The Unusual Invitation – Part One

by Julie Heginbotham

"The post is late again," said Bets with a frown, walking from the hall into the lounge and handing a couple of letters over to Fatty. "I remember the post used to be so regular when we were children," she carried on to say, "you knew almost to the minute when the postman would call. Do you remember, Fatty?"

Bets glanced over to her husband when no answer was forthcoming to see him deep in thought reading the letter in his hand. When finished, he took off his glasses and handed the letter over to her with a raised puzzled brow.

Bets took the letter from him looking slightly intrigued by his serious expression. It read:-

To Commander Frederick Trotteville,

Long time no see, Commander. This letter must be a complete surprise to you as you read it. But I'd like to invite you and your good lady wife to attend a luncheon buffet for my 75th birthday at 12 noon on 18th February, at the Anglers Hotel in Maidenhead. I do hope you will both be able to come. It will be lovely to see you once more, Commander Trotteville, and maybe we will be able to reminisce over how I eluded capture for so many years.

Best wishes,

Peter (Fingers) Simpson

"Who on earth is Peter 'Fingers' Simpson?" said Bets, with an amused grin.

Fatty looked at her thoughtfully, casting his mind back to his police days in the Cheshire Constabulary. "He was, and probably still is a very clever thief. For years he eluded my clutches. I knew he was the head man behind some very clever jobs, and he knew I knew he was, but there was never enough evidence for me to get a conviction."

Fatty shook his head in disbelief as Bets handed him back the letter. "I wonder why he's sent this invitation out of the blue after all these years," Fatty went on to say thoughtfully. He picked up the envelope and saw that it had been posted on to him from the head office of the Cheshire Constabulary, showing that Simpson had written to him via the Cheshire Police force. Fatty was puzzled and suspicious of such an invitation from someone he'd not seen for many years, but thinking back he remembered there had always been a mutual sort of respect they had for each other whenever they met. Something that Fatty could never actually explain, it was just there, like many of his 'gut' feelings.

"Are we going?" asked Bets, looking at Fatty and sounding doubtful. "If this man is a criminal still, I really don't fancy it, at all!"

"I must admit to feeling intrigued," said Fatty, looking at Bets with a raised inquisitive brow. "Why has Simpson contacted me after all these years?"

Bets knew that look of old, and looked at Fatty with wide eyes. "You may be intrigued, Fatty," she said, sternly, "but you've retired from that side of your life now and I really don't think we should go!"

Fatty leaned back in his favourite chair, contemplating the invitation over and over in his mind, as he stroked Buster's head, which rested on his lap as the dog sat at his feet. If he didn't accept the invitation, wondering why Simpson wanted to see him after all these years would eat away at him deep inside, which would be far worse than going along to the party and finding out.

Fatty looked across at Bets, who was watching him closely from where she sat. He suddenly gave a small grin, which made him look much younger. Bets knew that grin, which was one that reminded her of the young Fatty in their Find-Outer days. With a deep sigh and a shake of her head, she rose from the settee and headed for the kitchen, to make a much needed pot of tea, knowing exactly what Fatty intended to do!

* * *

"I can't believe we're actually going to this birthday party!" said Bets, in angry tones to Daisy, as they sat opposite each other at the kitchen table in the White House, enjoying an afternoon cup of tea and a chat.

"I understand how you feel about it," said Daisy, in sympathetic tones, "but it does sound rather intriguing as to why this invitation should come 'out of the blue'."

Bets frowned good-naturedly. "You're as bad as Fatty. All I've heard from him yesterday and today is, 'Why have I been asked Bets?' I wish I'd opened the letter first and then just thrown it away!"

Daisy gave a laugh. "You wouldn't have done that, and you know it!"

Bets smiled at her long time friend. "You know me too well, Daisy."

"All the same, I wish I was going too," said Daisy, with a twinkle in her eye. "Peter (Fingers) Simpson sounds an intriguing character, and he must be a pretty intelligent thief to have eluded Fatty's clutches for all these years!"

"I think that's the only reason why Fatty wants to meet with him again," said Bets, with a sigh. "They have this 'special respect' for each other's intelligence."

"Well if you don't want to go, I'll take your place," said Daisy, with a raised brow.

Bets gave her a knowing smile. "You know very well I'll go, Daisy. If I didn't, I'd worry at what Fatty was up to!"

"More a case of what Fingers Simpson would be up to, if you ask me!" said Daisy.

Before they could say anything more, the back door opened, and Fatty, Pip and Larry came into the kitchen, bringing a cool draught in with them. Buster left his basket and greeted them all warmly as if he hadn't seen them all for years.

"We've only been gone an hour," said Fatty, stroking his dog's head.

"Yes, there is nothing like a pint at your local before settling down for an afternoon's rest," said Pip, sitting at the kitchen table. He looked across at Daisy and Bets, and said with a raised brow, "I suppose you've both been discussing this invitation that Fatty's received from the criminal fraternity!"

Larry and Fatty sat down at the long table, and sent a swift grin over at Pip.

"I think it sounds jolly exciting," said Larry, giving Bets a friendly nudge on her arm. "I believe you're a little unsure, Bets?" He finished, with a grin.

Bets sent the amused Fatty a frown, and said sternly. "Yes I am unsure, and for good reason."

"Well I think you should go," said Pip, firmly. "Otherwise you'll never know what this 'Fingers' really wanted and that would be far worse, the constant wondering!"

"That's what I've said," said Fatty, in thoughtful tones. "After all these years, and suddenly out of the blue he contacts me. There has to be some underlying reason!"

"Well I've told Bets, I'll go with you," said Daisy, with a grin. "I'm just as intrigued as you are, Fatty."

"Pity the invite doesn't say, bring your friends," said Larry, with a raised brow. "I'd love to go along too and find out what's it all about."

The others all nodded, thinking that such an invite couldn't be ignored.

"Looks like we'll be definitely going then, my dear," said Fatty, looking at Bets with a wicked grin.

"I'd already worked that one out," said Bets, with a slight frown.

* * *

Bets felt rather nervous and apprehensive as she and Fatty walked into the lobby of the Anglers Hotel at twelve o'clock. On enquiring at reception as to where the buffet lunch was being held, Bets clung on tightly to Fatty's arm as they entered into a large conservatory which overlooked the River Thames.

Quite a number of guests were huddled together in groups, chatting and laughing, and for the umpteenth time that morning, Bets was wishing she hadn't said she'd go.

A waitress came towards them carrying a tray of drinks, and offered them both one of the tall glasses of champagne. Fatty smiled his thanks with a nod of his head, and after receiving a bright cheerful smile from the waitress, she headed off to greet more guests.

"I feel so uncomfortable, Fatty," Bets whispered in his ear. "Do let's go after we've had this drink."

Fatty gave Bets a reassuring smile and said. "Stop worrying my dear. Let's go and sit by the window and admire the fine view." He led Bets over to a vacant leather settee and they both sat down, placing their glasses of champagne on the low glass table before them.

Glancing around him, Fatty spotted the large buffet table along one wall, and feeling a slight pang of hunger said to Bets, "I'll go over and get us something from the buffet, you keep my seat warm."

"Don't leave me yet, Fatty," said Bets, almost in panic. "I'm really feeling most uncomfortable being here."

"Stop worrying!" said Fatty lightly, rising from the settee. As he turned he saw an elderly man walking towards him with a young woman dressed in a low cut fitting black dress, clinging onto his arm. Fatty stood motionless recognising the face of the man as none other than Peter Simpson.

Simpson smiled on his approach and held out his hand to shake Fatty's, long before he reached him. "I'm so glad you could make it Commander Trotteville," Simpson said, with a generous smile. "May I introduce my wife, Shelly?"

