Mr. Black was more nervous than he admitted to when he spoke to his boss, but before arriving, he decided to take the initiative.
"When did you check for bugs last?" He asked.
Mr. Absolom looked at him suspiciously, "Why?"
"Because they knew we were coming. We were followed as soon as we got off the boat and Blatcherfield was out. Either that guy Morgan is playing us for a fool, or you're bugged. Do you know how old the boy is?"
"No. Does it matter?" Mr. Absolom replied, far calmer and more thoughtful than before.
"He's fifteen. Look!" Mr. Black threw brochures he had taken from reception on to the desk, "He's not old enough to sign anything."
"What about the paedophile rings Jeb Morgan mentioned?"
"Forget it. It was all happy campers and families."
"Are you sure?"
Mr. Absolom looked disappointed. He had a liking for boys, especially ones that got out of line. He was too much of a businessman to spoil stock when he had so many customers, so he looked forward to the next kid to try to stash money, or get out of working for him. Girls also cheated on selling sex and drugs, but they were Mr. Black's problem. He had heard things about the island, so what was going on? What were his options?
Grabbing the boy's mother from the hospital was risky, but how much would the ransom be? He wanted an island, a secure base for his operations and it needed a contract or a deal, which would not be valid in a kidnapping. The hospital would call the police even if the boy did not, so it just would not work.
"Jeb Morgan is unreliable." Mr. Absolom said quietly, "He betrayed his last boss, his information isn't that useful, and he knows we're interested in the island. See that he can't use it."
Mr. Black nodded, almost sighing with relief, especially when his boss scribbled a note and handed it to him. It read: Good point about bugs. I'll check. Make Jeb's trip smooth and peaceful. Mr. Black understood. If they were overheard, or anyone read the note, they could be planning a holiday for him, but Jeb was going on a different sort of journey.
A few days later, Jeb opened the door to an affable looking Mr. Black.
"Sorry about this, but Mr. Absolom wants to see you. I was already out on another job, so you don't mind travelling in the van do you?"
Jeb was uneasy, but he always was when dealing with Mr. Absolom. A neighbour saw him willingly step through the van's side door, and the door was closed after him. They did not see Jeb being hit with a stun gun as soon as the door closed. Nor did they see him quickly tied up as the van unhurriedly drove off. The neighbour thought Jeb had been picked up for work and forgot the incident.
Jeb was conscious and his muscles were still twitching when the van stopped. Blindfolded, enough light filtered through for him to see it was still daylight as he was helped out and escorted deeper into the woods. However, he did not see Mr. Brown and another henchman climb out of the grave they had dug. He felt the rope around his neck, felt it tightening, and he panicked, but then he lost consciousness.
His body was stripped, and he was thrown into the grave which was quickly filled in then covered in fallen leaves and dead wood.
Back in the van, Mr. Black checked every pocket, fishing out every item, gathering them together, before dropping the clothes into a bag. It was Mr. Black's idea of charity, to dump the sack near where homeless hung out. It would not take long before they were scavenged and lost completely. The same neighbour saw Jeb return, at least, he looked like Jeb, only to leave later with his bags. The landlord received notice that Jeb was moving and the van got its real number plates back. Jeb's wife would be surprised, he would pay child care without argument for a year, but it was a small price to pay to ensure no-one looked for Jeb.
With not even a bullet which could be traced, it was a job well done. Even if Jeb's body was found, there was nothing to say who the killers were. The stakes were high and Mr. Black went to great lengths to hide links to Jeb, but Mr. Black was satisfied he had redeemed himself with Mr. Absolom. Indeed, Mr. Absolom invited him to sit and offered him a whisky when he reported back.
"Any thought on what we should do now?" he asked, surprising Mr. Black with his friendliness.
"Could you ask around and see what you can find on this paedophile business?" Mr. Black asked, "What would happen if it became public and holidaymakers started getting upset by all the other troubles there."
"What other troubles?" Mr. Absolom asked, then smiled, "That's down to us to provide, isn't it?"
"Yeah! Send them bust and make them an offer. Let the Earl and his lot stay on because they'll be a good front especially if they're running their own kids. They won't be able to go to the law."
"What about our other merchandise; can we start a turf war?" Mr. Black asked.
"No, we can just move in. There's no permanent police force and no security. Our people can do what they like."
