Japp half rolled and half fell out of bed and wondered if he’d ever learn to sleep in the country, although Martha had been scathing when he’d mentioned this. Apparently his B & B didn’t qualify as being really in the country, as it was within the outskirts of the market town of Tenterden and had both mains drainage and a mains gas supply. He didn’t quite know what that meant exactly, having never had to live without either, but it was significant, apparently. To be honest he’d been surprised there were still houses that lacked either, especially this close to London, but it was one of the many things he was learning to not take for granted around here.
Martha had looked very sheepish the night before as she’d told him the easy way to get to the house at the centre of the forest, but Japp had glanced at Sarah Bacon and realised from her expression that his prolonged walk had been courtesy of a rural PCSO wanting to make a point to an extremely urban detective. Not to worry, Japp thought. It was only a bit muddy, Well, very muddy, and let’s not forget all those brambles he thought. Still, she had at least made sure he was dressed for it. She could have dragged him that way in his suit and black leather shoes.
He left the breakfast table reluctantly and set off for the forest where he was due to meet up with the team responsible for making the tunnel safe. He’d sent the photograph he’d taken of the label to forensics, and they’d decided to call in the fire brigade team with their specialist breathing equipment. From their response it seemed like Japp had made the right call to get away from the barrels as quickly as possible, and he was lucky to have got away with just feeling a little dizzy. They’d need to be analysed, of course, to make sure that the contents matched the labels. As Freddy from Forensics had said, you can’t really trust a criminal to play by the rules and label everything correctly.
Of course, they were all assuming criminal activity, but Japp was flummoxed if he could think of any innocent explanation for the tunnel and its contents, and that was assuming there was no link at all to the burglary. He reasoned that anyone who had gone to so much effort to hide themselves and their actions must be up to something extremely dodgy indeed. Whatever it was must also be very profitable, as it seemed that no expense had been spared either.
When he got to the clearing it looked very different to the way he’d left it. There were vehicles belonging to each of the emergency services plus something calling itself a decontamination unit that contained showers in case of any chemical spillage, and police tape blocking off the whole scene, but no dog walkers as the entire area had been declared off-limits to the public. The rolled up path had been bagged, tagged, and taken away for analysis along with the casts made of the partially-brushed out footprints, and the piles of debris had been moved to allow easier access. No doubt forensics would have checked that for any evidence too, having no wish to be hauled over the coals for missing anything else of vital importance.
Japp was helped into a spare hazmat suit and breathing equipment by one of the fire officers, then he made his way over to the fireplace at the centre where a ladder had been placed to retrieve the pale object he’d spotted up the chimney yesterday. It turned out to be something that resembled a watering-can rose, but on a much larger scale, attached to a tube that ran into the brickwork and then, presumably down into the tunnel, the whole arrangement being invisible from anywhere other than inside the chimney itself.
Now that everyone knew what they were looking for it didn’t take long to find the lever to open the secret tunnel that had been hidden in the brickwork, and the chemicals team prepared to go down into the depths. Japp was no longer needed, so he left them to it and wondered back to take off his suit. He was only halfway out of it when his phone started ringing, and he nearly fell over trying to reach his trouser pocket underneath the protective clothing. It rang off before he could get to it. Well, thought Japp, that’ll teach me to eat so many sausages at breakfast. No wonder I’m struggling. Eventually he got free, and reached his phone to see that he had a missed call from Martha. He hit the button to call back, and walked back to his car while it rang. She picked up fast, and sounded a little flustered. She was at the Frensham house but there was nobody at home. Japp couldn’t understand why she was quite so upset by that at first, they could have all gone for a hospital check-up, after all, but after a while he understood that she was inside, having found the back door wide open. The house was deserted, the family had gone.
‘I think they’ve done a runner, sir. It looks like they packed and left in a hurry, there’s stuff abandoned everywhere, but clothes and toiletries have gone. And sir, so has that map over the fireplace, and it looks like someone has cut the living room carpet up. I don’t understand, what’s going on?’
‘Hang on, I’ve just finished here, give me directions and I’ll meet you there, Ok?’
Martha was just giving him instructions to find the house when Japp’s feet were rocked underneath him and an enormous boom rang through the air, which was strangely echoed through the phone. He turned to see dust and debris flying up out of the fireplace entrance, and the ground sinking into the void that had been the tunnel. Japp couldn’t see what was happening clearly, the dust was so thick, but they were going to need more ambulances, that was for certain.
‘Martha, look, something has happened here, I’m going to have to hang up and call for more help. Martha?’
Japp’s heart lurched as he realised he could hear the same sounds of debris settling coming down the phone line as he could from the clearing, and that what he’d thought was an echo caught by his phone microphone had actually been a boom at Martha’s end of the conversation. He called Martha’s name a couple more times, desperate to hear that she was OK and could hear him, then reluctantly hung up. He dialled 999 and reported both explosions.