Lions and Christians by Wentworth M Johnson

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Lions and Christians

Book 5 in the Bill Reyner Mystery Adventures

Chapter 1

Up North

Now you have to realise Jane Overland is the kind of woman who puts the fear of hell into normal men like me. She is tall, thin, tremendously made up and unbelievably forceful. Talk about a flasher, man! just three minutes with her and you would have seen it all. I just don’t know which way to look when she’s around. Yours truly is definitely a man of the world. I’ve been there, seen it and have the T-shirt. Death and danger are my two middle names. But Jane Overland is harder to face than a loaded gun. She took my last escapade and syndicated it. For my trouble she paid me fifty grand. I mean ... like ... fifty gees it is total chicken feed. I spent more than that on clues and overheads, not counting the loss of my Rolls-Royce.

Why bother to mention Jane Overland at all? Well, I gave up dectiving at the conclusion of my last case. Oh, sure, I made a good profit, several million in fact. But all the legwork and the danger, all that kind of junk goes against the grain. Newf on the other hand, well … his real name is North East; sounds like a compass reference. Anyway, while I was finishing off my pilot’s licence he did a little work for Jane. Newf’s a good lad; tall, thin and obviously not as smart as myself. Nonetheless, he is a cracking good detective and he knows how to open safes, locks, doors and all that kind of menial crap.

Anyhow, to get back to Jane Overland, she made an appointment with Gran to see me. Gran’s my guardian and one-third partner in Reyner Investigations Ltd. As much as I dislike Ms Overland one just cannot let Gran down; she’s a dear old girl – Gran that is, not Ms Overland. It was late June when I managed to squeeze Jane in between flying practice. She came to our house in Dundas. Thank God I had already finished my supper when she arrived.

As I sat in the living room nibbling on my fingernails I heard Gran leading the woman into the house. In a very short time they confronted me. Jane wore her usual type of clothes. She had on a leather skirt no larger than a handkerchief and a blouse made from the minimum amount of material, almost totally transparent. Sickeningly, there was also a skimpy black bra – God knows why, she’s got nothing inside it – and a frilly pair of knickers in flesh pink; probably knitted from 18 inches of silk. To cap off the

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ensemble was a ridiculous black hat that could double as a parachute. Talk about the wicked witch of Dundas Mountain. In her usual fashion she stood there with one foot on a chair, flashing everything to all and sundry.

‘Now, young man,’ she said. ‘I have a job for you.’

‘Can’t you stand like a normal person?’ I said, trying to look elsewhere.

She sort of giggled and flopped down onto the chair. ‘You are a silly boy. What would you do in a nudist camp? As I said, I have a job for you.’

‘Sorry, I’m too busy. I fly now. I don’t do any detective work. If you want a detective you’ll have to talk to my partners, Gran and North.’

‘Listen, boy. I want the best. You’ve proved your ability time and time again. I want you. Now are we communicating on the same level?’

‘Not even on the same planet, Ms Overland. You couldn’t afford me.’

She smiled. ‘I don’t have to, boy. You’re the best when it comes to mass murderers. That’s the reason I want you.’

I really didn’t like her South African accent or whatever it was. She put me on edge and scared the hell out of me. In reality, she was just a second-rate newspaper reporter who made money writing stuff for syndication, whatever that means.

‘I can’t work for less than a million. If you can’t afford that, well then you’ll just have to find someone else.’

She leaned forward and pursed her lips. Gees! you could see right down to her navel.

‘Darling,’ she said, dragging out the word. ‘A mere million?’ She opened her bag and extracted some papers. ‘These are rewards totalling one point five million. I believe they all relate to the same case. Solve one and you’ll solve them all. I want 10 per cent, plus syndication rights. You keep me informed all the way and I’ll do all the communications and paperwork.’

‘As I said, I’ll be collecting my new aeroplane in a few days. I fly, I don’t detect.’

She grabbed my wrist. ‘Perfect, darling. Get a plane with floats, it’ll be perfect.’

‘Why can’t you take no for an answer?’

