Neighbourhood Watch Ch. 01byStarscream_UK©
No one really pays that much attention to Beckbury – it's this tiny little village that's located slap bang in the middle of nowhere. It has a pub, a small grocery/hardware store, a nice 16th century church and a small legal practice. Most folks drive past it and don't even notice the road sign pointing out that it's there until they pass it. In fact, you'd almost think it was invisible.
But there's a reason for that.
Beckbury is known as a retirement community for those people looking to evade the long arm of the law from across the globe. High-risk jewel thieves, semi-retired "professionals" from various agencies and other people who've turned from the path of the righteous call Beckbury home. Forget the Costa Del Sol or any other exotic location; If you're wanted by the authorities, and you have the funds available, then you can buy yourself a nice little cottage here in Beckbury, safe in the knowledge that no one will come looking for you there.
But be warned – once you move in, the usual way out of Beckbury is in a body bag.
The white bikini did spectacular things to Lady Ash's already spectacular body. Well it ought to, she thought a trifle smugly, considering how much it had cost. Donnatella was such a dear though that she didn't begrudge the cost at all!
Ash was lying in a hammock set between two palm trees, with her head resting on a white pillow that emphasized her extravagant blonde hair. Her lips were glossed and her eyes were gently shadowed. Currently they were closed as she enjoyed the warmth of the Caribbean island.
"Who the hell are you?" said Lord Stratton as he walked down from the house accompanied by a large heavyset man Ash knew was called Winston.
Ash opened her eyes and turned her head. She looked at him for a moment and then sat up and swivelled until her feet just touched the sand.
"I'm Ash. Lady Ash," she announced. Lord Stratton obviously moved in the wrong circles. He went pale beneath his tan.
"Kill her!" he shouted.
Ash had slipped her hand beneath the pillow. Now she removed it. The silenced Glock didn't stop Winston's move to the big handgun in his waistband, but the line of bullets she ran across his ample chest stopped anything else. Winston crumpled to the sand with a shocked look on his face that smoothed out even as he fell.
"Don't kill me," begged Lord Stratton.
"Why ever not?" enquired Ash with interest.
"I have lots of money. I can pay you."
"I have lots of money too, darling. And I've already been paid to kill you."
"It's awfully nice talking to you and all that but those big men running towards me don't look all that friendly. So I'd better be going."
She placed a bullet into Lord Stratton's favourite brain and then emptied the magazine in the direction of the three heavies running towards her. They dropped flat and she turned and ran for the sea thirty yards away. She was halfway there before they registered that she wasn't firing at them any more. At the waters edge she tossed the gun into the water. The bag she'd used to keep it dry on her approach had long blown away. As she already knew the beach dropped away quickly and in a few yards she was swimming.
She looked over her shoulder. One heavy was kneeling by the late Lord Stratton but the other two had hauled out handguns and were nearly to the water's edge. Neither looked in especially good condition so after running their accuracy should leave a lot to be desired, but she dived anyway and changed direction once she was under the water. To her right she saw the passage of a bullet as it quickly lost velocity. After about forty seconds she surfaced, took a quick breath, and dived again, hearing the shots just as she disappeared.
Half a minute later she surfaced and gave the angry looking men a friendly wave. It would take a miracle for them to hit her now and so she set off towards the nearby headland using a powerful crawl. Her jet ski was tied to a rock just out of sight and she would be there long before anyone could reach the headland on foot.
After that it would be back to Beckbury. That lovely man George would be at the airfield with his Lear Jet. She'd had a phone call that Ian needed to see her just before she set off for Lord Stratton's little retreat.
She just hoped all this water wouldn't frizzle her hair. The swell was light and the water was beautifully warm. Probably much warmer than England! Still she could console herself about the coming privations with George once the autopilot was engaged. She'd long been a member of the Mile High Club
The rain was hammering down on the roof of the car – the sound inside was akin to pebbles being bounced off a large tin can. The repetitive noise only added to the frustration of the two occupants as they realised that their car wasn't responding on this rain-soaked afternoon.
"Why won't it start Ray?"
"I don't know Tiffany," Ray responded. "Maybe the engine is flooded?"
"Flooded? Well, I'd expect it to be with the number of times you've been trying to get it to turn over. You've probably drained the bloody battery as well."
