I turned round - and there was Tony Frobisher. Oh shit. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed, as surprised as I was. “Whatever are you doing here M...?” “I’m sorry,” I butted in loudly and quickly before he could say my name. “I think you have me mistaken for someone else. We’ve most certainly never met. I’m Radley.” I offered him a hand to shake. I would have told him my surname too, but, in the heat of a stressful moment, I’d forgotten it. I looked him squarely in the eye. Tony frowned slightly, scrutinising me hard. I held my innocent gaze. Then he smiled. “Seems I’m mistaken. I do apologise. It’s an incredible likeness, though, to this bloke I know in England. I’m Tony Frobisher.” “Delighted. They do say we all have a double, don’t they,” I remarked lightly. “Usually an evil twin, I believe,” Tony added pointedly.
Chapter 23 Found Out
We eventually got up very late on Thursday morning, after entertaining ourselves very enjoyably for a nice long time. But we still had a lot of day to fill. I got busy with my Humminbird for an hour or so, just to make quadruple sure the lake really was devoid of carp. Fi did some spinning and caught one tiny perch. By lunchtime the empty lake was depressing us.
“Let’s go out for lunch somewhere,” I suggested.
Fi pulled out the map. There were a few fair-sized towns not too far away. Any one of those was bound to have a restaurant. We set off for the interestingly named St Loup Bas Le Roc, but driving through a small, picturesque village, amazingly we spotted an auberge that was open. The menu looked inviting, and it was very reasonably priced, so we spent the next couple of hours chatting happily over delicious food.
We both ate too much - it was impossible not to with food this good and this cheap - so we opted to go for a long walk to fill the afternoon. Another look at the map and we found a footpath that ran along the base of a steep gorge. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The walk involved a bit of minor mountaineering in a couple of places, as huge outcrops of rocky blocked the path. Ropes and rails had been provided to help you heave yourself over these large natural barriers.
We had a great time. Fi took a million photos of the scenery, and a lot of me too, which I was secretly very flattered by. Not many people seem to think I’m photogenic, including Angling Talk magazine. When I started my column with them all those years ago, I’d sent them a selection of mug shots, and a few other photos, and they’d gone for one that had me as a distant speck on a river bank doing some fly fishing.
“So, ready to meet up with the frightful Frank again?” I asked Fi as we climbed back in the car, rosy-cheeked and tired from our strenuous antics. “It’ll be interesting to see who this buddy is. Julian will definitely want to know about him. Or her.”
“OK,” yawned Fi. “Let’s not stop too long, though, eh? I really don’t like being around that guy.” She shuddered.
“We’ll stay long enough to be polite, then scarper,” I confirmed.
“Thanks.” Fi smiled gratefully. “If it’s not too cold in the tent, I’ll give you an all-over massage,” she tempted me.
“Five minutes with Frank should be way more than enough!” I grinned.
Fi laughed as I started the engine and we drove to Coussac. We found the hotel Frank had mentioned and went in. Frank was at the bar. He waved in a friendly manner as we came in.
“Drink?” he asked.
I went for a Pastis while Fi asked for a kir. Then she excused herself and headed off to the toilets. She was back a minute later with a disgusted look on her face.
“I’m going to nip out to the public loos in the square,” she whispered to me. “Now I’m no snob, but there is no way I can use that festering Turkish thing over there.” She jerked her head crossly toward the corner of the room where the bathroom was.
“OK sweetie. Don’t be long.” I patted her shapely butt as she left me. I smiled. Fi was happy to pee behind a hedge if that’s all that was available, but she had a total thing about Turkish loos and refused point-blank to use them.
Frank raised an eyebrow.
“Off to get something from the car,” I ad-libbed. He didn’t need to know about her toilet hang-ups.
“Oh, here’s my colleague now,” he added as the door from the restaurant opened and someone came in.
I turned round - and there was Tony Frobisher. Oh shit.
“Good heavens!” he exclaimed, as surprised as I was. “Whatever are you doing here M...?”
