A rental car quietly glided to a halt outside number 7189 Remington Road, the driver calmly walked to the front door of the house and rang the bell. In only a moment it opened and a young girl in her late teens smiled at the visitor.
‘You Divington?’ asked the driver.
For a moment Ellen stared at the middle-aged woman standing in her front porch. ‘Yes, why?’
‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s your father.’
‘Daddy, what’s happened to Daddy?’
‘Well, he’s in St George’s Hospital. If you’d like to come with me I’ll take you to him.’
‘What happened? Is he alright?’
‘Not to worry, miss. If you’d come with me all will be revealed.’
‘Why didn’t they phone?’
‘Quicker and easier for me to come in person, miss. You won’t need anything; just come as you are. But I suggest you hurry. We’ll figure it all out later.’
At about the same time as Ellen Divington was being abducted, I lay trussed up like a Christmas turkey on a cold, wet beach somewhere near the Shetland Islands. It all started when Reggie Asquith and I were flying back from an oil rig in the North Sea. We spotted people in difficulties on a very small island near the Shetlands. Both of us being knights errant, we had to assist and took the helicopter down, landing on a beach some 200 metres from the disaster in progress.
Sikorsky, Reggie’s cat, always stayed with the machine – sort of a living guard or warning system. We scrambled over some very jagged rocks to where the two men were hurriedly trying to save their valuables from a boat that was rapidly breaking up on the shoal. The huge waves pounded the small vessel and already splinters and flotsam had begun festooning the shore. One man barely managed to get off as the craft finally broke up and sank into the murky depths. With difficulty, Reggie grabbed his hand and we dragged him to safety.
Apparently, neither men spoke any English – and they didn’t seem all that happy to meet us. On the rocks were several fairly large packages that they had rescued from the wreck. Not being able to communicate very well, I indicated that we carry the goods to the helicopter. They grinned in unison and we all started to shuttle the stuff to the machine. On my second trip, just as I bent down to pick up one of the heavy parcels, the world went dark with an ear-resounding bang.
Sometime later I managed to awaken and saw that Reggie was also firmly tied and lying beside me in an uncomfortable place where the water was slowly creeping up. I could hear the helicopter and after some struggling, I saw the machine rise and right before my eyes she slipped sideways and the rotors struck the cliff face. My heart came into my mouth as the helicopter smashed its ability to fly and fell gracefully to the ground. With a rumble the entire machine became engulfed in flame and the show was over. All that remained was a cloud of thick black smoke heading skyward.
Struggling had no effect and the tide was slowly but surely coming in. Without doubt, both Reggie and I would drown unless I could somehow effect an escape. After a while Reggie came too. He was as surprised as I was to find himself in this awkward predicament.
‘What happened to the windmill, Bill?’ he groaned.
‘The dumb sods ran into the cliff.’
‘What about Sikorsky?’
‘Don’t know – he probably died in the crash. The real problem is the tide’s coming in and I can’t swim tied up like this. Got any brilliant life-saving ideas?’
I strained, but could only hear the surf as it crashed noisily onto the rocks. Then suddenly but surely I heard the sound of a boat engine. Not that it mattered any – there was no way to signal or even attract their attention.
‘Yell,’ Reggie said. ‘Both together, now. Help!’
We yelled and yelled, but two puny voices could not be heard over the roar of the surf and the distance. Suddenly, Sikorsky turned up. He ran to Reggie and kissed his ear, then dashed off again. Only a short time later I heard a man’s voice.
‘So what’s so important over here, pussycat?’
Thank goodness, with Sikorsky’s help, he spotted us.
‘Holy smoke, laddie. What are ye deeing here?’ he said in a thick Scottish brogue.
‘Am I ever glad to see you,’ I said, struggling to keep my head out of the very cold water.
He turned and yelled at his compatriots and then started freeing me. Quickly, two more rescuers arrived and within a few minutes both Reggie and I were warm and aboard the lifeboat.
‘How come ye are tied up, laddie?’ asked the captain.
‘It’s a long story, but in brief, someone stole our helicopter and crashed it on the beach over there.’
‘Aye, we foond two dead men in there. If it hadna been for the pussycat ye’d still be on yonder rocks.’
