The Unusual Invitation – Part Two

by Julie Heginbotham

Hearing the screams behind him, Fatty turned instantly to see Larry rushing over to where Lisa had been sitting, with Buster barking madly as he pulled Larry forwards. A group of people had gathered along the wall and someone was already climbing over, about to make a very precarious descent. Fatty and Larry watched with bated breath and peered over to see if they could see Lisa amongst the wooded hillside.

After feeling herself falling, Lisa had reached out in panic and tried to grab anything at hand, and suddenly felt herself coming to a sudden halt as she grabbed hold of a cluster of low hanging branches from the trees adorning the hillside. She held on tightly, glad of the thick gloves which were protecting her hands from the rough bark.

Suddenly from above her head she heard someone shouting, "Here! Grab hold of my scarf and we'll try to haul you up!"

Lisa looked up to see a couple of men just a short way above her, hanging onto anything they could to secure themselves, and one was lowering down his scarf, which Lisa grabbed hold of, and hung onto as tightly as she could. It wasn't long before she felt herself being slowly hauled back up the hillside, and once near the top, was helped back over the wall by many willing hands.

Gratefully, she looked up at the man with scarf to thank him, and almost caught her breath in her throat as she suddenly recognised him from the other day in Bakewell as he'd pulled her back onto the pavement.

Before she could say anything, Fatty had taken her into his arms and was hugging her tightly, glad that she was safe, and asking if she was all right. Larry was thanking all those who had helped, and seeing that Lisa was now safely on firm ground, they started to move away.

"I'm feeling a bit shaken, Frederick, but I don't think I've broken any bones," she answered him softly.

"Come on, let's get you back to safety," said Fatty, concerned, looking about him to see if anyone was paying them particular attention, but no one was.

They walked back slowly to the barn, and Fatty asked Lisa what had happened.

"It was all so sudden," she began. "One minute I was just sitting on the wall and then I felt myself being pushed and started to fall. Thankfully I managed to secure myself and felt extremely relieved when I was being pulled back. It's then that I noticed that the man who was holding onto the scarf was the same man who pulled me back onto the pavement the other day in Bakewell!"

Fatty's eyes widened in surprised as he looked at Lisa, and Larry said. "Really?"

"Now that is interesting," said Fatty, glancing at Larry. "Did he say anything else?"

"No," Lisa shook her head. "He moved off almost as quickly as he did the other day in Bakewell."

"What are you going to do now, Fatty?" said Larry, as they were almost at the barn.

"I'm going to ring Ern again. Only this time I want some answers," he said firmly.

* * *

Once back at the barn, Fatty and Larry between them told of the morning's happenings, and immediately Bets said she'd check Lisa for any cuts and bruises, but Lisa had been very lucky apart from a few bruises.

Daisy poured out six bowls of the homemade soup, and gave Buster a few dog biscuits. "We all need something substantial inside us before we decide what course of action we're going to take," she said firmly.

"Do you think we should phone the police?" said Pip, casting a glance at everyone. "After all, Lisa could easily have been killed!"

"True," said Bets, "and let's not forget what happened the other day in Bakewell!"

"It would be nice to know exactly who my 'knight in shining armour' is," said Lisa, pausing whilst sipping her soup.

"Strange that he doesn't seem to hang around either after the event," said Daisy, in puzzled tones.

"Do you think he could be the one who pushed you, Lisa," said Pip, the thought just occurring to him.

Lisa shook her head. "I doubt it. He was stood beside me at the crossing in Bakewell, and I was jerked from behind. As for today, I was pushed from behind also, but I didn't see him until he was pulling me up."

Fatty was listening to everyone in silence, before he said. "I'm going to phone Ern, and if he doesn't give me any answers then we all pack up and go home. I'm not risking Lisa being hurt anymore!"

"Oh we can't pack up and go home," Lisa said suddenly, with a slight gasp. "I'm feeling fine now, honestly. Despite these odd incidents, I'm really enjoying the break, and don't forget we are snowed in, so leaving is impossible anyway!"