Fatty shook her outstretched hand, thinking secretly that she must be less than half her husband's age. He introduced Bets, to them both, and then watched as Simpson, kissed his wife Shelly on the lips and asked her if she wouldn't mind leaving him to have a chat with Commander Trotteville and his good lady wife.

"Of course not darling," she answered, in soft velvet tones. "I'll go and mingle with the rest of the guests." She smiled at both Fatty and Bets before walking away.

Simpson sat on the chair opposite to Fatty and Bets and said, with a grin, "Yes, Shelly is much younger than me, Commander; forty three years younger to be precise."

Fatty gave a small smile and a slight nod of his head. "I seem to recall your wife being a little older," he said.

Simpson acknowledged the monotone. "Shelly is my third wife." His look changed suddenly to one of concern as he noticed the empty table. "I'll get the waitress to bring you both some food over, if you haven't already eaten."

"Don't worry, we can help ourselves later," said Bets, with a smile, feeling far from hungry.

"I insist," came Simpson's reply, beckoning one of the waitresses over and asking if she'd kindly bring an assortment of food for his special guests.

Once the waitress was out of earshot, Fatty said. "So, I think you had better tell me the reason why you sent out this invitation, Simpson." Fatty gave a wry smile. "I'm sure it wasn't to talk over old sparring times!"

Simpson gave a knowledgeable grin, and with a raised brow said, "You've not changed, Commander – still coming straight to the point, without turning a hair!" He looked at Bets, and said to her in tones of admiration, "Your husband was always liked and respected by the criminal fraternity and he was excellent at his job."

"I never did manage to pin anything on you though," said Fatty. "You surrounded yourself with excellent lawyers!"

Simpson smiled. "You get what you pay for, Commander, that's always been my motto."

"Pity you don't possess the same scruples as the rest of us!" said Fatty, with a raised brow.

"I've a feeling you might have to eat those words, Commander!" said Simpson, with a wry grin and sitting back with confidence into the soft leather chair.

"I doubt it," said Fatty, with the same confident air.

The waitress returned just then and placed a tray of assorted sandwiches and cakes on the low table before them all. After thanking the young waitress, Simpson said, "Please both of you help yourselves."

"I'd prefer to know why you asked us here," said Fatty, picking up one of the sandwiches and putting a couple on a plate which he gave to Bets, with a reassuring smile.

"Very well," returned Simpson, leaning forwards in the chair and lowering his voice slightly. "I've had a kidnapping threat against my daughter, Commander. I don't trust anyone in my circle of associates and so I want you to keep her safe for me."

Of all the reasons that had flashed through Fatty's head, this was one he hadn't thought of. "Why don't you go to the police?" he said, with a shrug.

"As I said, I don't trust anyone, and that includes the police," said Simpson, firmly. "But I do trust you, Commander.

Fatty cast Bets a quick glance and turning back to face Simpson said, "It may have escaped your notice but I am retired from the force."

"And that's why I want you to keep my daughter safe. You're not legally bound anymore with restrictions and red tape."

"I really don't think we can help you," said Bets, speaking in firm tones, not wishing Fatty to be involved in such a request.

Simpson looked at Bets and said calmly, "I appreciate what you're saying, but please think about it, I'm worried for my daughter and I trust your husband with her life. As a mother yourself, you'd want the best for your family, Mrs. Trotteville."

Fatty looked at Bets, fully understanding her returned look that left him in no doubt that this was an assignment she didn't want him to undertake. So with a strong determination in his voice, Fatty said to Simpson, "My wife has said all there is to say on this matter."

For a split second, Fatty saw anger spring into Simpson's eyes, and then it was replaced by desperation, as he said, "Commander, I'm begging you to keep my daughter safe with you and your good lady wife. Please help me to keep her out of danger."

"How old is your daughter?" asked Bets.

Simpson looked at Bets, with a spark of hope shining in his eyes. "She's twenty seven, my only daughter from my second marriage. And she's the most precious thing in my life."

Bets gave an understanding nod. "I fully understand how you must be feeling, Mr Simpson, but you must also understand how I feel. I don't want my husband or our family and friends to be in any danger whatsoever by keeping your daughter in our care."

"No one would know that Sophie would be in your care," he replied. "I wouldn't tell anyone within my circle of friends. I don't trust any of them at the moment."

Simpson looked at Bets appealingly and she felt a slight tinge of guilt for refusing his request and looked at Fatty for his support and guidance.

"We'll have to think about it first," said Fatty after a short silence. "We can't decide today."

Simpson nodded slowly. "I understand Commander, so I think it's probably time I showed you my full hand." He rose from the chair and said. "Will you both follow me, please?"

Fatty and Bets sent each other a swift glance of uncertainty, before Fatty took her hand and they followed Simpson passing the groups of guests, towards a door on the other side of the room.

He led them through into another small lounge, dotted with easy chairs and small tables, and on one side stood a large stone fireplace housing a large roaring fire. At each side of the fireplace were two tall leather chairs, and sitting in one of them and smiling at their approach was Ern Goon.

* * *

"Ern!" said Fatty and Bets, simultaneously. "This is a surprise!" said Bets, with a smile.

Ern greeted them both and rising to his feet kissed Bets on the cheek, indicating for them both to sit down. Meanwhile, Fatty's mind was working overtime as he looked at Ern and then cast a quick glance over at Simpson, who watched the scene before him in silence, before saying, "I expect you've worked it all out now, Commander."

"You could say that," returned Fatty, with a raised brow.

Bets looked at each of them in turn, and in puzzled tones said to Fatty, "What's going on?"

Fatty sat back more comfortably in the leather high backed chair, placing his arms on the leather rests, before saying confidently, "I would guess that Ern and Simpson have worked or should I say, are still working for the same undercover department, which explains why Simpson has eluded my clutches all these years, and why I've never been able to pin anything on him." Fatty's brows rose questioningly.

"Spot on, Commander," said Simpson, with a nod of his head, "and I did also anticipate you refusing my request which is why I asked Ern along to give it some added weight."

Bets looked at them each in return, and remained silent, but gave Fatty a look that said, 'so what happens now?'

Fatty felt a tinge of anger deep inside that his efforts over the years to try and put a conviction onto Simpson had all been a waste of time and resources, when a quiet word of truth in his ear would have been preferable.

"Don't be too put out, Fatty," said Ern, softly. "You know the department we work for and how confidential and important it is for us to remain undercover."

Fatty and Bets knew only too well of Ern's secret undercover work of infiltrating criminal gangs for a department in MI5, and how to all who knew him, was supposed to be deceased for his own safety and was now going under the name of Edward Tupping. They'd bumped into Ern whilst on holiday, staying at an hotel in Carbis Bay, and the gardener had turned out to be none other than Ern Goon.

"It doesn't make it any easier to stomach, Ern," said Fatty, in strong tones. He turned to look at Simpson. "So you're part of the team too. I bet it must have amused you to know I could never get a conviction, every time I caught up with you."

Simpson looked seriously at Fatty, no amusement on his face just a slight sadness in his eyes. "I had a job of work to do, Commander, just as you had. We were all working on the same side, as it were. It gave me no pleasure to see all your hard work fly out the window every time I walked free."

Fatty could clearly hear the sincerity if his voice, and said evasively, "Well it's all water under the bridge now, I suppose."

Simpson brightened up and said. "So Commander, will you agree to help me?"

"Do I have a choice?" Fatty returned, with a sarcastic edge to his voice.

"We're not a group of thugs, Fatty," put in Ern lightly. "Of course you have a choice. But Simpson here wants his daughter protected by the best person he knows who is good enough to do the job, and that's you."

Fatty looked thoughtfully at Ern, then across to Simpson, who appeared to be holding his breath in anticipation. He then looked at Bets whose expression had softened and a small smile reached her shining eyes.

Fatty nodded slowly, looking at Simpson. "Very well, we'll help protect your daughter. What plans have you in mind?"

