Return to Rubadubby Sally Neary
PART 4: Conclusion – One Month Later, Buckinghamshire
"The autumn leaves almost cover the lawn now," thought Diana, "and there are hardly any leaves left on the old apple tree." Autumn had certainly come early this year. On this Sunday afternoon in November it was raining gently, as it had been for most of the day, and the light had almost faded.
She pressed the switch on the kettle to boil. She still had occasional nightmares, although they were less now. That terrible night... and it had all been so wonderful until... If only Barney had confided in her about the letters all those months ago. She had seen the man, looking at her from below the room, just before tea. It could all have been avoided.
She made a mug of tea and carried it into the sitting-room. She looked across at the armchair near the open fire where her husband was sleeping. His tan had faded and his face looked noticeably thinner. She looked at him tenderly. He was never known to cat-nap, but he became tired very quickly now.
He had been in surgery for five hours that night, and had been in hospital for two weeks. The bullet had proved difficult to extract, and there had been complications. He had also lost a lot of blood. Had Roger not been immediately to hand, the outcome may have been very different. It would be a while before he was fully fit again, but she knew he would get well. Prior to the accident, he had been extremely fit, and it was just a matter of time.
Diana put the mug of tea next to him and gently woke him. "I thought you might like some tea, darling, before the others arrive," she said.
"Thanks, love," he answered, opening his eyes. "I must have dozed off." He reached for the tea with his left arm. "What time are they due to arrive?"
"Any time now. Bill and Allie will be travelling down from London with Snubby and Lucy-Ann, and Roger and Isabelle are picking up your father." Diana paused for a moment. "I hope their visit isn't going to be too much."
"Of course not," said Barney, smiling at her reassuringly. "It will be good to see them all. We all want to hear what Bill has to say. He has the whole story wrapped up, and we need to know. All we know at the moment is that the culprit is in custody, awaiting trial."
Diana suddenly heard the sound of a car on the drive, and looking out could see that two cars were driving in together. She opened the door to greet the family, so pleased to see them all again. They had all visited Barney in hospital and Barno and Roger had been frequent visitors since Barney had returned home.
Roger was first to get out, and Diana greeted him with a warm hug. She and Roger had always been close, but she had needed her brother more than ever before in the last few weeks. He had been simply wonderful, she thought.
The family was soon settled around the fire, and Diana was serving tea. "Well, Bill," said Barney. "We're all anxious to hear your story. Let's hear it."
"Ok," said Bill. "Firstly, we have certainly got the right guy, and he is being enormously co-operative for several reasons, mainly because he is hoping for a kinder sentence. That is certainly not likely, by the way."
"Who is he, Bill?" asked Barney. "Do I know him?"
"His name is Antonio Paulus," said Bill, looking straight at Barney.
"Paulus!" cried Barney in disbelief. "The only Paulus I have known is the one who went by the name of Matthew Marvel."
"Right in one," said Bill, grimly.
"I can't believe it," cried Diana, looking around at Roger, Snubby and Barney. "I thought he received a life sentence after he was arrested in Rubadub all those years ago."
"He did," said Bill, "and he served thirty years. He was a relatively young man at that time, just thirty, although I've no doubt you thought him older at the time. He came out of prison four years ago."
"Where has he been since then, and what is this all about?" asked Barney, puzzled.
"Let me take you back to the time of his arrest in Rubadub thirty-four years ago," said Bill. "As you know, Matthew Marvel was masquerading at the hotel in Rubadub as a conjurer. He had in fact trained as a professional conjurer many years before, having tried his hand at acting, but not having been very successful. He was also a master of disguise, and he was partly disguised when he stayed in Rubadub."
"In the aftermath of the war," he continued, "there had been growing concern in western Europe and the US about the extent of the Russians' influence and ambition. It was known to the security services that there were a number of highly trained Russian agents working in Britain, and this threat continued for a number of years. Thanks to you, Barney," Bill continued, "it was discovered that Paulus was one of them, and he was arrested, having obtained some highly sensitive blueprints of one of our newest submarines in the military harbour in Rubadub. We got the man and the blueprints safely."
