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Monthly Archives: March 2011

MAGIC MUSHROOMS – KILLER OMELETTE


1 tbsp. olive oil
5 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz. cep, chanterelles, morels, or other wild
mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 eggs
2 tbsp. crème fraîche
Leaves from 1 sprig fresh tarragon, chopped

1. Heat oil and 2 tbsp. of the butter together in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until soft, 3–5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until soft, 3–5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe skillet clean with paper towels and set aside.

2. Crack eggs into a medium bowl and thoroughly beat with a fork. Add crème fraîche and tarragon, season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix well.

3. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter in the skillet. Pour eggs into skillet and keeping it away from heat, turn it around so that the egg mixture spreads around like a pancake. Return to heat. When eggs are starting to set (in about 30 seconds), spoon mushroom filling down center of eggs. Carefully fold sides of omelette over filling and cook for 1 minute more. Slide omelette onto a warm serving platter with shavings of parmesan and fresh tarragon leaves.

 
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Posted by on 25/03/2011 in Uncategorized

 

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EASTERN PROMISE – BAKLAVA


Baklava

Veg

Ingredients

  • 18 sheets ready-made filo pastry (unwrap and keep under a damp tea-towel until you are ready to use)
  • 225g/8oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 225g/8oz  walnuts, very finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom and 2 tbsp sultanas (optional)
For the syrup
  • 350g/12oz granulated sugar
  • 300ml/10 fl oz water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice plus 1 lemon and 1 orange, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp orange blossom water

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  2. Grease a 17cm x 28cm (11in x 7in) baking tray with butter.
  3. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over low heat or in a microwave.
  4. Lay 10 sheets of filo pastry, one at a time, into the tray, brushing each sheet with butter before adding the next.
  5. In a clean bowl, mix together the nuts, sugar and cardamom and sultanas (if used) and spread the mixture over the pastry in the tray.
  6. Layer up the remaining sheets on top of the nut mixture, brushing each sheet with butter, as before.
  7. Using a sharp knife, cut a diamond pattern into the top layers of the pastry.
  8. Place baklava in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and cook for an additional half hour to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is slightly puffed and golden on top. Do not allow the top to burn. Remove and allow to cool slightly.
  9. For the syrup, heat the sugar, water, lemon juice and orange blossom water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the sugar has melted and a syrup is formed. (This will take about 20 minutes or so.) Half way through, add the slices of lemon and orange.
  10. Pour the syrup into the slits in the baklava, arrange the lemon and orange slices evenly over the top and  leave to cool. Cut through  into  diamond-shaped pieces following the original slits in the top pastry and serve.
 
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Posted by on 25/03/2011 in Uncategorized

 

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HIDING THE ELEPHANT Excerpt from Chapter 14


Chapter 14

‘Mark my words, the Fraser woman will wriggle out of it.  One’s got to be realistic about those things. You can see for yourself. The reality is nothing like cops and robbers on the telly, is it, Dr. Martin, where everyone gets their just deserts. Did you watch the final episode of “Dead by Agreement” on Friday night?’

Emma realises that Lewis has been talking for some time and nods, quickly, untruthfully. She watched the recording yesterday morning while Phil was sleeping off his night shift. Before she started on his breakfast. Then she sneaked the tape noiselessly back into the VCR in the bedroom. She had to see it before him; he could have asked questions.

‘Nothing like it, this, is it? Just a lot of waiting, hanging about, biding your time. Is DI Grant likely to overreact again? What do you think?’ Lewis has found a tube of Polo mints in the tray between the car seats and is struggling to release the top one out of its tight packaging.

‘People who work with him have more knowledge of how he performs under pressure than I do,’ Emma says dully, unable to ease herself into the part expected from her. Her mind is still on Lynda Fraser, on that Tuesday, on Friday night and Saturday morning, all blurred into one, tightly woven into a sackcloth she is destined to wear no matter what happens next.

‘Not this kind of pressure. And you know more than you may think. One way or another, you’ve been with him all the way. Throughout the past week, throughout the investigation. You wouldn’t be here otherwise, y’see. Would you say he took this investigation personally?’

It’s getting cold, there’s hardly any air left and the immobility makes her restless. Emma rolls down the window to let fresh air in.