* * *

Later that evening, as the Find-Outers were relaxing in the lounge at the White House, and Fatty had just poured himself, Larry and Pip a beer, Larry said, "So what's the plan?"

"I hope it includes all of us," said Pip, hopefully. "With Mary and Helen being away visiting relations in Australia, Larry and I are at a bit of a loose end."

"You always are whenever your wife is away," said Bets to her brother. "Last time Mary and Helen went to Australia, Larry stayed here with us." Bets shook her head good-naturedly. "You're both hopeless on your own."

"It's a good job you're close at hand then, sister dear," said Pip, with sarcastic humour, "and as Paul is away visiting his daughter, Daisy is a free agent too."

"Yes, but not at a loose end," said Daisy, with a grin. "But it would be nice if the Find-Outers were on another case," she finished off, with a raised brow and a mischievous smile.

"Well, you'll all be pleased to hear that you're all involved," said Fatty, after taking a drink of the beer in his hand. "And what's more, we're off to the Peak District for a couple of weeks until Simpson and Ern have got to the bottom of the kidnapping threats against Simpson's daughter, Sophie."

"Excellent!" said Larry with a happy smile. "I expect it will be a lot colder up there at this time of the year, but it has some great scenery and fantastic walks, so Buster should lose a bit of weight!"

Buster pricked up his ears at the mention of his name, but didn't stir from his basket by the wood burning stove. Everyone looked at Buster and grinned.

"Take no notice," said Bets, to the little black Scottie dog, "you don't need to lose weight which is more than can be said for Larry," she finished, looking over at him as he downed the rest of his beer.

"Yes, he is putting it on, rather," said Daisy, teasing her brother. "Too many beers since Helen's been away I expect!"

"I'm a very fit for a man for my age, thank you!" said Larry, with good humour.

"That's your opinion," said Pip, joining in the fun. "Anyway, when are we all going?"

"The day after tomorrow," said Fatty. "Ern's coming over tomorrow to finalise the details."

"I'll text Mary later to tell her I'll be away for a couple of weeks," said Pip. "Helen's forgotten to take her phone, so Mary has to pass on any news."

Larry grinned. "Yes, Helen forgetting her phone will save me quite a bit of money when the next bill of hers comes in."

"Honestly, Larry!" said Daisy, with a frown at her brother, before saying. "Well at least it gives us all time to pack and get ourselves sorted."

"It won't take me long to throw a few things into a case," said Larry, with a shrug.

"Nor me," put in Pip. "It's you women who have to have time to pack everything, including the kitchen sink!" he finished, with a laugh, only to get a well aimed cushion thrown at him by his sister.

* * *

The following morning, Fatty and Bets had not one visitor arrive, but two!

"Hello, Lisa, what a lovely surprise!" said Bets, kissing her cheek and shouting to Fatty, "Lisa is here!"

"Hello my dear, how nice to see you," said Fatty, walking into the hall and giving her a big hug. "Come along into the lounge by the fire. It's jolly cold out this morning."

"Here's Ern too!" called Bets, who was just about to close the front door, but spotted Ern walking up the driveway.

"Hello Bets!" said Ern, with a smile, entering the hallway. "Gosh it's cold out there. Is Fatty in?"

"Yes, he's just gone into the lounge with Lisa," said Bets, closing the front door. "Go through, I'm just going into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea."

Ern entered the lounge and greeted Fatty and Lisa. "Lovely to see you again." Ern said to Lisa, with a smile.

Lisa grinned. "Yes, it seems ages away now since Fatty's 80th birthday party."

"Don't remind me," said Fatty, with a shrug. "That was one Eventful Birthday I'll never forget!"

"Time flies by quickly when you're having fun," said Lisa, with a grin. "Are you still with the 'secret service', Ern?" she finished off, with a wicked twinkle in her eye.

"Don't ask questions and you won't be told any lies," Ern teased, sitting by the roaring fire in the wood burning stove.

"I'm just wondering whether it's the right time of year to be heading north tomorrow," said Fatty, settling Buster back down in his basket after he'd greeted the guests with his usual bound of excitement.

"What's this?" said Lisa, in surprise, looking over at Fatty. "Are you going away?"

"A fortnight in the Peak District," said Bets, entering the lounge, carrying a tray of tea and hot buttered crumpets.

"Oh lovely," said Ern, taking the tray from Bets and placing it on the low table, then helping himself to one of the lovely looking crumpets. "Just the thing on a cold winter morning!"

"Whereabouts in the Peak District are you going?" said Lisa, helping herself as directed by Bets as she'd said, 'Tuck in everyone'.

"A location that is as yet still a secret," said Fatty, with a mysterious tone in his voice and a raised questioning brow.

Lisa was intrigued. "You're working on a case, aren't you, Frederick?" she guessed. "Any room for one more?"

"Aren't you suppose to be working, dear," Bets asked her, suddenly realizing that Lisa's job, as a games instructor at a school, was term time work. Lisa was the grand-daughter of Hilary Jenks, Superintendent Jenks' god-daughter, and Fatty and Bets had first met Lisa during one of their cases called -The Peterswood Players – whereupon they'd also learned a little of Hilary Jenks' past life.

"I'm off sick for a few weeks," said Lisa. "I had a bit of a fall and landed on the leg that had taken the bullet in one of the cases you were working on – Down By The River. You remember, Fatty?"

"I do indeed, my dear," said Fatty, remembering how awful he felt knowing that their good friend Lisa had been shot. "How badly did you hurt yourself with the fall?"

"Bruising mainly, and it was very painful, the doctor said a few weeks rest should do the trick." She looked around at them all with a smile. "So, tell me more about this case you're working on."

"You'd better tell her," said Fatty to Ern, with a jocular exasperated sigh, "as she won't give up asking until you do."

Lisa looked at Ern wide eyed.

"Someone in our department has had a kidnapping threat made against his daughter," began Ern, "and we've asked Fatty, and Bets, along with the other Find-Outers to keep her safe with them for a couple of weeks until it's all sorted out."

"How exciting," said Lisa, her eyes shining with joy? "So how about I join you all, another pair of hands and all that?"

"Aren't you suppose to be resting?" said Fatty, sternly.

"I can rest in the Peak District just as well as here, with Grandmother," she said, with conviction. "At least I won't have Grandmother fussing over me as she's doing at the moment." Lisa shook her head gently.

"How is Hilary?" asked Bets, with a smile, at the mention of Lisa's grandmother.

"Oh she's fine," returned Lisa. "Fussing as usual, bless her."

"She means well," said Bets, gently.

"So, can I come along then?" said Lisa, hopefully. "I can soon throw a few things in a bag ready for tomorrow."

"Will there be room at the place we're staying?" asked Fatty, looking at Ern.

"We don't know yet, exactly where we are staying," said Bets, with a frown. "Isn't it time you told us, Ern?"

"I would if I could get a word in edgeways," he snorted, humorously. "It's a large self-catering barn in a little village called Little Longstone. It has been booked under the name of Trotteville for two weeks from tomorrow, and I've put the directions into two sat-navs. One for you Fatty, and one for Larry." He paused thoughtfully, looking round at the others, and for a split second, Fatty felt that there was something he was holding back, and said in strong tones:

"And what is it that you've conveniently missed out, Ern?"

Surprised at Fatty's tone of voice, both Lisa and Bets looked earnestly over at Ern, who was looking slightly sheepish, and said in a small voice, "Yes, well, I guess I can't fool you can I Fatty?" He gave a small smile and lowered his voice mysteriously. "There's been a slight change of plan. Sophie actually won't be hiding with you all in the barn, she's already been taken to a secret location only I know of. I took her there yesterday."