‘Darling boy, no one says no to Janey. I’ve booked you and North into the Pauldrake Lodge on Ghost River. How’s a week’s fishing and hunting sound?’

It was my turn to laugh. ‘Ghost River. Is there such a place?’

She leaned forward and kissed me. Yuck! I’ll have to get my face sterilized.

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‘Darling,’ she said, ‘I knew I could count on you.’

I did not remember agreeing. But a nice little holiday on Spooky River might hit the spot. ‘Alright, alright. So what is this case, should I decide to accept it?’

She tossed the papers onto a nearby chair and then threw herself into another. The woman landed like a sack of oversexed monkey nuts. ‘I trust you implicitly,’ she said in a wheezy voice. ‘North will go with you.’

‘What about you?’

‘I have work to do here, but I may pop in.’

Wow! I sure hope to hell she quickly pops out again. ‘Sure, babe, this will be a no-sweat mission. What exactly am I looking for?’

Jane settled into a comfortable position and looked through me with those steel blue eyes. ‘I have reason to believe people are being abducted and taken to an unknown destination where they are cold-bloodedly murdered. That list of missing people is just the surface. I think the numbers could mount into the hundreds. You have to find out the destination and then eliminate it.’

‘Oh sure. No sweat. Just how do you think I can manage the impossible?’

‘With my guidance, dear boy, you will perform the impossible immediately and miracles even sooner. I have booked you into the Pauldrake Lodge because I have reason to believe that to be the destination of the abductees. Your trip is a reconnaissance mission. Learn what you can and return without tipping your hand.’

‘Then what?’

‘Then, dear boy, we will consider our options. I have something to show you when you return.’

I hope it’s not normally clad in leather, I thought.

There is no denying that Jane is a good organizer. She had everything planned down to the last detail. A few days later, Newf and I took a limo to Port Dalhousie where a privately hired floatplane awaited us. The pilot seemed very friendly and informative. After I explained that I was also a pilot and awaiting the delivery of my own machine he let me take the controls for a while. Surprisingly, we discovered that there really was a place called Ghost River and it is in Ontario. The place was so far north that I expected to see Santa with his elves waiting to greet us.

Having lived in Ontario all my life I never realized how big it is. We flew almost directly to Sioux Lookout in about four hours. Man! primitive doesn’t come into it. Oh, these people had everything, no problem there, but they enjoy having no amenities. I mean, like ... I’ve seen shopping centres bigger than this town. We refuelled and off again.  From  up  there the entire

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world looked to be covered in water. This time we flew low and almost due east. After about twenty minuets we swooped in over a river and made a smooth landing on the water.

The pilot used the plane like a taxicab and motored to shore. A huge house in exquisite gardens lay at the end of a long jetty. There were three other aeroplanes moored there and maybe a dozen boats. The house was at least four times larger than the one I owned on Fiend’s Rock. A young man moored us at the jetty and we disembarked.

‘Straight to reception, sir,’ the young man said. ‘I’ll handle your luggage.’

‘Wow, look at that, Newf. Gran would be proud of us.’

Inside the building was like any regular hotel. They had a carpeted foyer, a reception desk and pointless pictures and ornaments littering the walls. A very pleasant and good-looking woman smiled at me from behind the desk. The whole place looked immaculate; so did she.

‘Would sirs like refreshment or would you prefer to book in now?’

Wow, a bit different to the last hotel I was in. I smiled back at her. ‘Thank you. We’ll book in first.’

‘It would be a Mr Reyner and Mr East,’ she said all knowingly.

‘Correct.’

‘If sirs would kindly sign the register, I’ll arrange for your luggage to be sent up. Here’s a list of activities. If you wish, a councillor will assist you in deciding your interests.’

‘Thanks.’ I took the little booklet and Newf got one as well. The thought suddenly struck me, who the hell’s paying for all this?

A couple of young men came running, one looked at me and said, ‘Please follow me, sir.’ He led the way to the elevator. Newf got left behind, but we did not wait for him. It didn’t matter as it turned out that there were two elevators and we all reached the fourth floor within moments of each other. My personal guide led me to my room, which was right next to Newf’s. Not counting the bathroom, I had a two-room suite. There was a very nice bedroom with double bed and a sort of lounge-cum-living room. I went for my wallet.

