We rolled up at Julian’s late morning. “Goodness, that plane was late,” he observed drily, letting us in. “Wasn’t it!” I smiled. “It turned north instead of south leaving England and went the long way round to France. Didn’t get in till this morning.” Julian rolled his eyes. He didn’t need to give us a knowing look because I had my arm round Fi and she was leaning happily against me. I’m pretty sure there was a post-coital, glowing aura around us.
We both woke up about 6. I was starving. Not surprising really. I’d burnt off thousands of calories since my last meal, what with that mammoth session of energetic lovemaking with Fi. I think my rumbling stomach must have woken Fi up. She snuggled up to me. I put my right arm round her and turned on the bedside light with my left hand. I fumbled for the menu on the bedside shelf.
“Drat, breakfast doesn’t start for another hour,” I grumbled, squinting at it.
Fi yawned, then smiled wickedly at me. “I know how to pass the time!”
“Oh no, I don’t have the energy,” I protested feebly as she rolled onto me. But we both knew I did.
Fi ran her fingertips over my stubble.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” she suddenly said.
“And which yesterday is that?” I asked, grinning. “The yesterday in the shower, the yesterday on the floor, or the one on all fours? The several yesterdays in bed? They all seemed fine to me!”
“No, the yesterday when we first got here.” She was toying with my chest hair now. “I kind of freaked out in the bathroom. Sorry.” She planted a kiss on my nose.
“Fi, I was as nervous as hell too,” I confessed. “I really was.”
“Yeah?” Fi didn’t look like she believed me. “Nah. You were ice cool. Weren’t you?”
I shook my head. “I was terrified!”
“Well, you shouldn’t have been. You were phenomenal!” Another nose kiss.
“Yeah?” It was my turn to do incredulous.
“Yeah,” Fiona affirmed.
I grinned goofily, basking in self-glory. That didn’t happen too often.
“Um, was I …?” she began.
God, I hadn’t returned the compliment. My in-bed etiquette was rusty. All I needed to do was tell the truth. So I quickly did.
“Fi, this has been, well, still is, the most amazing night of my life.” It really had been and was. “You are everything I ever dreamed about. You are awesome.”
So we were respectively phenomenal and awesome several more times before breakfast.
We rolled up at Julian’s late morning.
“Goodness, that plane was late,” he observed drily, letting us in.
I realised I hadn’t been in touch with him since a text early on at the airport yesterday evening.
“Wasn’t it!” I smiled. “It turned north instead of south leaving Stansted and went the long way round to France. Didn’t get in till this morning.”
Julian rolled his eyes. He didn’t need to give us a knowing look because I had my arm round Fi and she was leaning happily against me. I’m pretty sure there was a post-coital, glowing aura around us.
“OK. Let’s get you loaded up for Bellevue then. I said you’d be there by midday.”
That burst my bubble a little. I didn’t want to do Julian’s dirty work any more. But we had to get that fish back where it belonged.
Julian had rigged up a large plastic tank in boot of the hired 4x4. It was half full of water, and firmly wedged between large blocks of wood. Several straps helped hold everything in place. I estimated that when the fish was in there, there’d be six or seven centimetres of water over his back when he was resting. That was a good margin. There was a battery attached to a motor that was already pumping oxygen into the water through plastic tubing. It was fairly noisy, but wouldn’t be heard when the engine was running.
“Pretty neat,” I nodded approvingly.
“I’ve got some tarpaulin to cover the tank up with, and if we pack the bivvies and rods and stuff all round, no one will guess what’s in there.”
I hoped he was right. France was starting to get prickly over carp smuggling. I could find myself in a lot of trouble.
“You’ll have lunch before you go, won’t you?” Penny had come out to join us. She raised an eyebrow when she saw me entangled with Fi.
“Yes please,” Fi and I said.
“No time,” Julian announced sourly. “You’re running late.”
“Of course there’s time,” Penny overruled him. “An extra half hour won’t make any difference. You’re being mean.”
He sighed, but Penny won. We had soup, salad and a lot of coffee, very quickly. Then Julian barged in and asked me to help him get the fish into the tank. He’d netted the small stock pond earlier that morning. I could see the common swimming slowly around in the poche, totally unconcerned. Hopefully he wouldn’t be too stressed out by his imminent journey back home. He’d survived the ride here, and the chances were that it hadn’t been in such luxurious conditions as Julian had created for him. Julian was in waders and jacket so he went in and scooped up the fish. I laid out the sling. Julian struggled with the huge fish to the bank and carefully, and gratefully, positioned him gently on it.