Everyone looked at Ern in surprise. "Why, what exactly is going on?" Fatty asked, in puzzled tones. "And if Sophie is already in hiding somewhere, then you won't need us to take the trip up north!"

"It's a little more than a kidnapping threat," said Ern, mysteriously, "and I'm sorry but I can't really say any more." He paused for a moment, and said, "In fact, we'd still like you to go ahead as planned Fatty and it would be a good idea if Lisa did join you, then if anyone was watching you all, not that I'm saying they would be," he added quickly, "but they'd think that she was Simpson's daughter, Sophie."

Fatty felt annoyed, at looked sternly at Ern. If he was going to help in anyway then he had to be told the whole facts or there would be no venturing up north. "Oh, no, Ern," he said, sternly. "I'm not having you use Lisa or any of us for that matter. You tell me everything you know, or the deal is off."

"Fatty, I would if I could, you know that. You'll just have to trust me, on this one." He looked at Fatty hopefully – whose eyes never left Ern's. "We'd really appreciate your help on this matter, and to just carry on with the plans."

"Look – I don't mind impersonating this Sophie if it helps Ern's department in any way," said Lisa, looking at Fatty. "I can take care of myself, and you'll all be with me."

"Definitely not," Fatty said, firmly. "Ern's department is not using any of my friends and that's final!"

Lisa looked at Fatty with eyes gleaming of fire and determination, as she said. "Frederick, I'm quite capable of making my own decisions, and I've already made up my mind on this one, and that's final!"

* * *

The following morning at eleven o'clock, Fatty, Bets, Lisa and Buster set off from the White House, calling at Larry's, where Pip and Daisy were meeting up with Larry and going in his car.

"I won't be a moment," said Fatty to Bets, as he got out of the car.

"Okay," said Bets, looking over at him, "but don't stay chatting too long!"

Within minutes, Fatty was walking back to the car, and Daisy and Pip were getting into Larry's car, who was already sitting at the wheel, waving a 'cheerio' to Fatty.

"I've arranged we meet up halfway, so Buster can stretch his legs and we can have lunch," said Fatty, starting up the car's engine. "We can keep in touch with the others by mobile, if we need too."

"Off we go then," said Lisa, in excited tones as they pulled away from Larry's. "A couple of weeks relaxing amongst magnificent scenery is just what the doctor ordered!"

"Let's just hope we're able to relax as planned," said Fatty, glancing at Lisa through the rear view mirror, "otherwise, I won't be too happy knowing that you and Ern ganged up on me."

"Stop worrying, Frederick," she returned, light heartedly. "We'll all be fine."

"Famous last words," said Fatty, in exasperation.

"Ern's our friend, Fatty," said Bets, lightly, "we've known him since childhood, and I'm sure we can trust him not to lead us into any kind of danger. Anyway, what did you want to see Larry about?"

"A bit of insurance," said Fatty, patting the top pocket of his jacket.

Bets cast him a side glance, feeling puzzled. "What kind of insurance?"

"Insurance in the form of Helen's phone," said Fatty, with a raised brow, glancing swiftly at Bets. "I'm not taking any chances. Ern has got our mobile numbers, and who knows, they could easily be tapped, but he hasn't got Helen's."

"Oh really, Fatty," said Bets, with a grin. "Aren't you taking this cloak and dagger stuff a bit too far?"

"I've got a gut feeling there's more to this trip than meets the eye. The proof in that is that Simpson's daughter is already in a safe place known only to Ern," said Fatty.

Bets shook her head slightly with a smile, and Lisa gave a giggle, as she sat back more comfortably in the rear seat, stroking Buster's head, which was resting on her knees – but Fatty, glancing in the rear view mirror, didn't miss the knowing smile that had suddenly spread across her face, before she turned to look out of the window.

* * *

Fatty drove the car into a parking space at the motorway services, and it wasn't long before Larry's car pulled up in the space besides him.

"Whatever did we do before the mobile phone?" said Pip, with a grin, getting out of the car and putting the said item in his coat pocket.

"Hung around waiting for hours on end, I'd expect," said Lisa, with a grin, opening the rear door of the car for Daisy.

"Thanks, Lisa," said Daisy, alighting from the rear seat with a long groan. "Oh, it's good to be able to stretch the old legs again."

"We'll all stretch our legs and give Buster a walk," said Bets. "There's a country lane just over there away from the service area. It should be a bit quieter away from the motorway traffic."

"Good idea," said Larry.

The Find-Outers and Lisa – holding onto Buster's lead – set off, walking away from the service area.

"Let me know if you're filling up your petrol tank whilst we're here," said Fatty to Larry. "Ern said all expenses will be paid, right down to our food bill."

"Excellent," said Larry, impressed with the organization. "I'll fill up before we leave then. Are we eating here too?"

"Why not?" said Bets. "Once Buster's had his walk he'll be happy to wait in the car for us."

So after his walk, Buster sat down happily in the rear seat of Fatty's car, whilst the others all made their way over to the service area for something to eat.

"I'm off to the ladies' first," said Daisy, spotting the sign.

"Good idea," agreed Bets, following Daisy, along with Lisa.

It wasn't long before they were all tucking into and enjoying lunch, and Pip said, "We wouldn't be tucking into this much food if we had to pay for it ourselves! I can't believe how expensive our lunch was!" He still felt quite stunned at the amount the bill came to when Fatty paid with the allowance he had been given.

"Well it's a captive audience, so to speak," said Lisa, matter-of-factly. "You either eat here or bring your own."

"How far away are we from the village of Little Longstone?" said Bets, pouring tea out for everyone.

"Just under a couple of hours driving," said Fatty. "It's a good road all the way."

"It's nearer than I thought it would be," said Daisy, in surprising tones.

"The motorway makes it much easier to get from place to place," said Pip. "Remember when we were children, Bets? It would have taken hours and hours to get anywhere!"

"Was that before the age of the car?" said Lisa, with a wicked twinkle in her eye.

"We don't need reminding of our age thank you very much," said Larry, good humouredly. "But I must admit, I wouldn't mind taking a trip back to childhood, the more the years roll on!"

"Me too," said Fatty, with a slight nod of his head. "Back to the days when Peterswood was a more relaxed sleepy village and Mr. Goon was quite an impressive sight riding around on his bicycle."

The other Find-Outers smiled at their own memories. "Yes, those were the days!" said Bets, with a far away gleam in her eyes. "The innocence of childhood, gone forever, with only happy memories to cherish."

"I wish I'd been born earlier and known you all in those days," said Lisa, with a smile. "It would have been great to share in some of those mysteries you solved."

"I don't know whether or not we'd have let you into our group," said Pip, with a raised brow. "We were a bit apprehensive about letting Fatty here becoming a friend of ours. It was Buster that swung that one for us!"

Everyone laughed and Fatty said. "Yes, he was a character was Buster. He loved to snap around old Goon's ankles. It was a very sad day for me when he passed away."

"And we've had 'Busters' ever since," said Bets, with a smile, "and each one has been special in his own way."

Fatty smiled at Bets. "They certainly have, my dear. And speaking of Buster, we'd better hurry up and finish lunch, and continue our journey of mystery."

* * *

"Little Longstone," said Fatty, with a swift glance at Bets, reading the sign at the entrance to the village. "Here at last."

With directions from the sat-nav, they turned off the village road, onto a track that was surrounded by fields on both sides, and just a short way down they pulled into a wide parking area, placed beside a large stone barn, with the name 'Field's Barn' attached to the stonework. No sooner had they alighted from the car than Larry pulled up besides Fatty's car and winding down the window said, "Looks a nice place!"

"Can't wait to see inside," said Lisa, taking the cases from the boot of Fatty's car.

"Don't worry about the cases, Lisa," said Bets, "we can collect them once we've had a look around." She called to Buster who was sniffing along the track they'd just driven down, enjoying the scent of the many rabbits that roamed around the fields.