"Maybe," said Fatty, firmly, looking at her. "But I'm not risking any more incidents. Either Ern tells us exactly what's going on, or we try to leave, and it's not up for discussion!"

With that, Fatty left the table and went into the lounge to phone Ern. After a few moments he was back looking quite concerned, and said. "Ern's not answering – it went straight to voice mail."

"Maybe he's in a dead area," said Lisa, with a convincing tone.

"Yes, it could be," said Pip, with a slight nod. "Give it another half hour and then ring him again."

"If only we weren't snowed in," said Bets, in exasperation. "I feel so vulnerable. Was there much movement of traffic outside?"

"Nothing but the odd tractor and 4x4," said Larry. "So leaving today is out of the question, Fatty."

Fatty remained silent – contemplating their next move. Larry was right, even if they did want to leave, effectively they couldn't. He just wished he could get rid of this inner gut feeling he had of danger!

"Is the door locked?" asked Daisy, suddenly concerned.

"Yes, it's secure," said Fatty, looking over at her. "But I can't remember if I pulled the bolt across the back gate or not."

"Shall I go and check," said Pip, rising from the table.

Fatty nodded. "Yes, if you don't mind, Pip. It does prevent anyone from getting into the rear garden."

Before Pip could get to the door, a loud knocking sounded throughout the barn, causing Buster to bark, and startling the others. Pip remained still, and glanced at Fatty, whilst Daisy said. "Who could that be?"

"Don't open it until you know," said Bets to Fatty in urgent tones, as he made for the door.

"Who is it?" Fatty called out.

"'Fingers' Simpson, Commander," came the reply, causing Fatty to suddenly wonder what he was doing here!

* * *

Fatty lead Simpson into the kitchen, and Buster immediately rushed over to greet their guest with wild enthusiasm. Simpson smiled and made an immediate fuss of the little black Scottie for a few moments until Buster was ordered to sit back in his basket by the large Aga.

Fatty introduced him to everyone, and once seated Bets asked him if he'd like some homemade soup, which he kindly declined but accepted the offer of a cup of tea.

"How did you manage to get here, Mr. Simpson?" asked Larry, "especially with most places being cut off by the snow."

"The main roads are not too bad," he said, "and I have a large 4x4, so the snow isn't that much of a problem."

Bets poured out tea for everyone, and Simpson accepted his with a smile.

"So what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?" said Fatty, in an enquiring tone, watching Simpson drinking his tea.

"I was hoping to see my daughter," he said, putting his cup back onto the saucer. "Don't tell me she's out!"

Fatty looked at him and said, vaguely. "She's not with us. Didn't you know?"

Simpson looked at Fatty, bemused. "No," he said, with a shake of his head. "I thought it was all arranged for my daughter to spend time here with you all."

"Hasn't Ern told you of the change of plans?" said Bets, in surprise.

"I'm afraid he hasn't," replied Simpson, with a frown. "When were the plans changed?"

"The day before we came here," said Fatty. "We didn't know ourselves until Ern told us, and as our friend Lisa was home, she came along too, so that if anyone was watching us they'd think Lisa was your daughter."

"I see," said Simpson, not looking at all pleased with the sudden arrangements.

"And to cap it all, I think we are being watched," said Pip, in mysterious low tones. "There have been two attempts on Lisa's life!"

Fatty frowned at Pip, and lightly brushed it off, saying. "We don't know that for sure yet, Pip."

"How do you mean, two attempts?" asked Simpson.

"I thought I felt someone push me from behind, when I was waiting to cross the road one day over at Bakewell," said Lisa, looking at him with wide eyes. "Then only this morning, I was pushed down a very steep hillside."

"Really," said Simpson, in concerned tones. "At least whoever did this hasn't been successful if that is what their intentions were."

"Whoever has been trying to frighten us, Simpson, obviously thought Lisa was your daughter," said Fatty, looking at him with a quiet contemplation.