"In fact, it was Dummy who obtained the documents," said Barney, remembering. "I had been working for Marvel as a conjuring assistant, and he had led me to believe he had found my father for me, and I was to meet him on the rocks, near the whirlpool. I was, of course, being used to collect the secret package without my knowledge, and he abandoned me there, after I had passed the package to him. Dummy had hidden in the boat, having realised Marvel was a traitor, and took the package from the back of the boat. Marvel threw Dummy overboard and escaped, thinking he had the package safely. Dummy and I both escaped through the blow-hole, with package all intact! Dummy was the hero of the piece, believe me," added Barney.
"As far as Marvel was concerned," continued Bill, "you were responsible for his arrest, and his having lost the secret documents which were of such value to his Russian paymasters. He had believed you to be a young and innocent fifteen-year-old schoolboy, and had completely misjudged you. So much so, that he even stayed the night at the Rubadub Inn, believing you would never get back, and believing he still had the package safely in his bag. Considering the professional that he was, it was an unbelievable act of arrogance and negligence."
"But the next morning, he found a policeman outside his door and the package missing," added Snubby, "and there was Barney safely back at the hotel! It must have been a huge shock."
"Total humiliation," said Bill ,"and the end of his free life as he knew it for a very long time to come. Capture was regarded by the Russians as the worse possible outcome, because of the breakdown of security. In short, he held a grudge against you for years to the extent that it became an obsession," he added quietly.
"And so, having left Barney once to possibly drown, he decided he would try and kill him again on his release?" cried Diana. "What a terrible man."
"Marvel, or rather Paulus," continued Bill, "was actually half Cuban. The revolution in Cuba did not take place until the late fifties, but there had been a strong communist surge growing for some years, and Paulus's family was part of that – hence his affiliation with the Russians. You were probably sheltered from a lot of the facts of such cases in those days, as I made sure my four were," he said, looking across at Lucy-Ann. "Paulus was a ruthless man and a trained killer. You were extremely lucky to have escaped him the first time, Barney."
"If he came out of prison four years ago, why has it taken until now for him to plan this attack on Barney?" asked Roger.
"On his release, Paulus went back to Cuba to a very different country to the one he left. He would have probably stayed there, but his mother remained in England, and he came back last year when he was advised she was dying. Following her death in November, he spent some time in London, looking for work, under an assumed name, of course. It was there that he saw a billboard showing your photograph as the lead role in 'Private Lives'." Bill looked across at Barney. "He had known you as Barnabas Lorimer, which was of course your mother's name, and did not know you had ultimately met your real father and taken his name, Martin. The name Barnabas is not exactly common," Bill smiled, "and the photograph confirmed to him what he wanted to know. You are very striking to look at, Barney old son, and he recognised you immediately, even though it was almost thirty-five years on. He assumed Barnabas Martin was your stage name."
"Barney always was a good-looking blighter," said Snubby, trying to inject some lightness into atmosphere.
"He was incensed," continued Bill, quietly. "He believed his life had been devastated, and there you were, a star in the London's West End. It added fuel to the flames of his obsession. He decided he would plan his revenge, and taunt you with letters in the run-up to the planned attack, which was to be on your fiftieth birthday. The sense of spectacular appealed to him."
"How did he find out that Barney was due to be fifty?" asked Diana.
"He didn't need to find out. He already knew," said Bill. "During the time you worked for him, Barney, when he was apparently trying to find your father for you, you naturally provided him with every shred of information you could about yourself – your life as you had known it, where you and your mother had lived and worked, and of course your date of birth. He had memorised everything about you. You will recall he had trained as a conjurer and was rather good at remembering coded names and numbers."
"He certainly was," said Barney. "And it was a great cover for his treacherous activities."