‘Don’t think so. He didn’t know any of the people involved before it all started. Not his usual scene, was it. He said that often enough.’

‘I bet.’ Lewis is making his way steadily through the mints, picking them from his hand by squeezing the tip of his tongue through the hole in the middle. ‘He nearly didn’t get in.’

‘Sorry?’

‘I’ve read his file. I’m not sure I should be telling you this…’

‘Oh, yes, you are. You know exactly what you want to tell me and why you are telling me.’

Lewis’ bell-like laugh rolls easily over her barbed guard. ‘Okay, right, I do hope to get something out of it. But you’re quite wrong about the rest of it. I have no idea what rules I’m about to break. Staff files are confidential, y’see. I may be thrown into the Tower yet.’

‘I hope they serve hot-dogs there. He nearly didn’t get in where?’ She kicks off her shoes and lifts her freezing feet onto the seat, wrapping the toes into the comparative warmth of the Mac.

‘Not many university graduates get into the Force in the first place. You didn’t know that, did you. The Force likes to shape its people itself.  It’s the attitude that matters, y’see. Grant’s attitude was suspect. He’s like a man on a mission, wrote one of the interviewing officers.’

‘And that’s wrong? The Force doesn’t want missionaries?’ Emma doesn’t mean it as a joke, but gets another laugh nevertheless.

‘You bet. PC Plod who knows his powers and limitations wins every time. A bright spark that can get off on a tangent and out of control is too risky, y’see. Think about it, Dr. Martin. Inspector Grant’s record is good, nay, excellent. Leader from the front, not above rolling up his sleeves, dirtying his hands, jumping a fence or two. He delivers. He’s always delivered. But, after fourteen years he’s still just an inspector. His kind gets onto the accelerated promotion programme from the start, y’see. In career development terms he’s busy under-achieving right left and centre. I’ve just listened to a tape recording of one of his initial interviews. A well spoken young man he was…’

‘He still is.’ Now, what did she want to say that for?

‘Oh, I’m sure. Never met him personally, y’see. He’s stationed in Wellingborough, I’m with the Northampton backroom boys. As I was saying, a well spoken, articulate young man he was even then, but intense, uptight. Now, here’s the crunch that maybe you could help me with. He was asked why he wanted to join the Force. You’d expect that, wouldn’t you. Excuse me …’ Lewis’ system revolts against the onslaught of little round mints and he belches, loudly, then continues unabashed. ‘Inspector Grant said he felt he had a debt to pay. Put something back.’

‘What’s wrong with that? As you say, that was fourteen years ago. He was twenty two. Young and idealistic.’

Lewis shakes his head vigorously. ‘You don’t understand. There was a pause. I listened to it several times over. There was definitely a pause. What he actually said was ‘I have a debt to pay.’ He added ‘put something back’ as an afterthought, y’see. Has he never told anything about it to your sister? I’m sure he must have said something to you.’

Jesus! He knows. She doesn’t know how he could but he does. She just shakes her head, speechless.

‘We’ve talked to a few of his mates from Oxford,’ Lewis continues smoothly and it’s obvious that there’s some pattern to this, a well honed and tried out technique of giving out seemingly random, casual information and picking up the missing pieces in return. ‘Kevin Corrigan is a successful solicitor in Loughborough. Says he was amazed when Grant suddenly changed his tack and joined the Force. His understanding had been that in rebellion against the parents, the famous Hamilton Grants, he wanted to enter a lucrative private career of his own instead of looking after the Family business, as they hoped he was going to.’

‘As I said, he was young and idealistic,’ Emma repeats stubbornly. She isn’t going to get caught into that game. Not even if she had any knowledge or understanding of what Lewis was talking about.

‘Corrigan directed us to Alex Carroll, Grant’s best friend at Oxford,’ Lewis continues. ‘Carroll had been as surprised as anyone else, he said. Grant had never shown any interest in the police before and the news of him joining just like that blew him over, he said. What’s more, Grant severed all the ties with all his school friends. Never initiated any contact, never encouraged any.’

‘Fast work,’ Emma snorts. ‘How have you managed to collect all the information that fast? How did you know who his friends used to be and where to find them?’

Her companion doesn’t answer immediately. As if weighing up the benefits of any disclosure. ‘It’s all been sitting there in his file for ages….from the start…’

‘His file?!’ Emma cries. ‘You keep a file on him?’