“I’m sorry,” I butted in loudly and quickly before he could say my name. “I think you have me mistaken for someone else. We’ve most certainly never met. I’m Radley.” I offered him a hand to shake. I would have told him my surname too, but, in the heat of a stressful moment, I’d forgotten it.
I looked him squarely in the eye. Tony frowned slightly, scrutinising me hard. I held my innocent gaze. Then he smiled.
“Seems I’m mistaken. I do apologise. It’s an incredible likeness, though, to this bloke I know in England. I’m Tony Frobisher.”
“Delighted. They do say we all have a double, don’t they,” I remarked lightly.
“Usually an evil twin, I believe,” Tony added pointedly.
We looked at each other a while longer. Had he bought it? Did he really think he was mistaken?
“So, er, do you two know each other?” Frank was puzzled, and suspicious.
“No. No we don’t,” Tony told him firmly. “It’s the lighting in here. That or my eyes going. Radley reminded me of someone, that’s all.”
Frank smiled. “Sounds like you need a drink to sharpen you up, mate!”
He turned to the bar to order a Pastis for Tony. Tony winked at me and then turned away too. So. He was playing along. Or was he only pretending to play along while I was around? He’d probably blow my cover the minute I was gone. Shit. This wasn’t good.
A man came in and ackowledged Frank with a nod.
“Excuse me a minute, please, gentlemen,” said Frank. “I need to have a quick word with Maurice.”
Frank stalked across to the new arrival. They shook hands.
“So, Radley, tell me about yourself,” said Tony, jovially and loudly, throwing an arm around my shoulders and pushing me into a corner of the bar, away from Frank who was now deep in conversation with Maurice.
We sat down at a small table.
“Marcus, I’m insulted,” he said to me quietly, a twinkle in his eye. “You trash my carp supply business but you’re happy to buy fish off this lowlife. Hodgkiss makes me look like a saint. And what the hell is this Radley business all about?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I answered dismissively. “And lowlife? I thought he was your friend?”
“The hell he is,” hissed Tony, genuinely.
“So what are you doing here then?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Tony laughed quietly.
“OK. Touché.” I managed a small smile. “You have your agenda and I have mine. Can we agree to keep them secret?”
“Sure thing. I’m not bothered what you’re up to. I’m assuming Adam doesn’t know you’re here, wheeling and dealing?”
“He knows I’m in France,” I answered truthfully enough.
“Planning to set up on your own?” Tony couldn’t help probing.
“I thought you said you weren’t bothered what I was up to,” I reminded him.
“I lied. I’m a nosy bastard.”
“Let’s say I am, then.” It was my turn to lie. “You know as well as anyone that Adam and I don’t get on.”
“Everyone knows that,” Tony nodded. “So. You’ve got balls going it alone. I wouldn’t have thought you’d got the funding to last long, though.”
“I have contacts,” I said evasively, wishing that was true.
“Well, don’t worry. I’ll buy you up when you go under,” Tony promised.
“That’s a very philanthropic gesture,” I parried. “I’ll drink to that.”
I raised my glass to Tony then drained my absinthe. Tony did the same.
“I like you, Marcus,” he smiled. “Despite everything. You’re not scared of me, and you don’t pussyfoot around. My kind of bloke. What’s it worth for me not to tell Adam I bumped into you here in the company of Hodgkiss?”
I wasn’t fazed.
“The same that it’s worth for me not to tell Hodgkiss that you think he’s scum.” I had to hope he hadn’t been lying about that too.
“OK. Mum’s the word. You get on with your skulduggery, and I’ll get on with mine. Deal?”
We shook hands.
I heard the door to the bar open behind me.
“Well, hello! What have we here?” smarmed Tony. “Talk about a cutie!” He smiled in the direction of the new entrant.
I didn’t need to look to know it was Fi who’d just walked in.
“And she’s coming this way,” gloated Tony. “I can still pull a bird.”