"Once he knew where you were working, he decided to get as close as possible, and he obtained work as a stage-hand at the theatre where you worked. He had also had experience backstage in his early years. He wore a disguise, gave himself a forged identity, and lied about his age to get the job. He succeeded."
"Who was he then?" asked Barney. "I know all the back-stage people."
"He took the name of Vincent Grant."
"I know him," said Barney in horror. "Are you saying that Vincent Grant was actually Paulus in disguise?"
"Yes he was," said Bill. "During the months he was at the theatre he was able to pick up a great deal of information by simply listening to others' conversations and drawing them in. He apparently discovered your address by searching your pockets when you were on stage one evening."
"Wonderful," said Barney, quietly. "And how did he know where the party was to be held?"
"Again, by listening to the conversations of your fellow actors and asking the occasional question. Some of your colleagues were invited to the party, and in all innocence they discussed it together when you were out of hearing. He apparently picked up the words, 'a surprise party in somewhere called Rubadub in Cornwall'." Bill paused.
"He could not believe that you were returning to the very place where he had been arrested and lost his freedom. He was determined to see his plans through. He didn't need to really know any more, as he knew where you would be staying – at the Inn where you stayed before."
"What an amazing coincidence!" said Diana. "I probably couldn't have chosen a worse place, as far as he was concerned!"
"It was the only real coincidence of the whole thing," said Bill, "but remember he planned to make this attack wherever Barney was to be that day."
"Bill – I am just thinking of the wording of the last letter which I received at home four days before the party," said Barney. "He had obviously spent his 50th birthday in prison, which explains that bit of wording, but how did he know about the Les Miserables role?"
"A bit of clever calculation, actually," said Bill. "He had learned of the audition some months before, because of course people do talk when they get snippets of gossip of that sort. He didn't know you had been granted the part, but he found out that you would be completing your stint in Private Lives at the end of February next year, and he put two and two together, and guessed it. You would be leaving to start rehearsals."
"And so how did he do the deed, Bill, and get away with it?" asked Barno, Barney's father. He had been sitting quietly, listening to Bill's report about the planned attack on his son. "After all, you had put some pretty impressive security in place to prevent it happening."
"As soon as he had sent the last letter, he set off to Rubadub to make his preparations," said Bill. "As I said earlier, he was a master of disguise, and he used several disguises during the few days he was there to cover his tracks. Having sent the warning letters in advance to add to Barney's discomfort, he knew that the police would probably be in evidence, and he made his plans on this basis. It obviously added to the challenge."
"Firstly, he hid the revolver in a place where he would later collect it at the right time." Bill looked up. "There was a local pub about a hundred yards from the Three Men in a Tub Hotel, and he hid the gun in a package, hidden behind the cistern in the gent's lavatory. It was an old fashioned place with a high level cistern which hid the gun perfectly."
"He obviously checked out the hotel in terms of its layout during the few days prior to the party, and that was before our security was put in place. I would add that at this point he was disguised as a middle-aged female hotel guest – he was obviously convincing," added Bill, seeing everyone's surprise.
"His next task was to find out which room Barney and Diana would be occupying," Bill continued. "He made sure he hung around reception when there was no-one there, which is frequently the case in country hotels, particularly in October," he added. "He took his opportunity and checked the check-in register for Saturday the 6th, which told him what he wanted to know."
"And as you know, I saw him from our bedroom window before we went down to tea," said Diana. "It must have been him – he was standing in the shadow of the trees looking up at me in a horrible way. I almost said something to Barney, but I didn't want to spoil anything. I just didn't realise it was important."
"It almost certainly would have been him," said Bill, "and it confirmed which was your room."
"How did he get into the room to open the curtains with your security people around, Bill?" asked Barney.
"Disguise number two – he became a room maid, about mid-sixties, and the most unlikely person to be questioned," said Bill grimly. "He had already checked that room maids didn't wear uniform at the hotel, which might have posed a problem. He entered the hotel after you had gone into dinner at the side entrance, which was used by staff, and no-one questioned him. It would have looked entirely normal."