Lewis still isn’t sure how much to say, it seems. ‘It’s not as bad as it looks. But, back there, as you can imagine, certain amount of caution was necessary. I mean,’ he shrugged as if it was all of very little importance, just a casual chat, ‘all officers have to be vetted. Doctors like you are vetted…’ He smiled disarmingly. ‘But,’ it was as if he couldn’t resist putting it into words, ‘but there was bound to be a heightened interest in the motives of the son of Hamilton Grants, the known dissidents…’

‘No, not dissidents,’ she protests. ‘They’re… free thinkers. Philosophers,’ and suddenly she realises that she doesn’t know very much more now than she knew on Tuesday. Simon never explained. Just refused. Point blank.

‘Well, whatever,’ Lewis nods good-naturedly. ‘The file hasn’t been amended or updated for years. As I said, it’s not as bad as it looks.’ He’s finished off his coffee and holds the plastic cup in his hand as if wondering what to do with it. ‘Of course that’ll change now…’

‘Oh, no, don’t even think of saying it.’

He smiles and pats her knee quickly. ‘I don’t mean… I mean, nothing drastic will happen here…  No, no, you mustn’t think … I was thinking of the break-up of his marriage. Your sister seems to have left him.’

‘She didn’t leave him,’ Emma contradicts. ‘She’s only saving herself travelling to London day in day out. She’s come home for the weekend. You can check …’ she ends uncertainly. Pippa may be well on her way back to London by now. With half a dozen or more neat brandies inside her.

‘You’re here, she is not,’ Lewis snaps matter-of-factly.

What’s he doing? Trying to blackmail her with what he either somehow knows or has guessed? Trading his knowledge for whatever skeletons in the cupboard she happens to know about?

 
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Posted by on 19/03/2011 in Uncategorized

 

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HIDING THE ELEPHANT Chapter 15


Chapter 15

The funny thing is that now that he’s lost any hope of control, any chance of disabling that gun, he’s also free from fear. It’s amazingly liberating, this abdication of dominance. Once he’s ceased to fight, he can’t lose any longer.

‘Let’s have some coffee.’ Grant says it lightly, as if he doesn’t really care, it’s just a thought, it would be nice to have a cup of coffee. That’s what people do. People have a cup of bloody coffee when there’s nothing else to do, don’t they? Put the kettle on.

Dancer glances in the direction of the sitting room, looks keen to return to that haven of well established order. For as long as Grant is on his feet, the look says, he’s a threat, a source of the unexpected. ‘Haven’t you had enough liquid? You must have a monumental headache.’

He has. The sickness is persisting as well. And so is the occasional slip from reality, the times when he doesn’t quite know where he is or why. But for the moment his senses are co-operating. Everything is in sharp focus. There is still the silence. He is not mistaken about the silence. Only the night birds break it up from time to time.

He may not be able to fight, but he can scheme. Outwit while his wits are about him. Hence the coffee. It’ll get him to the kitchen. It may not be double glazed. And even if it is, there still may be more possibilities than here.

‘It’s not too bad. The headache. Coffee will do me good.’

Dancer observes him sharply, looking for cunning, weighing up the odds.

‘I promise not to throw a kettleful of hot water all over you.’  Grant laughs, weakly, then coughs a little. He only has his infirmity to offer for reassurance. It pleases him, this game that he’s directing with great precision. The precious clarity he’s got now needs to be put to good use before it all goes fuzzy again.

‘Oh, go on, then,’

Ridiculously, there are still the niceties of hospitality to be observed. If a house guest wants a cup of coffee, he’ll jolly well have a cup of coffee. Grant’s grateful for that small bonus.

Then it turns out that the beans need grinding first. That surprises him somehow. An unexpected, untypical attention to detail, indulgence of the taste buds. The fine, delicate coffee set and the dark, rich aroma of the drink in the fish and chip shop had the same effect on him on Tuesday. As if the goalposts have been moved, the rules of the game changed. As if it mattered.

