Stone walked out into the mews to see a bright red Jeep SR T8 with a smiling Spencer White behind the wheel. White was bored of waiting and was rhythmically tapping the accelerator pedal to make the six litre V8 engine twitch. Stone climbed into the passenger seat and threw his bag in the back.
‘Christ couldn’t you have picked something slightly less conspicuous from the car pool?’ he joked.
‘Why,’ said White, ‘who’s going to be looking out for us?’ His grin widened further. ‘Besides it’s only a baby; I wanted a Hummer but they didn’t have one.’
They both laughed at the absurdity of driving a Hummer through the London streets on a Sunday. White had already set the Satellite Navigation system, which started vocalising directions from the dash.
‘Have you got that pea shooter of yours strapped to your leg?’ White asked.
‘Yep, it may look like a toy, but it’s gotten me out of trouble on quite a few occasions.’
‘Only because you’ve waved it around. Have you actually ever fired it?’ White smirked.
‘I have and let me tell you, it may be a compact, but at close range it can make a nasty dent in most things.’
‘Well let’s hope we don’t need to put it to the test,’ said White. ‘How was Emma about you having to go away again?’
‘Okay, I guess,’ Stone mumbled.
‘It’s hard being hitched doing what we do,’ said White. ‘Mind you I’d rather be hitched than not.’
Stone said nothing.
‘Anyway, I’ve brought along a few toys,’ said White, getting back to the subject in hand.
‘Knowing you it will be well over the top and have far more grunt than we need, especially as we are going to one of the securest locations in England,’ said Stone.
‘You never know when you’re going to need something to back you up,’ replied White, beaming.
There was a delay in the conversation, deliberately imposed by Stone. He knew that White would be itching to say what he had stowed in the boot, but Stone wanted to look disinterested, just to wind him up.
After a minute or so, Stone asked, ‘Okay, so what have you brought then?’
He glanced at White, who looked gleeful.
White loved everything to do with guns. He liked the feel, the smell, the noise and of course the power. His interest had started as a boy when his father had given him an air rifle for his sixth birthday. It had belonged to White’s grandfather, who had been a game keeper. The air rifle was pre-war and therefore was far more powerful than most that are manufactured now; it could easily dispatch a rabbit at a reasonable distance or put a slug through a well-made tin can. From the first time he fired the gun, under the supervision of his Army Major father, a lifelong love affair was born.
‘Well,’ White started, ‘I have of course brought along a couple of standard issue Glock 19 sidearms,’ he paused …, ‘a couple of Heckler & Koch MP5 SD1 machine pistols, an M110 sniper rifle, oh and I nearly forgot, a couple of Remington 870’s, my particular favourites.’
‘Way over the top as usual,’ said Stone.
White just kept smiling.
As they weaved their way out of London there was little conversation, apart from the babble from the Sat Nav. White of course knew his way around London and to the Science Centre, a journey he had made many times, but still he liked to hear the automated companion twittering in the background.
Stone looked blankly out of the window. His thoughts were on Paris and Emma and whether their relationship would stand the test of time and the job. He would like to marry and have kids, but now was not the right time. Would she wait? There was a question. Interspersed with these thoughts were those of the assignment. How could a German staff car and a sea plane that barely anyone had heard of since World War Two have turned up after seventy years? And why a gap of two years? Had there been other incidents like this that they were not aware of? Finally he drifted off to sleep in the comfort of the Jeep’s soft leather seats.
White nudged Stone.
‘We’re nearly there sleeping beauty.’
Stone opened his eyes and put on his oversized tortoiseshell Ray Bans, a present from a previous admirer who had obtained them from a high class second hand shop in New York. They were genuine Bausch and Lomb from the mid-eighties.
‘Still wearing the JFK shades then.’ said White.
Stone was feeling grumpy and regretted falling asleep, not enough to do any good, but enough to feel you needed more. His eyes were squinting even behind the sunglasses, as the sun was now bright.
‘They’re my lucky glasses,’ Stone said grouchily.
White stopped at a pair of gates set between high chain-linked fences that ran off into the distance in either direction.
The gate guards, dressed in desert fatigues, moved swiftly to cover the vehicle. One stood with the barrel of his assault rifle resting on the door where White had wound the window down.
‘Do you mind not leaning that thing there, it might go off and make a mess of me and the car,’ White said cynically.