"So it would seem," he said, thoughtfully.

"The kidnapping threat you received – did they say anything about harming your daughter?" Bets asked him.

"No, no they didn't," said Simpson, shaking his head. "It's all very strange."

"Indeed it is," said Fatty, quietly.

"I've just had a thought," put in Larry. "What if someone is watching you, Mr. Simpson, and has followed you here. If your daughter was here, that would put her in immediate danger."

The others all looked at Larry and nodded their agreement, all except Simpson, who said, in hopeful tones. "Did Ern say where my daughter is?"

Fatty shook his head. "No, he didn't say."

"You'll have to ring him yourself and ask," said Daisy, lightly. "Pity you've come all this way for nothing."

"So it would seem," Simpson drawled slowly, looking at them all rather vaguely.

Fatty suddenly felt the inner stirrings of years of experience telling him there was something more to Simpson's visit than he was prepared to say. He felt puzzled as to why Ern hadn't told Simpson about the change of plans. There had to be a reason, why Simpson had been kept in the dark like this. In fact, the secrecy of this case was beginning to annoy him immensely. It seemed Ern had all the answers and wasn't saying anything to anyone!

"Will you call your friend Ern, Commander, and ask him where Sophie is, but don't mention I'm here or enquiring, as he might think the same as Larry has suggested, that someone could follow me."

Fatty nodded and pulling the phone from his pocket made the call, this time getting through to Ern. After a few moments he switched off the call and popped the phone back into his pocket and said. "I'm sorry; Simpson, but Ern wouldn't tell me where your daughter was hiding."

"I see." Simpson looked annoyed and moved restlessly in the chair. Fatty could see that he was far from pleased, but he also could feel what the others clearly couldn't, and that was a deep electrifying tension that filled the air on being denied his request.

"Wherever your daughter is, Mr. Simpson, I'm sure she's safe and well," said Bets, trying to lighten the atmosphere. "Have another cup of tea before you make your journey back."

Simpson shook his head and his facial expression had changed to deep anger, as he growled. "I'm afraid I'm not going anywhere, Mrs. Trotteville, until I get an answer to my question, which you are going to provide, Commander." He suddenly took a gun from the pocket of his coat, and pointed it at all of them seated around the table. "This time you're going to tell Ern that I want an answer to my question, and if I don't get one then I'll use this gun on each and every one of you!"

* * *

A frightening silence filled the kitchen and sensing the danger; Buster got up from his basket and started to bark frantically at Simpson, which seemed to disturb the man even more, as he grated at Fatty. "Keep your dog under control or he gets it first!"

Fatty called Buster to heel and calmed the dog down giving him a few biscuits to settle him back into his basket. But he knew the dog still sensed the danger as he growled quietly whilst eating.

Simpson stood up from his chair and beckoned them all into the lounge, and told Fatty to close the kitchen door on Buster. Having no choice they all left Buster in the kitchen and sat themselves down in the lounge, looking precariously at Simpson, the gun still in his hand.

"Now make that call, Commander," ordered Simpson, "and put the speaker on so that we can all hear!"

Fatty did as requested and made another call to Ern, the others all listening with bated breath, as Fatty told Ern that Simpson meant business and had a gun pointing at them all.

Ern sounded quite calm as his voice came from the mobile phone. "Emily's been moved on Simpson. Even I don't know where she is now."

"Not good enough!" shouted Simpson, almost in panic. "Don't underestimate me, Goon! If you value the life of your friends, then you'll tell me right now!"

"Tell him, Ern," shouted Bets, from where she was sitting next to Daisy. "He's not bluffing, he has a gun!"

"Time for secrecy is over, Ern," said Fatty, firmly. "I'm not putting my family and friends in danger any more. You tell Simpson what he wants to know."

"I'll try and find out," came Ern's voice into the room. "Give me an hour, that's all I'm asking Simpson, just an hour."