‘This coffee even smells French.’ he remembers Emma flaring her nostrils comically. The chippy’s tiny windows had red chequered curtains that tinted the edges of her skin faint pink. She was enchanting, so lively and wilful until he ruined it all. He should have explained. Why couldn’t he say look here, old girl, it all goes way, way back, to before I was born. Back to when I was five and Cleo got married and left me to it. Back to when I was seven and Eve, ably aided and abetted by Adam and Rudi, offered me to the altar of humankind and the greater glory of Hamilton Grants. Or back to when I was eighteen and Rudi told me what was what in his flat above the laundrette. To when I dropped Hamilton, even though I could have equally well dropped Grant as well and lived my life happily as Smith or Jones. I rather fancied Potter. The life of Simon Potter would have been quite different from the life of Simon Hamilton Grant, don’t you think.

He could have laughed, turned it all quickly into a joke. And she would have laughed back, and everything would have been restored to what they both knew as normal. She wouldn’t have been asking questions, that was the big difference, Emma never asked questions, she never needed to know. As if there’s something to know. Why can’t Pippa see that there’s nothing worth knowing and that knowing wouldn’t change anything.

But, he didn’t say any of it, didn’t know how and she changed. Darkness fell as it always had done on anything he touched.

”Well, if you’re coming tonight, it’s only going to be salad and some cold meat for dinner. I’ve got a well woman clinic after surgery. Don’t know when I’ll finish.’ On the way back to her car she was charging up the hill, hiding her disappointment, annoyance maybe. Simon walked a step behind, careful not to overtake her, not to run into whatever was driving her forth.

‘Here,’ she fished a note out of her jeans pocket, folded and finely creased, ‘if you get the time tomorrow. This is the address. The Road Aid, the outfit that took Lennie to Bosnia. I got it off Mary Bates.’

He caught the paper before her fingers released it into nothing in the I-don’t-care-if-you-take-it-or-not, it’s-not-really-important way which he found deeply hurtful.

She talked quickly, catching her breath in mid-sentence. ‘You’ll be seeing Pippa tomorrow, of course. You must talk to her, sort it all out. She loves you, you know. She’ll make you a good wife one day if you give her a chance. You must have kids. You’d like that, wouldn’t you. A child of your own. All men want children of their own, don’t they. A little boy of their own. Do you like cricket?’ She turned to face him, anxiously searching his face, then spun back, forgetting to wait for the answer. ‘They can sometimes help with fostering. The Road Aid, I mean. Lennie told me that. The Road Aid is a good place to ask if you want to foster a child or two from Bosnia. Just until it’s all over and they can go back to their families. Or, maybe, if they have no family left, then perhaps, you know …’ She was at the Rover before him. ‘Here, I brought some medicine. They leave lots of that stuff behind. The reps. Stacks and stacks of samples. You can take this to the Road Aid. For the next time. The December run. They are just across the Thames, not far. And you’ll ask, won’t you. About fostering.’ She opened the boot, lifted out a cardboard box, its flaps neatly tucked over each other and placed it at his feet. ‘Julian from Holcot may bring some more later. You can collect that tonight.’ She started the car before the door slammed shut.

‘Emma.’

Simon had no idea what he wanted to say. She was reversing, the engine revving louder than the slope required.  He picked up the box. Heavier than it looked, it weighed like yet another lost battle on his hands. The clouds, thick and rain laden but still holding made it darker than four o’clock. The Rover slowed down alongside him, stopped, and she was out on the step, his height now, balancing herself with one hand on the door and the other on his shoulder.

‘I wouldn’t mind for myself. I really wouldn’t. It’s not natural, is it.’ She laughed and he would have laughed with her if he knew what she was talking about. ‘I should be the one to worry. It’s expected of a woman to fret over things like that. Do you think I’m unnatural?’

He only shook his head. She wouldn’t have forgiven him his ignorance then. She counted on him knowing. Understanding. Were they not as one at times, thinking the same thoughts, leaving everything and everyone on the outside?

‘Emma.’ Eve, the Mother Earth, was in for a treat. ‘I’ll see what I can do about that interview.’

She stopped as time sometimes stops and is replaced by eternity. Her mouth, moving in an inaudible prayer, looked swollen. As it covered his lips without pressing them, it felt moist, earnest and tasted of salt. Giving no time to be answered, it detached itself gently, leaving a tear to trickle down onto his tongue.

‘Don’t worry about that.’ She was back in her seat, looking straight ahead. ‘You’ve got problems of your own and I’m not helping. Look into the letters, Simon.  Fran’s letters to her lover. Find him. It’s important. I can feel it.’

