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June 3, 2012

Grandy’s Landing has now been running for exactly six months.  Introducing myself in my first post I mentioned that I had a half-finished novel lying about somewhere, a thriller, which I hoped to complete one day.

Well, that day hasn’t come yet, and I’m not sure it ever will as my writing has changed direction.  Mostly nowadays I produce short stories for adults and children.  There are more demands on my time, so short fiction is easier to fit in than novel writing.  Besides, I love the precision and potency of the short form, and the freedom to genre-hop.

Yet still I feel the tug of the novel somehow.  I miss the characters.  Martin, the middle-aged writer living at Natterjack Cottage at the Point of Ayr, recruited into MI5 for a one-off assignment after a suspected terrorist is sighted in a Rhyl hotel.  Kate, his sassy 15 year old granddaughter (complete with body piercings), dumped on him for the summer after her mum moves a new man in at home.  MI5 agents Joe (an Oxford-educated womaniser) and Yvette (delicious but dangerous, with a snooty French accent).  Joe’s dog Hoopy.  And Scorp, of course, the international terrorist whose hatred of the decadent West is incandescent…

As mentioned in ‘Sandstorm’ last week, it was at our caravan that I started writing creatively again after a long break.  The Petrie Consignment was my major project.  The story opens on a misty night in May 1943 with the disappearance of a young Porton Down scientist, his military escort and their consignment of weapons-grade germ culture.  Sixty-five years later, an elderly artist dies in a Rhyl nursing home, the authorities receive a most dreadful terrorist threat and Operation Quaker is launched…

Much of the action takes place in our familiar, much loved part of North Wales, though there are scenes set farther afield or abroad.  So yes, there’s the tug of Talacre as well.

‘Intel’ is a short extract from the chaotic first draft of my novel.  If people like it, I’ll post more.  And if the feedback is really positive, maybe I’ll complete the book one day and try my luck with publishers.     





It was always an emotional moment, taking her leave after breakfast on Boxing Day, and this time more so than usual for some reason.  Aunt Simone’s cheeks were wet with tears when Yvette planted a final kiss and Uncle Pierre’s bearhug seemed to last for ever.  It was as if they sensed something…

The traffic was light and she made good time to Dijon.

She’d cancelled her visit to Cecile in Reims, much to her friend’s disappointment, and had booked a pension in Limoges for tonight.  It was probably a hopeless quest and the responsible thing, the professional thing, would be to refer her limited intel to MI6, the secret service, for urgent investigation.  But this was personal.  Scorp was hers.

The snow came with the dusk, swirling flurries in her windscreen.  She turned the heater up and sang Christmas carols to herself as the mileometer slowly advanced.  The pension, when she reached it, weary and desperate for the loo, was like a throwback to the war, when it had served as a billet for officers of the Third Reich.  Still, the food was decent and the bed comfortable.  As she drifted asleep she was once again skipping through the snow in Montmartre Gardens with Bernard…

By eleven o’clock the following morning, Yvette was in Bordeaux.



So this was where Sidali Khadra worked.  Scorp.  Bernard’s killer.

Protected by CCTV cameras, fine wrought-iron gates and an encircling moat, the stone-built, creeper-grown edifice of the Chateau de Pol rose like some sort of fairy tale castle, round towers at every corner with pointed roofs like witches’ hats.  Sixteenth century, Yvette thought, but could have been wildly out as she was no student of French architecture.

She surveyed the scene through binoculars from the wooded ridge opposite.  A mile away to the north a mournful siren announced the approach of a passenger liner on the Garonne Estuary.

If she’d expected to detect the scent of the beast, Yvette was disappointed.  Of course he might not be in work today with the Christmas hols.

The growl of a high performance engine.  A low-slung, bright yellow sportscar was crossing the bridge over the moat.  The automatic gates opened silently and the Lamborghini Gallardo turned left onto the open road.  Yvette gained a split-second impression of raven black hair escaping a black beret, green shades and crimson lipstick.  The growl became a howl and the Lamborghini vanished around the bend, heading south.

As the sound faded to the beat of her own heart, a sense of futility enveloped Yvette.  Time to head north for the tunnel.  She’d break the journey overnight at the pension in Limoges again.  She needed to be back in London by tomorrow evening, Friday the 28th.

Emerging from the muddy lane in her old red Peugeot, Yvette turned south.  She couldn’t believe she was doing this.  It was stupid, it would achieve nothing, but some sort of madness had her in its grip…

She had to see the Canal Lateral, where Scorp caught carp.



Below, the tree-lined canal ran straight as a die, parallel to the river, through the quiet countryside of the Garonne valley, now lightly covered in snow.

It was mid-afternoon and Yvette had just passed through a village with half-timbered houses and a squat stone church.  Time for a bite to eat.  She’d brought a flask of coffee and a large slice of spicy pork pie purchased from the landlady at the pension in Limoges.  She took a left, down to the canal, and parked in a clearing beneath the trees.

Further down, beyond the lock gates, two cars were parked side by side, a blue Audi estate and a bright yellow sportscar.  Surely the latter was the same Lamborghini Gallardo she’d seen leaving the Chateau de Pol three hours ago?

The pork pie was delicious and she didn’t rush it.  The coffee was still hot but bitter-tasting; she poured the dregs onto the grass.

Yvette removed her camera from the boot.  It was an MI5 issue Nikon digital with 24x zoom.  She closed the bootlid without slamming then picked her way through the lower corner of woodland until she had the lock-keeper’s cottage in view.  It was a 19th century maison eclusieve in whitewashed stone with a creeper-grown porch beneath the official green sign.  Probably it had been vacated by the lock-keeper years ago, after the lock gates were motorised, and had later been renovated as a rural retreat for some high-powered executive or other.  There was a thin plume of woodsmoke from the chimney.

Scorp stood at the gate with the raven-haired woman in his arms, now without her shades.  Yvette clicked the shutter eleven times as he stuck his tongue down her throat before leading her inside.

Twenty-four hours later, with her pics on screen at Thames House in London, Yvette identified the raven-haired woman as Lucienne de Pol, owner of the famous de Pol winery.




Enjoy the double bank holiday, everyone.  We’ll be having a family tea-party for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on Tuesday, complete with Union Jack cupcakes and bunting…


© Copyright Paul Beech 2012


From → Novel

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