"One hour, and that's it," he growled back. "If you don't ring with what I want to know you'll have these people's death on your conscience."

"You have my word," returned Ern, before the line went dead.

Fatty put the phone back into his pocket and walked over to sit besides Bets, putting his arm around her. "I think we're all owed an explanation," he said, looking at Simpson, who was pulling a chair near the doorway, before sitting down – the gun still prominently in his hand. "Who is Emily?"

"The least you know, the better it will be for you all, Commander," he returned. "It seems our mutual friend Ern has fooled us all and set a trap for me that I've fallen straight into."

"At least let the women leave," said Fatty. "You can see how frightened they are!"

"Sorry, Commander, but no one leaves. I'm not letting any of you loose to phone the police," he said, shaking his head.

"I wouldn't go anyway, Fatty," said Bets, softly, giving his hand a squeeze. "We stick together through everything, always have and always will."

Simpson looked over at Fatty and Bets, and his face softened. "You're very lucky, Commander, to have such a supportive wife."

"That's what marriage is all about," said Larry, suddenly thinking of his wife Helen and missing her.

Pip nodded. "Mary and I have always stuck together through thick and thin. Sounds like you've not been that lucky," he said to Simpson.

"My life has been full of ups and downs, dangers and secrets. No woman is going to support that kind of life for long." There was a touch of sadness in his voice that the others didn't miss.

"Why don't you change your lifestyle?" said Lisa, dryly.

Simpson looked over at her and after a silent pause, said. "I'm too old to change."

"You're never too old," she replied. "You just choose not to."

Fatty sent Lisa a frown. He didn't want her antagonizing the situation further. "Does anyone mind if I put some music on?" he said, walking over to the radio. "If we've got just under an hour to wait, we may as well try and lighten the atmosphere."

Fatty tuned in the radio until he heard some smooth sounding music, and then turning to look at Simpson, said. "I suppose it's acceptable to go to the toilet?"

"Leave your phone here," he said, with a sneer. "And remember, Commander, your wife and friends are still here with me in this room."

"How could I forget," said Fatty, his voice laced with sarcasm, as he walked to the door. Before going through, he said. "I'll leave this door ajar, so you can see I won't be making any mad dashes to the front door!" Simpson merely smirked, as Fatty left the lounge.

Fatty knew that Simpson couldn't see the toilet door or the under-stairs cupboard from where he sitting and so he quietly opened the door of the cupboard, where he knew his jacket was hanging and felt for Helen's mobile phone in the top pocket. With the phone in his hand he entered the toilet and once inside rang Ern, hoping the signal would be strong enough, and the battery still charged. Luckily he managed to get through to Ern and asked him what he was going to do about their present predicament.

"It's all in hand, Fatty," came Ern's answer. "Get Lisa to phone me, now. Sooner the better."

"How on earth am I supposed to do that with Simpson watching us?" he whispered harshly.

"I'm sure the great Trotteville brain will think of something," he replied, and hung up.

Fatty hid the phone at the bottom of a bail of towels on the shelf and then flushed the toilet before walking back into the lounge. The atmosphere wasn't as strained, he thought, as the others were chatting idly to keep up their moral, whilst Simpson was sitting quietly watching them all, the gun still in his hand, but resting on his lap.

Sitting down himself, with a sigh, Fatty said. "That reminds me, Lisa, you remember what I said about the insurance just before we left Larry's – well I've remembered where I must have left it, in our downstairs cloakroom."

Everyone looked at Fatty in silence wondering what he was talking about but Lisa's eyes suddenly lit up, as she said. "Well remembered, Frederick."

Before anyone could question his remark, he said, nonchalantly, glancing at his watch. "I wonder how Ern's getting along. Maybe he's waiting for a phone call."

"Probably," said Larry, with a nod of his head. "We've still got over half an hour to wait, yet!"

"Well, I'll have to pay a call," said Lisa, rising from her seat and looking over at Simpson said. "Okay?"

"Leave your phone here," he said, dryly.