 
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Posted by on 12/03/2011 in Uncategorized

 

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HIDING THE ELEPHANT Chapter 26


Simon ended up quarter of an hour late, mostly on account of parking. Whatever possessed him to take the car into Soho, Pippa asked with her mind so obviously on other things that he didn’t have to answer. She had ordered crisp fried noodles and Peking duck with bamboo shoots and water chestnuts for both of them before he’d arrived and they rushed their way through the meal as the Chinese waiters dismantled the tables around them and brought in aluminium buckets and grey-headed mops.

Simon took a deep breath. ‘So, what’s this unilateral separation all about?’

‘I thought it would do us good. Things were not going too well, were they?’ Pippa helped herself to some more vegetables.

Her hair was shorter, flicked back off her forehead and freshly styled. The make-up, flattering, warm coloured, accentuated the eyes and the lips above a turquoise silk blouse. She was perfect. Emma’s hair would have been all over the place and she’d be moving it out of the way, playing with the ends, twisting them around her fingers. And her clothes … Simon couldn’t remember any of Emma’s clothes other than jeans and shirts or jumpers. Yes, she had something tweedy as well, a skirt and a coat and of course there was that black silk dress she always wore with her mother’s jewellery on special occasions.

‘Well,’ Pippa repeated, ‘were they?’

‘No, not too well. Sorry, it’s this murder case ….. a lot on my mind. Sorry.’ She deserved better.

The waitress picked up the teapot and re-filled their cups. Then hovered not five feet away.

‘They want us out of here,’ said Pippa. ‘Have you missed me?’

‘Yes, of course I’ve missed you. You never answered any of my messages. Or Emma’s.’

‘Emma wouldn’t understand. She thinks the sun shines out of Phil’s backside and the other way round. Let’s go to the flat.’ She pushed her plate away and the waitress picked it up immediately.

Simon handed his over to the woman as well. ‘I promised Emma to take a box of medicine to some charity outfit across the Thames.’ He slid his credit card into a smart, leather looking wallet that contained the bill, then produced some change out of his coat pocket for the tip. ‘I mustn’t forget to ask about fostering. Emma thinks those people bring Bosnian orphans over for fostering.’

‘Ah,’ Pippa frowned. ‘I’ve been wondering about that.’

‘Wondering about what?’

‘Never mind. Emma will tell me when she’s ready.’

Once in the car, it became less awkward. The unfamiliar territory south of the river provided an illusion of a common purpose. It was still raining steadily. With the help of a small torch Pippa was peering into the A-Z, trying to navigate. They seemed to be going in circles.

‘All these streets look the same. I think you should turn left at the next crossing. Yes, I am sure. Turn left. Don’t you just expect Fagin to walk past with Artful Dodger in his wake? I didn’t know there were still areas like these in London. May be we should turn back?’

‘I wouldn’t dare face Emma if I failed to deliver. Remember, she’s been the chief provider of my meals recently. She and Phil are deeply convinced that a twentieth century man can’t possibly feed himself adequately without female assistance. Emma insists on  standing in for you. When she can find the time from solving my murder case for me, that is. What’s that further down the street?’

They turned into the brightly lit forecourt of a derelict warehouse. Several figures were moving about, hooded and oblivious of the rain.

‘They are hardly more than children.’ Simon clicked the boot open from inside the car.

‘Food, medicine or clothes?’ asked a young voice.

‘Medicine.’ The pool of water under the car door was deeper than Simon thought. It seeped into his right shoe and the sock soaked it up, quickly spreading freezing cold damp up his leg. That was a coincidence, it had to be, but it served the purpose. The cosy, sheltered world of the heated car was abruptly replaced by that of need without frills. He could have thrown a few food tins in, Grant realised belatedly. God knows, there was enough of them in the rarely opened kitchen cupboard at home.

‘Over there.’ the boy pointed to the stack of cardboard boxes under an awning behind him.

Simon took the box containing Emma’s medicines where he was ordered. That done, he looked around for the boy who seemed to have lost every interest in him.

‘Excuse me,’ Simon tried to regain the young man’s attention.

‘Donations upstairs,’ a wet thumb pointed towards the dimly lit windows on the first floor gallery.