Now I turned to see, and winked at Fi. So, back at that meal in Ronaldo’s, Tony had just been putting the frighteners on. He’d made out he knew who Fi was when he’d called her my biker chick girlfriend, but he’d obviously only heard rumours about her. He didn’t recognise her tonight, that was for sure.
“She’s not your type,” I told Tony loudly, turning back. “She needs a guy like me. You’ll see.”
Fi was at our table now. She guessed I was up to something and was happy to play along.
“Bonjour ma chérie,” simpered Tony.
“Bonjour,” replied Fi, smiling at him and running a finger down his cheek. If Tony had been a cat, he’d have purred.
Handily enough, and very appropriately, Fi had taught me a lot of dirty French this week. So I looked at her and said “Je bande comme un tigre pour toi.”
“Tu veux je te fais la pipe?” she replied.
I stood up and took her hand. “Excuse me, Tony, I have to go.”
I noticed Frank beginning to move our way now. Maurice had gone.
“What’s going on?” Tony demanded.
“Well,” I shrugged. “I said I had a hard on for our little French friend here, and she said she’d give me a blow job. So, nice meeting you, Tony, but her offer is too tempting to refuse.”
“Bloody hell!” Tony was gobsmacked. “You pulled that quickly? Fucking impressive.”
“You’re a mug, my dear Anthony,” announced Frank, joining us, laughing. “This is Radley’s girlfriend, Phoebe.”
“What? Your girlfriend?” Tony looked at me incredulously. “No way. She’s miles out of your league.” He was rude because he’d been fooled.
“It’s true, I am Radley’s girlfriend,” admitted Fi. “Forgive me.” She offered Tony her hand.
“Bloody hell,” he said again, shaking it. Then he chuckled. “You had me there. And Phoebe, you say?” He put a lot of emphasis on the ‘Phee’ bit.
“Yes, Phoebe,” I confirmed, keeping my face blank.
I needed to get out of here, and not just because I wanted that massage from Fi. Either Tony would let something slip or Frank would rumble us if we hung around too long.
“Yeah, well I’m not joking about the hard on,” I fibbed crudely, pulling my jacket down so it looked like I was covering something up. “So, you’ll forgive me, but I have somewhere else I need to be. Nice to meet you, Tony. See you tomorrow, Frank.”
I slipped my arm around Fi and steered her out of the bar. I hurried her to the 4x4, and collapsed into the driver’s seat.
“Christ. That wasn’t fun.”
“What’s going on?” Fi wanted to know.
I filled her in about Tony.
“So that was Tony Frobisher. I’ve read and heard so much about him, none of it very nice apart from what he wrote and said himself. He was gross.”
“Well, he liked you!” I grinned.
“Ugh!” she shuddered.
I got serious again. “So, the question is, will he shop me to Frank? And, in case he does, do we bug out tonight?”
“Aren’t you seeing Frank tomorrow, though?”
“Yes, but if he knows I’m not Radley by then, it could get awkward.”
I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel anxiously, thinking hard. Then I relaxed a little.
“No. No, he won’t. Tony seems to be pretty narked with Frank over something. He won’t give me away, I’m sure. And I did promise Julian that I’d talk to Frank and see what I can find out about the fish he has on offer. If I don’t, he’ll never forgive me and he can’t half whine. He’ll drive me nuts!”
“I’m afraid that’s probably true,” sighed Fi. “And we’ve invited Yann round for tea tomorrow at seven, remember? It’ll be nice to see him again.”
“You’re right. I’d forgotten that. But I haven’t forgotten about that massage you mentioned.” I leant across and kissed her hungrily.
“In that case, drive us home - fast!”
We had another lie-in on Friday morning and a rerun of the previous night’s all-over massage, which was even better second time around. We did some half-hearted spinning for perch but caught nothing. Over a cheese sandwich, we decided that we’d head off tonight once we’d had our rendez vous with Yann, no matter how late it was. We’d check into a cheap hotel again and get back to Julian’s on Saturday.