Lisa placed her phone on the chair and left the room. Once inside the downstairs toilet she quickly hunted around for Helen's mobile and found it where it had been placed under the bail of towels. Feeling slightly nervous she pressed the last number rung and waited for Ern to answer. His voice soon came down the line and she listened carefully to what he had to say, before hanging up and replacing the mobile back to where she'd found it. Washing her hands, she then flushed the toilet and walked back to the lounge, and standing at the doorway, said. "I'm going to make us all a tea, is that all right?"

"No, it isn't," snapped Simpson, glancing at her. "I want you all where I can see you."

Lisa wasn't about to be put off and said. "Well let's all sit in the kitchen then, but either way, I'm going to make a pot of tea and that's final."

Fatty stood up, saying he could do with a cup and the others all said the same, so rather reluctantly, Simpson followed as they all went into the kitchen and sat around the large table.

Larry took hold of Buster before he could make any sudden dashed towards Simpson, and Lisa put the kettle on the Aga to boil, whilst Daisy put a few biscuits onto a plate and put them in the centre of the table telling everyone to help themselves.

Simpson sat himself down at the head of the table so he could keep an eye on everyone, the gun still in his hand, but trying to ignore their idle chatter. Once the kettle was boiled, Lisa poured the water into the large tea-pot and asked who was having tea, or did anyone want coffee. She looked at Simpson and asked which he preferred.

"Nothing thanks," he drawled slowly.

Lisa glanced up at the clock on the wall, and said. "You may as well have something, there's still half an hour or so to wait yet. Would you prefer a hot chocolate instead?"

Simpson relented and said. "I'll have the tea then, no sugar."

"Coming right up," she returned, pouring out tea for everyone, which Daisy started to hand out. The last two cups, Lisa took to the table, and handed one to Simpson, and started to drink the other.

"Help yourself to a biscuit," said Daisy, pleasantly. "There are plenty more in the cupboard."

Simpson took a couple, and sat back to enjoy the tea and biscuits.

"I was just about ready for that," said Pip, almost downing his tea in one go. "Your soup was delicious sister dear, but it did make me rather thirsty."

"Well I didn't put too much salt in it," said Bets, defensively. "Just a sprinkle with some mixed herbs."

"Your soup is always delicious," said Fatty, looking at Bets with a smile.

Simpson looked at everyone almost in disdain. "I only hope that our friend Ern is able to come up with good news, or I'll feel really bad having to use this," he waved the gun in the air, "on any of you!"

"I'm sure he's getting the information you want," said Pip, dryly. "He's our friend and would never let us down."

"Let's hope you're right," said Simpson, suddenly slurring his words, and starting to sway a little.

"Are you feeling okay?" Bets said to him rather concerned.

"Not really," he slurred. "I don't feel very well..." With that Simpson fell forwards onto the table completely unconscious.

* * *

"What's wrong with him?" said Daisy, urgently getting to her feet along with Bets. "Is he dead?"

"He's just in a deep sleep," said Lisa, looking pleased.

They all looked at her in puzzlement, and Fatty removed the gun from Simpson's limp hand, and putting it onto the table said enquiringly. "A deep sleep?"

She nodded. "I gave him a 'knock out drop'. Don't worry, he'll be fine."

"A what?" almost shouted, Larry, letting go of Buster's collar. "Are you mad? You could have killed him at his age!"

Bets was already at Simpson's side, checking his eyes and pulse. "We'd better make him more comfortable and put him on the settee in the lounge. Can we all help to carry him there?"

Between them they carried the unconscious man over to the large settee and Bets placed a cushion under his head. "He'll be all right now. I'll keep checking him."

Fatty looked at Lisa and said. "Would you like to tell us what is going on now, seeing as you seem to be involved in some way?"

"I just need to call Ern, first and he can send in the back up, to take Simpson off our hands. I'll use Helen's phone." She disappeared to use the phone hidden in the downstairs toilet and quickly told Ern that Simpson was now out cold.

