Minerva Ch. 06 of 10byDenham_Forrest©
To be honest with you, I was in a bit of a daze as Sandra helped me pack my gear. You know, I hadn't the foggiest idea of where I was going even. But I did think to mention my editor to her; Sandra assured me that he'd be taken care of. Not the best form of words she could have chosen, under the circumstances.
After scrutinising the road in both directions, the two Gorillas (Bernie and Marco) hurried over to take my bags as we exited the block. Then they closely flanked me as we crossed the road to John Carpenter's Range Rover, where Harcourt introduced him and Bert, the guy sitting in the rear seat, who addressed Harcourt as boss.
As John Carpenter pulled away, Bernie and Marco followed behind in the Audi. Looking around, I noted that both of the police cars stayed with us for a very long time. Where Sandra and Harcourt went, or in what vehicle, I have no idea.
We travelled towards London for an hour or so, swinging south onto the M25 that took us around the metropolis. I was completely lost by the time we'd left the motorway and then appeared to travel in ever decreasing circles along progressively narrower country lanes.
'Ere I'm not daft; I watched the sun as we went. Our route, after we left the motorway was quite definitely circular and we went round more than once. Eventually John Carpenter appeared to be satisfied that we weren't being followed, and he pulled into a smallish country hotel. There, with little or no formality, I was led up to a room on the second floor; it was apparent that we'd been expected. Bernie and Marko were in the two rooms on either side of mine. I was to gather later that John Carpenter had taken all the rooms on that floor in advance.
Later I noted that some guy, who was dressed as a room service waiter one minute, and a hotel porter at other times, appeared to have taken up permanent residence at the top of the stairs. Actually it might have been two different guys; I can't say I studied them closely. Whatever he was, he and the two gorillas nodded to each other as if they were more than mere acquaintances when we first passed him.
"Is all this cloak and dagger stuff really necessary?" I asked John Carpenter when we finally got into my room.
"I don't know Gil, you tell me? I've been hired to ensure that you are still alive in seven days time. Now, if someone is worried enough about your health to lash out for all this security, do you think that it isn't necessary? Mr Harcourt seems to think that someone has already tried to kill you once. Are you willing to take that chance?"
"I think Harcourt is most likely exaggerating the risk. Look, that accident was years ago and nothing has happened since."
"Didn't Mr Harcourt tell you that a certain old lady has died recently? That's what this is all about isn't it; her death and what happens to her fortune?
"Yeah, and Harcourt seems to think she set me up to smoke out the skeletons."
"Well what if he is right? If that is the case, then you need all the security I can offer. That is what I'm being paid to do, to keep you safe and well for the next seven days at least."
"And after that?"
"Ah now, as I understand it, you'll be a very rich man and we can discuss what arrangements you believe are required then.
"Or, I'll be dead!"
"No, I doubt that, not with the people I've got around you, anyway. Mind you, they might smother you a little sometimes. But I would suggest that if anything unusual happens, you listen to what they tell you to do. If in doubt, hit the dirt first."
"Mr Carpenter, not one usual thing has happened to me today! What the hell has happened to my life?"
---- ---- ---- ---- ----
I spent most of what was left of the afternoon playing cards in my room, with either Bernie or Marco. Later, I went down to dinner with the two of them hovering over me like a pair of overcautious nannies. Eventually we had a long discussion about that, and they backed off a little.
After dinner I spent the evening in the bar with them. Actually I'd got to really like the two gorillas. Even if I did think that I wouldn't like to unexpectedly run across either of them on a dark night. For all of their size and... well... anyway, they appeared to be surprisingly normal guys under the surface who took great pleasure and pride, in showing me photographs of their wives and children.
It was the other guys who I weren't so sure about. They were there all the time, but kind of weren't at the same time. Eventually I worked out that there must have been at least eight or ten of the buggers.
You know, there is something about a professional military man that makes him stand out from the crowd. Much like Cops, they carry an air about with them.
These other guys, to all intents and purposes were hotel staff; well, I think they were supposed to be. Everything from porters to gardeners; including dining room waiting staff, the barmen and the guy who always seemed to be kicking around behind the reception desk, but didn't appear to actually do anything.