"Great views," said Pip, looking all around him at the surrounding fields and hills, "we couldn't have come to a better spot."

They all went through the high gate at one end of the parking area, and entered into a large enclosed garden that lay on three sides of the barn. "This is lovely," said Bets, looking around at the garden, "and we can still see the magnificent views. Pity the weather is so cold and we can't take full advantage of sitting out here in the day."

They all followed the path around to the main door of the barn, and remembering where Ern said the key would be left, Fatty lifted up one of the plant pots by the door to find two sets. He passed one set over to Larry, and opened the door with the set in his hand. They all stepped into a large square hall, with a door on the left leading into a very large farmhouse kitchen, which was warm and cosy being heated by the large Aga over on one side. A door to the right of the hall took them into a large cosy lounge with an open fire, all laid ready for them to set alight. Also in the hall was a door under the stairs and on opening this door Lisa found a large cupboard full of cleaning appliances and many wall hooks for hanging up the coats. Next to this door was a downstairs toilet and wet room.

From the hall, a spiral staircase took them to the first floor, where there was a large family bathroom, two twin-bedded rooms, one of which Daisy and Lisa were to have, and Pip and Larry were to have the other. The large double bedroom at the furthest end of the landing Fatty and Bets took for themselves, and it had a lovely en-suite.

"I think it's just perfect," said Bets, going over to one of the window of the double room and admiring the distant views. "What a lovely relaxing time we're going to have."

"Come on, Pip, we'll bring in the cases from the cars, now we've explored the barn," said Larry, making his way downstairs.

"I'll get the fire going in the lounge," said Fatty. "I know the place is central heated but it's always nice to see a roaring fire."

Bets and Daisy went off into the kitchen to explore inside all the cupboards and to set about making some tea. They marvelled at the amount of food stocked in the cupboards and fridge, which Ern must have had delivered ready for their arrival. "That will save us going out again to try and find a supermarket!" Bets had said to Daisy with a smile of approval.

Lisa took Buster out into the garden to play a game of ball, and after Fatty had got the fire going he went over to stand at the window watching Lisa throwing the ball for Buster, who loved to chase it as it rolled along the grass. Once he'd picked up the ball in his mouth, he'd spin round and round in excitement, before taking it back to Lisa, to start the whole game over again. Fatty grinned at Buster's antics and smiled at Lisa, as she gave him a cheery wave. He watched for a further few silent moments then went to sit in one of the lounge chairs, thoughtfully wondering just exactly what it was that Lisa knew about this 'mystery'!

* * *

That evening, everyone sat in the lounge, full and content from their evening meal which Bets had cooked, and Lisa and Daisy had washed up afterwards. As the daylight slowly disappeared, Fatty went around closing all the downstairs curtains, and made sure the one and only door into the barn was securely locked.

"I really don't think anyone is going to break in, Fatty," said Bets, after sipping her sherry. "Besides, we have to take Buster out for an evening stroll before we retire to bed."

"I know," said Fatty, "but I'm not taking any chances with our safety."

"I really don't think anyone would have followed us here," said Daisy. "From what you told us I'd say Ern was just being his mysterious self."

"And remember, Fatty," said Larry, pausing to take a draught of beer, "you told us yourself that this Simpson's daughter is already hiding somewhere unknown to anyone but Ern himself."

Fatty took a long drink of his own beer, and placed the glass down on the table by the side of his chair. "And as I've already pointed out to you all, there is something about this request that is nagging at the back of my mind."

Everyone looked over at Fatty. "Such as?" asked Pip, in puzzled tones.

"Well, the obvious one of course is – why are we all here? Why did Ern want us to carry on with the plan when he has already taken Sophie into hiding?" said Fatty, with a raised questioning brow.

"Well isn't that because they want to catch whoever has sent the kidnapping threat," said Daisy, lightly.

"That's right," said Larry, leaning forward in his chair with interest, "and if anyone is watching us, they'll think Lisa is Sophie," he leaned back feeling satisfied, and said with a smile, "so they'll catch whoever is watching us red-handed!"

The others all looked at Larry and nodded in agreement. "Ern said himself," began Bets, "that we'll all be safe and there wouldn't be any danger."

Fatty gave a slight grin. "And you all believe that, do you?"

"Oh come on, Frederick," said Lisa, firmly, "we all know that there couldn't possibly be any danger for us. The door is locked, and we've got Buster to alert us if anyone comes near!"

Fatty gave a slight nod and said, "True, but let's question this scenario a little deeper. When Bets and I got the request from Simpson, he must have had an inclination that I'd refuse his request, and so he had Ern standing by as a bit of insurance."

Everyone watched Fatty silently, nodding at his statement, and waiting to hear what he'd say next. "So why didn't Simpson go straight to Ern, and get him to ask me. That way, Simpson wouldn't have been brought into the equation at all!"

Everyone was silent, thinking over what Fatty had said, until Larry broke the silence. "Maybe Simpson just wanted to ask you himself, and to see you for old times' sake. Let's face it Fatty, to you he's always been a criminal, but it wasn't until Ern was brought into the scenario, that you learned that he was in fact, working, or had been working for the same department as Ern. Maybe they just didn't want you to know about that, unless it was absolutely necessary."

Everyone nodded. "Good point," said Daisy. "You didn't know about Simpson's involvement with Ern's department, until you met Ern. Simpson knew you weren't about to agree to the request and so had no other choice but to show his full hand."

"I remember that day at the birthday luncheon, Fatty, Simpson saying something along the grounds of you eating your words, when you said he doesn't live by the same rules as everyone else," said Bets, suddenly remembering. "And of course he was meaning his work within MI5."

"And remember that Ern once told us that although he is retired, Fatty, the department he works for can call on them anytime," said Pip. "It must be awful knowing a department like that can somehow run your life for you."

"It's not all that bad," Daisy put in quickly. "Remember Paul's retired from the same department, and he's paid a good pension too. But they're not always calling upon him."

"So it seems your 'gut feeling' is giving you wrong signals this time, Frederick," said Lisa, with a smile, and finishing the glass of wine in her hand.

Fatty looked at her for a silent moment and said with a small smile, "It was very fortunate for Ern that you arrived when you did yesterday, otherwise he couldn't have gone along with the plan of someone taking Sophie's place!"

For a split second Fatty thought he saw guilt spring into Lisa's eyes, before she said, with a nonchalant shrug, "Fate's a wonderful thing, Frederick. I thought I was going to be in for a couple of boring weeks being fussed over by Grandmother, and here I am about to enjoy a little holiday, with my favourite friends." She looked around at everyone with a smile. "Can I get anyone else another drink? Then maybe we can have a game of cards, rather than watching the television."

* * *

"Fatty, would you like to explain what you actually meant by your comment earlier, about it being fortunate that Lisa called yesterday?" said Bets, later that night, as they both sat in bed reading by the lamps on the bedside cabinets. "I meant to say something about it, but the subject was changed when Lisa got us all another drink and set up the cards."

Fatty turned to look at Bets. "Yes, she diverted the question quite nicely," he said, with a grin.

"Are you somehow saying it was all planned?" asked Bets, almost in disbelief.

"That's exactly what I am saying!" said Fatty, with a nod. "Why else would Ern have Sophie moved to a secret location without having a replacement?"

Bets turned two wide startled eyes onto Fatty. "You mean that Ern had already gone to see Lisa, put the suggestion to her, then when she agreed he knew he could hide Sophie away safely, and then ask Lisa to turn up to our briefing yesterday, before we left today?"

"Spot on my dear," said Fatty, with a satisfied smile.

Bets felt quite stunned and could hardly believe it. She shook her head slightly. "Well, there certainly is a lot of 'cloak and dagger' stuff going on that we appear to know nothing about," she said, firmly. "Should we say something to her?"

