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Merry Bank Farm

February 22, 2014

The exciting prospect of seeing Talacre again next week has prompted me to dig out my unfinished novel The Petrie Consignment.  I dreamt up the story wandering Talacre Beach when we had a caravan there, writing during lone visits. 

My idea was to produce a YA (young adult) thriller featuring a middle-aged writer and his feisty teenage granddaughter, but a bunch of dodgy characters commandeered the plot and drove it into uncompromisingly adult territory.  It’s those dodgy types – Yvette, Joe, Scorp – who dominate the extracts previously published here, so I thought it would be nice this time to whiz back to the earlier part of the novel and give Martin and Kate an outing.

The death of local artist Dylan Bigley-Jones in a Rhyl nursing home has thrown the security services into a flap.  The artist’s personal effects show that “Bigley-Jones” was a false name, that in fact he was none other than Dr Robert Petrie, the Porton Down scientist who disappeared on the Point of Ayr, along with his military escort and a truckload of deadly weapons-grade germ culture, one misty evening in 1943, during the Second World War.

The Petrie Consignment was never recovered and there are indications now that it might have fallen into the hands of a notorious international terrorist known as The Scorpion, or Scorp.  The possible consequences are terrible beyond contemplation.

Martin Webb is taken on by MI5 as a temporary Intelligence Officer to work on ‘Operation Quaker’ aimed at neutralising the terrorist threat.  And it’s now of all times that his fifteen-year-old granddaughter is dumped on him by her mother because of trouble at home.  Kate will be with him through the summer break.

Assisted by Kate, Martin discovers that following his disappearance, Dr Petrie found refuge at a remote sheep farm, changed his name, took up painting and began a relationship with a Land Girl…

MERRY BANK FARM

The downpour slackened off around dawn, giving way to a morning fresh and bright in that rain-washed way with steam rising from pavements and everything preternaturally colourful as the last of the surface water gurgled in the drains.

By the time they’d breakfasted on the patio it was quite warm and they didn’t hang around.  With cooler box and haversacks stowed in the Triumph Stag’s capacious boot along with binoculars, torches, digital camera, bird identification guide and a catalogue of Bigley-Jones’s work, they were ready to set off for Merry Bank Farm.  They were going on a picnic.

Martin checked his inbox – nothing urgent, thank goodness – then strode out to the open-top Stag.  Kate was already strapped into the front passenger seat looking very cool in a pair of oversized shades with her long dark hair tied back in a yellow headscarf. 

They passed through the village of Dolphin with its pretty stone cottages and coaching houses and five minutes later turned up a twisty lane overhung with trees.  A battered green Landrover stood abandoned on the opposite side of the road with its bonnet semi-embedded in the overgrown embankment.  There were skid marks on the road.  “Probably happened in the rain last night,” said Martin.  “Driver must have gone for help.  No doubt a rescue vehicle will be along shortly.” 

The trees gave way to hedges and half a mile on they came to a pair of white gates on the right with an enamelled sign on one post, which read Merry Bank Farm.  Beneath was a laminated notice: Superb fresh lamb, £5.00 / 10kg pack.    

Martin slowed to a crawl.  A long gravel drive twisted through lawns and massed rhododendron bushes to an old farmhouse in whitewashed stone with massive chimneys and a slated roof incorporating a couple of mullioned windows of gabled dormer design.  “Attic bedrooms,” said Martin, pointing.  “It would have been at one of those windows that Petrie first set up his easel as Bigley-Jones.”  

“That would have been back in 1943,” said Kate.

“Correct.”

Martin had had a long talk with his granddaughter over supper last night and explained everything fully.  “So you see why I was so worried about your safety,” he’d said.  “And why it’s vital we locate the anthrax culture before some ghastly atrocity is perpetrated, with perhaps a death toll running into tens of thousands.”

At the top of the hill, where the moorland began, Martin pulled up in a lay-by.  Across the road was a drystone wall with a gate and Bridleway sign.  Beyond was a beaten track flanked with gorse and heather.

Shouldering their rucksacks, they set off.

After ten minutes, Martin was puffing due to the heat and the weight of the cooler box.  He could feel his dodgy back creaking.

Kate was already fifteen paces ahead despite pausing frequently to consult her bird book.  Wheatears, stonechats, a skylark singing on high.  Was that a sparrowhawk or merlin?  And what about that, a buzzard or…a red kite?

Martin worried about his back.  He knew these warning twinges too well.  It would only take a little twist or jerk to set off a muscular seizure akin to a mule kick that would render him prostrate in agony for half an hour or more and rule out anything strenuous for the rest of the day.  He couldn’t afford to be out of action with the Petrie Consignment to find.

They had arrived at a rocky outcrop overlooking the rich farmland below.  “Time for a breather,” he said, sitting down.

He handed Kate a Coke from the cooler box and opened one for himself.

“You alright, Grandy?  You look a bit flushed.”

“Just my back but it’s easing now.”  Martin pointed down the valley.  “See that rock wall beyond the farm?  That must be the escarpment Enzo noted in his pocketbook.  And somewhere amongst the scrub at the bottom…” 

Martin took his binoculars from their case.  Sheep below, then a barley field, then the rock wall.  He examined the scrub along the whole base of the escarpment.  He adjusted the lenses for a closer look and spotted a dog-fox on the prowl.  No doubt the scrub was full of rabbits.  But where was Petrie’s truck?  He passed the glasses to Kate.  “Have a look.”