‘No, sir. We’re not allowed to accept gratuities. If you need anything just use the house phone, sir.’

‘How come there’s no cars in the parking lot?’

He smiled a very warm smile. ‘No roads, sir.’

The young lad left. I looked around the sumptuous room. The decor looked mid twentieth century, with nothing bulky and nothing overdone. It was all very tasteful and expensive.  The  paintings  on  the  walls

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were prints of some of the masters; not my cup of tea. What the hey – it’s all on the house. Or at least I hoped it was.

A gentle tap-tap came to my door. I assumed it was Newf and hurried to open it. You wouldn’t believe my shock when I saw who stood there. It was Jane bloody Overland, for Christ’s sake. I should have slammed the door and ran and hid. ‘Hi,’ I gasped weakly.

‘Not pleased to see me, sweetie?’

‘Sure. I’d invite you in but I just had the room decontaminated.’

She smiled and marched in, closing the door behind her. ‘Remember, my boy, you are here for a purpose. And as I am footing the bill I want work, not play.’

Man! that was a relief. I sure as hell didn’t look forward to playing any tunes on that old fiddle. ‘Oh good,’ I said.

‘As far as anyone here is concerned,’ she said, ‘we don’t know each other. I just came to warn you. Is that clear?’

‘Sure. Warn me about what?’

‘That you don’t know me, silly boy.’

In a thankful moment she opened the door and vanished into the interior of the lodge. As I was closing it again Newf turned up. ‘Was that ’oo I fink it was?’

‘Yeah, come in. She says we don’t know her. What’s your room like?’

‘Great. Did you see the activities?’

‘No, I haven’t had time with all these bloody visitors. What activities?’

‘There’s ’untin’, fishin’, shootin’ practice. They’ve even got a show in the main lounge later on. And there’s a casino. I didn’t bring a load of loot wiv me, did you?’

‘The boss lady said we’re not here to have a good time, we’re here to work. So where’s our bloody luggage?’

‘Ah, cheer up, Bill. Let’s do a bit o’ lookin’ abart. What you say?’

‘Sure.’

What I needed to find was the bar. I could sink a couple of expensive beers. That would put me in the right mood after all that flying. Together, we set out on an exploratory mission. Maybe talk to a few of the natives and see if there were any decent-looking women in the joint. We found the bar without any difficulty.

After settling in to watch TV with a grand beer a man walked up and sat with us. ‘Greetings, gentlemen,’ he said.

‘Hi.’

‘Here at Pauldrake Lodge our only interest is the enjoyment of our patrons. For today, I’m the entertainment supervisor. What kind of thing interests you?’

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I took a good swig of my beer. ‘Wine, women and song. So far I haven’t seen much of any.’

He grinned to be polite. ‘We run a legal and clean house. However, we do try to accommodate our guests as best we can. How about a fishing expedition?’

‘Nah, got one.’

‘Canoeing?’

‘Nah, too much like hard.’

‘We have a hunting expedition going out first thing in the morning. Would you like that?’

‘Nah.’ I didn’t want to be too negative, but really. ‘I’ve only just come from Hamilton; a nice long rest appeals to me most at this moment.’

‘Well,’ he said sadly. ‘Most gentlemen bring their own young ladies. I assume you’re alone.’

‘Yeah,’ Newf said in his usual stupid way. ‘We’re alone togever. It’s a works outin’, yah see. No broads allowed.’

‘Well, we’re not into that sort of thing. We do offer many exciting pastimes, diving, flying or boating. But if it’s young ladies you are looking for, you should try Lion’s Lodge.’

‘Flying?’ I questioned.

‘Yes, you know – aeroplanes.’

‘Can I fly it?’

‘Are you a licensed pilot?’

‘Oh, sure.’

He smiled and nodded his head. ‘Certainly. Our pilot will have to go with you. Don’t want anyone getting lost in the wilderness up here.’

‘Great.’

‘I’ll arrange a flight for you tomorrow. Anywhere in particular that you’d like to go?’