"Well done," she heard him saying. "Tell the others I'll be over as soon as it takes for the helicopter to land."

Lisa returned Helen's phone to the pocket of Fatty's jacket and walked back into the lounge, saying that Ern was on his way.

"So Fatty's inclination that you were in on this fiasco was correct," said Bets, with a raised brow.

Lisa sent Fatty a smile of appraisal. "A true detective," she said, in admiring tones. "But I don't know all the details. Apparently Ern had rung my school to speak to me about helping him with a little plan, and once he'd learned I was staying with Grandmother he called to see me the day before I called upon you and Bets, Frederick."

Everyone was looking and listening to Lisa intently, thoroughly amazed at how she'd managed to keep the secret.

"Ern said he wanted me to take the place of someone in hiding, so they could set a trap for someone who was leaking out information to the wrong people. He assured me I'd be perfectly safe and gave me this watch." She pulled back the sleeve of her jumper to show off the watch proudly. "It contains a tracking device, and Ern said someone would be close by at all times as they'd know where I was. It wasn't until I spoke with Ern a short while ago that he told me how to open the back and concealed inside was one tablet which would knock out Simpson almost immediately, which I gave him in his tea."

"When did you speak with Ern?" asked Bets.

"After Frederick came back from the toilet," said Lisa, with a smile. "I realized what he was saying in his coded message about the insurance. I managed to find Helen's mobile where he'd hidden it in the downstairs toilet and phoned Ern."

"I'm just happy you knew what I was talking about," said Fatty, with a slight sigh. "I could see the rest of you hadn't got a clue."

Everyone listened in complete amazement. "What would have happened if this tablet wasn't in the watch?" said Daisy. "Or you hadn't understood Fatty's message about Helen's phone."

"Exactly," said Fatty, firmly. "I'm not very pleased with this deception at all. Too many risks have been taken, despite the fact that Ern says someone was close by at all times."

"He must have been the man who came to your rescue on those two occasions," said Pip, suddenly remembering. "Good thing he was close at hand, I'd say."

"Very," said Larry, in agreement. "What if the tracking device had failed? What would have happened then?"

"And what if Lisa hadn't remembered about Helen's phone in your jacket pocket, Fatty?" put in Bets. "Simpson would still be threatening us with a gun and waiting for Ern to call. A call I might add he may not have returned!"

"Let's not think about all these 'ifs'," said Lisa, feeling slightly exasperated with all the negativity they were showing. "It all worked out fine. I'm sure Ern would have had some sort of back-up plan. He wouldn't allow any of us to be in mortal danger."

"He's got a lot of explaining to do when he gets here," said Fatty, still feeling an inner anger. "I'll not have us being used in this way and left in the dark, open to all elements. He should have told us what all this was about right from the start."

"Well you did agree to the plans, Fatty," said Bets, reminding him. "Let's face it, you were intrigued yourself as to what it was all about, despite your gut feeling telling you there was much more to this than Ern was prepared to say."

Fatty knew that Bets was right and he only had himself to blame for the danger he had lead them all into. Despite this, he was still going to tell Ern how angry he was at this whole episode, especially as Ern hadn't trusted him enough to take him into his confidence.

* * *

Everyone watched as a hand-cuffed Simpson was taken away by two colleagues of Ern's, to a waiting helicopter which had landed in the adjacent field to the barn. He staggered slightly, still rather doped, but the men held him firmly but gently and helped him into the helicopter before he was whisked away into the sky.

As everyone, including Ern, walked back into the barn, Buster jumped around joyfully as if they'd all been away for ages, and patting the excited dog, Ern said, lazily. "Is there a brew pending?"

"What is pending is an explanation of what all this is about," said Fatty, dryly and settling Buster back into his basket.

"All in good time," said Ern, evasively, sitting at the kitchen table. "A cuppa first, eh?"

Exasperated, Fatty shook his head in despair, and watched Bets put the kettle on the Aga to boil.