"Just shut up for a minute will you," Ray said. "Where's your mobile?"
"It's here," Tiffany said as he tried the key in the ignition again. "But there's no signal."
"That's just great," Ray muttered. "Right, I'm sure we passed a house about a mile back – they might have a phone we can use."
"What? You're just going to leave me in the car here and go walking along a country lane in the middle of nowhere?"
"Well, yeah," Ray said. "You got a better plan?" Tiffany fumed.
"No," she said after a few seconds. Ray opened the door and grabbed his jacket.
"Okay, I'll be back in a bit."
Tiffany had been staring at her watch for what felt like an eternity when she heard the rapping on the window. She could just make out Ray's face with a beaming smile on it in the pouring rain. He motioned for her to wind down her window. She could see a figure shrouded in a large overcoat gesturing to Ray as well.
"Tiff, this bloke is going to tow us back to his house – he reckons he might be able to fix the problem with the car." Ray said before scooting around to the driver side again. As he got into the car a large shadowy truck pulled out of the gloomy afternoon weather and came to a halt in front of them.
Once it had stopped, the shrouded figure got out and attached a hook to the winch point on the underside of the car. He gave a "thumbs up" signal to Ray, who released the hand brake on the car.
"Did it not strike you as funny that he's dressed like a horror movie cliché?" Tiffany asked. Ray shook his head.
"He could be dressed in drag for all I care," he said as the large truck pulled them along the lane. "The important thing is that we get the car sorted out if we are hoping to get to your sister's wedding."
"Fair enough," Tiffany sighed. "But if he turns out to be a psycho I'm holding you responsible."
Two hours later, both Ray and Tiffany were standing in a state of the art kitchen with cups of tea in their hands. They were awaiting the return of their mysterious benefactor who had left them alone, dunking chocolate digestives into the steaming hot liquid in their mugs. As they sat in silence at a stainless steel breakfast bar, the sound of hinges squeaking and a door opening prompted them to look around.
"Fixed it." The voice came from the opening. "It was the ignition coil like I thought."
"Oh right," Ray said as he struggled to see the figure behind the door. "Look, thanks again for coming out and towing the car here, erm, mister..."
"Mark, just call me Mark." The figure stepped out of the doorframe and into the kitchen. "Also, your master brake cylinder was on the way out so I replaced that as well."
"Shit? Seriously?" Tiffany asked. Mark nodded. "Wow, I don't know what to say." She paused for a moment, trying not to sound patronising. "What do we owe you for it?"
"Oh, don't worry about it." Mark replied. "Consider it my attempt to top up my karma." He joked.
"No, no, please, we've got to give you something for your time."
"No, you really don't." Mark said. "However, you could do me a huge favour on your way to your wedding," he walked across the kitchen and picked up a pile of envelopes. He came back to Ray and Tiffany, handing them to the attractive young woman. "Can you post these for me when you leave the village? I forgot to do it when I went out earlier for milk."
"Sure," Ray answered. "Well, we'd better get a move on if we're going to make this wedding." Mark escorted the couple back to their car. "So, we just go back on the road we were on and carry on until we reach the dual carriageway, right?"
"Bingo," Mark said. "Drive carefully."
"We will," Tiffany said as she hugged the stranger. "And thanks for your help – where is this place by the way?"
"Beckbury," Mark answered as Tiffany got into the car. The engine fired up and he watched them as they drove away. "Okay, Abbie, you can come out now." The figure sloped out of one of the corners of the garage and stepped into view. Mark turned around and looked at the woman dressed in a pair of jeans and a form-fitting black tee-shirt. Her brown hair was tied back in a ponytail. "How long have you been skulking back there?"
"Long enough to know that they weren't locals," Abbie replied. "I've never known you to do the Good Samaritan routine."
"Oooh, there's plenty of things that you don't know about me Abbie," Mark replied as he scooped up a remote control to close the garage doors. "And I could say the same about you too." He looked at his visitor. "However, it's nice to know that I can still spring the odd surprise on you. Cup of tea?"
"Please." Abbie replied as she followed Mark into the kitchen.
