Saturday, 24 March 2018

Guardian Angel (Three)

Morag had walked the short way down the lane to visit her mother. Douglas had just eaten breakfast and was having coffee when Drummond entered. “Sir, there is a call for you from Brown and Peters solicitors. There is a Mr Brown speaking.”

“Thank you, Drummond, I will take it in here.” He picked up the receiver and said, “Lord Stuart speaking”

“If it is convenient, my Lord, Peter Sanders and Mrs. Rogers will meet us at mid day at Stuart house regarding the forests. However if your diary is full I can schedule another day and time.”

“No mid day will be fine, Mr. Brown.”

“Then we will be leaving now so that we are ready for when they arrive.”

 “There is movement in the Clan Douglas, Ahearn, but it is not by those you would expect. There are those poisoned with hate that is hell bent on revenge for their lost battles. There are only ripples in still waters, but your enemies are seeking help from foreign powers to build up a storm.”

“So, Marie, what you are saying is the Douglas’s are getting help from other families.”

“No, I don’t think I said that, Ahearn. I was telling you to be on your guard against -people trying to make a mountain from a molehill. Not all your enemies have the name Douglas.”

“Why are you so confusing and hard to understand, Marie?”

“I am not hard to understand, it is because you always try and put faces to my warnings.  All that I sense is the vibrations of their marching feet.”

Andrew had received a call from Lady Lindsay and was told to meet her near the croft where Douglas was having the forest removed. He pulled his vehicle to a halt just before she arrived. Her motor pulled up beside his and he left his and after walking around her motor he sat in her passenger seat. “Is there a problem, my Lady?”

“I would like you to take a look at this crofter’s cottage, Andrew. This one like the one on Steeple Crag has been made too well to be just an ordinary cottage.”

This was the first time Andrew had seen this crofter’s house because of the shooting and all of the trouble that he had up on Steeple Crag. Willie had pulled all the roots out and levelled the ground a little, but it was the wrong end of the year for the grass to grow. Willie was now working up near the boundary and on seeing them he walked over and spoke.

“Good day, my Lady.” He looked at Andrews badge and said, “You must be Andrew that was with Lord Stuart that fatal day. “ He put out his hand and they shook. “I have no idea how long you will be here but we have two explosions scheduled today. There is mostly bed rock under these trees some way down. But the tap roots find a crack and follow it. I will let you know when they are taking place so that you can get clear.”

“So that you don’t have to walk through the mud I have left a small walkway over on the other side. If you are going to need more people there at any time I have some rolls of aluminium roadway I can put down for you, my Lady. I can send one of the crew back to get one if needed. As you are the trust there will be no charge, to be honest it will be the first time I have used it.”

“Thank you, Mr. MacNab; it would be helpful if you could.” They walked along the side of where the forest had once been standing and stopped where there was a semi grass and needle track just wide enough to walk along.

There was a heavy oak door still hanging in a frame but the hinges were seized. There was a lock on the inside but no key, because a key was too much to expect after all the amount of years. There were three rooms in the small building. There was one long one in the front with a fire in the centre. On the right hand side of the fire there was a doorway into a smaller room. There was another small room on the left that also had its own doorway.

Andrew looked at the roof and it was built with the same giant thin slabs of stone sitting on oak beams. He was shining his torch onto the ceiling in the back room no different than he did in the other small room. He knelt on one knee and removed the needles that had been blown in and the stone floor was there once more.

 Andrew stepped back into the main room and looked about and Lady Lindsay just watched as he concentrated on all he saw. There was a window on the north wall that was no more than a spy hole, but the one on the south wall was a foot square. In the stone top and bottom of the slit window on the north side there were grooves, and Andrew went down on his knee. He removed some of the needles and found a chip of wood that had seen better days. He carefully put the chip back down on top of the needles and spoke his first words. “That is very clever.”

He looked at the fire place that was an exact replica of the one on Steeple Crag. This one also had its own stone chimney in the rear wall between the two rooms. Willie came over and said, “I think you will be okay here because we are one-hundred and fifty paces away, but it might be safer if you step outside while the explosion takes place.”