‘No.’

‘I’ll have room service call you with the time and arrangements. Alright, sir?’

‘Sure.’

Man! now that’s what I call exciting: flying. Since I learned to fly ... well, there’s nothing like it. This was going to be a holiday to remember. Real bush flying, Man! Newf was not impressed and didn’t want to come with me. I don’t think he trusted my flying ability. And to think it was me who taught him how to drive and it wasn’t me who smashed my Rolls-Royce into a thousand unrecognisable fragments.

Newf booked himself into a hunting expedition. That sort of thing is far  too primitive for me. They would set out at 6.00 a.m. I mean that’s the middle of

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the night. Then they canoe miles downriver, or up, and struggle through the bush to shoot some poor defenceless animal that’s too big to bring back in the boat. What a ridiculous way to spend a fine day. Now I’m going flying, that’s civilised. And to boot, it starts at a civilized hour, like noon.

Newf and I spent the evening in the games room. Never saw Ms Overland again, thank God. They had every conceivable game down there: pinball, tenpin, darts, pool, foosball and dozens of games I’d never seen before. They also had a cinema, though we didn’t participate. Newf is a crafty twit; he beat me at almost every game we played. I reckon he must cheat with the scores as he can add up faster than me.

I slept so well and soundly the maid had to wake me up at eleven thirty. I guess it’s the air up there, no smog or motor fumes. By the time I got showered and dressed it was gone half past twelve. The manager said not to worry as my pilot had no other engagements, so I had a nice hearty breakfast before we left.

When I eventually walked out to the dock, it was almost two in the afternoon. The pilot sat in a deckchair with a beer in one hand and cigarette in the other. He was stripped to the waist and enjoying the sunlight with a Walkman plugged into his ears.

‘Hi,’ I said. ‘I do hope I’m not disturbing you.’

He slowly pulled off his headset and smiled vaguely. ‘Mr Reyner?’

‘Yes.’

‘Great. She’s fuelled up, hot and handy, so to speak. Where d’you wanna go?’

He seemed a nice enough chap, probably about my age, certainly no more than twenty-five. ‘I don’t know, just fly I guess.’

‘Sure. Ever taken off on water before?’

‘You mean as pilot?’

‘Yeah.’

‘No.’

He grinned and downed his beer, flicking his cigarette into the water. ‘They said you had a pilot’s lenience.’

‘Yeah, I do.’

‘Good. You fly I’ll watch. Okay?’

‘Sure.’

The plane was a nice modern-looking Piper with single engine. I climbed into the driver’s seat and awaited my companion.

‘I’m Geoffrey,’ he said. ‘But people call me Tinker.’

‘Tinker?’

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‘Yeah, cuz I can’t stop tinkering with things. Anyhow, stick this headset on; it’s got noise-cancelling microphones.’

I put on the headset and he talked me through the start-up procedure. I can’t begin to explain how exciting it all felt. He must have unhitched the moorings just before he got in, as I could see we’d drifted a bit in the wind by the time the engine started. It felt strange – more like driving a powerful boat than an aeroplane. I pointed her upwind and throttled up. It was truly beautiful as she gently lifted clear of the water and climbed into the brilliant blue sky.

The headset was a really nice idea; you could talk over the roar of the engine. The pilot showed me how to set the mixture and adjust the trim. It felt great up there in the sky wondering how Newf was getting along paddling his canoe.

‘Now, if they only had women at this lodge it would be perfect,’ I said, just making conversation.

Tinker laughed. ‘At Pauldrake you have to bring your own. I’m told that Lion’s supply them, though. They’re not like our lodge.’

‘Why?’

‘To start with they charge ten times as much.’

‘Wow! so where is this Lion’s place?’

Tinker pointed roughly north. I banked her over and changed heading. Even if I wasn’t staying there I thought I’d take a look-see. I pulled out my GPS, turned it on and placed it on the dash. The pilot laughed and pointed to the on-board GPS. I knew that, but I wanted to mark Lion’s because it sounded like the kind of place I may wish to visit in my own plane.

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