The lifeboat took us to Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands. Apparently, Island police are considerably friendlier than mainland police – these guys spent most of their time plying us with hot tea and grinning a lot. I suppose we must have presented a strange picture, with Reggie having a huge smoky cat sitting on his shoulders and me dressed in coveralls – police issue at that.
Naturally, there were dozens of forms to fill out and a statement to make. It turns out the two hijackers were Dutch smugglers and their stock in trade was heroin – apparently worth several million pounds sterling. Worst of all, the police would have to report our disaster to the AAIB, Department of Transport, who would inevitably investigate the circumstances of the loss of our machine. If you fly you can’t go around crashing willy-nilly without government reckoning.
The following morning Reggie’s son landed in another of our helicopters to take us home. Fortunately, the police gave us permission to leave as long as we let them know our whereabouts until we were cleared of any wrongdoing. Our sentence, if you could call it that, was to remain in one place until the inquiry or until the police gave us permission to leave the country. There were two problems: one was that the fuzz had to be sure we weren’t part of the smuggling team and the other was the crash of the helicopter.
Life suddenly became very calm. We all settled into a nice little hotel very near Reggie’s airport. Newf, he’s my sidekick, we spent most of our time in and around the aerodrome. I spoke to the architect about the new buildings that we had planned for the big expansion. It’s very hard to be useful and important when there really isn’t anything to do. I wanted to jump into my new jet and go home but, well, that would only get me arrested.
At least there was plenty of space for walking. The countryside is beautiful around that area. As I walked the perimeter of the airfield I got the urge to do something exciting. To walk where no man had walked before would be a great and wonderful thrill. Detective work is for idiots. Talking of idiots, every time I looked round that moron Josh Tyler was some 30 metres behind me. The man was becoming a nuisance of the highest order. I wish he’d go latch himself onto someone else and leave me alone. Ever since I rescued his sister he thinks he’s my bodyguard. The man’s an even bigger idiot than Newf.
If it weren’t for my shadow the world would seem a very lovely and peaceful place. A small copse of trees near the stream offered me an enticing opportunity. Nonchalantly, I wandered in what would look like no particular direction and then with a crafty glance at Josh, I ducked into the woods and quickly dashed back toward the airfield. Hiding behind a tree, I waited to see the outcome.
‘Mr Reyner, Mr Reyner, where are you?’ he called almost in panic.
Keeping very quiet, I waited for him to wander in the opposite direction, then I made a run for home. That pathetic twit eventually spotted me. Damn, he soon caught me up.
‘You shouldn’t do that, Mr Reyner,’ he said as if apologizing.
‘Why don’t you go home to Canada and leave me alone?’
‘Because you need my protection. You are a famous and important man.’
I sighed. ‘Alright, but I would love to have a little privacy once in a while.’
A few days after the disaster with Reggie’s helicopter, Newf and I were in the lounge at Reggie’s airport just waiting for the girls to come back from a shopping trip in Bristol, when Newf suddenly lit up like a shipping beacon.
‘I got a brill scheme,’ Newf said, grinning from ear to ear.
‘Not another one. Do I really need to hear it?’
‘I fink so. What yah say we starts a detective agency?’
‘I’d say that was the bloody daftest idea you’ve ever had.’
‘Great, so you agree, then?’
‘I said it was and is a stupid idea, you twit.’
‘Yeah, but fer you that’s agreein’, ain’t it?’
‘Well you know ’ow when every time yous quit being a detective, a case comes along and you ’as to be a detective all over again?’
I sighed. ‘Yeah, I guess so.’
‘Well, I figured that if you open a agency, then you don’t ’ave to actually be a detective. You can employ one, so when a case comes along yous only ’ave to ’and it over to yous employee. See, yous don’t ’ave to actually do nofin’. This way, yous wife, yous Gran and yous kids can sleep wivart the fear of yous gettin’ knocked off by bad dudes.’
‘I’ll try to translate that into English. You think that if I open a detective agency and employ a detective then I won’t have to actually solve anything and I’ll be safe from the evils of the world.’
‘Fer a ficky, yous catch on quite quick, Bill.’
I thought about it for a few seconds and the more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. Of course – I could get some other sucker to take all the risks. I could stay at home and enjoy life while he grapples with death and the bad dudes, yet I could still be the great thinker and boss of all I survey.
‘Newf, I love it. When do we start?’