The private airfield was barely able to accommodate the Lear Jet. Ash took her time saying a fond farewell to the pilot and then stepped out towards the building that acted as terminal, control tower and offices. Her boots splashed in the puddles, and she pulled up the fur collar of her coat as the cold wind made its presence felt. As she reached the doorway she turned and watched as the jet thundered along the runway and then climbed away as if it were a fighter plane. A smile touched her face. "Show off!" she said quietly.
Then she walked inside to encounter the smell of wet clothes and overused heaters. She frowned slightly as she spotted Steph sitting at a table. The frown wasn't due to Steph. The two aristocratic women more than tolerated each other, although they were sufficiently similar in approach to sometimes set the sparks flying. No what bothered her was the sight of Ian Atkins sitting beside her. Beckbury's solicitor was not someone she was expecting to see.
"Good flight?" enquired Steph as she made her way through the cheap tables. She was distantly aware that nearly all the men in the room, perhaps fifteen or twenty were staring at her, but that was normal. Ian stood politely as she arrived."
"Lovely, thank you," replied Ash. She turned her attention to Ian. "Ian, I wasn't expecting you when Steph kindly agreed to collect me."
"I'm afraid I have some news that wouldn't wait."
"It will be more secure in the Bentley," said Steph. The three of them walked to the small car park and Steph got behind the wheel. Ash walked round and got into the passenger seat while Ian sat in the back and set about pouring drinks for himself and Ash.
"Well?" said Ash.
"We have a problem in the village. More to the point you have a particular problem. Someone called Ed Davis has managed to expropriate your mansion."
"That bloody man. I told him I wasn't interested in selling. How did he manage to do something that outrageous?"
"A moment please, Lady Ash," interrupted Steph as she pulled over on a quiet stretch of road. "Ian, would you do the honours please?"
"Certainly my lady," he replied. He opened the glove compartment and removed the CD badges and the two Canadian flags. Then he got out and fitted them. There were subdued clicks from the ends of the Bentley as the number plates rotated. Then they were away at a much higher speed.
"We shouldn't be interrupted on our journey now," said Steph. "Please carry on, Ian."
"It's the Charter, Lady Ash. What he did was rather clever actually. As the charter requires he duly placed the advert in consecutive editions of the London Gazette, and also the Beckbury Journal announcing his intention to assume the title to your property, and then he substituted his own fakes for the real editions in the village. The Journal only has a run of 176 copies while there are only two subscriptions to the Gazette here. Not a terribly difficult achievement then. So no-one knew what was happening. You were in the Caribbean on business, as you usually are at this time of the year. Doubtless he took that into account in his timing. The end result was that no objections were raised and the transfer became legal."
"We managed to save your personal clothing and the like," said Steph apologetically, "and the title to the gatehouse was separate, and so you still own that."
"Oh thank you so much!" said Ash. "Why didn't you just lean on him? It doesn't matter anyway. I'll have to discourage him. Permanently."
"I'm afraid the village can't allow that, Lady Ash," said Steph in a cold voice.
"We did lean on him, but the obnoxious little man has accumulated enough information to jeopardize too many of our community. And you know there must be no crime in Beckbury. The Chief Constable is just dying to get his nose in here, and the Council would love to be able to levy Community Charge on the residents. We can't afford anything that would bring down Henry VIII's charter."
"It was before all our time, of course," said Ian, "but the records indicate that when the last crime was reported, that of the theft of a horse in 1912, it took the Great War to calm things down. We can't risk anything happening in these more enlightened times."
"There is another disturbing thing as well," added Steph. "He's asked us to perform various 'favours' now that he is part of the community. I have no idea how he obtained the various pieces of information he is holding over us, but they are distressingly complete and accurate."
"I'm going to kill him," announced Ash.
"Of course you are, my dear," said Steph. "But not anywhere near Beckbury, and not until we've solved the blackmail problem."
"We could kidnap him and torture the information out of him," suggested Ash with relish in her voice.
"It is not certain that would keep the information private," said Steph, the regret in her voice obvious. "So many of us have too much to lose. I can't accept any possibility that my late husband's title could be besmirched."
"I don't see it that way," said Ash defiantly.
"You are a talented and charming young woman," said Steph. "I would hate to kill you. But I will if you can't be constructive about this situation." In the village Steph was believed to have killed at least thirty people while officially working for the Foreign Office. No-one wanted to challenge her, not even Ash.
