20. DI Bacon is bewildered

The weather was hot and sticky, even though it was only June, and Cleon was grumbling away as usual. Except that it wasn’t Cleon. Graptus tried to shake himself awake from his doze and struggled to bring himself back into the present. He’d been dreaming of when he and Cleon had been back in Britain all those years ago and was missing it, strangely. He’d gone out into his garden to sit on his favourite bench – one that combined a good view of his beloved roses, deep shade and a cooling breeze – and he must have fallen asleep. He had finally retired from work on Hadrian’s Villa Adriana at Tibur a couple of years ago, and was starting to feel his age. The tunnel idea had been approved by the Emperor, and a complex system had been constructed underneath the grand palace so that the peace and tranquility above ground were not disturbed by slaves moving around from one part to another in the course of their work. The tunnels were wide enough to be used by carts, so supplies of food or firewood could be moved around to where they were needed without being seen. Hadrian was very pleased, and they had been rewarded accordingly. There were plenty of other Imperial projects that Graptus could have gone to work on, but at a smidgeon over 60 years old Graptus was tired and in danger of getting as grumpy as Cleon had always been. Although, to be fair, Cleon had stopped grumbling half so much as soon as they’d arrived back in Rome.

It had become clear that Cleon’s grouchiness, homesickness, and hankering after honey cakes had a single source – Anna. She was the baker at Cleon’s favourite food shop, and he had been anxious to return to Rome as fast as possible so they could finally be married. First Cleon had had to buy her freedom, but that was no longer a problem with his earnings from their time in Britain. Graptus smiled as he thought back to the day his friend had come pelting up to him in the forum, almost shouting the good news that he was going to be married the next day and would Graptus please be there to help them celebrate? That had been shortly after their return to Rome, just as they had started work together on the Emperor’s villa. It had been odd, at first, working alongside his old friend without hearing the usual grumbles and complaints, but it had made Graptus very happy to see his friend content at last. Cleon had always been the skinnier of the two of them, as well as being a good deal taller, but married life had seen him expand until Graptus teased him that he wasn’t sure if Cleon had loved Anna for her baking skills or had loved honey cakes because they reminded him of Anna. Cleon had just grinned, and invited his old friend to eat with them that evening, to see for himself.

All of that had happened so long ago. Cleon and Anna had eventually moved to Britain together, to the complete surprise of everyone who had known Cleon in the road-building years. After nearly ten years working on the Emperor’s villa he had built up a small fortune, and the couple had decided that a spacious villa with farmland would be the best thing for them and their household, and had decided that Britain was the place they wanted to settle. Graptus had sighed and shaken his head at the impetuousness of his old friend, then had to remind himself that, in fact, Cleon was more than fifteen years younger than he was. It must have been all that grumbling, he thought, making Cleon seem like an old man before his time. Graptus had tried to remind Cleon of the climate in winter, but to no avail. Cleon was surprisingly stubborn about it, and pointed out that in Britain his money would enable him to build his own bathhouse and install a hypocaust system in the villa he was planning to build. Even so, thought Graptus, he could have built a villa here in Italy and saved himself the journey and the cold, wet, winters. That had been about five years ago, occasional letters did not make up for missing out on the children growing up and the company of his friends and Graptus often found himself wondering what Cleon, Anna and the children were up to.

Graptus still had his eyes closed, not feeling ready to fully wake up and face reality: he hadn’t quite finished with his drowsy reminiscences. Eventually, though, it dawned on him that he hadn’t worked out who it was grumbling away just in earshot. He forced his eyes open and discovered that it was, in fact, Cleon who was grumbling away at the unaccustomed heat. His old friend had returned, and had been hovering on the edge of the garden torn between wanting to speak to his oldest friend and not wanting to disturb the afternoon doze of an old man. Immediately Graptus leapt up, showing that he wasn’t nearly as decrepit as Cleon thought him, and was asking about Anna and the children at the same time as calling for refreshments and ordering a spare room to be made ready for his guest. He was halfway across the garden before he realised that Cleon was looking worried and obviously had something he needed to tell his friend. Graptus nodded his understanding and, keeping up a flow of innocent conversation, guided Cleon to his private office. It was a small room that he used for matters requiring more discretion than the large and airy main office which was across the atrium from the grand front door to the house. Here they had a chance to discuss what was worrying Cleon, away from the sharp ears of anyone who might be hanging around the entrance hall.