There were far too many staff kicking around for a hotel of that size, if you get my drift!
From where I was standing, they looked out of place. And of course the little nods that they exchanged with Bernie and Marco, whenever we moved from one room to another, didn't help to disguise what their real purpose for being there was.
Mind you, I suppose I was expecting, or even looking out for them.
Bernie and I sat in the bar exercising our right arms and resolving all the problems, that seem to flummox our World's great leaders, for some time, before I... we staggered up to bed.
Well, I needed something to take my mind off the need for all that security around me. God alone knows what time we went to bed that night.
---- ---- ---- ---- ----
John Carpenter reappeared, when the three of us were going into breakfast the following morning. A very handsome woman, whom he introduced as his wife, Helen, accompanied him. Their arrival prompted Bernie and Marco to head for a separate table in the dining room.
Once we'd taken our seats at a table, Helen Carpenter -- after pouring all three of us coffee -- launched into a long inquisition about my relationship with Lady Minerva.
There's not much point in me going through all that again here, because what I told her would be repeating my conversation with Sandra and Harcourt from the previous day. Anyway it was obvious Helen Carpenter knew exactly who Minerva was, from the start. But I noted, that she never once referred to her as Kylie. That implied to me that Helen Carpenter had never actually met Kylie, or ,if she had, Kylie hadn't... well chosen her as a close friend.
I don't know if you've ever had the dubious pleasure of being questioned by the police, especially when they know something that you don't. But, whilst Helen was interrogating me -- because that was what she did, even if she did try to be subtle about it -- I got the distinct feeling that she knew something that I didn't know.
Hey no, not about Kylie, I got the feeling Helen was trying to get... I'm not sure, possibly get the feel of Kylie as a person, out of me.
But there was something completely different about the way Helen talked that made me feel that she knew something I didn't. And that feeling didn't concern Lady Minerva, no I got the feeling that there was something about Lady Tanya Simpson, that I wasn't fully aware of.
Look, I might not be a very good reporter, but after while you get an instinct about these things. I tried to pump Helen a little, but she sussed me straight away, and made it very clear who was running, or steering, the conversation.
After that, Helen just gave me a wry smile whenever I mentioned Tanya Simpson. That assured me, that she knew something that she had no intention of telling me.
After breakfast the Carpenters took me by surprise by suggesting that I got changed into something a little more formal. John implying that we were shortly going to meet Tanya Simpson's legal representatives on this earth.
Why this should require me to be formally attired, I didn't know; but I suppose I was getting used to doing as I was asked by then.
Once I'd changed into a suit, we set off in John's Range Rover again. Bernie and Marcos leading in a Vauxhall this time, and we were trailed by a white Transit van that appeared to have little difficulty in keeping up with the fast pace Bernie set, weaving around those country lanes.
Again it was a somewhat unnecessarily protracted journey, that I'm sure didn't take us all that far as the crow flies from the hotel.
As I had done the day before, I kept my eye on the sun and ascertained that, for a while, we literately went around in circles again. My escort was obviously making completely sure that we weren't being followed.
Then very suddenly Marco pulled to the side of the road; John drove past the Vauxhall and turned into a private drive that led up to an impressive looking house.
It wasn't a very large mansion or anything, but it weren't the sort of house that most people could afford to live in.
As we climbed out of the Range Rover, I noted that the Transit van that had been behind us, had stopped just inside the entrance to the drive, blocking it completely, and several men had got out of it along with Bernie and Marco. Numerous more people, who had appeared as if from nowhere, greeted them and then they fanned out in different directions around the house and gardens.
I didn't see where those guys eventually went, or what they were doing because John called to me and then led the way to the front door of the house. There he introduced me to a Mr Ronny Mackintosh, who John described as Lady Tanya's Solicitor.
That was the instant something finally sank home. Helen Carpenter had mentioned Lady Tanya Simpson, just a couple of times, but she'd referred to her in the present tense. Suddenly John Carpenter had done the same thing; he'd referred to Ronny Mackintosh with the word "is" Lady Tanya's solicitor, not "was"!