“Shame to see him go. He’s a smasher,” said Julian ruefully.
We fastened the ends of the sling, and carried the common between us to the 4x4. I took the full weight while Julian climbed into the vehicle, then passed him up, helping to support him. Julian got the sling into the tank, without too much water slopping out. Then he undid the sling and pulled it out from around the fish. The carp was momentarily spooked and thrashed hard for a second or two, but luckily calmed down before he hurt himself or emptied the tank. Julian folded the sling and laid it down next to the tank, then pulled the small square of tarpaulin over.
“Let’s load up,” he ordered.
The equipment was lined up along the wall outside the back door. I dutifully fetched it over and Julian stashed it around the hidden tank.
“I’ll shove this in too, just in case.” He pushed a roll of the plastic air tubing in. “I bought too much of the bloody stuff.”
He faffed around for a few more minutes.
“All done,” he said finally. “And now you really must go, for the carp’s sake.”
We said our goodbyes, and then Fi and I drove off. I took it very steady up the drive, and for the first twenty kilometres until we got to a major road. I made plenty of enemies out of other road-users during that distance. But tough. The fish’s well-being came first.
“Bit young for Julian, isn’t she, that Penny?” remarked Fi en route.
“She’s his niece,” I explained.
“And I’m a neurosurgeon,” scoffed Fi.
“What, seriously? You think they’re an item?” I was incredulous.
“I know so,” nodded Fi.
“Shit. Well, I can’t see it lasting long.” I told her about Penny groping me at the restaurant and trying to get into my room. “My God, if we had got up to something, he’d have killed me!”
“No he wouldn’t,” Fi contradicted me with a grin, “because I’d have killed you first! I’m the jealous type, so be warned!”
“Duly noted,” I acknowledged.
“Bloody bitch,” muttered Fi crossly and put a possessive hand on my thigh.
I smiled inwardly. It was kind of nice being fought over.
Fi navigated us flawlessly to the entrance to Bellevue. The fifty kilometres had taken us about an hour and a half. That was even longer than it would have taken my Fiat!
“Here goes,” I observed to Fi. “Time for CRAP.”
Fi raised an eyebrow. “CRAP?”
“Carp Repatriation And Prison,” I explained grimly.
I was uptight as hell. What had seemed so easy at the planning stage, now seemed an impossible nightmare.
“We can do this, baby,” Fi reassured me brightly. “Piece of cake.” But her smile looked forced.
We bumped down the long drive to Bellevue.
“Wow, it’s a super lake,” admired Fi.
She was right. It was much smaller than Julian’s, being around seven acres, but tree lined for the most part, and in a shallow valley. It was shaped like a figure eight, with a bulge at each end and a narrower central section. And it had an island. Everyone had islands in their lakes except me, it seemed.
As I swung to the left to pull in outside the small wooden cabin at the bottom of the track, a red, shiny 4x4 was parked there. Fi and I looked at each other. This was a complication.
“Damn,” I frowned. “I hadn’t expected company.”
“Can you turn the pump motor off?” Like me, Fi was worrying that Aidan would hear it from outside.
“Not without unpacking some stuff. I’ll leave the CD on loud. That might do it.”
I cranked up the volume on Sum41 before I turned off the engine and opened the door to climb out. A short, red-haired man came out of the cabin and waved cheerily. Fi and I climbed out and we all shook hands.
“Radley and Phoebe I assume?” smiled Aidan, as the shaking was going on.
“Phoebe?” hissed Fi quietly in my ear, very disapprovingly.
I assumed a look of innocence. I hadn’t told her about the false identities Julian and I had cooked up. I’d chosen Phoebe for her, rather lamely, since it meant I could still call her Fi. Listeners would misinterpret it as ‘Phee’ for Phoebe. But it was also a sensible choice. I’d be struggling enough to remember I was Radley.
“That’s us,” I confirmed. “Great lake. Tell me what I need to know to catch your fish.” I strode purposefully away from the car, and its hidden carp. “I’d say this would be a good spot.” I stood at the head of the lake, looking down towards the island. “Good feature to fish to.”
“Actually,” Aidan told me, “the far end does best. The lake is stream-fed from that end, so the water’s richer in nutrients. The fish prefer the other side of the island.”
“That makes sense,” I conceded.
“Any particular boilie flavours better than others?” asked Fi.