They both walked out and walked about the building until they were the other side, or at the back to be more precise. “Without measuring the building, my Lady, I would say there is a bit missing. I think there is another room between the two smaller rooms. I have a theory about the two buildings, but until I have done a little more research I would rather not say too much.”

“It might be a good idea to put a high wire fence about it for security from large animals. I don’t think any of the two legged type will venture this way, and whatever is in that centre room will be safe until we need to explore it. I need a small sieve the same as Jean had on that first building and a vacuum cleaner. Those needles will have to be checked much the same as the other cottage. I also need the oldest map of Scotland the trust has.”

“I am sorry, my Lady, but I was presuming you wanted me to look into this for you, and this might be your project.”

“They are our projects, Andrew, and the senior people in the trust are impressed with your work and knowledge. I have been told to inform you that confirmation of your appointment will be made in a few weeks making you permanent staff with more money. You have to realise that I will now be taking a back seat on these projects as I am being promoted to the board of directors soon. I will still head the investigation department but less work.”

“I offer my congratulations, my Lady.”

“I am still on the end of the phone if you need me, as I have a lot of contacts I can call on. I will get Kevin out here with a hut and the tools that you need. He can put the wire security fence up while he is here.”

“Because of the work I am doing for Lord Stuart he has allowed me a room at the back of the house to use as an office. I think it was an office of some sort at one time because of the desk and the book case. As soon as Peter gets the hang of everything I will go and live with my mother. Although Lord. Stuart has told me there is no rush for me to do so. I just feel that I am imposing on his generosity but I do appreciate what you have both done for me, my Lady.”

“You have earned your place working with me, Andrew, and we have done nothing except find you work suitable for your qualifications.”

Douglas was talking to Mr. Brown when Drummond announced the arrival of Peter Sanders and Mrs Rogers. Drummond held the door open while they walked through.

Douglas and Mr. Brown stood up and they all shook hands and introduced each other. “Would you please sit down,” He pointed to the sofa before he said, “Would you ask Victoria to bring a pot of tea and china for four, Drummond.” Miss. Rogers was older than Douglas imagined and looked the same age as his adopted mother.

It was after they had finished their tea when Sanders opened his mouth. “Before we start, my Lord, I would like to say that if you have ideas of cutting those trees down as your own you have misunderstood our reason for meeting you. Just because they have been planted on your land by mistake does not make them your property, if that is what is on your mind then we might as well leave.”

“Who are you representing, Mr.Sanders? Is it Miss, Rogers, or the people that are leaning on Sir William while he is in custody?”

“I am not sure what you are talking about, My Lord.”

“Oh I think you do, Mr Sanders, because you are a criminal lawyer and only work with the criminal fraternity. I will give you a little bit of advice that might clear your uninformed mind. Sitting next to me is Mr. Brown, and he has worked with litigation cases many times. If I was in Miss. Rogers position I would listen very carefully to what I have to say. You as a representative of Douglas Forestry have no legal claim to the land or the trees. However I have a way that is I think the only way to solve Sir William’s money shortfall.”

“If you interrupt me before I have finished then I will send you out of this meeting. I don’t think Miss. Rogers cares any more about those trees on my land than I do. She is making the transition of the money that you receive look like a legal transaction. However, your real clients would like some return for the money they invested even if it is only fifty percent.”

Miss Rogers was smiling at his remarks and the way he had placed Sanders on the back foot. “What do you propose, my Lord?” She asked.

“You and I would like those trees not to be there, but you do not have the finance to get them cut. If you had the Finance Willie MacNab would not do the job because of all the bad blood between Douglas Forestry. I on the other hand have the finances and the services of Willie MacNab.”

“I have heard enough our meeting is at an end and we are leaving, you are not touching those trees Stuart.”

“I told you once before Mr Sanders to respect my title or stay out of my house. I do not really care if you want to leave or not, but if it comes to a court case the judge would be asking Miss Rogers what firm of idiots was instructing her. Now shut up because the only person leaving here will be the person that should be staying. So unless you would like those same people leaning on you that are leaning on Sir William, then stay seated and listen.”