Fi started to pull her stuff together about two.
“Should we take presents back for people?” she suddenly said.
She shrugged. “Graham, Andy, Derek, your most loyal customers. Your brother?”
“Nah.” Then I reflected. “Actually, yeah, I could see if I could pick up something typically French for Paul and Patrick for Christmas. I never know what to get them. They’ve got everything already.”
“Cool. Let’s go and shop then,” smiled Fi. “I can’t bear hanging around this place. It’s eerie. An empty fishing lake is so unnatural.”
“We can only be a couple of hours though,” I warned her.
“No problem. We have to be back for what - five?” she answered.
I nodded. “Better be early. About half four. You can carry on packing while I talk to Frank the thug then we’ll head off once he’s gone. It won’t take us long to get the bivvie down. We can just throw it in the boot.”
So we drove into Coussac, spent five minutes looking around it and realised we wouldn’t find anything there. We headed off to Grandes Pierres, a much bigger town twenty kilometres further on. We found a pretty good hypermarket on the outskirts and moseyed round, chucking French biscuits and pottery and tinned snails into the trolley. Fi talked me into buying a couple of long sleeve tee-shirts with silly French slogans on them. In retaliation I steered her into the lingerie aisle.
“No good,” she told me. “I can’t get my size in supermarkets. I have to go to small expensive underwear boutiques that cater for freaks!”
“Fi, don’t say that,” I frowned. She was a bit hung up about her breast size at times. “They’re boutiques for fantastic feminine forms, not freaks.”
Fi smiled slightly self-consciously but gratefully.
“Look, this will fit you, won’t it?”
I held up a cream silky, lacy negligée sort of nightie against her.
“You know I don’t wear anything in bed,” she chided.
“Yes, but couldn’t you put it on every now and again, so I can take it off you?” I pleaded.
Fi hesitated. She looked at the price tag.
“Not at thirty euros. It’s not worth it,” she said firmly. “Plus, it’s not really my colour.”
She hung it back up.
“Please let me buy you something nice,” I urged.
“I don’t need anything. But thanks, that’s sweet. Anyway, it’s nearly four. We need to get back.”
She was right. I sighed. I’d already been fantasising about slowly pulling that floaty, satiny garment over Fi’s head and revealing those sumptuous breasts. Or would ripping it off be sexier?
Fi was halfway along the aisle. She looked back at me, daydreaming.
“J’arrive!” I replied, guiltily.
We paid at the check-out then put our purchases on the back seat and headed to the fishery. Fi yawned loudly about five minutes into the journey.
“Jeez, I’m wrecked,” she admitted.
We both smiled since we knew why, and it was a nice reason. I was pretty knackered too.
“Crank your seat back and have forty winks,” I suggested.
“Good idea.” She fumbled for the right lever and eased the seat back into reclining mode. I ran my hand up and down her left thigh a couple of times. She giggled and pushed it away.
“Both hands on the wheel, please,” she instructed.
I laughed. “Bossy boots!”
On the outskirts of Coussac, as I turned onto the road to Malval, I noticed a couple of black 4x4s parked in a layby. They caught my attention because they were both like Frank’s - very flashy and posey, with the tinted windows. Someone up to no good, I thought to myself. I wasn’t completely sure, but as I was rounding the bend further down the road, I thought I caught a glimpse of one of them indicating and pulling out onto the highway behind us.
When we got back, I couldn’t resist tickling Fi for five minutes or so. Laying back on the seat like that she was too irresistible a target. But we were pushed for time, so we reluctantly stopped messing around and got out, retrieving our bags of shopping from the boot. I unzipped the bivvie and pulled the door flap up out of the way. Fi crouched down and went in with the afternoon’s loot.
“Someone’s been in here,” she observed.
I glanced inside. It looked about the same as far as I could remember.
“Are you sure?” It was a dumb question. She wouldn’t have mentioned it if she wasn’t.
“Yes I am,” she said grimly.
I ducked down and looked in.