"You can be very annoying at times, Ern," said Larry, in dry tones. "It was frightening with Simpson threatening us all with his gun and not having a clue what it was all in aid of."

"Simpson may be many things," began Ern, "but he's not a killer." He picked up the gun that Fatty had placed on the table after taking it from Simpson's hand and checking it, showed the empty barrel to everyone. "As I said, you were never going to be in any immediate danger."

They all exchanged surprised and yet relieved glances, and rather snappily Pip said. "Well we weren't to know the gun wasn't loaded."

"Well really," said Lisa, indignantly. "If I'd have know the gun wasn't loaded I'd have taken it from him and thrown him out!"

Ern looked at their anxious and indignant expressions and felt a tinge of guilt for putting his long time friends into such a situation. "I know," he said, in apologetic tones, "and I'm sorry you all felt threatened and scared."

Bets poured out tea for everyone placing the mugs on the table, and banged one down besides Ern, almost spilling the contents, as she snapped. "Don't ever do that to us again, Ern. We're all far too old to have those kinds of frights."

Ern looking very forlorn, nodded silently, and said. "I owe you all an apology and an explanation."

"At last," said Larry, dryly. "Well let's hear what the grand excuse is, Ern."

"About eighteen months ago, we – our department that is – suspected that someone was leaking secret information and so we put a 'plant' into various sections to try and spy out who was responsible. Emily Burns was assigned to Simpson, and cutting a long story short, he was our suspect, so she befriended him to see what else she could learn."

"Why didn't you just arrest him when you knew what he was doing?" said Daisy, puzzled.

"It's not as easy as all that," said Ern, seriously. "There are procedures and precautions to consider, and of course we didn't want him to suspect Emily and put her into any kind of danger."

"So he didn't suspect that any of you knew, or that Emily Burns was a spy in the camp," said Pip, enquiringly, thinking how complex this all sounded.

"No," Ern shook his head. "He had no idea at all. But we did have to think fast and get him to show his hand at some point, so we took a big risk and played a sort of double bluff game on Simpson."

Everyone looked at Ern almost wide eyed, wondering what he was about to say. Fatty had an inclination of what the plan would be, but remained silent, listening intently as the others were.

"We took Emily to one side, and told her of our plan, and that she would be playing a major part. We told her we would take her out of the department and put her into hiding somewhere. In the meantime she was to text Simpson to tell him that she knew he was responsible for the department's leak, and that she'd keep quiet about it if he gave her money, as he was the least person we'd suspect."

"That's blackmail," said Bets, in disgust.

"I know but drastic situations require drastic measures," said Ern, supporting his idea. "So in the meantime, I approached Simpson, and told him of our plan to keep Emily safe, whilst trying to find the culprit, and asked if he'd help us in a little plan."

Everyone was watching Ern silently, waiting for his next works, each thinking in their own way, what a bizarre life he now led! "I told him we were putting Emily into a secret location and I wanted her to be with some good friends of mine." Ern looked at them all and smiled, before carrying on. "I said it would be a good idea if we brought in ex-Commander Trotteville to keep Emily safe."

Fatty looked at Ern slightly with a raised brow, and Ern said. "Yes, it was my suggestion that Simpson contacted you. I knew the request would intrigue you, Fatty, and that you wouldn't be able to resist. If I'd asked you myself, you would have refused."

"To true I would," said Fatty, dryly. "I wondered why Simpson contacted me after all these years. You can be really deceitful at times, Ern!"

Ern had the grace to look at Fatty sheepishly. "You're the best, Fatty. I wanted you in on this. I don't suppose you fancy joining our organization on an 'as and when' basis?"

Fatty's look softened as he said firmly. "No! I've retired, and so should you."

"I'm still a bit puzzled," said Pip, with a creased brow. "Where does Simpson's daughter come into all this?"

"She doesn't," said Fatty, looking a Pip, with a raised knowing brow. "That was just a ruse to get me on board."