“If you listen to your legal brief Miss Rogers then you will be in court for a great many years. I will cut the trees down....”

“I told you Lord Stuart, you will do that over my dead body. I am going and taking with me my client.” He stood up to make his point.

As he was doing so Douglas had pressed a bell, and moments later Drummond walked through the door. “Drummond my guests are leaving, would you please show them out.”

“Come, Miss. Rogers we will go.”

“I am not going anywhere, Mr. Sanders. I never came here to walk out before I hear what proposal Lord. Stuart is suggesting.”

“I said we are going, Miss Rogers now come with me.”

She stood up in a flash and slapped him across the face, “Who the hell do you think you are talking to? Get out to your damn motor and wait for me there and Vlad will be hearing of your conduct. I was told to deal with this problem, and you are only here to assist. You will be assisting me by getting out of my sight. Start finding a way to minimise William’s sentence.”

The welt across his face with shock, and fear at the name Vlad was unmistakable. He scurried away out of the room, and Douglas waited for her to be seated once more and hear the front door close.

She laughed and said, “That was very un-lady like, my Lord. I would like to hear what you propose, and it will be me that will say yes or no. I am a qualified barrister and know all about litigation. I am bad with money management but not with the law.”

“I know that you are pre-empting my actions which was a very shrewd move, my Lord, which tells me you are no fool not that I ever thought you was.”

“Miss Rogers, you need those trees cut and out of the way, and so do I. I believe that the real partners of Sir William are seeking financial retribution for all the plants that were destroyed. There is eight hundred hectors of your trees on my land and I want them gone A.S.P. they have been on my land for over twenty years, but I will say twenty years for arguments sake.”

“I have ten tenants that have lost a lot of money over the last twenty years because of those forests. So I am going to charge you ten pounds per hector for the last twenty years. The money will be split between my tenants in compensation. I will have Willie MacNab cut the forests and put the land back into grazing. After the forest has been cut down you will receive the money for the timber. However, that will be after Willie MacNab’s wages are paid along with the rent for that forest.”

“There is a very good chance that if you go into litigation you will lose, but you will be fighting for the same thing as I have just offered you.”

“That is a very good offer, Lord Stuart, and I would be a fool not to take it. I just want to see the back of the forests and start living my life again. The other forests are mine and are on my land, when I bought this place thirty-five years ago those trees on my land were only a foot high.”

She saw the expression on his face and said, “Yes, Lord. Stuart, the house and all the land with it are mine. William married me for my money and land, but even though he was a bad man at times to others he always looked after me. Your mother was shrewd and very fierce. You might not believe it, but I was here the morning she took William by the throat and shook him like a rag doll.”

She started to laugh and said, “I shouldn’t laugh really, but I keep thinking of the look of shock on his face. The men that came with him jumped in their car and left him to fight her.”

“What were you doing here, Miss Rogers?”

“That really is the best part because I rode down to warn her that William was not pleased and would be down mid morning. We were in the lounge having coffee when he arrived.”

“Did you go home with him afterwards?”

“Good heavens no, Rowena and I was half way through a conversation and I had not finished my coffee. During the time she was shaking William about by the neck, I was at the top of the steps laughing. That night William went into a huff and wouldn’t talk to me except call me a Jezebel every time he looked at me.” She was laughing as she was talking.

“He could be so childish at times. He is not bad but easily led, and when he met Vlad his silent partner he went submissive to all Vlad said. Vlad really is bad and I think he is Russian mafia, but I would not say that to his face.”

“Are you not worried that Vlad might not come after you, Miss Rogers?”

“That will never happen and he is leaning on William so that he does not lose face, because at the end of the day Vlad and William were very good friends. He will look after him while he does his time and he will see him okay on his release. Vlad told me on the phone this morning that if he gets twenty-five pence in the pound it will be good.”

“The man is filthy rich and if I opened my arms he would be in them, but I will stick by good old faithful William. Someone has to look after him in his old age. He wouldn’t let them grow that shit in my forests on my land, but I promise you, my Lord, I had no idea at all about the plants.”

“The good thing about all of William’s troubles was he was only the chairman, and the book keeper was the dealer and director in charge of the company. William is looking at five to ten years, and he might return to me as a better person. I will not hold my breath though.”