"Definitely not!" said Fatty, firmly. "We've just got to play this by ear, and see exactly what kind of a game they're playing." He looked at Bets, with a mysterious raised brow. "There's something else going on here, my dear, other than kidnapping threats, and somehow we're being used as pawns for Ern's department, and I don't like it one little bit!"

"But you agreed to come along," said Bets, with a puzzled frown. "You let Ern and Lisa persuade you to go along with the plan."

"Curiosity, my dear," said Fatty, with a secretive grin. "Pure curiosity!"

* * *

The following day whilst everyone was having breakfast at the large farmhouse table in the kitchen, a loud knock came at the door, causing them to jump, and Buster raced into the hall barking madly.

Fatty left the table and telling Buster to be 'quiet', he unlocked and opened the door to see a middle aged woman dressed up warmly against the freezing cold, smiling at him.

"Sorry to disturb you," she said, "but I'm Mrs. Ellis, the housekeeper of the barn, and I just wanted to make sure everything was okay on your arrival."

Fatty smiled with a nod of his head and Buster jumped up at her for a fuss. "Everything is perfect, thank you," he said. "Get down, Buster; stop making a nuisance of yourself!"

Mrs. Ellis smiled and stroked Buster's head. "I don't mind the dog. I've two of my own. If you want more coal and wood for the fire, it's all inside the shed just over in the corner." She turned and pointed to the small wooden shed along the pathway.

"Lovely. We'll certainly be lighting the fire again this evening," said Fatty, feeling the icy chill coming in through the opened door.

"Well, I won't keep you," said Mrs. Ellis. "My number is in the inside of the visitors' book over there on the hall table."

Fatty glanced over to where she indicated. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Ellis. Everything you did for us prior to our arrival is gratefully appreciated."

"No problem at all, sir," she said, with a cheery smile. "Enjoy the rest of your holiday. I believe we're in for snow tomorrow, and we sometimes get cut off for days, so make sure you don't run out of supplies."

"We won't, and thanks again." Fatty smiled and closed the door as she walked away, remembering to turn the key in the lock securely.

"The housekeeper," said Fatty, as he walked back into the kitchen, and sat back down to finish his breakfast.

"I was looking through the visitors' guide book last night," said Daisy. "Her name and number is inside, and all the numbers we need for, doctor, dentist, nearest shops etc. It really is a well organized holiday let."

"She mentioned snow is forecast for tomorrow," began Fatty, looking at everyone, "so it might be an idea if we went into the nearest town and bought some more supplies, just in case we find the village cut off."

"Oh, that sounds exciting," said Lisa, with a grin. "Cut off by the snow from the rest of the world."

"Well, if we do get cut off then, we'll know for sure that no one can get in either!" said Pip, matter-of-factly.

"I can't see how anyone could have followed us here," said Larry, dryly. "Ern knows we're here, and probably this Simpson fellow, but let's face it, he's not going to kidnap his own daughter, is he?"

"Stranger things have happened," said Fatty, with a shrug. "We must all be on our guard for anything or anyone acting strangely."

Daisy stood up from the table and started to clear away the breakfast things. "I think we're all being a bit paranoid! I feel perfectly safe here, and let's face it, if we all stay together and don't go wandering off alone, and then nothing can possibly go wrong!"

"Speaking of wandering off," began Bets, helping Daisy, "we'll have to take Buster for a nice long walk before we head off into the next town to do some shopping. Are we all going?"

"Yes," said Fatty, firmly. "We all go walking together, and we all go into the next town together. None of us is to be left alone at any time."

"You're beginning to frighten me when you speak like that," said Lisa, feigning a shiver. "If we're going into the next town, which I presume will be full of shoppers, then we'll be safe, whether we wander off on our own or not."

"No one will be wandering off," said Fatty, looking at her sternly.

"Then I'm sorry to disappoint you, Frederick, but I will be," she turned on him. "I love shopping, especially in a place I've never visited before, and I really can't see you enjoying going into all the ladies-wear shops!"

"Now we're not having any arguments," said Bets, firmly, seeing one beginning to develop between Fatty and Lisa. "I'm sure that if either Daisy or I accompany Lisa around the shops she wants to visit, then we will be safe enough. We all have a mobile phone with us, so I can't see any danger myself."

"Well said, Bets!" said Lisa, giving her a sudden hug. "Woman power, and all that!"

Bets had to grin. "And you can stop winding Fatty up as well!" she said to her, with a wicked twinkle in her eye.

Lisa grinned and gave a salute. "Anything you say, ma'am!"

Everyone bust into laugher, and Fatty gave Lisa a wry grin, and with a shake of his head, said, "One of these days..."

* * *

The morning walk with Buster was a pleasant stroll along the Monsal Trail and walking over the famous viaduct towards Cressbrook.

"You can almost hear the steam trains coming out from the tunnel behind us and thundering over this viaduct," said Pip, who loved the age of steam. "What a magnificent view the passengers had."

"Yes, this viaduct has been photographed many times," said Fatty, with a smile, "with and without the steam trains."

They walked along the flat dismantled railway trackbed, now a favourite with many walkers, until they came to the end of the track and a tunnel veering to the left, which was locked.

"This is where we have to leave the trail, and follow the footpath until it rejoins the trail at Litton," said Pip, standing to look around at the magnificent view. "That's one of Arkwright's Mills, down in the valley. It's called Cress Brook Mill and is now turned into luxury apartments."

They looked down at the grand old stone buildings, the main one housing a large clock in the apex of the roof. The whole complex was enclosed in landscape gardens and adjoined the river Wye.

"There's a booklet in the barn about the mill when it was in use," said Lisa. "I was glancing through it last night."

"I might give that a bedtime read tonight," said Larry.

"It wasn't much fun for the men, women and children who slaved all day long in these mills," said Bets, sympathetically.

"I wouldn't imagine it was," said Fatty. "One of the other mills is over at Litton where you rejoin the Monsal Trail."

"So are we going to carry on or start back?" said Daisy, glancing over the stile they'd have to climb to follow the footpath along the sloping field. "The pathway doesn't look as easy to walk along."

"No, we'll head slowly back," said Fatty, starting to lead the way with Buster pulling on the lead eager to start walking again.

They all headed slowly back, chatting gaily, and acknowledged the occasional dog walker, who like them was wrapped up warmly against the cold icy morning. After lunch they decided that Fatty, Bets, Daisy and Lisa should go over to Bakewell to get some groceries and have a look around the shops. Pip and Larry decided they'd rather walk into the next village – Great Longstone – and so they took Buster with them who was always ready for another walk.

Fatty was a bit reluctant for them to split up into groups, but as he was over-ruled he had no choice but to go along with the others.

"No one is going to kidnap Pip and me," Larry had said firmly. "We're just two ordinary blokes walking a dog!"

So Fatty had finally nodded and agreed to the arrangements.

* * *

"Just drop us here," said Daisy to Fatty, leaning forward from the rear seat of the car. "Lisa and I can look in the shops until you and Bets have finished getting the groceries."

Fatty nodded and pulled into a lay-by along the main street in Bakewell. "I'll pick you both up here when you phone me," said Fatty.

"Thanks," said Lisa, getting out of the car. "We won't be long."

Fatty and Bets watched Lisa and Daisy disappear inside one of the gift shops, before driving off to find a supermarket.

"I wish I hadn't agreed to us all going separate ways," said Fatty to Bets, as they drove along.

"I'm sure everyone will be fine," Bets tried to reassure him. "Pip and Larry are in no danger and what could possibly happen to Lisa and Daisy inside the shops? I'm sure you're worrying unnecessarily!"

Fatty cast her a quick glance. "Maybe," he said, "maybe!"

* * *

The afternoon was getting colder and colder as Lisa and Daisy went from shop to shop. "Shall we call it a day?" asked Lisa, seeing Daisy looking a little tired.