"Didn't the other staff ask any questions?" asked Snubby. "They wouldn't have recognised him, after all."
"He had already checked what happened during the serving of dinner. Such a relatively small hotel has a limited amount of staff on duty, particularly in October, and apart from the kitchen staff, virtually everyone else on duty was in the dining-room, serving food. For a special party such as your own, for over fifty people, it was all hands to the deck," said Bill.
"Reception was deserted, and he took the key to Barney and Diana's room, and one or two others, should he be stopped and questioned, and made his way upstairs, ostensibly to turn down beds."
"The hotel didn't offer that service, because I checked," said Diana.
"No," said Bill, "but our security man on the first floor wouldn't have known that, but he didn't report having seen a maid on that particular landing. I suspect Paulus waited in the first floor lavatory until our man was out of sight. It would then have taken seconds to enter your room and open the curtains," he said, looking at Barney. "That is all he needed to do, so that he could see into the room later. He then returned the keys to reception and left from the way he had come in. No-one saw him because the dinner was in full flow by then."
"He must have been waiting around a long time for us to get back to the room," said Barney. "After all, it could have been any time."
"He knew the planned schedule – dinner followed by dancing until 12.30 p.m. He knew you would not be back there before then, and possibly some time after. He needed to be in place from 12.15 p.m. at the earliest and then just wait," said Bill.
"How come the security people didn't spot him waiting around?" asked Barno.
"Disguise number three," said Bill, drily. "As soon as he left the hotel as the kitchen maid, probably at about nine o'clock, he took his car and drove back to his lodgings, outside Rubadub. There he became a fisherman in full wind-proof and water-proof gear. He then returned to the old pub near Rubadub sometime after ten apparently for a drink, but actually to retrieve the gun which he had hidden in the lavatory."
"Why go to so much trouble to do that?" asked Roger. "After all, he could have brought the gun with him from his lodgings."
"He assumed there was security around and was looking for it. He didn't want to risk being stopped and searched going into the pub – he wasn't in fact. Having collected the gun, he hid it in his boots, and left at closing time with other fishermen. It looked entirely natural, and he wasn't questioned."
"So he was now in possession of the gun, and he presumably had a long wait ahead of him," said Barney. "What did he do?"
"Some night-time fishing," said Bill. "He had the equipment with him, and it wasn't unusual. He eventually made his way on foot to the tree opposite your room and climbed it, waiting for you to return." Bill paused. "Why wasn't he picked up? Remember, this guy was a professional, even though now in his sixties, and he was able to hide himself extremely well as he made his way to his target. He simply wasn't seen. The trees were still in leaf in early October, and he hid himself well."
"We returned to our room at about one o'clock," recalled Diana. "I remember standing in the window as Barney came in."
"Yes – he saw you clearly, and he had time to prepare."
"Barney may not have come to the window at all," said Diana, considering. "I might have just shut the curtains and that would have been that. Would he have shot me instead?"
Bill looked at Barney and didn't say anything for a moment. "How do I put this? He had seen you both earlier walking from the hotel to the beach," said Bill, "and he could see you were close. He had calculated that any man whose wife had staged a surprise party such as this would be feeling romantically inclined towards her," said Bill. "He was convinced that Barney would walk over to the window where you were standing to kiss you."
"He was absolutely right!" said Barney. "And so Matthew Marvel was a mind-reader after all was he? I did exactly that." He sighed. "And to think we spent about five seconds debating who had opened the curtains." He continued, "Something suddenly exploded in my head, and I realised why the curtains had been opened – to target me. My instinct was to push Diana to the floor. Two seconds later, and it would have been too late," he said quietly.
No-one said anything for a moment, as they digested all this. "Where was he picked up?" asked Snubby.