"Who's the best guy to set it up?"
"I'd send Johnny Destry. He's too free with his knife, and he thinks he's untouchable. He just doesn't do quiet."
Mr. Absolom considered the idea then smiled, "Fill our glasses, will you please? Let's see how the tourists like a new show."
It was the last full week of the summer holiday. Rick was already getting nervous about starting school and being expected to take it seriously, his mother was steadily improving and talk was more and more about where she was going to live. She still resolutely refused to talk to Will or accept that Rick was happy with his unnatural ideas. However, she was beginning to accept who he was and to believe Robin was a swindler so there was some progress.
Discovering who he was and where he lived was exciting to start with but Rick was relaxing, getting used to it all and was truly happy. Already, he could not imagine life without Will, and even taking a railcar to sort out a squabble between two committees was fun, so Rick was still happy when John Stevens sought him out with a plaster on his cheek and his wrist bandaged.
John was the local druggie. He managed a little business with visitors but the island relied too heavily on barter for him to do much. However, like kids everywhere, islanders wanted a bit of weed to experiment with, but it was small scale, carefully monitored and tolerated.
"Trouble." Rick asked.
John nodded, "They reckon I start to work for them or I get off the island, and they're in the pub."
Just then Rick's phone rang. John and Will listened to Rick's side of the conversation.
"I'm talking to him now."
"Yeah! That's what he told me. Those two guys the other week. They didn't like it when we followed them. Can the Watch do something similar. Keep it hidden from other customers but make it obvious you're filming them. Have you got enough men?"
"Warden Security? Yeah! I've seen their vans back home. OK! Sebastian would be saying there's so much for me to learn, stuff I don't need yet can keep. Keep it from the tourists but do your best to break it up."
As he hung up, Rick exclaimed, "The Wardens of the Watch run a security firm. They hire ex-soldiers and everything. They don't train mercenaries on the quiet, do they?"
"You didn't know?" John asked, surprised.
"It makes sense you know." Will said, "Everyone likes living on the island and wants to keep it like it is. Things like the Wardens of the Watch have just brought themselves into the 21 st century, and kind of justify themselves."
"I guess I've looked at the accounts but not very carefully. Thinking about it, I've seen accounts about it all, but I've not looked." Rick said.
"I've seen files about Wardens but not Warden Security." Will said, "I suppose I expected to see bills for replacing shoes or something."
"OK! Like I said, 21 st century ways of making money. I've been talking about a wind-farm, so we can export electricity, so I suppose it makes sense. Good! Here he is."
Rick was referring to the Sergeant of the Watch who was approaching them.
"Jimmy alerted us as soon as they arrived." The sergeant said, "But they could have been another group of holidaymakers. We were a bit slow on the uptake so sorry, John. We've warned Paul senior at the pub, and we've got four lads sitting at a table near them. It's not going to be long before something kicks off and the pub's pretty full."
"OK, you're cramping their style, and they won't like it. How many of them are there?"
"John, go and find something that looks like weed." Rick said, "Something else I've learned, Paul's dad is also called Paul, but warn him we're going to do a phoney deal and would he stand by the bar flap, please?"
"I can." The sergeant said, "But what are you thinking."
"John does a deal under their noses. The moment they move, we scatter, John heads outside, Will heads through the side door and I go through the main. We split them and collar them quietly."
"There'll still be a disturbance." The sergeant said.
"I know and during the day, it's mainly a restaurant about now, but we've only got while they're sussing the place out. What are they going to do then?"
"Good point. Not you though. I'll ask Jimmy and Ben, and it'll give Ben a chance to redeem himself. You're too young to be just having a drink, and you might have to calm the customers afterwards. Besides, it's not a commander's job to act as decoy."
"Forget the crap." Rick snapped, "You run a security firm."
"And you finance it, My Lord." The sergeant retorted, "If it's any help, when you see any island organisation, ask yourself how it generates income."
"OK, I'm sorry. We'd better get to the village."
Just then, Rick's phone rang.
"It's Tim. I've just taken a guy to a B & B, and he's acting a bit weird. He had a shoulder bag he wouldn't let go of, and he kept on about finding some action, and what did me and my friends get up to."
"OK!" Rick said, "He's heard about the island, and he's keen. Look! I don't know but what do you think?"