The guard knew White from previous visits, but didn’t acknowledge him; it was protocol not to.
‘Would you mind showing me your ID sir?’ the guard asked lazily.
‘Oh for the love of…. do we really have to go through all this crap every time we come here?’ argued White, the irritation verging on anger in his voice.
‘Just give him your ID,’ said Stone, ‘and let’s get on with this.’
White grudgingly got out his ID and handed it to the guard, who looked at it and then at White several times. He knew this would hack the driver off big time. Stone waved his ID badge and smiled to himself when it was ignored.
‘Okay,’ said the guard, handing back White’s identification and stepping back. He signalled to another guard in a bullet proof cabin to open the gates and send a message ahead to say that Stone and White were on their way in.
As he moved the Jeep forward, White hissed angrily, ‘Frikin’ disrespectful smart arse.’
‘He’s just doing his job,’ Stone responded evenly.
As they left the irritating guard behind, they drove down a double track tarmac road for nearly two hundred metres. They approached gates and fencing that were similar to the ones they had just passed through. A man stepped out from the cabin by the gates, which were already open.
‘Nathan, Spence, good to see you.’
‘Hello Sean,’ said Stone, leaning across White.
Sean McGill was an old ‘friend’. He and Stone knew each other, long before joining SIAD. White acknowledged McGill, but only as you would an acquaintance. He had little time for the man, whom he considered to be arrogant and too gung-ho.
‘We’ve been expecting you,’ said McGill brightly. ‘It’s getting late, so I suggest you get freshened up and we all get something to eat and drink.’
McGill got into the back of the Jeep.
‘Do we know anything more?’ asked Stone.
‘Not really,’ replied McGill ambivalently. ‘The science guys have a few way out theories, particularly, what’s her name, Dr Manson, Mason.’
‘Manston, Georgie Manston … she’s here?’ asked Stone, looking perturbed.
‘Yeah, that’s her, do you know her?’ asked McGill.
Stone said nothing. White smiled to himself.
The three men got out of the vehicle in front of a large, oblong, single story, flat roofed building. The exterior was painted in a dull green. It had a porch like entrance dead centre, with double doors leading to a lobby about six metres square, with white-washed walls and no features. There were two doors leading from the lobby to passageways on both sides, with guest rooms for twenty visitors off each. The reception desk was manned by a guard dressed in the same fatigues as the men at the gates. He wore a standard issue Glock in a belt holster, unlike a normal hotel receptionist.
McGill led the two other men over to the desk, where their IDs were checked again and scanned. They were then given their room numbers and keys, seven and eight. The guard asked politely if either were armed, as it was policy not to carry weapons on site, unless you were a guard.
White said the artillery was in the Jeep. Stone said nothing of the Smith and Wesson strapped to his ankle. White gave an almost indiscernible wink to Stone as McGill showed them through a door and to their rooms.
‘It’s nearly six now, so shall we meet at seven and go across to the canteen?’ McGill suggested. ‘As you know, they serve all day and night, but most of the science staff will be there around that time, so it’ll give you an opportunity to meet those you don’t already know.’
Stone stepped into his room. It was about four by four metres and contained a double bed, a writing desk with chair and an easy chair. There was a window with a venetian blind. A door led to a small shower room with wash basin and toilet. The walls were the same white-wash throughout. The accommodation was small, bare and functional.
Stone was tired and he needed a shower. He undressed and walked into the shower room, closed the cubicle door and turned on the electric power shower. As the water hit his head and neck he could feel himself relaxing a little, though his thoughts were still racing. The conversation in Pennell’s office that morning had been bizarre and baffling. He still thought that it might all be a hoax, but then there was the staff car from two years previously. There didn’t seem to be any sense to it. Perhaps the science team had something. That in itself stirred up another issue and potential worry, Georgie Manston. There was history. Stone had known Manston before meeting Emma, so it was still relatively uncomfortable recent history.
‘Crap’ he thought, ‘just when I thought it was confusing enough.’
Stone dried himself on a particularly unpleasant looking khaki coloured towel. He assured himself though that it was at least clean. There was a similar coloured dressing gown hanging on the back of the door, but he dressed as he wanted to see White before McGill came back to collect them for dinner. He exited his room and went to the next door along the corridor. Tapping on the drab green paintwork, he waited for an invitation to enter. White called for his visitor to come in.