Kate said, “Bit of a jungle down there, isn’t it?  All that bracken and briar and stuff.  We might never be seen again!”

A moment later she stiffened.  “Police car.  Look Grandy.”

He took the glasses.  And, sure enough, there was a blue and yellow Heddlu patrol car pulling up outside the old farmhouse.  Two uniformed officers got out, a redheaded female sergeant and an older male constable, whom Martin recognised as Griffo, a.k.a. PC Dai Griffiths, a popular bobby from Prestatyn.  Their faces were grim and their body language suggested they were steeling themselves for something.  Perhaps they were the bearers of bad news.

Griffo rang the bell and a moment later a middle-aged woman in a flowered pinafore appeared at the door.  A brief exchange, then the officers stepped inside with bowed heads and the door closed behind them.  When they emerged, ten minutes later, the woman was wearing a plain navy dress.  She was swaying a little and appeared to be in shock.  Griffo ushered her into the back seat and the patrol car slid away down the drive like a hearse.

“Must have been Mrs Powell, the farmer’s wife,” said Martin.

“Something bad has happened, hasn’t it, Grandy?”

“Could be anything…Let’s find that truck and get out of here.”     

Leaving the cooler box on the rocky outcrop, they carefully picked their way down the steep valley side to the field below where sheep had nibbled the grass to stubble.  Kate commented on the innocent trust in the eyes of the lambs.  If they only knew what lay before them – slaughter and mint sauce!

Martin thought of the innocent trust in Kate’s eyes and felt guilty all over again for involving her in this business.

A rutted track led past the golden barley field to the scrubby wasteland at the foot of the escarpment, and tyre tracks were visible in the mud.  “Not chunky enough for a tractor,” said Martin.  “A big car, perhaps, or a van.  Recent too, just a few hours old.”

“Suspicious, isn’t it, Grandy?”

“Well, it would be interesting to know who drove up here in the rain last night, and why.”

Martin had paused for breath.  His back was aching again. 

Kate was fifty yards ahead, where the rutted track petered out in a tangle of juniper bushes and blackthorn.  “Come on, Grandy.  You need to see this.”

The tyre tracks made a complicated pattern, then became deeper, with a more distinct tread pattern, as if the vehicle were carrying more weight.  Also there were several circular indentations in the mud, each about fifteen inches in diameter, with footprints all around. 

Kate said, “Several different footprints, several different people.  Looks like they turned the vehicle around here and loaded something on board before heading back.”  She pointed to the rings in the mud and Martin saw from her grim expression that she’d worked it out.

He groaned.  The rings could have been made by chemical drums, of course; lots of those about on a farm.  But he knew very well what they really were…

“We have to be sure,” he said.  “We have to find that truck.  But where the blazes can it be?”

***

Copyright © Paul Beech 2014

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From → Novel

11 Comments
  1. Now you have peeked my interest Paul. I hope you finish this story. If you do please let me know. :o)

  2. Pat, I’m delighted you like my novel extracts. You’ve given me hope that ‘The Petrie Consignment’ might have some appeal afterall, and be worth investing time in. I love my characters, the baddies as much as the good guys, and have always hoped to get back to them eventually. Now I really think I shall. It won’t be just yet as I’ve other projects on the go, but someday, yes. I’ll get there in the end and be sure to let you know.

    Enjoy the long weekend.

    My very best,

    Paul

  3. Maureen Weldon permalink

    This is the first time I have read an extract from this novel, it has me in its grip. I look forward to the day when you finish the whole novel Paul. You must.
    from,
    Maureen

  4. Maureen, thank you, thank you!

    The novel needs a lot of work yet; it’s only about two-thirds done in rough draft. But I should love to get back to it once my chapbook is done. The characters still live in my head, demanding their story be told. And with your very most welcome encouragement, I believe it will happen now.

    Yours,

    Paul

  5. Reblogged this on The Writers Desk and commented:
    Read the excerpt from Merry Bank Farm. A very talented author.

  6. Again I have read about Merry Bank Farm. I hope I get to read the rest of it soon. Love your work, and hope you are working on this story. :o)

  7. Pat, I’m delighted you’ve written again so encouragingly about The Petrie Consignment, my novel. My priority at the moment is to publish a poetry/flash fiction chapbook, but once that’s out of the way I’d like to really get cracking on my novel. I’m afraid there are trying times ahead for both goodies and baddies – what fun!

    Your comments mean a lot to me always – thank you.

    Thanks also for reblogging the excerpt on The Writer’s Desk – I hope your readers like it too.

    Fond regards,

    Paul

    • You are most welcome. I will continue to read your offerings as your method is an inspiration to me. I should be the one to thank you for all your kind word to me, and let me take this opportunity to do that, Thank you Paul. Your comments mean as much to me as mine do to you. You are a sweet heart :o)….

      Regards,

      Pat

  8. Pat, I admire your writings too. And your friendship means a great deal to me.

    Yours,

    Paul

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