"There are guys like what you say, but we're jail-bait. He wasn't up himself like he owned the place and had a right to it. He just wasn't right."
"OK! Hang on. I've got Jack Brown with me. Let me speak to him."
Rick hung up and quickly repeated Tim's call.
"Two incidents in one day are a bit of a coincidence." Jack, the sergeant of the watch said, "Excuse me!"
He strolled away taking out his phone, returning a little later.
"Plausible deniability." he said, "I'd like you and Will to go back to the castle. Chat to visitors and act as if nothing is wrong."
"What about the pub customers?" Rick asked.
"Castle." Jack snapped, "It's near the end of the season. I'm worried something is going on that will impact on next year, so please cooperate. Oh, and take it easy. You've decided you want to spend the day fucking each other's brain's out, not sheltering from any fallout we may get."
Rick nodded and they strolled back to the castle. Visitors did not recognise them, and they headed for their room. More was going on than he knew, and he did not like it. When Sebastian was here, he was the adult in charge and Rick was happy, knowing that all would be well. Now Rick was nominally in charge, but did he know enough to cope? Jack, the Sergeant of the Wardens was right though. If there were two incidents, it was no coincidence and it had to be more than just an upset near the end of the season, so what else was going on?
In the pub, Rick's original plan had been modified. For once, John Stevens was allowed in the pub to sit at a table with his drink. Not so long after, Jimmy and Ben arrived, joined him without buying a drink. A little later, they left and after only the briefest pause, John left by the side door. Moments later, the visitors split up, three following Jimmy and Ben, and two following John.
John had already proved himself to be no fighter, so when they all met up it would be two islanders against five visitors. However, Jimmy and Ben turned into an alley, stopping to face their followers.
Already pulling out carefully hidden knives, the visitors were startled by a voice behind them.
"That's not a good idea lads."
The visitors swung round, seeing just two men, but in their hands were tasers. Glancing back, one saw that Ben and Jimmy were now holding them.
"Drop your weapons." One of the men commanded, "If you want to stay as visitors, I'll stand you a beer in the pub. If you want trouble, you'll be swimming to the mainland. It's your choice."
"It's only a few miles." Jimmy added, "Quite a few have made it. Not so many when they've had a ball and chain locked to their ankle."
"Yeah right." the leader snarled, "You're bluffing. You can't do that sort of thing."
"You don't know much about this island, do you? It's run by a gay couple, and they think they're the lords of the manor. How about we stun you, take you up to the castle, so they can play with you. How do you think they'll hide the evidence?"
The dealers were quiet then. They did know the people in charge were powerful enough to ban cars, and Jimmy's story fitted in with their own boss, Mr. Absolom. They dropped their knives and allowed themselves to be spread-eagled against the wall and searched, not complaining when the drugs they were carrying were taken. Between admitting to Mr. Absolom they had failed, wondering how true the stories about the island were or being arrested for dealing, their futures seemed bleak. The idea of a drink and a chance to think seemed the best option.
"Let's go for that drink." Jack said, "Just keep it quiet and friendly, and you'll be on the last ferry."
Once in the pub, they gathered round a table while Jack ordered. Their two friends arrived, accompanied by John Stevens and two more men but one of their friends had a badly bruised eye and seemed shaken.
"Right!" Jack said, "We're sitting around a table, having a friendly drink, and we're in a funny situation. My friends and I are Wardens of the Watch, and we have a charter going back nearly 700 years which says we can detain anyone threatening the castle and island defences. Can you imagine the fuss from the police, the courts and civil rights if we used it today? Technically we already have, but on the other hand, do you suppose John is going to be too scared to report an assault?"
"Yeah, but our boss isn't going to be happy, and you don't cross him."
"Damon Absolom?" Jack asked.
The youth looked surprised and nodded.
"It's no big secret. You've probably not heard this name, but we've been keeping an eye on Robin Blatcherfield's associates for some time now." The youth shook his head, so Jack continued, "We're coming to the end of the holiday season so there're vacancies in the holiday camp. You can stay while we deal with your boss, or you can go. Help with the repairs ready for winter and you'll be welcome. It's a chance to get off drugs and make a fresh start so it's up to you." Jack paused and grinned, "The local vet will help you."