Stone was greeted by White sitting in an easy chair, completely naked, sipping a light brown liquid from a plastic tooth mug, courteously supplied by the Science Centre ‘hotel’.
‘Dear God,’ was all Stone could say.
‘Come in, come in and pull up a chair. Sorry, I just got out of the shower and needed a drink. I wasn’t expecting company,’ said White, as he pulled a towel over his lap to cover his manhood.
‘How did you know it would be me?’ asked Stone.
‘Who else is going to come a calling, Ursula Andress in that lovely white bikini?’
‘Well now that shows your age,’ said Stone. ‘What am I supposed to drink out of?’
‘We can share the tooth mug,’ said White, passing the receptacle to Stone, who discovered the brown fluid was a particularly fine single malt.
White stood up, his bare behind flashing past Stone as he took his first swig.
‘Oh please,’ said Stone spluttering, but his protestations were ignored.
White dressed in seconds and was sitting back down in the easy chair almost before Stone had swallowed his first mouthful.
‘A dilemma,’ said White almost nonchalantly.
‘What the appearance of a seventy year old sea plane and a German Staff car?’ Stone asked.
‘No,’ said White, ‘Georgie.’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ retorted Stone.
‘Could be difficult,’ said White, with a slightly whimsical laugh.
‘Oh shut up you old fart,’ replied Stone.
There was a knock at the door
‘Come in,’ they both said simultaneously, Stone forgetting that he wasn’t in his own room.
McGill opened the door and suggested they make their way across to the dining hall. As McGill left the room, White muttered something indiscernible.
‘He’s all right Spence, leave it be,’ Stone said quietly, finishing his drink.
As they walked across the tarmac towards the dining hall, Stone looked at the huge hanger-like building to the right. There was a part of him that wanted to go there now to see the mysterious sea plane, but he was hungry and seeing it would not explain how it was found off the south coast of Kent.
The dining hall was of a similar size and construction to the ‘hotel’, with the exception that there was just one space, full of tables and chairs. Stone couldn’t help but make a comparison with his old school dining hall, only this was far bigger. To the left was a serving area which accommodated about ten at a time. The three men walked over and helped themselves to chilli and rice.
‘You’ll be out of luck with Georgie tonight if you eat this crap,’ White muttered playfully.
‘Let it rest Spence. This is going to be awkward enough without you making it worse.’
White just chuckled to himself. He liked seeing his partner squirm and relished winding him up given the opportunity. Not that that detracted from the fact that if needs be he would put his life on the line for Stone if he had too. That was his job, to watch Stone’s back, but not in this case.
They found a table, sat down and silently started to eat their food.
‘Well, well, well,’ came a slightly husky voice from behind.
Stone turned to see a tall woman in her mid-thirties with dark brown hair standing just at his right shoulder.
Georgie Manston was an Oxford graduate and PhD in astrophysics and engineering, though she could have made a very comfortable living in fashion. Immaculately dressed, good looking, with a sharp sense of humour, she had what a good many women crave for in looks, but also a brain that would have made Einstein sit up and listen.
Stone stood up awkwardly.
‘Georgie, what a pleasant surprise.’
White watched Stone’s awkwardness with a certain degree of delight.
‘How have you been Spence?’ Georgie asked, not taking her eyes off Stone.
‘Good thanks, how about you sweetheart?’
‘Just fine thanks Spence, just fine,’ she replied, staring into Stone’s dark eyes.
Georgie pulled up a chair uncomfortably close to Stone.
‘Well aren’t you going to give me a kiss then?’ she asked.
Stone, looking even more awkward, leaned across and gave Georgie the briefest of kisses on her cheek.
‘So,’ he began, ‘have you discovered anything else about our mystery objects?’
‘The car arrived yesterday. We’ve completed a preliminary examination and gone through the findings of the previous investigations and reports. As you may have been told, the car is in pretty bad shape and the occupants have been in cold storage. The plane though is in pretty much perfect condition, but not so the occupants,’ Georgie summarised quickly. ‘But let’s not get into too much of that tonight. When you’ve finished eating, come over and meet a few people at my table.’
She looked across to the right, to a table of men eagerly debating.
‘Okay,’ said Stone.