Fi pointed to the three reading books she’d brought and which were piled up on the cool box. She pulled a wry face. “One of my little things is that I always stack my books in alphabetical order. I’m a frustrated librarian, I guess! I did it this morning after I’d sorted the bed out. Michael Wright was at the bottom, Peter Mayle was in the middle and Bryce Corbett was on top. They’re out of order now.”
Maybe she’d forgotten to order them properly this morning?
She was frowning and unzipped the holdall with her clothes in. She had a quick rummage.
“He, she or it has been through this too. I had my clean undies at this end and the stuff for washing at the other. They’re all muddled up now.”
She was starting to get to me. I looked into my bag. Yeah, I was pretty sure I hadn’t left my jeans at the very top. And the bags of bait weren’t exactly where I’d left them either. Two bags of grape and garlic were halfway under the bedchair now. I rubbed my forehead.
“What’s going on, Marcus?” Fi asked anxiously.
“I think they might be onto us,” I realised. “Tony blabbed. Shit.”
Why else would someone poke through a tent full of fishing gear? They wouldn’t have found anything incriminating though. I had my driving licence and credit cards on me. There was nothing lying around with my name on it, nor with Fi’s. But all the same, I had a bad feeling about this.
We looked at each other.
“Come on,” I said. “Grab your personal stuff and we’ll get the hell out of here. I’ll cover Julian for his tent and equipment. Actually no, I won’t. I shouldn’t have let him talk me into staying for this extra day. Sod him.”
“You think this is serious?” Fi’s eyes were wide.
“It might be, sweetie,” I sighed. “Or it might not. But I’m not taking any chances. We’ve done what we came to do on this holiday. The rest of it wasn’t so urgent. Let’s split.”
Fi looked scared. Had I overdone it? No. We knew we were dealing with underhand scum here. It was sensible to err on the side of paranoia.
I picked up the bag of shopping to take back to the 4x4. As I straightened up out of the tent, I heard engines. I looked along the track. Fuck. Two vehicles were coming along it, and fast, leaving clouds of dust in their wake. And if I wasn’t mistaken, they were the two vehicles I’d seen in that layby. I found it hard to believe that the damn things went around in pairs all the time.
“Fi, we’ve got company. And more than just Frank.”
I made a decision.
“Get out of here Fi,” I instructed. “Go to Yannick’s, and if I’m not there in an hour, call the police. And call Julian too. Let him know things are getting dodgy.”
“Aren’t you coming too?”
Believe me, I was tempted. But if we both ran, they’d come after us. It was me they wanted. If Fi disappeared on her own, they wouldn’t waste time and energy trying to find her. They thought she was a braindead bimbo who’d sit and panic. And anyway, maybe we were reading it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a dangerous situation. If I played it cool and stuck to my story, hopefully they’d believe me. Yeah right. But if push came to shove, I was big and I had a black belt. If it came to fighting I could handle myself. I actually felt a surge of adrenalin. I’d always been a ‘fight’ rather than ‘flight’ guy.
“No. But you’re leaving. Now, Fi. I’ll cover for you.”
She hesitated. She didn’t want to desert me.
“Hurry, Fi.” The SUV was nearly here. “Run!”
“Christ, be careful Marcus.”
She kissed me.
She turned to go.
“I love you,” I added.
Of all the times to suddenly find the ability to say those three words that had refused to come out until now, this was the one I had to choose.
Fi swung round and looked at me, delighted and surprised.
I winked at her. “Now run!”
Fi hared off along the bank and was safely into the woods at the far end of the lake before the SUVs screeched to a halt by the cabins. Stay safe, I begged her silently, as I squared up to face the two blokes who’d got out of the first car. Frank got out of the second. These guys were evidently his heavies. OK, so they were my size, but I had my judo. They didn’t give me the impression of being very bright or subtle.
“Radley!” called Frank, jovially. “Good to see you again, mate. And I’ve got interesting news.”