Uncertain what the joke was, the youths grinned, but one said, "You don't get anything for nothing. What's in it for you? You can't keep us here …" he trailed off. Jack had already said they could go, and they were lost. Back home, they were the gang everyone was scared of and it felt good. A small country village should have been easy, but it had beaten them, and at the very least, they should be suffering broken bones, cuts needing stitches or worse. Instead, they were being treated with respect, important to a gang, and were being given options.
"What about this boss of yours? What happens when he wants to f … play with us?"
"Rick? I thought I told you. He's fifteen and in love with his boyfriend. He's the Earl of Westmark and owns the island. Yeah, we were bluffing about making you swim. We don't do that sort of thing any more but the old Earl would have added, 'At least, I don't think do'."
Gangs faced each other off, psyching themselves up for the fight, so again, the friendliness and openness was all wrong, something way outside their experience.
"Maybe he'll invite us in for tea." one youth said sarcastically.
"I don't know about that, but if you play pool he'll give you a run for your money. He's good."
Yet again, it was the wrong response. No, gang boss could risk a friendly game in case he lost and lost face. They had drunk enough to be relaxed and a little sluggish, they were being offered a way out of trouble, and the youths could see the men they were sitting with might be friendly, but they were alert and ready.
"I'm not staying here, and I'm going now." A youth said defiantly, but remained seated when Jack stood up to give him space to leave the table. Finally, he half stood, but no-one else moved. He sat back down. He only had a squat, and Mr. Absolom's temper to go back to. Johnny Destry, the leader of the gang stayed quiet, occasionally touching his neck where his own blade had touched it. His arm ached from where it had been twisted behind his back, and the bruise around his cheek throbbed a little. He should have dealt with some old guy, and taken over. Now shaken, remembering how easily he could have been killed, he stayed quiet, deferring to the new top-dog.
"Danny might want to play with them." Johnny said, waiting for the response as one of the youths blushed.
"I reckon Ben would show him around." Jack replied and Ben grinned, nodding.
It had been a half-hearted effort to needle Jack and it had failed dismally. Johnny touched his neck again.
Meanwhile, Tim and Seb were knocking on the other visitor's door, glancing at the warden stationed down the passageway. As the door opened, Tim smiled and said, "Hi. Can we come in?"
The visitor glanced up and down the corridor but the Warden had slipped round a corner. He nodded, standing aside for them. Tim strolled over to table where the bag was standing and leant against it, legs provocatively apart."
"I'm Tim and this is Seb. What sort of action do you want? I guess you didn't mean pool in the pub, so there's probably a rave over at the activity centre. There's the adult beach if you want to get pissed, and a bit of sex. I can take you as far as the station."
"I'm Brian. I meant something a bit more personal and intimate. Maybe the sort of fun I'd have to pay for."
"You don't mean pay us, do you?" Tim asked.
"Isn't that why you're here? To offer it?"
Tim shook his head, "No. I'm here to ask you how much you're willing to pay for info about the island. You are a reporter, aren't you?"
"No, of course not. What makes you think that?"
Tim turned and threw the bag to Brian, "How about showing us what's in the bag and proving you're not wired."
"OK!" Brian said, "What do you want?"
"I've told you. You're a reporter, it's obvious what you're investigating. How much do we get to help you?"
"£500 if I get it to the nationals." Brian replied, "It'll have to look good, though. All you've got to do, is say the right things as you take your clothes off, and maybe play with yourself."
"Like this?" Tim asked as he peeled off his shirt. Brian did not see Tim's flat stomach ready for an adult six-pack to develop, nor his trim hairless chest. He just stared at the microphone leading down to a radio pack.
"We've got a retired reporter living on the island." Tim said, "I bet his story gets printed first."
Brian's shock turned into fury, and he lunged at Tim who yelled' 'Terry' but Seb was also ready. He pushed Brian sideways, knocking him off balance as the door burst open and the warden, Terry, rushed in.
"You've got urgent business on the mainland. We'll help you to the ferry." Terry said quietly.
Kids wore baseball caps which they rarely took off. Seb now took his off to show Brian the camera hidden inside. He had stood to one side and filmed everything, including the assault. Brian was beaten and he knew it. He worked for a small magazine which specialised in conspiracy theories and lurid sex scandals of the rich and famous. The publisher did not care about accuracy so Brian had committed the one cardinal sin. He had been found out and, instead of being noticed by a top-line publication, he would be out of a job. Instead of paying off his gambling debts, he would be worthless to Mr. Absolom, except his smashed kneecaps would be a warning to others.