After a few minutes Graptus was looking even more worried than Cleon. He might have retired but he was still aware of events in the Imperial Palace. Hadrian had freed a select few of his own personal slaves when he became Emperor after Trajan’s death, and as one of that number Graptus had automatically become Hadrian’s client, and Hadrian was his patron, which meant that he could confirm that what Cleon had heard back in Britain was all too true. The Emperor was ill, very ill, and had become irascible and perhaps a little paranoid in his illness. He had indeed sentenced several senators to death, fearing a plot against him. Graptus had seen and heard more than most, and had kept out of the way as much as he could as a consequence. What he hadn’t realised was that one of the senators under suspicion was Felix’s patron, and Cleon was worried that his old apprentice was going to do something very rash indeed to try and exonerate his old master. Felix had sent Cleon a letter which was what had brought the man rushing back to Rome as fast as the roads would carry him. He’d brought the letter with him, and as he read it Graptus couldn’t help thinking that it sounded like a farewell, and a plea to Cleon to look after his own wife and family should he not survive the attempt. Unfortunately there was no clue as to where Felix was, or what he was planning.

***********************************************************************************

Sarah Bacon felt like she was faced with an impossible task – Kent was a large county and had many building and structures that were potential terrorist targets – roads between the ports and London, rail links, government research laboratories, the list seemed to go on and on. They had all been assessed time and again before, of course; for threats from the IRA, then the splinter groups that formed, then Al Qaeda and all the other jihadist groups. All with their own agendas and their own pet categories of targets. This time round, though, it wasn’t clear who they were dealing with. Either there was a criminal gang that seemed to have spontaneously graduated to blowing things up, or they were working with, or for, another group. Unfortunately there were no clues, so far, as to who ‘they’ might be. If this was a Bond film, Sarah thought, there’d be a coded message from the shadowy villain, taunting us with his dastardly plot and demanding an outrageously large ransom – or perhaps some other kind of demand, such as having several of his equally villainous colleagues released from prison. All of which would allow them to identify the threat and save the day. As it was she felt like they were working blind, and having to guess what this group wanted. Assuming it was a terrorist group and assuming they had an agenda, she thought.

All of this was running through her mind as the group she’d been assigned to ran through the lists of potential targets and made plans to have them made safe: some searches were already underway. Government buildings were easy, they could be cleared if necessary and were usually guarded anyway – it was the public places that were going to be tricky, how to search them thoroughly and fast without mass evacuation or causing panic was one problem, how to do it without tipping off any potential bomber that they were on the right track and thus triggering an early explosion was yet another. Motorways were most vulnerable at elevated sections and railways were vulnerable at bridges, their signals and points. Railway stations were another point that would need to be searched, given the panic that would follow if a crowded platform turned out to be a target. The stations at Ebbsfleet and Ashford would be particular targets, of course, because of their links to the continent. At least with the road and rail network there was the chance of disguising their work as routine engineering inspections. They could always manufacture an excuse for halting rail services if necessary – the travelling public were so used to points failures and bridge strikes disrupting the trains that a few more would hardly be noticed. Motorways could likewise develop worrying cracks in bridge supports that needed immediate safety inspections, and no-one would blink an eye at people in high-vis jackets poking around and stopping traffic to do so. In fact, it was happening already – this close to Christmas there were going to be a lot of people unhappy that their travel plans had been disrupted, but that was too bad.

They had just finished sending out the first wave of officers to search high-risk targets when the DI in charge of the team, one of DS Watkins’s right-hand men, turned to her and asked her to fetch everyone fresh coffee. She flushed at his tone, which was far more abrupt and commanding than it needed to be, and was considering telling him to fetch the drinks himself, when Watkins himself turned up at her elbow and, ever so gently, told DI James Fisher to stop being such a sexist arse, and if he didn’t know how to find his way around an unfamiliar station he could at least have had the decency to ask for help gracefully, rather than trying to boss DI Bacon around on her home turf. Fisher did at least have the good sense to apologise, and his slightly reddened face seemed to be out of embarrassment rather than anger, so Sarah smiled and offered the compromise of sharing the task, but Watkins stopped her and said that he wanted to talk to her instead.