"Only if you want to," said Daisy, good naturedly. She glanced at her watch. "It's been an hour and a half since Fatty dropped us off."

"They should have finished getting the groceries then," said Lisa. "I'll give him a call." They stood sheltering in one of the arcade's shops, and Lisa phoned Fatty to tell him they were ready to be picked up.

"He won't be long," said Lisa, putting the phone back into her pocket. "He's only a few minutes away. "We'll cross here and go and wait by the lay-by."

They stood at the kerb edge with a small number of people waiting for the cars to stop at the red light on the crossing. Suddenly, Lisa felt herself being jerked forwards, and losing her footing started to fall into the passage of cars.

A man standing beside her instantly grabbed hold of her arm before she fell forward into the road. "Careful," he said, in urgent tones. "Are you okay?" He released his hold as soon as Lisa was safely back onto the pavement.

"Yes, thank you," she said, feeling shaken. "I don't know what happened. I must have lost my footing!"

Daisy took hold of her arm and thanked the man for his quick response. He smiled, and as the lights changed to green for the pedestrians to cross he walked on. Once at the other side of the road, Daisy said.

"You could have fallen into one of the passing cars! What happened?"

"I don't know," said Lisa, still feeling shaken. "I felt a jerk behind me and I must have lost my footing."

Daisy looked about her, suddenly feeling a shiver running down her spine. "Do you think you were pushed?"

Lisa turned two startled eyes on Daisy. "I really don't know, but don't mention it to the others, Daisy!"

"We should do," said Daisy, firmly. "Fatty wasn't happy about us going off separately as it was."

"It was probably just an accident," said Lisa, lightly, trying to convince herself of that. "Everyone will only panic and make it sound worse than it really was."

Daisy looked at Lisa rather concerned. "I don't agree. Fatty thinks there's more to this and he's usually right. We must say something."

"No!" said Lisa, firmly. "Let's just see how this break turns out. If anything else happens, then I'll say something."

Daisy didn't feel happy about brushing the incident under the carpet and was about to say so when Fatty's car pulled up beside them. Before getting into the rear seat, Lisa whispered fiercely to Daisy, "Say nothing!"

* * *

The next few days went by without further incidents, other than the snow had started to fall, making everywhere look like a 'winter wonderland'. Everyone enjoyed walking Buster along the many footpaths and trails during the afternoon, and sitting by a cosy roaring fire of an evening.

"I wish Haddon Hall was open," said Daisy, looking through the leaflet, one evening as they all sat by the roaring fire, with the wind howling around the barn. "It says it doesn't open until April."

"I remember going many years back," said Bets, looking over at Daisy. "It's a lovely medieval Manor House, owned by the Manners family."

"Yes, it says they've owned it since 1567," read Daisy. "And it lay dormant for over 200 years from 1700 until the 1920s, when it was restored by the Duke and Duchess of Rutland."

"I bet it's haunted too," said Lisa, looking at everyone with wide eyes.

"Aren't all these old manor houses and castles?" said Larry.

"Gosh, just listen to that wind," said Bets, looking towards the window. "We're going to get blown to pieces when we take Buster out before retiring to bed."

"I'll go with Frederick, Bets, to save you venturing out," said Lisa, walking over to the window and pulling the curtain slightly aside. "It's beginning to snow again too."

"I don't mind going," said Bets. "I enjoy the night air before going to bed. Come with us if you want too."

"Yes, I probably will," said Lisa, closing the curtain and sitting back down on the settee. "It still looks quite light out there with all the snow."

"We could all go before turning in," said Pip.

"I'll pass," said Larry, stifling a yawn. "In fact, I think I'll go up to bed now. All the walking we've been doing is tiring me out."

"I'll stay here too then," said Pip, quickly glancing at the clock on the mantle shelf. "Nine-thirty, I'll make myself a hot chocolate and go up when I've finished it. Anyone else fancy a cup?"

The others shook their heads. "I'll go with Buster too," said Daisy. "You won't go far, will you?"

"No," said Fatty, shaking his head. "Just along to the end of the village."

"We'll go now," said Bets, rising from the settee. "And I'll have an early night too."

After wrapping up warmly, they started out on a short walk with Buster. Snow was starting to fall again, but much heavier than before, and with the howling wind, it caused the snowflakes to fall in every direction in swirls all around them, making visibility very hard.

"The snow is much deeper than earlier," said Daisy, holding onto Lisa's arm, with her head bent against the driving snow. "At this rate the village will be cut off by morning!"

"I think we were a bit stupid to venture out," said Bets. "We should have just let Buster out into the garden." Bets held tightly onto Fatty's arm, and he in turn was holding tightly on to Buster's lead, just a short way ahead.

The night was very silent, and looked almost eerie with the falling snow, and Bets was beginning to feel quite disorientated with snow blindness. Suddenly Buster began to growl very quietly and kept stopping to look behind him, which began to make them all feel uneasy. Bets whispered to Fatty. "What's wrong with Buster? Is someone following us?"

Fatty kept glancing behind him but with the falling heavy snow, the visibility was poor, but he did think he heard footsteps crunching into the snow a short way behind.

"This is getting a bit scary," said Daisy, looking at Fatty. "I can hear footsteps not far off. What if someone's following us? Should we go back?"

"If we turn around now, we'll bump into whoever is behind us," whispered Lisa.

"Whoever is behind us is probably walking their dog too," Fatty whispered. "I think there's a stile somewhere in this stone wall." Fatty, suddenly remembered passing it the other day. "And the field that's the other side of this wall is the one by the barn. We'll look for that and go back across the field, then we'll know for certain if we're being followed."

They soon spotted the stile, which led them into the large field, and so they quickly made their across the open stretch of land and headed for the distant light shining out from one of the barn's windows. As they walked they kept looking back, trying to see through the falling snow if anyone was following them, but it was impossible to see anything clearly, just a white sheet that seem to surround them. Buster growled again a few times, but carried on walking, finding it difficult as he kept sinking into the snow making walking hard going for his small legs.

"Almost there," said Bets, feeling relieved as she saw the shape of the barn before them, and tried to hasten her steps. The track that edged the field was completely covered in deep snow, so they had to be very careful where they walked, not wanting to fall into the deep gullies that edged the whole field.

Much to their relief they were soon by the parking bay and opening the tall garden gate. Once through, Fatty closed it behind them, and actually pulled across the bolt that was above the latch, then took Buster off his lead to have a final sniff around the garden.

Once they were all inside the barn, including Buster, Fatty locked the door and pulled the bolts across the top and bottom of the door. "I'm in need of a stiff drink," said Daisy, pulling off her coat, scarf and gloves. "Anyone joining me?"

"We'll all have a little something," said Bets. "I felt absolutely terrified out there and it was made worse by the fact that I could hardly see a thing through the falling snow."

"With hindsight, it was a bit short sighted of us to venture out on a night like this," said Fatty. "From now on I think we'll just let Buster out in the garden before retiring."

"I'm pretty sure we were being followed," said Daisy, pouring out a drink for them. "Especially with what happened to Lisa the other day!"

Bets and Fatty turned to look at Daisy with puzzled raised brows. "What do you mean," asked Fatty, casting a sly glance over at Lisa, who was looking most guilty with flushed cheeks.

"I think it's time I retired to bed," she said, quickly, making a sudden exit up stairs.

* * *

The following morning they all awoke to find snow had fallen heavily through the night and the whole village had been cut off as the roads weren't accessible. Before breakfast, Fatty took a spade from the shed and shovelled away the thick snow to make a pathway to the garden gate. He saw the snow piled high by the two cars and knew that it would be impossible to drive them. Buster was trying to race around the garden, but kept sinking into the snow and so started to jump around as though he was a rabbit!