“Cool,” I smiled. My heart was pounding but I was in control. Possibly we’d panicked. Possibly they’d checked our tent out to make sure we were kosher before we started negotiations. They wouldn’t have found anything to the contrary. Possibly I’d get out of this unscathed.
But possibly not.
“Let’s talk,” invited Frank. “In the cabin.”
“Who are your friends?” I asked.
“Business partners,” he assured me pleasantly.
“What sort of business?” I pushed it.
“My business,” he replied, a tad less pleasantly this time.
We were facing each other now. I glanced at each of the bruisers. I had a horrible feeling they were armed. Their jackets seemed to bulge unevenly on one side, a sort of pistol-sized bulge. Fuck. If I tried to run now, they’d shoot me. I might as well play along. Well, I had to now.
“So!” I grinned. “Let’s talk!”
“What about your girlfriend?” asked Frank. “She can come too and have a drink.”
“I left her in town,” I lied. “She wanted to buy some clothes, but she couldn’t make up her mind – you know women. Huh!” I shrugged. “I got fed up waiting, so I told her I’d meet her in a couple of hours.”
Would they believe me? They must have been watching for us to come back, knowing that wherever we’d been, that was the road we had to take for the last few kilometres to the fishery. Had they spotted Fi in the 4x4? No, I consoled myself. She’d been below window level.
“That’s convenient,” observed Frank. “We can get our, um, negotiations over in her absence.”
“Only if the price is right,” I reminded him.
“Of course,” Frank smiled. “Of course. Now. These aren’t the carp I’d originally earmarked for you, which would have been available fairly soon. We have a technical hitch there.” The fact that no one had caught Aidan’s common in Julian’s lake? “Let’s go to the cabin.”
Frank turned round and I fell into step next to him.
He unlocked the door and we went in. We hadn’t been in here, only using the separate shower room. It was basic but perfectly adequate as a cabin for anglers to use for cooking or in wet weather, very much along the lines of Julian’s. There was a table with four chairs, an oven, small fridge, gas heater, sink and cupboard. It had electricity and water, a step up from Julian’s for the time being.
“Coffee?” he asked.
“Please. Black, no sugar.”
He put the kettle on and motioned for me to sit down. The heavies sat down, one at each end of the table. Frank got out some cups and coffee powder and busied himself with the drinks while the rest of us sat in suspicious silence and surveyed each other critically. Yeah, they were big but they definitely looked dumb.
“How’s the fishing?” Frank asked, half turning to look at me.
“Slow,” I replied truthfully. “Like you said it would be. Mind you, it’s so slow, I’m beginning to think there’s no fish in there!” I smiled brightly as if it were a joke.
Frank’s face didn’t give anything away.
“End of season,” he shrugged.
He bought a tray with four tiny espressos on and plonked one in front of each of us. The two heavies downed theirs in one, so I didn’t want to be shown up as a wuss. I knocked back mine too, but then wished I hadn’t. Holy shit, it was the most disgusting coffee I’d ever tasted. It was bitterly strong and almost, I don’t know, salty? And that was despite the sugar that Frank had put in, ignoring my request for none. I must have grimaced.
“Sorry,” apologised Frank. “I make dreadful coffee. Look, have a whiskey chaser. Clear the taste away.”
I shouldn’t really because I was supposedly going to be driving later to collect the allegedly shopping Fi, but Christ, I needed something. That coffee had made me feel sick.
“OK, but only a small one,” I accepted gratefully.
Frank nodded to Heavy One. He got up, scraping his chair back noisily and fetched a bottle of Aberlour, a decent enough Scotch, and some large cut-glass tumblers out of a different cupboard. This was a very impressively stocked fishing cabin. Frank sloshed generous portions into each glass. Again, my companions knocked it back in one go, but I preferred to sip slowly. I wanted to at least give the impression of being a responsible drinker and driver.
“Drink up Radley,” Frank urged me. “Or should I say … Marcus. Marcus Summers. Manager of Adam’s Fishery.”