As they talked in the small side room Graptus gradually became aware of some puzzling noises. Was that snuffling? Scratching? Whining? He looked at Cleon who was looking suspiciously sheepish all of a sudden.
‘Cleon, what have you done? What is making that noise?’
‘Well, um, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind – he can always sleep out in the garden if you don’t want him in the house, but I’ve brought Velox with me.’
‘Velox? But that dog died years ago – what are you talking about, and why have you brought a dog with you?
‘He’s not the original Velox, no, one of his descendants, let me think – must be a great grandson. Or is it great-great grandson? I don’t know, I lose track of all the puppies. Anyway, this one is clever, and very good at tracking, and knows Felix. Last time he visited Felix left a tunic behind because it got ripped – Anna mended it thinking one of the children might grow into it but it got stuck in a cupboard and stayed there and when Felix went missing I thought if I brought the dog and the tunic to Rome then Velox could help us track him and I know you’re thinking that’s a pretty silly idea because Rome is so huge, how could a single dog possibly find him, but it’s the only idea I’ve got for finding Felix….’
‘Wait, wait, hold on there – it’s not a silly idea at all, and I don’t mind you bringing the dog. He can sleep with you, but no mess! If there is, you clean it up, understand? Anyway, you’ve given me an idea. We’ll need a story to explain it, but I think I know how we can get more people searching for Felix.’
Cleon sagged with relief. He hadn’t been sure how Graptus would take to being asked to play host to a dog, although he’d always been happy to have the old Velox for company, even taking him to work with him if Cleon was staying at Headquarters: Cleon knew that his old friend had got used to a solitary life. Graptus had been married, long ago, as soon as he was freed, but Arethusa had died in one of the epidemics that hit the city every autumn, in the year they had gone to Britain, and he never re-married. Cleon had wondered if his old friend would change his mind about marrying again when he got back to Rome, but he never had, instead becoming even more obsessed with his roses in his time away from supervising work on the Villa Adriana. Ah yes, his beloved roses. No wonder he would rather Velox slept in the guest bedroom, thought Cleon.
There was a knock at the door and a young boy brought in wine and freshly cooked prawn rissoles, still hot from the frying pan. They had heard the slave call out ‘No, dog, no,’ as the door started to open, but it was no use. It was flung open by Velox’s nose pushing it, and he bounded in excited to see his master again. Cleon looked at Graptus apologetically but there seemed to be no need. Graptus had taken one look at the dog and smiled. It was uncanny, he thought, how this young dog, many generations distant now, could look exactly like the original Velox he had known first in Britain. Velox, meanwhile, could smell the rissoles and was sitting at Cleon’s feet in a pose that can only be described as, ‘at attention’. Graptus had never seen a dog look less at rest with his bottom on the ground, and look between the plate of food and his master with such obvious meaning. As soon as the door had shut again behind the retreating boy Graptus carried on with their conversation.
‘It certainly looks like he’s good at following his nose, so let’s hope he can do as well when it comes to searching out Felix. We can take him out with us before dinner and see if we can come up with anything useful in this area. Searching further afield will have to wait until tomorrow, I think. We don’t want to seem like we’re doing anything out of the ordinary. My own clients will be here in the morning, and I plan on asking them to help us search for Felix. One or two of them have disputes that need my intervention, so that may also help us: it will give us a reason to go visiting parts of the city I wouldn’t usually go to. Now, about that cover story – how does this sound, we have heard that he’s gone missing after hitting his head and losing his memory? I think it’s best if we stick as closely to the truth as much as possible, so why don’t we explain that he’s your old apprentice, you’re my oldest friend, and we’ve heard that he’s come to Rome?’
Cleon nearly knocked Velox flying as he got up and came across to give Graptus a hug.
‘Oh I’m so glad I could come to you – that’s more help than I hoped for, and a much better plan than me just hoping that Velox could sniff him out. Thank you, Graptus, you’re a true friend!’