“If you phone me when you have drawn up some papers I will ride down and sign them.”

Andrew had waited for Kevin to arrive with the things he had asked for. On arrival he said, “After Lady Lindsay told me where you where and what you were going to do I put the generator and lighting from Steeple Crag on the trailer. Dave has the truck and is taking down the hut and he should be here soon and we will get this fenced off.”

“Well done, Kevin, you are a very important part of my team now that Lady Lindsay has been promoted. How are you getting on with my mother and your English lessons?

“I have done the test and passed, but your mother told me not to get cocky as there was a long way to go before I was at GCSE standard whatever that is. She said it will take a few months of nights and weekends before I will be ready to pass. I am enjoying doing the work she sets me. I get a little ribbing from Dave and the crew, but it is not nasty and what do they know?”

“Good for you, Kevin, I am glad you are seeing the benefit of education. Once you have set the lights and generator up I will go in and take a proper look. At the moment I would rather everyone stay outside until Mr. MacNab lays the aluminium matting on the ground. I don’t want a lot of new mud mixed with the pine needles.”

“As soon as Dave gets here with the other two crew members we will get the fence posts in. The wire fence is on the truck as well. The cottage at Steeple Crag has a twelve foot wire security fence about it at the moment. Scottish electric laid a ground cable and there are now soft security lights on top of the fence. I don’t think anyone would go there this time of year, because it is a very cold place. Lady Lindsay said you asked for a map, and I picked that up at the depot when I went there, it is on the front seat along with the sieve.”

It was during the time Andrew was in the front of Kevin’s motor when Willie arrived with a truck with a big roll of aluminium arrived. A JCB arrived with it and unloaded it onto the ground. Willie went to the crofter’s house and stepped out fifty long paces that brought him to the end of the soil. He showed the driver where to drop the roll before he got three of his men and Kevin to push the roll forward. It stopped rolling two foot from the wall he turned to face Andrew and put his thumb up.

Andrew stepped from the vehicle and walked over, “Thank you, Mr MacNab. That will save me a lot of mess to clean up.”

“I will leave it there over the winter, Kevin, as I have more than enough rolls left in the yard.” 

He walked off and Andrew walked to where the crew was setting up the generator and lighting. Half an hour later Kevin switched on the generator and put his thumb up. Andrew looked about the room and started on the pine needles putting them through the sieve onto a sheet. He like Jean had done had started at the door and worked his way inside.

He had cleaned half of the room across to the north window where the chip of wood was still on the floor. He had found nothing but it was as he stood up off his knees when he spotted an abnormality. The inside of the walls were flat even though they were made of small stones with some not a lot bigger than a house brick and some a lot smaller.

The walls although made up with odd size stones were flush and flat but there was one stone near the slit window that stuck out like a sore thumb. Andrew touched it and felt the movement and pulled as he wiggled it about, and it slipped out of the wall. He looked at the stone and could see that it had been snapped in half at the rear.

He had to go and get his brief case that he had foolishly left in the motor and pushed the stone back into place. It was a short time before he returned to the cottage where he picked up the sieve once more and started on the floor the other side of the door. Like the first half of the room he cleaned it down to the stone floor. When he was standing looking about the room he felt pleased with only the two back rooms to clean, and they were nowhere near so heavy in needles.

He had not found anything, but he had not expected there to be anything to find. The men that had been looking after the marijuana plants had been using it to eat in. He had put his brief case on the small fire place and now he opened it and took out his pencil beam torch. He spent twenty minutes looking about the outside edge of the floor but the wall was tight to the floor.

He then remembered the stone in the wall and because he had put it back in place correctly it took him a while to find it again. On pulling it out he took it close to the light and looked at it better. There were markings at the edge where it had been struck by something hard on one side. It was no accident why the stone was broken and Andrew walked it back to the hole it was removed from. 

Out of curiosity he shone the torch into the recess expecting to see the other half of the stone. It was not there, instead there was a tiny leather purse but as he went to remove it he stopped and placed the stone back in its hole but left it sticking out like he had first found it. Grabbing his camera he took pictures of the stone from all angles, then after taking it out of the hole he took more pictures of the stone and the marks about the broken edge.