Jack was still concerned as he headed for the castle, with Paul and Charles.
"Charles got a glimpse of Danny." Paul chuckled, "Neither of them are going to be lonely when I'm at school."
Paul spoke briefly to the receptionist then led the way to the bedroom then up to the tower, where they found Rick, face down on a double sleeping bag with Will behind him thrusting his hips. Paul and Charles took off their own clothes while Jack just looked on, smiling. Will was the most embarrassed, physically unable to continue, while Rick blushed a little when he saw Jack.
"Don't mind me." Jack said, "I had my own fun with my friends and now I'm happily married, it's a different fun, but I need to let you know, two of the threats have been neutralised."
"Two of the threats?" Rick asked, "How many are there?"
"We don't know, but the stakes are high." Jack replied, "Remember Mr. Black and Mr. Brown? They fouled up so now they have to get back into Absolom's good books. I wanted to be sure you weren't bored or stir crazy, and I can see you're not, so once the visitors are gone, Jeff is going to raise the drawbridge. I know, it's over the top, but we can't find them and I'd rather patrol places we can't defend. You won't be surprised to learn that we're a highly effective part of the National Coastwatch Institute. They'll be on full alert tonight."
"All right, but won't Jeff object?"
"No. He does check the mechanisms, so he's just brought the next test forwards, and he'll show you how to do it. There's one other thing though, the gang of pushers. Is there any chance of inviting Ben and one of them for the night?"
"Isn't that letting the enemy in?"
Jack chuckled, "They're just impressionable lads and I reckon there's hope for a couple of them. One or two will be rushing for the ferry and the nearest dealer, but Danny may be so relieved he's among friends, he'll let things slip. He probably doesn't know much, but you never know."
"God, it's so like a military operation." Rick exclaimed, "Have we got an air force?"
"We'll be using drones to cover remote beaches. Do they count?"
"OK, you win. Carry on, Sergeant." Rick snapped, saluting.
"Yes sir." Jack responded, "Lower ranks salute and higher ranks respond. Neither of us are in uniform, so British forces don't salute anyway."
"I definitely can't win, can I?" Rick laughed as Jack left.
Thoroughly deflated by the intrusion, Will had pulled back allowing Rick to wriggle around on his back. Now, Will crashed down beside him.
"Sorry, but I still expect oldies to lose it when they see us." He said as Rick wrapped his arm round his shoulder and pulled him close.
"That's OK!" Rick said, "I'd better warn Justin not to be late unless he's staying with Zeke again."
"The boy at the railway?" Will exclaimed, "I didn't know."
"They run the delivery train to the holiday camp and the activity centre now. They're both mainlanders and don't think anyone notices if they go off on a little walk. We'll invite them because I'm getting used to strangers being a bit off with me. The more people who just relax, the better."
A group of teens with a supply of food and isolated in a very unusual setting should have only one thing on their minds but problems intruded. However they disguised it, they were hiding, with Rick in particular worried about what was happening and Will worried about Rick. Tim and Seb had also been invited, and Tim was still excited by his undercover adventure. Danny suddenly found himself worried about his future. He could not go back to the hostel where he slept because Mr. Absolom would find him, and he understood why everyone was making a fuss of him now, but what would happen after he told everything.
Will had let them into the bedroom, naked except for a towel in front of him, which he hung on the door as soon as it was closed, and invited the visitors to strip.
"No offence, Danny but you need to leave any cameras and microphones here." Will explained.
Danny nodded, following Ben's lead but was deeply embarrassed, waiting for inevitable jokes about his lack of muscle or fat, but Will simply said, "Keep your shirt on around Cook. She'll tie you a chair and force-feed you. She still insists I have extra helpings.
Danny looked at Will appreciatively. A summer of good food and plenty of exercise had done wonders. Still with a youthful trimness, he was muscular and had a sexy air enhanced by an impressive cock which had developed faster than the rest of his body. What struck Danny was, he was completely relaxed, not consciously standing to display his body, nor shyly trying to cover himself. He listened startled as Will continued, "I'm never going to eat another crisp or cold pizza again. Cook does me too many beef sandwiches, so we'll share if you like."