"On the outskirts of the village," said Bill. "As soon as the shooting happened, our men were alerted immediately, and he made some mistakes – he panicked and started to walk too quickly for a fisherman late at night, and they got him." He added quietly, "Some heads would have rolled if they hadn't after the earlier omissions."
"Bill – for my part, I would like to thank you for everything you did during those last few days before and during the party," said Barno. "Without your help, this man would almost certainly be still on the loose, and Barney at risk. I will be eternally grateful."
"Nothing to thank me for," said Bill. " I wish we could have stopped it earlier, but as I have said, we were up against a trained professional, and he hid his tracks well."
"What about the trial? asked Barney. "When is that likely to take place?"
"Some time in the New Year. He will be charged with attempted murder, and will plead guilty. He knows it can soften the sentencing, but in this case it is cut and dried – premediated, and given his history – he will never be a threat to you again, although you will almost certainly be required to give evidence." He looked at Barney.
"Why did he provide so much information to you?" asked Lucy-Ann. She had been silent throughout Bill's report, holding Snubby's hand for comfort.
"Bravado – he wanted to boast about what he had done and how he had planned such an attack and deceived the police for so long," said Bill.
"Barney, will you be able to start rehearsals for Les Miserables on time in February?" asked Allie.
Barney looked up. "I have stood down from taking the part," he said. "I called Cameron MacIntosh personally last week to tell him. It will be months before I am fit enough to take on a part such as that – I know full well that months of rehearsals, and then eight performances a week, week in and week out for initially eighteen months can be very demanding. I wouldn't be able to even start rehearsals for months, and you can't allow a production such as that to have such uncertainty around it. It would be unthinkable to open the show with possibly an understudy. No – it is better this way. I believe Colme Wilkinson will get the part, and he will be excellent – first rate – and I wish him well."
"Bad luck, Barney," said Bill, looking at him. "What a huge disappointment for you."
"Bad luck? I consider myself to be very lucky," said Barney quietly. "I escaped alive, and most importantly Diana is safe and unharmed, as was everyone else at the party. Everyone I love and care for most was in the hotel that evening, and the only thing that matters to me is that no-one was hurt on my account. A part is just a part," he added. "There will be others, and at some stage down the line I may get to play it, if the show continues. I am planning to get fit as soon as I can and then take Diana away somewhere warm in the New Year for a holiday," he said, smiling across at her. "I don't know about all of you," he added, "but I personally need a drink."
Roger and Diana sorted drinks for everyone, as they sat back and digested everything that Bill had told them. "Bill and I would very much like you and Diana to come down to Craggy Tops to stay with us some time in the New Year, Barney," said Allie, "maybe in the Spring."
"What a lovely idea," said Diana, smiling at Bill and Allie. "We certainly will, and we'll look forward to it."
"And for now," said Bill, looking round at everyone. "I think we should propose a toast to both Barney and Diana. Let's drink to their future health and happiness, and whatever the New Year brings, may it be kind to us all."
* * *
When the family had left, Barney and Diana sat on the sofa in front of the fire with their drinks. "I can hardly take it all in," said Diana. "If only I had known about the letters earlier, I would have realised that the man by the tree was your attacker and we could have prevented it."
"If, if," said Barney gently, taking her hand. "If you had known about the letters from the start, you would have spent months worrying, and almost certainly cancelled the party."
"I would have done," said Diana, "rather than take the risk!"
"Wherever I was, Paulus was planning a pop at me that weekend. We might have been in a restaurant with the children, or even holding a party here," said Barney, looking firmly at her. "The consequences could have been far worse. Please don't go there, sweetheart."
"I might write one of my tales based on this story," said Diana, pensively, "but it would probably sound too far-fetched to be true!"
"Life is stranger than fiction, as they say," said Barney.
"By the way," said Diana, "you mentioned earlier something about taking me away in the New Year for a holiday. What exactly do you have in mind?"
"Ah!" said Barney, putting down his drink, and putting his arm around his wife. He smiled at her. "Now it's my turn. That, my darling, you will just have to wait to find out."