He drew her aside and asked her what she knew of Japp. As he asked the question she realised that she knew very little beyond the fact that he’d been sent down from Scotland Yard when they’d not got anywhere with the original investigation. As she struggled to recall what little she did know, Sarah realised that she didn’t even know his first name. He never introduced himself with it and had never discussed it. In fact, she wasn’t even sure which section he had worked for at Scotland Yard. In the end Sarah was reduced to saying something about him seeming like a clever and dedicated officer, and that his red hair and height made him stand out more than a little.

Watkins gave a tight little smile as she ran out of things to say.
‘So you don’t know that he works for DS Thomas Sidney, of the Counter Terrorism Command Unit? No, I didn’t think you did, he’s kept that a bit quiet, has our DI Japp. I know there are rumours that there’s a high-level leak, and whoever is responsible may well try to sabotage the investigation – oh, don’t look so shocked. It’s my job to know these things. Anyway, I want you to be very careful what you reveal to DI Japp, especially as we can assume that he’s loyal to his commanding officer and will be passing everything he knows back to DS Sidney…yes?’
Sarah Bacon had been sitting there thinking that it was a good thing Watkins would be expecting her to look confused and worried about what he was saying: she was aware that she felt utterly at sea, just at the time when she needed to think carefully and try to work out just who knew what, and who could be trusted. Knowing that she should reveal as little as possible at this point, but needing to try to find out what Watkins knew and how, she decided to play as bewildered as she felt.
‘But Sir, do you think Japp knows what is going on? He seemed straight enough to me.’
‘I’d like to think he’s unaware, but he’s loyal – and owes his position to DS Sidney. There’s no knowing what he knows right now, but ask yourself this – why was an officer from the CTC sent down to investigate what was essentially a Missing Persons case at the time? There was nothing then to suggest any kind of terrorism, was there?’
At that Sarah felt even more bewildered – he had a point and it was a good one. Just what was Japp doing investigating a missing family? It was hardly part of his job description. Sarah made another attempt to find out more.
‘So what do we do now? I’m not used to working with officers I don’t trust – what is it you expect me to do?’
Isn’t that the truth, she thought. Until today, at least. She’d temporarily forgotten in the rush to protect the public from exploding agricultural barrels, but now she remembered the feeling of disorientation she’d felt when the MIT had first started streaming in that morning, the temptation to stare at them all wondering which she could trust.
‘Don’t trust Japp – try to keep him out of the loop as much as possible without him finding out what you are doing, and if you notice anything – anything at all – then bring it to me and let me know.’

With a brief nod of the head she was dismissed back to her task. Don’t trust anyone, and let me know everything. The trouble was, which of the people who had said that to her was she really supposed to trust?

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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 20. DI Bacon is bewildered

  1. I don’t know … there’s something about Watkins–or maybe it’s the way that you’ve artfully posed Japp as such a trustworthy soul. Now, of course, you have me wondering.
    Lovely beginning part. The historical aspect is intriguing and being able to take the reader into another time and place is a desirable skill.
    There’s a million things to think about in storytelling, isn’t there? Plot, character building, setting, dialogue.
    Keep it up, Laura. As always, truly enjoyable!

    Like

    • kentishlol says:

      Last night someone said they’d be really upset if Japp turned out to be the villain after all, which was such a compliment. Anyway, you’ll have to wait and see 🙂
      I’m glad you like the Roman bits, they have grown more than I had originally planned and I’ve really enjoyed learning about Hadrian in the process. Thanks for all your kind words – it’s good to know people are enjoying reading it. 🙂

      Like

  2. betunada says:

    i think yer doin’ a fine job with pace, the occasional revelation, and the still-mysterious-but-i’m-sure-all-will-be-revealed parallel with the Romans. hmmm, tunnull (& honey cakes. is that like mead?)

    Like

    • kentishlol says:

      Thank you, it’s good to know you think I’m getting the pacing right and I’m chuffed you like the Roman parallel. 🙂
      Honey cakes are made with stale sweet wine cakes – which are cakes made with, um, sweet wine. I have a booklet of Roman recipes adapted for modern kitchens that I bought years ago at some archaeological site or other and the recipes come from there. You could use mead, I suppose. Any really sweet wine would do.

      Like

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