8. Japp and the Smugglers’ Tunnel.

Japp’s feet were telling him very plainly that they disapproved of his footwear, so he told them to shut up and get on with it – they were lucky he wasn’t still wearing his city shoes or they could add being wet and muddy to their list of complaints. He checked his watch and realised that he was going to run out of daylight soon because he’d spent so long investigating the tunnel and the house at the end. It was also clouding over, from what he could see through the lattice-work of branches overhead, so he was going to have to pick up speed if he was going to find his way back to civilisation before the sky dumped another lot of rain onto him and the sodden ground.

The lane wound its way through fields that were mostly empty, although Japp could see evidence that livestock was kept in them sometimes. There was the occasional cattle feeding trough, a wheeled contraption that still had some hay stuffed in the bottom, and flexible blue pipes, several centimetres in diameter, that brought water in from goodness knew where. He could also see the occasional large tank, but these were mostly tucked away and hidden as much as possible, some even had camouflage netting draped over them. These had Japp stumped, farming was a complete mystery to him. Martha would know, and he’d have liked her to be around to ask, but as he realised that he also decided he didn’t want to appear quite so ignorant to her on country matters if he could help it. He’d just have to find out for himself.

After a long slog up a steep hill, Japp could finally see some bars of signal appearing on his phone. They were fading in and out though, so he decided first priority was calling off any search and rescue before making any other calls. Unfortunately when he finally got through to the station he still had no idea where he was, but that could wait. In fact, it was going to have to, as the call cut off as the signal disappeared yet again before he could even begin describing his surroundings. How do people living out here cope, he wondered? As he carried on walking up the hill he could hear traffic, and now that it was getting darker there were lights going along the ridge he was walking up to. Quite a major road, he thought, that’s a relief.

There was a house at the top of the lane, its windows dark and no one at home, so Japp made a note of the name from the gate and called in his location. Fortunately the desk sergeant answering the phone knew the property; it turned out he was on the A28 roughly halfway between Tenterden and Rolvenden. As that particular location was notorious for traffic accidents, hence the name being familiar, Japp decided to stay put rather then walk along the road. As he waited he stood looking out across the fields and noticed a tractor in the distance and idly watched as it drove around the field cutting back the hedges.

Back at the station there was a reception committee: Martha looking pleased and relieved that he was safe, DI Bacon looking amused and bemused at his adventures, and her boss – who wanted to know what was going on, why he’d disappeared and why hadn’t he called in sooner? Japp hadn’t liked the man much when they met briefly on Japp’s arrival, and he didn’t appear to have improved with time either. Japp hadn’t even got halfway into his office when Superintendent Sean Greene started barking out his questions. After he’d finished venting his anger at having to waste so much money on what had proved to be a needless search, he harrumphed into silence and waited for Japp to explain himself.

Japp glanced over at DI Bacon and Martha and saw that they were as unhappy with the Super’s presence as he was, so he placated him as swiftly as he could and pointed out that it wasn’t a total waste of money as it would all help to solve the case of the disappearing Smiths. He implied that it was really the current austerity measures that were to blame for the path and secret tunnel being missed originally, while somehow leaving it ambiguous as to which side of the cost-cutting divide they all thought Greene was on, which had the effect of making Greene harrumph and say, ‘Yes, well…’ before leaving the room and going back to his own office. To come up with a scheme for saving money by banning the buying of paperclips, no doubt, which would just irritate everyone but without achieving much. As Green walked away Japp was rewarded with admiring and grateful looks from both Sarah and Martha for his handling of the Super, which left him feeling unexpectedly flushed with embarrassment.

Once the Super had gone Japp, Sarah and Martha went over everything that had happened that day and pooled their knowledge. The good news, as Japp pointed out, was that they now had a solid lead on how the Smiths had left the forest and it was, mercifully, free of vampires – or bats of any kind. Another forensics team had already been sent to the farmhouse at the end of the lane, and the next day a more thorough search of the tunnel was planned, once the barrels of chemicals had been made safe.