By this time Graptus was blushing a deep brick red and was looking exceedingly embarrassed, muttering that of course he would do his best to help his friends, so Cleon sat back down with a ‘Yes, well, thank you all the same.’ Graptus poured the wine and passed the plate of rissoles to Cleon who took a couple, one for him and one for Velox. After a few seconds both men looked more at ease, and Graptus suggested that Cleon write as accurate a description of Felix as he could manage while he would start to draw up a list of places to ask after their missing friend – guest houses and hotels where Felix might be lodging, so that they could be given to Graptus’s clients in the morning. Cleon thought that was another wonderful idea but realised that another hug would probably be a bit much, so merely smiled at his old friend and reached for another rissole, as Graptus retrieved his writing implements and some wooden tablets from his desk.
Sergeant Nathan McKeown kept a wary eye on the SatNav as they left the M62 and started criss-crossing their way to the farm where the previous tenant of Winser Gill Farm was now living, in retirement, with his son. He had been driving DI Robb’s car the last section of the journey so that she could have a rest and be ready to interview Martin Foreman. They had spent the first part of the journey discussing the case and going over the details they had been given about the man who once lived at one end of the tunnel. Not that they had much, but once his identity had been confirmed they were able to access his old farm accounts at Companies House. DS Watkins had authorised a request for phone records before they had set off, but these hadn’t arrived yet. The finances all seemed to be in order, nothing out of the ordinary. The farm hadn’t been hugely profitable, in fact it had been losing money before Mr Foreman had started employing a gangmaster to supply the casual labour. Then the farm had started to make money, which increased as the gangmaster’s services had expanded until he was supplying all the labour for the farm. There was no hint in the accounts as to who the gangmaster might be, just a company name which meant nothing to either of them. Nathan had been driving at that point so Katie called back to the Ashford station to inform Watkins that the team had another lead to follow up, and to give him the details.
Katie had taken over for the middle section of the drive and the chat had turned to more general police gossip. Katie turned out to be a sharp and amusing judge of character, and had Nathan laughing away at the other regular members of the MIT. It turned out that DI James Fisher was about to be married, and had gone to Europe on a weekend-long stag do not long before. As other members of the MIT had gone along too Katie had been sent a stream of images and messages over the days that they were away. There had been many pictures of various team members sprawled in the snow – none of them had known how to ski before they went, and the usual level of alcohol consumption for stag dos had not helped matters. It appeared that none of them had made it off the nursery slopes, but that was probably just as well from what Nathan could make out. The conversation inevitably turned to Nathan’s colleagues, and he was happily recounting the night they’d taken Japp out to the pub in Tenterden, thankfully within walking distance of his lodgings, when it struck him that she was asking far more questions about Japp than anyone else, which was strange as she must know that he’d met the London DI for the first time just a few days ago.
He played along, and carried on chatting, reflecting that he knew so little he couldn’t give anything away, then he noticed that Katie was asking about Martha, Arthur, Joe, and other people connected with the case as well. In fact, by the time it was his turn to drive again she’d asked about everyone including Superintendent Greene and Bernie Forkin, so Nathan decided she was just nosy and wanted to know about everybody. She was quieter when Nathan drove the last bit, for which he was grateful. Even with a SatNav the lanes were as narrow and confusing as they could be in parts of Kent, with the added disadvantage that Nathan wasn’t familiar with them. It was nearly an hour after leaving the motorway that their destination was showing as up ahead. Martin Foreman had retired to a farm owned by his son, Andrew. Agriculture, it seemed ran in the family. They’d called ahead to say they were on their way and make sure that Martin would be at home. Andrew had answered and confirmed that yes, his father was there and they were welcome to talk to him, much good it would do them. He wouldn’t say anything more over the phone, and DI Robb had wondered if Martin had been in the background, listening in.
As they drew nearer they speculated why his son would think they were on a fool’s errand trying to talk to Martin. Given his age dementia was an obvious an obvious cause for concern, and they discussed how they would handle the situation if that turned out to be the case. They weren’t going to turn back without trying though, just because the son had said they wouldn’t get much out of his Dad. After all, they had no idea why his son said that, or what he meant by it. They eventually reached the farm around mid-afternoon, and it was already looking dark. The daylight was fading far faster up in Yorkshire on this December day than it would down south, and Kentish days were short enough. The lack of light wasn’t helped by the bank of charcoal grey clouds that were looming over the farmhouse and surrounding landscape, and Nathan shivered as he stepped out of the car and into the freezing air. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if it began to snow, and he made a mental note to check that their overnight accommodation was expecting them. He really didn’t want to turn up and find out that their rooms had been given away.