‘Well, first thing is we ’as to be back in Canada. I reckon this is gonna be real fun. What yah say, Bill?’
‘For once, Newf, I think you’ve hit the nail smack on the head. We won’t even need Gran. Yes, I love it. It’s a great idea. I’ll be the boss.’
‘’oo said so?’
‘Well I did.’
‘It were my idea, I fink it should be called the East Detective Agency and yours truly should be the big cheese.’
‘Never. We’ll call it the Reyner & Associates Agency.’
At that moment Josh entered the room. Joshua Tyler is my self-proclaimed bodyguard – unpaid.
‘I could hear you guys arguing all the way out to the control room.’
‘Mr Reyner, I’m your bodyguard, I don’t like to hear raised voices. So what’s all the trouble about?’
‘None of your bloody business. Newf and I were just discussing a business arrangement. It does not concern you and by the way, I don’t have a bodyguard. You’re fired.’
He grinned. ‘You can’t fire me, Mr Reyner, you don’t employ me. I’m what you call a freelance.’
‘Freelance or otherwise, you’re fired.’
‘Think about it, Mr Reyner. If I’d been with you on that helicopter ride you wouldn’t be in any trouble now. You would in fact be a hero for capturing those smugglers. In future, wherever you go, I shall be there and I won’t have any arguments, is that perfectly clear?’
‘Oh no you won’t. If I have to I’ll get a legal injunction to have you stay away from me.’
‘We could use ’im in the agency, Bill.’
‘Hmm, well I’ll think about it. Getting back to our discussion, it’ll be The Reyner Agency.’
‘Nah, East & Reyner Agency.’
Josh piped up: ‘You guys would argue the colour of red. Why not compromise and just call it The Agency?’
‘You’re smarter than you look, Joshua Tyler. That’s it – we’ll call it The Detective Agency, but I’ll be the managing director.’
‘Don’t fink so, Bill. We’ll ’ave three directors. I vote we makes Josh one. If we’s all equal, you won’t be able to boss me abart like you always do, cuz we’ll have to vote on it.’
Deloris, my wife, and Morag, that’s Newf’s wife, arrived at the airport in a taxi. No we didn’t live at the airport, but that’s where we agreed to meet. We were staying at this nice little country hotel just down the road a bit. Reggie was on one of his trips to the oil rigs and Jane, as usual, ran the airport. We closed the place up at six in the evening and all returned to the hotel for a slap-up meal. It mattered little, as Reggie wouldn’t be back until tomorrow, anyway. He was also going to see about replacing the lost helicopter – hardly an off-the-shelf item.
At dinner we all sat at the same specially arranged table, with me at the head. It felt a little like being the lord of some medieval manor and the minions were there at my leisure.
‘So, ’as yous told everybody abart our new venture?’ Newf said after I’d ordered the meal.
Deloris glared at me. ‘What new venture?’
I sighed. ‘Well, North and I thought we might open a detective agency.’
‘Certainly not,’ she snapped. ‘You would only find more ways to get into trouble.’
‘No, that’s just it. You see, well, we would only run the place and we’d have workers to do all the sniffing around and gun play.’
‘Sniffing and gun play?’ she growled angrily.
‘Yeah, you know, the gumshoes would do all the nasty stuff. Newf – er, North and I would only be advisors and, well, we’d run the office. Be the execs, if you see what I mean.’
Deloris smiled. ‘Very well, that sounds a little better. At least it would keep you out of my hair.’
‘Thanks a lot.’
‘This time it would be nice if you operate from somewhere other than our house.’
‘Yes, dear. We’ll get an office downtown, if that’s what you want.’
‘’ow abart the Leicester building? Newf said with glee shining in his dim-witted eyes.
I shook my head. ‘We’ll figure that out when we get back to Hamilton. In the meantime, can we just enjoy the meal?’
Newf leaned over and whispered in my ear. ‘You can make Josh a detective an’ then maybe ’e’ll leave you alone, what yah fink?’
‘Might a good idea. I’ll have to put some thought into it.’
Our purpose in England had been to dig up King John’s treasure in the Norfolk Fens, but that turned out to be a waste of time. The three boffins who came to England with me sort of melted into the scenery once they discovered we were all rich from selling their idea and the gold mine up north in Canada. Unfortunately, my law firm took the same exit. Old Purvis, the retrograde, included himself in our company and when it was sold, he had a large share in the wealth I had found for us. Then, would you believe, he ups and retires, leaving me without a lawyer.