Okay, it could have been a slip of the tongue, and Mackintosh was still acting on Tanya Simpson's behalf. But for some inexplicable reason, that wasn't the impression that I was getting.
John and Helen didn't follow us, as Ronny Mackintosh showed me into a very plush drawing room.
After firmly closing the door behind us he announced.
"Mr Gilroy Jameson, milady!" Then followed that up with the words. "Mr Jameson, Lady Tanya Simpson!"
I wasn't completely taken by surprise, although I honestly hadn't noticed the old lady sitting in the big wingback chair over by the fireplace. She stood, then smiled and held out her hand to me.
"Gilroy, I'm so pleased to meet you at last. I must apologise for all the misinformation you've been fed in the last twenty-four hours. But I am assured that it was necessary."
I'll admit that I didn't hear the door open and close as Ronny Mackintosh left the room. I must have looked like a complete idiot as I stood there staring at a dead woman. Well someone who I'd been assured was no longer of this earth.
I was still standing gobsmacked and staring at Lady Tanya's outstretched hand, when a door the other side of the room opened and some guy (if I wasn't mistaken another soldier, or ex-military man anyway) appeared carrying a loaded tea tray.
His arrival in the room did at least break me out of my trance, and I stepped forward to take Lady Tanya's proffered hand. To be honest I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to kiss, or shake, the old lady's hand; I settled for the latter. Her ladyship smiled at my fumbled efforts, and then gestured for me to take the seat opposite hers.
The guy had placed the tray on a small table beside Lady Tanya's chair and then disappeared as quickly as he'd come.
"I'm sorry Gilroy, but Mr Mackintosh and Mr Carpenter assured me that the deception was necessary. They said that we have no idea if you are still being watched. George Harcourt has no idea that I'm still alive, by the way."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand what's going on... er, milady?"
"Tanya please, Gilroy. Lady Tanya if you wish to remain formal, but I'd prefer just plain Tanya. I think, or rather hope, that once we get acquainted, we are going to become close friends. Yes, I can understand that you are confused, so I'll try to explain everything to you as well as I'm able."
Lady Tanya stopped speaking whilst she very daintily poured two cups of tea. One of which -- after enquiring whether I took sugar -- she handed to me and then she proffered a platter of biscuits.
I'm afraid that I was still in shock and running on autopilot by then. I suddenly found myself sitting there like a complete bleeding prune, a cup and saucer in one hand, and a biscuit in the other with nowhere to place either. I'm sure that Tanya Simpson left me in that embarrassing position for a few moments on purpose.
"Now Gilroy, I'll start at the beginning. In the last year or so, there have been at least two attempts on my life that we are aware of. And I'm told that there might have been more that we are unaware off.
About three weeks ago, there was another rather clumsy attempt to poison me. John, Ronald and the police tell me they have a very good idea of who the perpetrator of that attempt was, but they don't know for sure why they are trying to... hurry my departure from this life. Nor does there appear to be any actual proof that the suspected culprit was the one who tried to poison me.
And, more importantly according to my security advisors, we have no proof as to who employed them to ensure my early demise."
Lady Tanya finally took pity on me and, with a smile, she stood and moved a small table to within my reach, so that I could put my cup and saucer down.
"I'm sorry my boys are security experts, they don't make the most efficient house staff." She added as an aside, then continued.
"Ronny Mackintosh decided that it was time to take action of some kind, that might, if everything goes to plan, trap whoever is behind these attempts to... do away with me."
"Well surely it will have to be someone who will benefit financially from your death." I suggested.
"You would think so wouldn't you? But they would have to at least know of any inheritance and logically that could only be my niece Minerva. And now, you of course! But you had no idea you would benefit from my demise, did you? So logically that only leaves Minerva, or someone close to her."
I'm not sure what Lady Tanya read in my expression, but it must have portrayed something to her.
"Ah yes, that was how I hoped you'd react. You still love Minerva, don't you?""
"I don't think so..." I began to argue.
"Oh don't talk balderdash Gilroy. I've had people watching you very closely for years now. You've not had one meaningful relationship, since Minerva and you were together at the Cliff Head Hotel."