He placed the stone in a plastic bag before putting it in his brief case. After returning to look at the hole left by the stone he took more pictures before slipping his fingers in and gently lifting the purse out. For its age the leather was in very good condition but it was also dry and looked very delicate. He decided he would take it and show Jean when he had returned to the house and put it in a plastic sample bag as well. 

Andrew stepped out of the cottage for some fresh air and looked to the west of the building. There was a pile of stones in between the tree stumps near the house that because they were so close Willie had declined to move. He walked over to where Willie was standing near a machine that was being repaired. “Mr. MacNab, what is that pile of stones over there near the cottage?”

“The pile was there long before we started cutting the trees, and as the pile appeared to be shaped we avoided them when felling the trees. We just cut the trees and lifted them out of the way leaving the stones untouched. I am not an expert but it looks like it was a building at some time, but by looking at the way the earth has covered most it was not in the last hundred years”

“Thank you, Mr. MacNab, I will go and take a look.” As he walked over he could see that Kevin had most of the fence posts up, and he walked over to him.

“Kevin, do you think there is a chance that you could leave what you are doing. I believe the weather is supposed change again this week for rain followed by snow. While the trees were there the cottage was protected from the harsh weather, but now I think things might change. We don’t need anything as big as the cover on Steeple Crag, but a type of scaffold porch erected in front of the door and a wooden post either side of the south window with a board nailed to them to stop animals and snow getting inside. I think to be on the safe side sheets could cover the roof but the roof I think is no different than the one at Steeple Crag.  If you need to check with Lady Lindsay then do so.”

“There is no need, Andrew. She told me that you had the same authority as her and to help you as if I was helping her. Should I really be calling you Andrew if that is the case?”

“Kevin, you are my senior foreman and stop being daft. Don’t you ever wonder about these buildings we are working on?”

“Well its funny you asked that because your mother asked the same thing and when I said I knew a lot about the history of Scotland she started asking me a lot of questions. I must have been correct on a few because she never told me different, instead she started to teach me history while reading and writing. The books I read now are history books, and if I get stuck on a word she tells me what it means.”

“Now that is interesting, Kevin. How soon can you do all I ask?”

“I will leave Dave in charge and go to the yard and pick up the things we need on the truck, I think we could have everything done by tomorrow night.”

At the same time Kevin left for the yard, Andrew walked over to the piles of stones. He walked about them for several minutes before he took out his note book and started writing. The camera was still about his neck and he took pictures from all angles and directions before he returned to inside the cottage and removed the pine needles in the other two rooms.

Once he had finished he stepped back to look about the floors and felt satisfied with what he had done. It was late afternoon and the nights were drawing in, and when Kevin returned it was almost dark. “Just unload the Scaffold, Kevin and call it a day. I have to go and see my mother before I go back to the house and I will see you in the morning when you and I will talk more.”

He walked into his mother’s house and sat down at the table. “You look tired, Andrew, you are not working too hard are you?”

“No, Mother, I was just on my way home, but Kevin told me that you are teaching him Scottish history as well as English.”

“Well that is not exactly true, but I am letting him read Scottish history because as you know reading helps you to learn how to write and spell. Kevin is a lot like you in the way he learns fast and is hungry to learn more. As for his history, well I think working with Lady Lindsay has taught him a great deal.”

“He also learned a lot of history from his parents but only in conversation. I am expanding his knowledge and I would like to see where it takes me, because I see a great potential in him. I am writing a paper on teaching the illiterate and my experiences, but at no time will I mention his name or who my subject is. It will not be published for a great many years and by then Kevin will be well educated. He has told me more about Steeple Crag than you have, and he even gave me a theory as to why it was there. To my surprise it had nothing to do with the weapons that you found, it was far more practical.”

“Why are you asking me these questions about Kevin, has he done something wrong?”

“No, Mother. I will not ask what his theory is, but I will let him tell you tomorrow what I have decided. I must go because I need to change and eat.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek and went out to his vehicle.