So there I was, stuck and awaiting possible legal proceedings with no lawyer, a nuisance for a bodyguard and an idiot for a companion. Fortunately, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Only three days later a plainclothes policeman came to see me. I was having lunch with my family at the hotel when the waiter came to me and asked if I would please step outside.
I rose from my seat. ‘So, what’s the problem?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, but there is a gentleman here to see you in the lounge.’
He led me to the lounge, where the very large, burly man dressed all in black smiled and shook my hand.
‘I’m Special Agent Hornchurch, Mr Reyner.’
‘Hi,’ I said, trying to let go of his clammy hand. ‘What’s the problem?’
‘No problem, Mr Reyner. I’ve come to tell you that you have officially been cleared in the drug-smuggling case.’
‘Big deal. Does that mean I can go home now?’
‘Yes, the Air Accident Investigation Board are still investigating the helicopter crash, but the machine was flown by Mr Asquith and he is the man responsible.’
‘He didn’t crash it; it was hijacked and then it crashed.’
‘Yes, yes, not to worry. All a matter of procedure.’
‘So I can leave whenever I like?’
Taking a commercial flight back to Canada seemed somewhat of a comedown but, well, it pleased the girls, as none of them liked me to be the pilot. Newf was always scaring them with stories of how I frequently crash my planes. Gran had decided to stay at Cromlet Castle with her new husband for a while. Reluctantly, I bought Josh Tyler a plane ticket back to Canada – tourist class, while ours was first class. At least for the duration of the flight I would have a little relief from that character.
I chartered a small bus – actually, a limousine – to take us to Raven House in Crooks Hollow. That’s at Flamborough, just up the mountain from Dundas. It seemed good to be home, but on the other hand it meant back to normal routine and boredom. Not that there was much chance of getting bored with Newf and his stupid ideas popping up all over the place.
At breakfast on the very next day after arriving home, Newf was reading the paper at the table.
‘I thought I told you that if you eat with us normal people, you don’t bring that rag with you,’ I grouched.
‘So ’ow you figure yous gonna keep up wiv the world if yous stick your head in the sand?’
‘Newf, shut up and get rid, before Deloris comes down and gives me earache for your indiscretions.’
He folded the paper slowly and deliberately. ‘Did you know that someone’s nicked a truckload o’ booze?’
‘Big deal. So what do you think I should do about it?’
‘Well, ain’t we gonna create this new detective agency or what?’
‘Yeah, so what’s that got to do with a truckload of booze being stolen?’
‘Could be our first case. It says in the paper that it was worf over a million bucks.’
‘Booze? Worth a million bucks?’
‘Yeah, it were special whisky or somfing like.’
‘I don’t care. I’ve put a lot of thought into our new venture and I don’t think that’s the kind of case we are likely to be taking.’
‘So when we gonna start, Bill?’
‘Okay, if you like, we’ll put the peddle to the metal first thing on Monday morning.’
‘Oh, right. An’ this time we’s gonna do it proper like, and not sparin’ the ’orses.’
‘After our disastrous escapades with the Institute and losing our law firm, yes. Yes, I think we’ll do this from the ground up.’
‘Oh, great, Bill. Yous were a demon when yous organized The Canadian ’otel. Yous really showed your talent there. I reckon you’ll do a grand job.’
‘Well thanks for the praise. First thing Monday we’ll start the ball rolling. I think I’m going to enjoy this. I’ve done a load of thinking since that do up in the Shetland Islands and your idea of keeping his nibs out of my hair will probably work well. Yes, I think I’m going to like this.’
‘Should I phone the city about the Leicester building?’
‘Well, we’ll need a place to operate, won’t we, Bill?’
I sighed. For some reason the Leicester building did not appeal to me. The place was built in the 1920s and slowly went to rack and ruin. Eventually, the city took it over and had it refurbished, but it’s still a prehistoric building.
‘I don’t know, Newf. If the city has anything to do with it, it’s going to be expensive and have loads of limitations.’
‘I’ll check it out, then.’
‘Alright, if it makes you happy. But we do nothing until Monday, okay?’