I sat there and stared back at Tanya. I really had no idea what to say.
"Gilroy, Kylie as you know her, was just as taken with you, as you were with her; even more so, if I understand things correctly. What in heavens name led up to her getting married to Fabian Bellushi, I have no idea.
"And what's more, my suspicions have since been raised about that marriage because my niece has not once returned to the UK since the wedding. In consequence I haven't had the opportunity to ask her what led up to her taking that step, in person. When I spoke to her on the telephone, she was... well, a little vague about everything. More worryingly, especially where you were concerned."
I did attempt to get her ladyship to clarify here, but Lady Tanya is not someone you can interrupt when she's on a roll, if you understand me. Unless I got my timing perfect and caught her on a breath intake, I soon learnt that I was wasting my time -- although sometimes she would hear me.
"That's always assuming that they were ever properly married in the first place; I have never trusted William Burgess!"
Of course, I could work out, up to a point, what Tanya Simpson was telling me. I kind-a hazarded a guess that William Burgess had to be Kylie's uncle, but I needed a little confirmation.
I can't say that I understood where the old lady was heading with her line of conversation -- or should I phrase that diatribe -- though.
To be honest there were too many questions rushing around in my head to think of any particular ones to ask Tanya; it was all I could manage just to react to anything Tanya Simpson said.
"Lord William?" I repeated, sort of hoping that she'd affirm my conclusion.
"William Burgess doesn't hold a title, Gilroy!" Lady Tanya replied with a surprised tone to her voice, almost as if she expected me to know the fact already.
"Although I am well aware that he has used Minerva's title to infer that he does hold one himself. She was his ward, and as she has a title... I'm afraid that quite a few people have drawn the incorrect conclusion that William Burgess has one as well.
"No, William Burgess is Minerva's father's, illegitimate younger half-brother. He has no title that I'm aware of. His father acknowledged him of course, but as far as I'm aware there was no attempt to make the union or the birth legitimate.
"There couldn't be, his lordship's first wife was still alive... and divorce... Well no, the family would have none of that nonsense back in those days."
Lady Tanya stopped speaking for a few seconds, then took a deep breath and sighed.
"It has always been my great regret that I was out of the country when my brother in law, Minerva's father and her brother died. At that time, I had rebelled against my upbringing a little; I'd always favoured the bohemian lifestyle. Anyway, I was married to an anthropologist and we were living in a mud hut in the jungles of New Guinea somewhere, making a film about the ramifications of the twentieth century's encroachment on the lives of primitive tribesmen."
Tanya smiled wistfully to herself, and then looked at me, as if expecting a reaction of some kind. But I was still trying to understand why she was telling me about her own marriage.
When I didn't react she carried on.
"By the time we returned to civilisation, I'm sorry to say that William Burgess had become firmly entrenched as Minerva's guardian. Not that I'd ever trusted the man myself. But it was a fait accompli by then, and there was nothing I could do about it, without going to the courts.
"I feared that, had a legal action failed, doing so might have made it extremely difficult for me to stay in contact with the child later."
Lady Tanya stopped speaking yet again and sat there for a long time with a thoughtful expression on her face.
"It was a mistake! I should have risked going to court when I had the chance. Although I did manage to stay in fairly close contact with Minerva right up until... Well, until she met you at the Hotel to be precise. You know, she thought a lot of you, Gilroy?"
Her ladyship gave me a smile that I assume was supposed to tell me something. All I really gleaned from it; was that Lady Tanya had to have been a strikingly beautiful woman herself at one time.
However, I also got the message that Lady Tanya thought that Kylie had fallen in love with me.
"I don't understand, in a matter of months she'd married that Fabian guy." I replied.
"I never could understand that either, Gilroy. Minerva had never held any romantic feelings for the boy that I was aware of. Ben Johnson didn't think she did either."
"Benjamin Johnson, the bodyguard William hired; I'd turned him very early on. I think that's the correct description for it; John and Ronnie have been educating me in the last few months.
"Anyway, Ben was feeding me information almost from the instant he was employed to watch over Minerva. He kept me informed of everything that was going on right up until William Burgess fired him."