“Not really,” shrugged Aidan. “The fish aren’t pressured, so they’ll take whatever’s going. They like plenty of groundbait though. Maize and pellet work best.”
That was predictable enough.
“OK. Anything else?”
“How do you fancy catching a 60-odd pound common?” queried Aidan.
How Fi and I managed to keep straight faces, I don’t know, but thank God we did.
“I’d love to!” chirped Fi brightly, after only the tiniest pause. “That would be my PB.”
“Well, I’d love you to as well. I haven’t seen him for about a month now, and usually he came out at least once a week. He’s a real clockwork fish. He has his regular hunting grounds, and regular routines. And he loves halibut. He used to get pulled out between 11 and 12 in the morning on a halibut boilie without fail.”
That sounded like Fi’s fish all right.
“He’s gone quiet?” I asked.
“Yeah. No sign of him lately, like I said. Could just be it’s the end of the season and he’s slowing down for winter. But, you know, it would be good to see him come out again.”
“We’ll do our best to find him for you,” promised Fi.
Aidan walked us round the rest of the lake, motioning to a few snags at the top end, and talking about the lake generally. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that either he was a very good liar, or he wasn’t involved in the fishnapping business at all. He struck me as a genuine guy, an enthusiastic angler and, well, plain nice.
We ended up by the car. Damn. It had one of those nanny-state settings that don’t let you leave the CD player on for too long after the engine has stopped. You could clearly hear a whirring noise of some sort of motor coming from the vehicle.
“Is your fan running?” frowned Aidan, noticing it, and cocking his head to listen to the engine.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said breezily, wishing he’d go.
“Air conditioning maybe?”
“Possibly,” I shrugged. “I might have left something turned on. Unfamiliar dashboard.”
Before I could stop him, Aidan had pulled open the driver’s door. Shit.
“No, seems to be coming from your luggage,” he observed.
Fi let out a loud giggle and put a hand over her mouth. We both looked at her, slightly alarmed.
“Uh-oh!” she chortled. “I think something’s knocked the switch on my vibrator!”
Aidan’s eyes bulged. “That’s, um, quite a motor on it,” he observed in some concern.
“I need a big motor, honey,” she winked.
It was my turn to start acting.
“Phee,” I sighed and rolled my eyes dramatically. “You said you weren’t going to bring any sex toys with you this time. You know I want to fish. I told you, no distractions.” I pulled a cross face at her.
Aidan looked at us incredulously, but definitely enviously.
Fi frowned and pouted. “But sweetie-pie, it’s our holiday. It’s meant to be fun. And you know you enjoy them as much as I do.”
I cleared my throat. Things might get out of hand in a moment. “Run along and start unpacking, angel.”
“I’ll help,” offered Aidan, still slightly dazed.
“No, no,” I said hastily. “Thanks but no need. Phee likes to organise everything. Has to be done exactly so, you know what women are like.”
“Not women like Phoebe,” Aidan murmured, under his breath.
We both watched Fi for a moment as she sashayed off to undo the boot.
“Well. I’ll be off, then,” announced Aidan.
“You’ve got my phone number. Give me a ring if you need anything. I’m not far away, only about two kilometres. I’ll call by definitely before Wednesday lunchtime, when you leave. Shame you can’t stay longer.”
“Well, I fancied taking in a couple of lakes,” I smiled apologetically. “Testing them out. I’ll be back here for longer next time, that’s for certain, and earlier in the season too.”
“Where are you going on to?” Aidan asked.
I was surprised he didn’t know, as it was his brother’s lakes. I’d have thought they’d talk about their bookings to each other.
“Malval,” I informed him.
Aidan’s face clouded.
“Oh, not a good lake then?” I said.
“The lake’s fine, the management’s lousy,” he scowled.
“There’s a family connection, isn’t there?” I knew damn well there was, but I needed to probe. “I noticed the same surname, Hodgkiss.”
“My brother Frank runs Malval,” said Aidan bitterly. “We don’t get on.”
Now that was news. Julian’s photos showing them smiling together were only a couple of months old. What had happened? Something to do with the fish? Or, I shuddered as the thought suddenly occurred to me, something to do with Clive? No. His death had been an accident.
“I’m sorry. I’m very close to my brother.” I wasn’t sure why I felt compelled to add that.
“We were close. Once.” Aidan sighed. “Anyway. I must get on. Tight lines.”
Aidan strode off, looking rattled at having to talk about his brother. Fi was faffing around at the back of the 4x4. She waved to Aidan who managed a thin smile back.