Japp was intrigued by the burglary at the Frensham’s house. He couldn’t see how it tied in any more than Martha and Sarah could, but they all agreed that it was too much of a coincidence to not investigate further. After his discoveries in the tunnel he was convinced that it was an old smugglers’ tunnel, but was hesitant to suggest it – wasn’t it too far from the sea?

Japp and Bacon both looked at Martha, it being accepted that her local knowledge was far more extensive than theirs.

‘Well, it was a bit before my time, you understand, but the Hawkhurst Gang were notorious in their day, and they operated from here to Dorset.’

‘Which was when?’ prompted Japp.

‘I’m not sure exactly, but eighteenth century, I think. They were pretty vicious though, not your gentlemanly Whisky Galore types at all. I don’t think they went in for building tunnels, they just terrorised farmers into using their barns from what I can remember being told – they were brazen enough to cart contraband around fairly openly in most places. They used to hang out at The Mermaid In at Rye, openly putting their guns on the table by all accounts. Everyone knew who they were. If you ever go to Rye you’ll see that the Customs House is just a few yards away, up the hill and around towards the Church, so they didn’t seem to need to hide.’

Even so, Japp thought the tunnel must have been used for something undercover around then, so they decided that Martha should go back to visit Stu, and see if he’d let her look at the map over the fireplace while having a natter. She would have popped in to make sure he was coping anyway, so it seemed a good excuse for her to do her gossiping with the neighbours trick and find out if he knew anything about old smuggling tunnels, or had ever been called out to the abandoned farm.

Sarah, in the meantime, was going to find out who currently owned the farm and surrounding land, and see if any of the local farmers knew anything. Martha knew that there had been a tenant farmer there a few years back, but thought he’d retired some time ago and wasn’t sure what had happened to the farm since.

Japp suddenly felt bone tired. He’d been carted off to the nearest NHS hospital that still had an A & E department after being rescued from the side of the road, and been given the all clear after breathing in the chemicals, but he felt like he was going to collapse if he didn’t get to sleep soon. He’d handed his keys over to a passing sergeant so his car could be driven around from the forest, so at least he didn’t have to beg a lift to go and collect it. Definitely no visit to the pub this evening though, straight to bed and some glorious sleep was his plan.

A couple of hours later Japp was lying in bed cursing the amount of noise that wildlife could make. He had no trouble sleeping in his flat in London – the traffic noise was a constant, ignorable, hum and he was used to sleeping through all the racket of a big city. He’d thought the country would be quieter and more peaceful but no, apparently not.

After another hour he got up and stomped outside to shake his fist at the darkness. It wouldn’t stop the owls screeching as they flew around the house keeping him awake, but it made him feel better. Japp briefly wondered if he’d be allowed to shoot an owl and claim self-defence, but dismissed that idea as too silly. Besides, he didn’t have a gun. He did also wonder if it would be worth driving his car to the middle of a large field to sleep in, but ruled that out too. Knowing his luck he’d only get it stuck in the spectacularly gloopy mud they had around here. Reluctantly he went back inside, put his pillow over his ears, and tried to sleep.

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About kentishlol

Wife, mother of three, dog owner, and rank amateur at everything. You don't really want to know that I bake, knit, garden, make marmalade and sloe gin, do you? Thought not.
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4 Responses to 8. Japp and the Smugglers’ Tunnel.

  1. betunada says:

    as alice would say “curiouser and curiouser”. or something like that. of course i can sense the thickenings doing their plotting …

    Like

  2. Loved reading this section about the 18th century smuggling, as I have a YA book that’s currently with my publishers and has a good chunk in it that revolves around the smuggling trade in Scotland and England during the Jacobite era. I was buried in that research for years! But it still fascinates me.
    Lovely work with this bit. I’m looking forward to the next chapter, Laura. Cheers!

    Like

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