Detective Sergeant Strathearn had returned to report the hour’s news. A helicopter was coming to scour the estate, but it had to first fly sixty miles north to be refuelled. Andrew had been pacing around the room, from window to window, as though fearing his impatience would die for good if he sat back down again. The others were draped over the chairs and sofas, with the despondency of zoo animals around a pool of stagnant water. As Andrew spun angrily from Strathearn, and from the room, he suddenly realised that his mobile phone was crawling about inside his jacket pocket.
There were garbled cries, as if the caller was tumbling down a hillside. “They’re not real policemen,” the caller shrieked. “Not real –”
An instant swallowing sound and the voice was gone.
Andrew bundled the phone back into his pocket. He glanced back at the room. Replaying the message in his mind over and over again, and straining to listen, he became convinced that it had been Marvin’s voice.
He did not know where he was walking – his study, a bedroom? “Sir?” Strathearn seemed to be shouting from the end of a tunnel. “We have to stay together sir.”
He had lumbered nimbly after Andrew to retrieve him. Andrew turned and smiled. “Sorry, I forgot. I was just going into the garden for a cigarette. I must be getting tired.”
Not a real policeman? Andrew ran his eye over Strathearn, as if this innocuous façade could ever divulge some clue to the forgery. Here was a strong sturdy man, slightly monstrous in size, obviously unfit. He resembled the generic TV detective. He would have a fondly conspiratorial wife who liked sex and disruptive children who were always marrying the wrong partners. He would have a female sidekick, just out of university and critical of his unfashionable social attitudes. They would exchange barbed pleasantries. Not a real policeman?
Andrew was led back to the room. Once he was alone with his phone again, he toyed with the idea of calling the police. But he saw that the signal was unusually weak.
His arm reached out and found John McIntyre’s shoulder. This man was so light, Andrew always marvelled. Whenever he physically handled his solicitor he was immediately reconnected with a memory of being a small child and manoeuvring the body of a teddy bear through the air.
“Did you phone the agency John?” Andrew congratulated himself on how casual his voice sounded.
“No, I can’t get a signal,” John McIntyre answered. “Mind you…” he reasoned brightly, “the police might have something to do with that.” A look of alertness bolted unexpectedly across Strathearn’s impassive face. “They probably have a van outside with a device which jams or scrambles mobile signals.”
Andrew was staring about and scheming furiously. All at once, Strathearn was at his side again. “Do you mind if we look after this for you, sir?”
Strathearn had placed a hand across Andrew’s revolver. “We don’t want there to be any misunderstanding when the armed police arrive,” he recited. Right before Andrew’s eyes, he picked up the gun and passed it to Detective Constable Beaufort.
“You’ll get it back,” Strathearn assured Andrew over his shoulder. “We’ll just leave it on a table somewhere. You won’t have to sign any paperwork.”
“No paperwork!” Chief Inspector Upensky roared, in the manner of a heckler at a raucous meeting. “That’ll be a first. We should get a cake to mark the occasion.”
“He’s funny, eh?” Janet laughed. “Good fun, you know! What will he do next?”
Andrew gazed bleakly at the partygoers, completely at a loss.
“I say, Pa, where’s Marvin?” Ted was inquiring.
“That old goat?” Janet continued. “He’s one of the thieves, I’m sure of it! Wouldn’t surprise me – we all know it, eh? Eh? He’s always hiding in the bushes!”
“Now Janet,” Ted reprimanded her gently. “He’s been our servant for I don’t know how many years.”
Janet dropped her eyes and she then began to sob. “It’s not my fault, you know. It’s always my fault.”
“She’s tired,” Andrew told the room. “Come and sit with me mother. Down in the corner.” He looked down into the sofa resignedly. Janet was tottering on her feet and numerous hands were helping her.
Janet was allowed a small glass of white wine with her meal. She usually left it untouched but she always noticed and protested bitterly if it was not there. When she was half way across the room, however, it fell out of her hand and a deep stain appeared across the carpet. Everybody was reassuring her and Strathearn was on his knees at once, scrubbing vigorously.
Andrew’s face was black. “You pour white on to remove red, not the other way around. For Christ’s sake, if this is the calibre of police intelligence no wonder Harold Shipman got…”
“Calm down Andrew,” Tori hissed. “Please stop. You’re seriously worrying me, the way you’re behaving.”