"I am sure that with all the various talent we have in the village some solution can be found," said Ian.
"So," Mark said as he put his mug down. "What do you need for tonight?"
"Not sure," Abbie replied. "It just seems like a straight forward clean up job."
"How many?" Mark asked as he opened a tin. Abbie could hear his hand rummaging around inside, then he revealed a rich tea biscuit. He offered the tin to her and she took one.
"Three, including the target," Abbie said. "So it should be pretty routine."
"How long has it been between jobs?" Mark seemed genuinely concerned. Abbie pondered the question for a minute.
"About three months, why?"
"No, reason." He answered. "Whatcha taking with you?" Mark asked as he slurped his tea. Abbie shrugged her shoulders.
"My winning smile." She answered. "Oh, and one of those electronic bypass kit things of yours." Mark nodded, got up and walked across the kitchen. He opened a small cupboard next to the oven and lifted out a packet. He handed it back to Abbie.
"Sounds good, do you need a lift?" Abbie shook her head.
"No, I should be okay thanks."
The building was quiet – pretty much as she'd expected. Abbie had been watching it for just over an hour now and knew that whatever security there would be would be minimal by now according to the details of the contract. She made sure that the bypass kit was secured safely to her belt for the second phase of the operation, but for the first part of tonight's agenda she had a slightly more brazen approach planned.
The guard behind the desk saw the woman knocking on the large glass doors to Cannon House and he initially shooed her away with his hand, gesturing for her to leave. She continued to rap on the glass, the sound starting to irritate him. He got up from behind the desk and walked across.
"We're closed." He said, trying to make himself heard through the glass. She was saying something but he couldn't make it out. He shook his head as he reached for the keys attached to his belt. The lock made a heavy thunk sounds as the mechanism completed it's action.
"Thank god you opened the door," Abbie said, her voice strained and anxious. "My car has broken down around the corner and I need some help getting the spare tyre on – my boyfriend and I had a huge row tonight and I..." she looked at the guard with pleading eyes. "Please, can you help me?"
The guard looked back at his desk, then at the attractive woman standing in the door way. He shook his head slightly – it wouldn't hurt, after all, he wasn't the only security officer on duty tonight.
"Okay, where is it?" He said as he stepped out into the cool night air.
"It's just around the corner," Abbie said, gesturing towards the right hand side of the building – the side that didn't have any ground floor windows. He began to walk along the pathway with Abbie beside him. "I just feel like such an idiot, I mean, a flat tyre."
"Don't worry about it love," the guard replied. As they approached the corner Abbie dropped back slightly. "Happens all the time..." he said as they rounded the corner. He stopped in his tracks as he saw the empty road. "Where's...?" Abbie glanced left and right quickly as the question was forming on his lips, reached up and grasped his head, twisting it sharply to the left, then to the right. As his neck snapped she felt his body shudder as it landed in her repositioned arms.
Despite his weight, Abbie was able to hide it in the bushes that ran along the path. She knew this wouldn't disguise the body in daylight, but at night it would be almost impossible to see without specifically looking for it – or drunkenly stumbling upon it. Taking a moment to remove his keys from his belt, Abbie turned around and made her way back to the front door of the building.
She had no idea what would be waiting for her when the elevator doors opened. When they did Abbie was pressed against the side of the lift, cautiously poking her head out and looking down the corridor. Her target's office was the last door on the right, but there should be another guard. As she stepped out of the lift she realised where he was.
"Hey, who the hell are you?"
"Shit..." she muttered as she saw him walking towards her, his portly figure straining the uniform he was wearing.
"What the hell are you doing here?" He demanded.
"I haven't got time for this." She said, aware of the commotion that could be easily heard in the office down the corridor. She stepped towards the guard.
"Just stay there, I'm going to call Dean," the guard said as he reached for the telephone. Abbie moved quicker, clearing the few feet between them in a matter of seconds, drawing her fist back in the process. The guard was oblivious to the punch as he scooped up the receiver. The force of the punch made him release the device as he staggered back slightly. Abbie caught it mid-air, pulling the cord taught and wrapping it around his chubby neck swiftly as he struggled to stay on his feet.