Over breakfast they told Pip and Larry about the previous evening's walk. "Sounds pretty scary," said Pip. "I didn't even hear you all coming back. I must have nodded off."

"I was dead to the world," said Larry. "Are you sure you didn't imagine it all."

"We were being followed for sure," said Daisy. She went on to explain to Pip and Larry about the incident in Bakewell, having told Fatty and Bets the previous evening.

"You really should have mentioned something," said Pip, looking at Lisa, with a slight frown. "After all, we are trying to keep you safe, if someone thinks you're Simpson's daughter."

Lisa nodded sheepishly. "I just didn't want to cause a panic."

"We're hardly the panicking sort," said Larry, dryly. Then turning to look at Fatty said. "Do you think we should phone Ern?"

"Yes, I'll phone him after breakfast," he replied. "But something is rather odd here. Sophie is in a safe place, known only to Ern, so he says, and when I spoke to Simpson he said he didn't trust anyone, and so he wouldn't mention the arrangements we made to come here!"

Everyone looked at Fatty rather vaguely. "So what are you saying?" asked Larry. "Surely it's obvious that whoever sent the kidnapping threat to Simpson, would be watching us."

Fatty shook his head. "Why would they? According to Simpson's own words, he wouldn't have told anyone, so there's no reason for anyone to suspect that we know anything!"

Everyone was silent for a few moments, digesting Fatty's words. "Well in that case, it probably was an accident that happened to Lisa in Bakewell," said Bets, "and we must have been just paranoid about someone following us last night. After all, we were walking our dog – someone could have been doing the same!"

Everyone looked at Bets with a slight nod. "I think Bets is right," said Daisy. "We're all obviously making something out of nothing." She rose to clear away the breakfast things, helped by Lisa.

"I think we should just enjoy this break," said Pip, "and later we'll take Buster for a walk and see just how bad the snow is."

Fatty saw the relief on everyone's faces and didn't like to tell them that he always trusted his gut feelings.

* * *

That afternoon the only vehicle they saw on the road through the village was a tractor, and one or two people had ventured out to try and walk through the snow, which was very heavy going. Buster was finding it extremely difficult to walk and kept jumping along, so eventually after being out for twenty minutes, they headed back to the barn, giving up any chance of a long leisurely stroll.

Daisy made everyone a cup of hot chocolate, and after Lisa had drunk hers, said she'd start to clear some of the snow from the lawn so that Buster could at least have a bit of a run without being buried by the snow!

Watching her start the task and feeling slightly guilty, Pip, Larry and Fatty went out to help, being joined by Buster who thought the whole shovelling was some kind of a new game. After a short while, Fatty sat down on one of the benches that were placed along the wall of the barn, saying that he was having a bit of a breather.

"I'll join you," said Larry, sitting next to him feeling exhausted. "It's back breaking clearing all this white stuff away, and all we're doing is piling it up to one side which will take absolutely ages for it all to melt away when the weather changes."

"That won't be our problem then," said Pip, with a grin, sitting next to Larry on the bench.

"Just leave it all to me, why don't you?" said Lisa, also with a grin, looking over at them.

It was whilst watching Lisa doing all the hard work that Fatty kept catching a glimpse of something flashing whenever the sun came out from behind the clouds over on the hill opposite them amongst the trees. "Someone is watching the barn through binoculars," he thought to himself, and quietly mentioned it to Pip and Larry, making sure he wasn't over heard by Lisa.

"Don't make it obvious you're looking over there," said Fatty, in urgent tones, seeing Pip scrutinizing the bank of trees on the hill. "Just wait until the sun comes out from behind the clouds, and then you'll keep seeing the sun obviously catching the glass.

No sooner had Fatty finished speaking when the odd flash was seen by both Pip and Larry. "You're right!" said Larry, softly. "Someone is watching the barn. I wonder who it could be."

"If we knew why, then we'd probably find out who it is," said Fatty, looking at them both with a raised brow. "I forgot to ring Ern this morning, so I think it's time we went back indoors and I'll do it now."

They all rose from the bench, and Fatty called to Lisa. "Leave that now, my dear. Let's go inside for a cup of something hot."

"I don't mind carrying on here, Frederick," said Lisa. "It needs doing, so that Buster can enjoy the garden."

"We've cleared enough of the garden for now," said Fatty, adamantly. The last thing he wanted was to leave Lisa out here in the garden alone. "I'm sure Buster will be happy with your efforts!"

Lisa looked around and smiled. "Okay, Frederick," she called. "I guess he will be at that!" She called Buster, who followed them all back indoors. And once everyone was back inside, Fatty once more locked the door firmly, and shot the bolts across.

* * *

After telling Pip and Larry not to mention the fact that they suspected someone had been watching them, nor the fact that he was going to phone Ern, Fatty went upstairs to his bedroom for privacy and told Ern of his suspicions so far. "Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?" he asked Ern, dryly. "For some reason, entrapment seems to keep rearing its ugly head!"

"You know better than to ask me a question like that, Fatty," said Ern, lightly. "All I can tell you is that none of you is in any immediate danger, and you're not as cut off as you think you are!"

Now Fatty was intrigued and started to speak when Ern interrupted him saying. "Sorry Fatty, must go. Everything you've told me has been duly noted!" And with that Ern hung up.

Feeling frustrated and left out in the cold, Fatty frowned, put his mobile phone back into his pocket and went downstairs to join the rest of the group.

* * *

The following morning whilst they were all lazing in the lounge, Lisa said, "I wonder if the village is accessible yet. I think I'll go and have a stroll. Fancy a walk, Buster?"

Buster was always ready for a walk and pranced around Lisa excitedly as she tried to put on his lead.

"I'll come with you," said Fatty, putting aside the book he was reading. He wasn't about to let Lisa go wandering off alone.

"Anyone else coming?" said Lisa, putting on her warm coat, scarf and gloves, as Fatty was doing.

"I may as well stretch my legs," said Larry, lazily, getting up from the settee. "Too much sitting around isn't good for you, is it?"

"Well, you're the expert on sitting around!" said Daisy, dryly, looking over her glasses at him, whilst still carrying on knitting.

Larry pulled a face at his sister good humouredly. "Come on then, let's see what is happening in the great outdoors!"

Bets and Pip looked up from the jigsaw puzzle they were doing. "Don't stay out too long," said Bets. "I've got some homemade soup simmering on the Aga."

The three of them left and slowly made their way along the snow laden track from the barn. Once it joined the main pavement of the village, they could see that the villagers had made every effort to try to clear away as much snow as they could to make walking a little easier.

"Where shall we head for?" said Larry, looking up and down the village.

"Shall we see if we can get to the Monsal Trail?" said Lisa.

"I wouldn't think anyone would have cleared that of snow," said Larry, with a shrug.

"The rangers might have," said Fatty. "They do patrol the trail in their Land Rovers."

"Let's go and see then," said Lisa, walking on and trying to stop Buster pulling eagerly on his lead.

On reaching the car park for the trail, they joined the small group of people who were peering over the low stone wall and admiring the winter wonderland view before them.

"It looks accessible," said Lisa, peering down the deep valley. "Should we try and get down?"

Fatty looked over to the opening that lead to the trail through a small wooded steep pathway. "I'll go over and see how the way down is looking first," he said. "You both wait here a moment."

Turning to look at Larry, Lisa said, "Hold onto Buster for a bit, Larry. My arm is aching with all the pulling he does." She handed over the lead to him, and Buster immediately pulled Larry off in the direction that Fatty had taken.

Lisa watched them with a grin, and then turned to sit sideways on the wall, looking out across the expanse of countryside before her.

Suddenly she felt herself being pushed on the shoulder from behind and unable to grab hold of anything, screamed out loudly in fear and panic as she fell from the wall, and started to fall down the steep wooded hillside.

To be continued...