Georgie stood slowly, purposely brushing against Stone’s shoulder. The uneasiness in him was very evident. She walked away, slowly and deliberately.
‘Evidently she still likes you, but God knows why,’ said White.
Stone continued eating.
When they had finished, Stone and White stood to move to Georgie’s table. McGill remained seated.
‘Are you not coming Sean?’ Stone asked.
‘No, I’m joining a card game over in the ‘hotel’,’ he replied.
White’s ears pricked at the mention of cards and if he had felt a little friendlier towards McGill, he would have joined him without hesitation.
Stone pulled up two chairs and sat down to join Georgie. The table was now depleted in numbers as several people had left and only three remained.
‘Something I said?’ White quipped.
‘No, they’ve gone back to the hanger to chew things over some more,’ Georgie replied. ‘May I introduce Professor Layton.’
Georgie gestured to a tall, relaxed man sitting across the table. Stone guessed he was in his late fifties. He had a mass of thick light brown hair, with streaks of grey running through it. His face was long and angular, with a large nose and a broad smiling mouth. His eyes were encased behind large black, horn-rimmed style glasses.
‘Please, call me Jack,’ said Layton in a soft North Country accent that Stone couldn’t quite place. ‘No need for formality here.’
‘And this,’ Georgie continued, ‘is Alex Berkley, my research assistant.’
Berkley was a geeky looking twenty seven year old, with an impressive academic background. He had studied at Oxford in astrophysics, where he had met Georgie when she was a visiting lecturer. She was already with Strategic Intelligence and Defence and was so impressed by Berkley that she insisted he come to work with her.
Berkley was about five feet eight, underweight and a compete nerd, Stone evaluated. He began to speak, very rapidly. The tone of his voice was high pitched and grated on the ear, but Stone was impressed at his knowledge and speed of thought. He quickly filled them in on what had been established and enthusiastically explained several theories of his own, none of which made much sense to Stone.
By now, White was looking glazed and began to fidget in his chair. He would have preferred to be in on the card game that McGill had mentioned and wished he had put his prejudice aside. Technical talk was something White abhorred, as was waiting for an assignment to get fully underway.
Professor Layton said nothing but nodded in what appeared to be the right places. Georgie interrupted Berkley’s flow and suggested that was enough for tonight and that perhaps they should all get an early night ready for a prompt start in the morning. The five of them stood and paused for a moment.
‘I think I’ll go back to the lab for a while,’ said Layton.
‘I’ll join you,’ shrilled Berkley.
‘Oh well that just leaves the three of us,’ said Georgie. ‘Why don’t we grab a nightcap; either of you two got anything to drink?’
‘Great,’ thought Stone.
White smiled again.
As the three of them walked out of the dining hall and on to the tarmac the sun hung low in the sky, but it was still bright. Stone removed the Ray Bans from his shirt pocket and put them on.
‘Still wearing those sun shades I bought you in New York then?’ Georgie whispered.
Stone mumbled something in response, feeling his awkwardness increase again.
They reached the ‘hotel’ and entered the lobby. Georgie started moving towards the opposite door to the one Stone and White would go through. She stopped briefly and turned to the men.
‘I think I’ll take a rain check on that drink and go to my room to read for a while. I’m in twenty eight if you need anything,’ she said pointedly to Stone.
She casually went through the door, glancing back flirtatiously before disappearing.
‘Night,’ both men said, in an almost adolescent way.
‘She’s playing you,’ said White in a teasing voice. ‘I think she still holds a candle for you.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Stone, ‘that was a long time ago; she’s just having a bit of fun and a flirt.’
‘Don’t be so sure,’ White added.
Stone felt uneasy. There was still something there, he felt it himself. He thought of Emma and a pang of guilt hit him.
‘Hell,’ he thought, ‘I don’t need this.’
He followed White into his room. Stone sat in the easy chair, while White reclined on the bed. They passed the bottle of single malt between them taking mouthfuls of the amber liquid, which gradually relaxed them and their conversation. At about ten thirty Stone made his way to his own room. White had already dozed off and was snoring softly and contentedly on the bed.
Stone entered his room, quickly undressed and got into bed. As he lay quietly, the alcohol gently numbing his senses, his thoughts were more still. He wondered though what lay ahead and pondered on the mystery that awaited them in the hanger a few hundred metres away … and women.