‘Thank you. We want to ask about orphans… fostering, you know.’ Pippa was gathering the collar of her coat tightly round her neck.

‘Ask upstairs when you take your cheque.’

The desks in the office, each equipped with a weak table lamp of its own for there was no central lighting, looked like islands of light in the sea of shadows. A hand written piece of cardboard on the desk closest to the entrance read DONATIONS AND ENQUIRIES so they headed there. The young woman behind it was arguing fluently over the phone in some mysterious language.

‘Cheque or credit card?’ she asked in English, abandoning her heated conversation for a moment.

‘Cheque, I suppose.’ said Simon. It took longer to fill in a cheque. More chance to make casual enquiries.

She pointed to a smaller notice informing the public to make the cheques payable to Road Aid and not to forget to write the number and expiry date of their cheque guarantee card on the back. Simon filled in his cheque according to the instructions and placed it in front of the girl. Still listening to someone on the other end of the line, she nodded, mouthed ‘Thank you’, fixed the receiver under her chin and started entering the donation into the logbook.

Everyone else was busy. The phones, turned to low, rang incessantly. The soft murmur of voices answering them was mesmerising.

‘How do we find out about fostering?’ Simon whispered as people do in churches and empty art galleries.

Pippa shrugged, then produced a credit card from her bag. The young woman quickly terminated the conversation and wheeled her chair over to a desktop cash register. ‘About fostering. We wondered…’.

‘Fifty? A hundred?’ The girl’s fingers hovered impatiently over the keys.

‘Fifty. Orphans. You do bring orphans into the country, don’t you?’

‘That’s the Red Cross, actually, not us. You can fill this in if you want.’ There was a faint trace of a foreign accent. The pale green form materialised on the desk simultaneously with the credit card slip.

Simon picked up the form while Pippa was signing the receipt. The application was covered in small, tight lettering and at least ten pages long.

‘A friend of ours went out there with the last convoy. The one that left on Friday. Any news from them? Are they all right?’ He was tempted to cross his fingers.

Emma never needed to know. Pippa was unlikely to tell her that he had reasons of his own for this visit. Unsworth could be more of a problem. He’d go ballistic if he knew his wife was told about the death of her best friend casually, over the phone, all alone thousands of miles away and in some danger herself. But a ten minutes interview with Helena Unsworth could have saved weeks and weeks of investigation. It was worth a try.

‘There are problems with all the convoys, Mr. Grant.’ The girl must have remembered his name from the cheque.

‘What’s up this time?’

‘What’s the name of your friend?’ she answered with a question.

‘Helena Unsworth.’

‘It would be.’ The young woman said it under her breath, then bit her lip. ‘You’re not relatives, are you? We only give information to relatives.’ Her accent, much stronger now, made her sound hostile.

That wasn’t what Simon was after. He was hoping for something simple and friendly. This wasn’t even his territory. The last thing he wanted to do was to flex his muscle about. But the chance was there, just a slim one, that Lennie Unsworth and all her wealth of knowledge were sitting at the other end of the phone. He pulled out his ID.

‘Wait a minute, please. I’ll be right back.’ The girl dived into the darkness.

Simon tracked her progress to the back of the long room from one lamp to the other, some shining onto her long hair pulled loosely together at the nape of her neck, the other colouring her drab cardigan reddish brown or catching the movement of her blue-jeaned legs.

When she returned a few minutes later she was accompanied by a stout, white haired man in his seventies.

‘My name is Leroy Saytee. I’m the volunteer co-ordinator. Office staff only. There’s someone else dealing with the convoy volunteers. Senada tells me you’re asking about Helena Unsworth. Is this a coincidence, Detective Inspector, or do you know something? Are you investigating the case already?’ Saytee’s English was correct, but the accent was much stronger than the girl’s. Jamaican rather than African, at a guess. Was everyone here foreign?

The girl, Senada, went back to her own desk to answer the phone.

‘Just tell me what’s happened, Mr. Saytee.’ When in doubt, turn officious.

‘We do not know very much as yet, Detective Inspector.’ The man pulled over a couple of chairs stacked against the wall and invited them to sit down.  ‘As you may be aware the young lady actually originates from what was Yugoslavia. There seemed to have been some anxiety as to her safety from the start. That’s not unusual. Our volunteers are in danger regardless of their ethnic origin or nationality. Most come back unharmed, some get hurt. Two have been killed so far. Regrettable, but that’s the kind of business we are in.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Mrs. Unsworth disappeared.’