Food! He was going to be fed, but what was Will's story? The drive then the ferry ride had been an amazing break to his usual day. Dealing with the island's dealer spoilt it, but while they sat in the pub, plotting and planning, he could switch off. The trouble they planned had gone disastrously wrong except, he was having an experience he could have never imagined.
Once on the tower, Danny scarcely took in the introductions. They were all naked and no-one looked like a Toff except possibly Charles. He seemed just a little reserved but it could have just been his way. He listened while Rick described events starting with Mr. Black's first visit.
"OK, Tim. Let's hear your story." Rick concluded, and Tim complied.
"Any thoughts, anyone." Rick asked.
"Yeah!" Will said, "Tim's guy was going to make it embarrassing to bring kids to the island. Danny's mates were going to make it a rough place with drug fights and gangs taking over. There's still Mr. Black, and we had to raise the drawbridge. Supposing he was going to smash the drawbridge or arrange for a bit of battlement to fall on a tourist. You know, tourists get killed because we just ignore health and safety to save a bit of cash."
Will was leaning against a battlement with Rick sitting between his legs resting against his chest. Paul was resting against Charles while Rick was amused to see Justin also resting against a boy Rick didn't know. Seb and Tim were lying on a sleeping bag in a sixty-nine position, heads resting on each other's thighs, listening but already erect from a gentle tongue washing.
Danny was sitting next to Ben, enjoying the sandwiches from the packet Will had tossed to him, not objecting to Ben's hand between his legs.
"How about it, Danny?" Rick asked, "Do you know anything about Mr. Black or Mr. Brown?
It was an incredibly difficult question to answer. Grassing on Mr. Absolom or his helpers risked far worse than smashed kneecaps. Normally content to go along with things and stay in the background, he had to commit himself.
"You're all toffs so you don't want me here. Once you're done with me I'll have to go back. Then what happens to me?" He said.
"OK!" Rick said, "I grew up on a housing estate, and before the summer holiday, I was getting worried because I couldn't find a job. I've got the weirdest job on Earth now, but I know how lucky I am. I'll help you if I can. Justin, how about your story?"
Danny listened as Justin then Will told Danny about themselves. Ben spoke of burning down a house and Charles explained how his dad thought he was doing some posh job for an Earl.
"Actually, I think it is a posh job because the island depends on the ferry so much. I am taking an accountancy course but Dad won't like the way I dress or the idea I'm hauling on ropes and carrying bags a lot of the time."
Danny nodded thoughtfully, "I like history. Could I get a job cleaning in the castle?"
Will's eyes lit up at the thought of a fellow historian. Danny had been thinking of a steady job, hoping he was not pushing his luck, but the reaction had been favourable nods and grunts.
"OK!" Rick said, "Will got hard thinking about another history nerd and Jeff wants to write something more serious than tourist level stuff, so we'll have to see how everything sorts itself out. I'm not sure the castle is a good target but what about the pontoon? Is there anywhere else?"
"The railway?" Justin asked, "Central Station is never locked in case someone needs a railcar."
"The warehouse." Tim said. "It stores butane."
"Supposing Mr. Absolom had a boat." Danny said carefully, "Have you ever heard of concrete shoes? He liked to talk about them, but he had his own way. The guy knew it was going to happen and was locked in a small dark cupboard near the front where it bounced up and down over the waves, but it was just kidnapping then. When they were far enough out, they'd tie concrete weights to his ankles then chuck him over. If Mr. Absolom wants information, he reckons most guys break and tell everything. It didn't stop them going over though. He got rid of a lot of bodies as well. Supposing Mr. Black and Mr. Brown came ashore at night."
Danny was trembling, so Ben put his arm round him, pulling him close, but he was committed, "What's a rib?"
"Are we still talking boats?" Charles asked and Danny nodded, "RIB: rigid inflatable boat. People like the SBS — Special Boat Service, use them. Why?"
"I think they were joking, but they were saying a boat raid would make them look good."
They were on a castle's battlements and it was getting dark; the perfect setting for ghost and horror stories. Danny's stories were true and unsettling. It was a night for seeking comfort from one another and that is what they did; content with the warmth of another person against them.
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