targets were deserving of death. So since I agree that we cannot allow Hamilton the real thing I give my word that I will not have Mr Coop... Mark killed. I won't even blackball him from the County Ball next month."
"Oh good," said Abbie. "You can take me as your partner."
"Before we get sidetracked," said Ian sternly, "we need to know whether Mark can find or produce a convincing substitute."
All eyes turned to him. He looked down for a moment as he thought. Then he looked up. "It should be possible with a suitably complex molecular structure. Actually, according to my sources it isn't a virus. It's a trinary chemical agent. The binary component is a really nasty nerve gas while the third compound gives it an almost virus like ability to propagate. It was also supposed to denature after a while, but of course there was no way to test it. So it might just be very nasty indeed or it might really be doomsday. Nobody actually knows for certain after the initial tests on some little island off the coast of Scotland."
"So we are going to have to steal it anyway," said Ash. "If we do steal it though I want it destroyed."
"It will require careful preparation to do that, but given suitable acid and containment it should be possible, especially if we burn the whole setup afterwards at a very high temperature."
"So Mark has two things to prepare," said Steph. "Ian, can you provide any papers we might need."
"Yes," said Ian simply.
"That leaves the three of us for the theft ladies. Given my years I'll provide the Bentley and drive it."
"That leaves you and me, Lady Ash," said Abbie.
"Just Ash, Abbie. Yes that suits me. I wouldn't trust a man anyway. No offence," she added.
"And none taken I'm sure," said Ian. "It seems then that we have a plan. If we're to get through this, then we all work together. Agreed?" He looked at each one in turn.
"Yes," said Abbie.
"Agreed," said Steph.
"Groovy," said Mark.
"Yes," said Ash.
"This calls for a toast," said Ian.
"Two things though," added Ash. "First I still get to kill the rat when we find a way to keep ourselves safe."
"You have had the biggest upset. Agreed," said Steph.
"Second. Can we please not be Canadians next time?"
"I rather like that camouflage. Still I can get by in Danish. More so than anyone likely to stop us at least. So would Danish plates suit you, my lady?"
After breakfast the next morning Ash took the keys and got into the Range Rover. Carefully dilapidated it could give many sports cars a run for their money thanks to the hard work done by the owner of Beckbury Garage. It was a five minute drive to the small wood at the edge of Beckbury Common. Ash parked carefully and after a careful look round walked into the trees. About ten yards in there was a small mound by a tree that had been hit by lightning around ten years before. She reached into a blackened hole in it and pressed the button. There was a faint whirring and then part of the mound lifted smoothly and Ash entered. The original exit to the secret tunnel had been too manual for her taste but the updated version worked fine.
Ash closed the entrance and then checked the control box. None of the alarms had been set off. So she strode confidently down the tunnel. Getting to the entrance by road was far longer than the route of the tunnel. It was still a respectable two hundred yards underground before she reached the mansion which until recently had been her home.
The original part had been an early sixteenth century building noted for its unevenly sized rooms and small staircases. As with many other such mansions this had allowed the incorporation not only of the underground escape but also spy holes and a small hidden priest's hole where Catholic clergy could hide. These days though it fulfilled a less exalted purpose.
Ash quickly checked out the spy holes. The current bane of her life was ensconced in the study talking to someone on the phone. She was tempted to resolve her problem on the spot but the others had a point. She could relocate to Spain, Brazil or a number of other countries with little problem but many of the others were tied to the old country. It wouldn't be fair for her to ignore their needs. So she checked that the remainder of the secret observation points were intact and that the entrance to the house end of the tunnel was firmly bolted. Then she headed for the small hidden room that was now her armoury. She selected three MP5s -- Steph wouldn't want to feel she was being left out of the action -- and ammunition and a number of tiny shaped charged explosives and a selection of smoke and tear gas grenades. Pistols were already available to the three of them, of course. The bits and pieces went into a small rucksack and she set off.
She really needed to get the tunnel widened, she thought, as she knocked herself several times on the weapons as she headed back to the Range Rover through the tunnel. She loaded them into the back and spread an old tarpaulin over them before driving back to the lodge.
After checking her appearance and brushing off a few cobwebs and bits of stray vegetation she set off into the village. She exchanged greetings with several residents but only Karin stopped her to commiserate on her current difficulties. Ash managed to continue after several minutes and pondered Karin's offer. She had an acquaintance in Chile whom Karin was sure could disappear Herr Hamilton for Lady Ash. Something about needing new coverings for her lampshades!
Abbie's house when she reached it was a substantial thirties building. She knocked, and over a cup of tea they discussed the break-in. When they were reasonably satisfied they invited Steph over and went through things again. The repetition was important to avoid mistakes. Beside Steph had some useful points to make.
Then it was back to the lodge via the local post-office. Ash needed some stamps. The Postmistress was a lovely redhead with a Scottish accent Ash knew only as Siobhan. She too offered her 'professional' help, especially with a rifle. Ash promised that if anything occurred she would certainly call on her.
It just needed Ian's confirmation that Mark was ready and then they could set things into motion.
As the BMW series 8 pulled up in the sloping driveway of house, Ian wound down the window and pressed the buzzer on the intercom.
"Mark, its Ian. Open up." He said.
"Yeah, I'm in the garage." The response through the speaker was garbled and distorted -- then the gates slowly retracted. Ian drove his car up and parked it next to a partly restored Mustang that had been sitting in the drive. Ian got out of the BMW and approached the garage, pausing to see how the project was developing. The car now had a new interior it seemed, which was an improvement on the burned out shell that had been present less than a month ago.
Mark's garage had caused some consternation among the more established members of the Beckbury community when he had first arrived. The renovation work he had undertaken on the house itself had been approved -- applauded in fact as the property had been lying empty for some time after the previous owner had met with an unfortunate accident one night at a dinner party hosted by Lady Ash. From the reports in the local media at the time, it appeared that the late occupant of the property had suffered from a nasty case of lead poisoning.
The garage though was something entirely different. What had previously been a small brick construct that was capable of holding two cars was now something akin to a small aircraft hangar built just off to the side of the house. The residents had protested -- several of them approaching Ian about taking legal action, others about taking more direct action -- and their complaints had resulted in a town meeting.
That was the night when Mark had demonstrated his usefulness to the community at large.
Upon arrival at the town hall, Mark had proceeded to listen to each complaint in turn, duly noting the comments made by the powerful residents. When they had finished, he had produced a laptop from his briefcase. The display was fed through a projector and the lights dimmed. He then proceeded to explain how -- an hour before the meeting -- he had launched a small electronic drone to "buzz" the local RAF base just enough to provoke a response from them.