At these words, Upensky glanced at Andrew queerly.
Whilst all of this was going on in the centre of the room, Tycienski had stepped to one side and tried the landline. A woman’s voice intercepted him and demanded to know his PIN.
Tycienski was apologetic. “I beg your pardon, I’m afraid I don’t live in this house. There’s some kind of internal directory?”
The voice at the other end grunted.
“In view of the emergency, I’m inquiring about the staff on the premises. Nobody has told us if they’re all safe.”
“They are,” the voice replied curtly.
“I’ve been asked to inquire about an individual named Marvin.”
“Yes, he’s here.” It sounded as if this exchange was almost a source of pain to the voice.
There was a pause. A long pause.
“Agata!” Tycienski pronounced.
The voice groaned. “Oh God!”
“It’s me, Tycienski.” He was now talking in Polish. “I’m here with a friend. I didn’t realise that it was the agency down there.”
“Listen Biggy, look, we’re all extremely busy.”
“Really? That’s interesting. Who else do I know who’s down there?”
“Biggy, I’m going to hang up now.” To underscore the solemnity of this, Agata had flipped back into English.
It occurred to Tycienski that the employer might record these phone calls and then rebuke the staff if he caught them gossiping. “No problem, I understand. I’ll come down.”
There was a sharp intake of breath. “Biggy, look, it would be better if you stay up.”
Tycienski was droll. “You’re having an orgy down there. I can hear the squealing in the background.”
“Biggy!” Agata was now in total despair.
“I’ll be down immediately.”
When Tycienski turned from the phone, he realised that everybody in the room was watching him. The three policemen were on their feet and they had half encircled Tycienski and the phone.
Andrew, sitting next to his mother, looked nauseous.
As if a bubble had shot up from the stirring depths of the survival instinct, Tycienski made sure to meet the room with a smile of almost childlike simplicity. “You’ll be pleased to hear that all the service staff are safe. I phoned down to check.”
Upensky appeared to be speaking with incredible precision. His face was unexpectedly stern and hard. “What did they say? Did they -”
When Ted spoke over Upensky, the policeman stamped his foot in frustration. “Is Marvin about?”
Beaufort reached out and gripped the back of the chair in front of him. Only Andrew noticed this.
“Marvin, I hear, is about.” Tycienski had abandoned the phone and he was drifting across the room to take his old seat beside Tori. Most of the eyes in the room still followed him.
Gradually the room returned to its dejected waiting. The policemen were conferring heatedly beside the phone.
When Tycienski knew that he was finally unobserved, he got up again and took the arm of John McIntyre. They trod together like a couple in a quadrille. “Mr McIntyre,” Tycienski said quietly. “Tell me about the Joppa trove.”
“John,” John McIntyre corrected him pleasantly. “Well, this could be the reason why we’re all stuck here.”
“It has little monetary value,” Tycienski observed.
“Well, compared to the contents of the safe or to Janet’s jewellery, that may be,” John McIntyre chuckled. “It hasn’t been valued in recent years. But it does have considerable cultural resonance. It’s apparently the largest hoard of pre-Roman artefacts to be found above the Alps.”
Tycienski pictured the naked tribesmen scrambling about under the bare sky. They were caked in mud and the fringes of their dank hair fell over their faces. They were scowling over misshapen earthen pots and bent bones, scowling at the indescribable wretchedness of their existences.
“This pagan centre…”
John McIntyre looked amused. “It’s a centre of Celtic Christianity.”
“Have they ever indicated that they might want to steal the trove?”
“No, but it’s not inconceivable. Some of the people who are involved in that organisation are not very predictable. Some of them take drugs,” John McIntyre glanced back timidly at the police as he said this. To him, it seemed, taking drugs was an inexplicable thing, rather like the language of dolphins.
Tycienski returned John McIntyre to his original sofa. All of the thoughts in Tycienski’s brain were now swirling around in confusion and he knew that there was a need to quickly rake them all together. He collapsed into a spare armchair. The policemen were still whispering frantically beside the telephone, their eyes locked together. Should he tell them all of what he knew about Agata?
[Next instalment: “More Figures on the Lawn.”]