Once his car was out of sight up the drive, she scuttled up to me.
“I heard all that,” she exclaimed. “So him and Frank have fallen out?”
But I thought of a far more interesting question. I pulled her close to me and kissed her nose.
“You haven’t really brought a vibrator with you, have you? Any truth in your lie? Oh, and good thinking, by the way. I’d gone completely blank.”
“I noticed. And no. Sorry!”
I pulled a sad face. Fi laughed. “Come on. Let’s get that poor fish back home.”
Glancing over our shoulders every now and again, to make sure Aidan didn’t suddenly reappear, we pulled out the bivvie, sleeping bags, bedchairs, bait boxes, bags of food and the other stuff that was packed around the tank. I left it covered with the tarp for now. I hit the motor switch and a blessed silence fell. Or was it a bit too silent. Shouldn’t there be a bit of sloshing coming from the tank? Fi had the same thought. Our eyes met in panic.
“Quick, see if he’s all right,” urged Fi.
I tugged the tarpaulin off and prised off the lid from the tank. Then I smiled. Looking up at me was the huge carp, seemingly not the slightest bit bothered by his recent ordeal. I gave Fi a thumbs-up.
“Phew!” She wiped her hand across her brow in an exaggerated way.
“I’ll get into waders and then get him into the water,” I said.
We kitted ourselves out quickly. I assembled a couple of rods too and leaned them on the bank. I felt desperately guilty and was sure Aidan was going to appear out of the blue to check up on us. If he found us in waders with a wet carp sling, he’d be a mite suspicious if there was no sign that we’d been fishing. While Fi checked up the drive for the hundredth time, I dug out the sling. The common livened up considerably when I tried to get that round him in the tank. He was quite happy where he was. But I persisted, getting well splashed, and eventually had him safely ensconced. Fi laid our carp mats out in the back of the 4x4. I was grateful for that. I had a soft spot to rest him on briefly after hauling him out of the tank, and before I heaved him to the lake. Belatedly I realised that I should have backed up to the lake’s edge, or at the very least driven as close as I could. I had twenty metres to lug him. But I made it. I lowered the sling into the lake. Fi steadied it while I hopped in and released the stunning fish into the water. He shot off like a scalded cat. Maybe he knew he was back home.
“Mission accomplished,” grinned Fi, as clearly relieved as I was. “Maybe I’ll stop feeling so guilty now.”
“Me too,” I agreed. “I’m not cut out to be a criminal.”
I climbed out of the lake and sat on the bank. Fi sat beside me. I put my arm round her.
“Been quite an exciting twenty-four hours, hasn’t it?” I remarked.
She laid her head on my shoulder. “I’d say.”
“Which bit was the most exciting?” I wanted to know.
“The bit we’ll re-enact just as soon as we get the bivvie up,” she smiled. “If I can wait that long, that is …”
With that she turned and pushed me firmly onto my back. Then she rolled on top of me and did her tiger kissing thing again. I began to share her feeling that putting the tent up was going to take way too long. But the noise of an engine had us both up on our feet in seconds. It wasn’t Aidan, but a hang-glider in the not too far distance. It was enough to shake us though.
“Bivvie,” I said decisively. “Then sex. Then fishing.”
Fi and I grinned happily at each other.
“Do we fit food in somewhere?” she asked.
“After more sex and before more fishing,” I told her.
“This is going to be an awesome holiday,” she sighed contentedly. We had a quick smooch and then obediently followed the agenda we’d just set ourselves, with the exception of adding ‘yet more sex’ after the ‘more fishing’ bit of it.
“So,” said Fi eventually. “What do you think is going on with Aidan and his brother?”
I shrugged. “I can only guess. I think they were in this discrediting a fishery thing together to start with, but maybe Aidan got cold feet about it. He had a blazing row with Frank about it. Rift time?”
Fi nodded. “Yeah. But I find it hard to think of Aidan as a criminal at all. He seems genuinely OK.”
I had to agree. “Maybe he didn’t even know about the fishery thing.” I sighed. It was getting complicated. That, or I was too trusting of everyone.
We were both quiet for a while. Then Fi yawned loudly.
“Come on, bed,” I ordered. “Bring your rods in and let’s get a full night’s sleep tonight.” I began to reel mine in.
“A full night?” Fi raised an eyebrow.
“OK. Fairly full will do,” I conceded.
“That’s better,” she smiled.
Holy cow! I’d certainly met my match with Fi. Thank God.