Katie Robb was already at the front door of the farmhouse, looking in puzzlement for a knocker or doorbell. Nathan shrugged as she rapped on the wooden door as he was walking around the car. If it had been him he’d have gone around to the back door, as that was most likely to be the one everyone else used. Still, the thing was done now, and they waited. It wasn’t too long before the door opened and a man Nathan presumed was Andrew Foreman stood there, looking slightly irritated. He looked about mid-50s, so a good 30 years younger than his father would be, and had an oddly pale face for someone who must spend most of his days outside.
‘You them detectives? ID?’
Katie and Nathan already had their warrant cards out and were showing them as he barked that last bit out, which only served to make him more irritated than before.
‘Ye’d best come in then. Watch ye step’
As they stepped over the threshold into the gloomy hallway they could see that there were crutches and walking sticks propped up against one wall, and a step too close would probably have the lot clattering down like a set of skittles.
Katie was apologising for the inconvenience of their visit, asking about the health of Martin, and was just skirting around the question of Alzheimers when Andrew made a wheezing sound that Nathan realised was a laugh. He turned, startled, towards Andrew, distracted from what had caught his eye as they passed the open doorway of what looked like an old-fashioned front parlour.
‘Noa! Da’s not daft! ‘E’s getten ‘is wits still, that’s not why ah sez you’d gerr nowt art o’ im. ‘E’s a spiteful owd bugga ‘n’e won’t call ta anyone. ‘Asn’t, for months.’
Katie, thoroughly rattled, turned back at Nathan for help, who mouthed back at her – ‘He won’t talk to anyone!’
By this time Andrew had opened the door at the far end of the passage and they followed him into the kitchen. It had a high ceiling, which was just as well given the heat belting out of the massive cast-iron range which was halfway along the opposite wall. There was a Sheila’s maid covered in what looked like that day’s laundry up above the cooker, an old-fashioned ceramic sink and wooden drainer at the left end of the room, under a window that looked across part of the farmyard to pig sties and a vegetable plot to the side of the house and, as if the heat from the range wasn’t enough, a wood-burning stove at the other end, also pouring out heat. The flagstone floor was dotted with rugs that were only just still there, and of uncertain colour, and there was another door, presumably leading to the yard at the back of the house, between the range and the stove. Martin Foreman was sitting in a rocking chair by the wood-burner, engrossed in reading something. Given the almost Dickensian tone of the rest of the room Nathan was half expecting him to be reading something equally old-fashioned – a leather-bound family bible perhaps, King James’s version, of course – so was surprised to see that Martin was holding a very modern tablet, and had earphones plugged in.
Andrew had walked right up to him and, without so much as a by-your-leave had yanked the earphones out of his father’s ears and taken the tablet out of his hands.
‘Dad, those sahthern police are ‘eear. Naw rememba wha’ ah sez abaht callin ta ‘em ‘n be gran’.’
Martin just looked at him, and then turned to face the wall. Andrew gave a snort of disgust and waved a gesture that might have meant, ‘there he is, you can see how it is’ or ‘good luck, ask him what you like’ before stalking out of the other door. As it opened Nathan could see that it didn’t lead directly to the yard outside, but into a type of porch that was cluttered with boots and old waterproofs, and then the door was slammed shut and they were alone with Martin Foreman. Katie gave him a glance that pretty much said, ‘good grief, now what?’ so Nathan waved her to the old man in the chair and, as breezily as he could, said, ‘Everyone for tea?’ before walking over to the range cooker, praying that he could work out where the teapot was hidden before the kettle boiled. Katie pulled up a wooden chair that had been tucked under the table in the middle of the room and sat opposite Martin, took a deep breath, and tried to start a conversation.