‘When?’ asked Simon.

‘Was she kidnapped?’ asked Pippa.

‘Tuesday. Yesterday morning. That’s when her disappearance was discovered, at any rate,’ Saytee lowered himself onto the desk. His shirt sleeve shone very white under the patchy light. ‘But we received the fax only a few hours ago. The lines were down. We had no contact for thirty six hours.’

Simon nodded. That would have been about the time when Emma and Unsworth talked to Lennie in Unsworth’s surgery.

‘That’s a regular occurrence, Inspector. The Croatian port of Split is up and down all the time. The convoy was meant to leave for Bosnia in the early hours of yesterday morning. But there was heavy fighting on the way and they had to wait. Janet, a New Zealander, is the convoy leader. She’s very good. Very responsible. She’s run many a convoy for us. They moved on today. The fax was eventually dispatched by someone else.’ Saytee handed over a curled up sheet of greyish, limp paper.

Split, Croatia

Tuesday, 20 October, 1992

 

Leroy, my old mate,

I don’t know how to tell you this, but we’ve lost a volunteer. Helena Unsworth, a veterinary surgeon from Hallbrook, has been missing since this morning. Or, I should say last night because no one’s seen her since about ten p.m.

 

I saw her in the queue for the phones straight after dinner along with everyone else. The lines went down soon afterwards and I don’t know if she’d managed to get in touch with her folks back home or not. Somebody thinks they saw her talking. That will need checking out at the other end to see if she said anything that could provide a clue to what’s happened.

 

The camp was full, the whole world and her husband are here. There was no room at the inn so we slept in our vehicles. Unsworth was lucky to drive a camper and could use one of the beds if she cleared the boxes away a bit. I was on my way to the washroom this morning when I saw a neat looking man coming out of there. Disgraceful I know, especially under the circumstances, but I couldn’t help wondering where her stamina came from. I was also a bit envious. He was nicely blond and clean, designer clothes, nothing like our usual bearded sandalwearers with dirty fingernails. If he were taller I wouldn’t have minded a bit of that myself. What the hell, he didn’t even have to be taller. I know, I should be ashamed of myself. But, while I’m at it, tell Alex to make sure he’s there when I return.

 

Back to the mystery man.  He asked if his sister, Helena Unsworth, was about, so I suppose I jumped to conclusions anyhow. I had no idea the woman was meant to meet up with her brother in Split, but then there’s a lot I don’t know about my fellow-travellers. There are at least three of them whose very gender is  unclear to a casual observer and quite a few who could easily belong to entirely different species from an entirely different planet. The man had the same eyes and nose as our Helena, and a very similar jaw line, even though that was obscured by a short stubble, so I had no reason to doubt him. I told him to look in the canteen and that was that. Now, of course, I regret that I didn’t at least ask him his name, but it’s no use crying over spilt milk, is it.

 

I had my breakfast and coffee on the hoof because I had to see the UN captain. I got the “we admire your work but you put additional strain on our scarce resources” all over again from him. But he agreed to give us protection through western Herzegovina. After that we’ll be on our own.

 

By the time I returned to the camp it was official. The Unsworth woman was missing. The police was already there and the local commander of the British troops is involved. So, it’s all down to them now. We’ve all been interviewed but what can we tell them? We’ve been driving hard and sleeping by the roadside for the past three days. There was no time for chats and socialising. We hardly know each other’s names as yet.

 

One interesting thing, though. The police suspect foul play. (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase.) They found no fingerprints in the camper. NONE AT ALL! What do you make of that? They’re looking for the Englishman who’d said was her brother. They can just as well look for the proverbial needle in this beehive.

 

I haven’t typed this much in months. My two fingers are going stiff. As usual, you don’t need to do anything. It’ll all be handled through the official channels, but I wanted you and Alex to know.

 

Right, I’d better be off now. Somebody will send this through when the lines are back. Talk to you in two or three weeks, with luck.

 

Take care and get yourself some sleep on occasion.

 

Love Janet

 
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Posted by on 05/03/2011 in Uncategorized

 

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