Ern looked at Pip nodding his head and looking pleased. "Yes, another idea of mine, which Simpson agreed to. Pretending his daughter had been threatened."

"I think you should have told us the truth right from the start," said Bets, indignantly.

"I didn't want to risk it," said Ern, with conviction. "You were all genuinely unperturbed and thought nothing of it when Simpson turned up to visit his daughter. If you'd known, then your reactions may have been different."

"Ern's got a point," said Larry, admittedly. "We would have all reacted differently, and that would have given the game away, probably causing the situation to be much more serious."

Everyone nodded in agreement. "Seems a lot of trouble to go through, if you ask me," said Daisy, with a shrug. "You were lucky it ended the way it did, Ern. You took a big chance."

"You were always under surveillance," said Ern, finishing off his tea. "You were never in any immediate danger. Lisa's watch was a tracking device and you were followed every time you went out."

"What about the attempts on my life?" Lisa questioned.

"Someone was always close by," said Ern, reassuringly. "We knew that Simpson would get someone to try and harm who he thought was Emily. When both attempts had failed, then I had an inclination that Simpson would come along himself, thinking of course, that Emily would be here hiding amongst you all."

"And of course, we didn't turn a hair on Simpson wanting to visit his daughter," said Pip, with a nod.

Ern smiled. "That's right. Once Simpson saw that Emily wasn't here, he knew then that the game was up and that he'd fallen into a trap."

"You could have told me about the sleeping pill inside the watch," said Lisa, rather crossly. "I could have given it to him sooner."

"That was just a safe guard," said Ern. "I wasn't sure if it would be needed or not."

"All the same, I would have liked to know," said Lisa, indignantly. "You could have confided in me, after all, I did agree to help you."

"As I said before, Ern," said Fatty, "it's a pity you couldn't have trusted us all a bit more and brought us in on your little scheme."

Ern shrugged his shoulders. "Well, we like our little secrets, Fatty," he returned. "And innocence is bliss."

"Not when you're our age," said Daisy, firmly. "At least it all ended safely and none of us was harmed."

"And what about Simpson?" said Larry. "Who has he been leaking secrets to?"

"A country that pays him well," said Ern. "But I can't give you any more information on that subject."

"Will Emily be safe," said Bets, suddenly remembering how she'd taken a big chance in going into the 'lion's den'.

"She'll be fine, and well protected," said Ern, with a smile. "We covered her tracks well."

"So all's well that ends well," said Pip, feeling glad it was all over. "We can now sit back and enjoy the rest of our holiday. Personally I'm all for the quiet life!"

"Me too," agreed Bets. "So no more dragging us into any of your cases, Ern!"

"If you say so," said Ern, lightly, with a wicked grin.

"Yes, we do," said Fatty, siding with his wife. "It's a peaceful life we're all after now, and you'll do well to follow that lead yourself."

Ern grinned. "I'm not as active an agent as I used to be. I'm very rarely needed. It's a young man's game now."

"Are you staying on here a bit with us?" said Daisy. "Though where you'll sleep is another matter."

"I'm booked into the local hotel for a few nights," Ern replied. "Bernice will be joining me tomorrow. Most of the main roads should be clearer by then."

"Oh, that's nice," said Bets, with a smile. "We'll all be able to meet up."

"Yes, it will be nice to continue our holiday without any worries," said Larry. "Who's for another cuppa?"

* * *

A couple of weeks later, all the Find-Outers were relaxing in the lounge of the White House, having just eaten a superb evening meal made by Bets. Fatty had just filled everyone's glass from the last of the wine, and popped on the television to see what the 9 o'clock news had to report.

The news reader's clear voice suddenly mentioned the name of Emily Burns, and stopping their idol chatting, Bets turned up the volume to hear what the news reader had to say. The Find-Outers all listened in silence as they heard how a young woman had been shot whilst jogging through a local park, by persons unknown, but had been identified as thirty-five year old, Emily Burns.

The End