The Poodle Shark

The Poodle Shark is so called because of the round knobs of cartilage that were found at the top and bottom of its tail, on the top of its dorsal fin, and on the ends of its pectoral fins. These round protuberances hindered the shark’s passage through the water, slowing its progress by about 20% due to the resistance of the water against the knobs.

Where the knobs did come in useful was during a feeding frenzy. Most sharks attack  with their teeth, their only weapon. Poodle sharks were different. Not only did they have sharp teeth, they were also able to attack with their tail and fins, which were very flexible. A poodle shark was able to swish its tail and hit its competitors in the face with its tail knobs, as well as hitting other sharks with the pectoral knobs and biting yet more sharks with its teeth.

Although the poodle sharks were fearsome fighters they tended to be rather delicate and discerning eaters, tearing off only as much flesh as they thought they could eat at any time. They took this flesh to deep water where it was chewed thoroughly before returning to the fray.

The number of Poodle Sharks declined dramatically once other sharks realised that biting off the knobs of cartilage on the tail and fins disabled the Poodle Shark and meant it had difficulty swimming with injured fins and a badly bitten tail. Poodle Sharks are seldom seen in shore these days, but are undoubtedly still found in the deep waters of the southern oceans where food is plentiful and where swimming quickly is not that important.

Tomcat Tompkins – Part 8

“Shall I tell the chaps?” asked Berty.

“Absolutely,” replied Tompkins, slapping Berty on the back and almost knocking him through the wall into the garden, such was the power of the friendly gesture, “but when I have tootled off to the country for the rest of the afternoon.”

“Hello Tomcat,” said Colonel Mustard, “do you know MI6 still hasn’t picked up on my name.”

“What, how ridiculous they are,” replied Tompkins, “perhaps they play Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders over there.”

“Ya, you’re right, as usual,” replied Mustard, “and the Reverend Green’s the same in the C of E. He’s in the running to be Archbishop of York, apparently, so perhaps he might have to disappear suddenly, to South America, on missionary work, and decline their offer, because someone in the press is bound to notice.”

“Yes, it’s the Rev Green, with the archbishopric, in York – but if there’s no murders, he should be OK.”

“Ya, and of course Miss Scarlett is too busy to be here, too many clients to entertain in her bedroom, spilling the beans about their various operations.”

“Oh, don’t mention her, she wore me out one afternoon a few years ago, before I met Filly of course, but she was incredible.” Tompkins blew out his cheeks.

“Tomcat,” said Noddy, “how goes the fight?”

“Splendidly,” replied Tompkins, “we are winning and the enemies of our country are being put to flight.”

“Flights sound expensive, unless they’re going with Easy Air or whatever their name is.”

Tompkins gave out a stentorian laugh that caused the pigeons to vacate the roof of the house in panic.

“Boffo sense of humour, as usual, Noddy, no they’re not flying they’re being chauffeured by me good spouse, as we speak,” continued Tompkins, tapping the side of his nose conspiratorially, “she’s taking them on a mystery tour back to their own country.”

“How do we make sure they don’t come back?”

“We have a cunning ruse, we take away their passports and any visas they may have, so they can’t return to Old Blighty without a mighty effort on their part.”

“Tomcat,” said the Reverend Green, “how the blazes are you?”

“I am fair to middling,” replied Tompkins, “had a prang yesterday in the motor, but obtained  another in the nick of time, so I could meet you all here today. How’s the wife and kids, Rev?”

“Try not to talk about them too much,” replied Rev Green, “especially North of the Trent, where it could become contentious, but they’re fine as they are.”

“Do you keep them under lock and key?”

“Oh no, nothing so barbaric, they live in the holiday home in the Dordogne, when they’re not in Monte Carlo playing the tables or in Acapulco staying with the mother-in-law.”

“Splendid idea, a moving target’s harder to hit.”

“Tomcat, how the devil are you?” asked Teddy Smethurst-Pugh.

“Teddy, I am fine, you know, Teddy, I will send you a pigeon – we will need your expertise soon to sort out a problem we have with a visiting dignitary from The Dark Side, who will arrive at a port in the near future.”

“Needs to be processed, does he?” replied Teddy.

“He should be taken care of and his contacts followed and their contacts noted down for our information.”

“Goes deep, does it Tomcat?” asked Noddy.

 

“Looks like it,” replied Tompkins gravely, “but this could be the final chapter in our fight against the foe until the next lot come along.”

“You mean, there will be others, Tomcat?”

“Invariably, just remember before the Poles came over here, fixing everything, there were the Indians and Bangladeshis, bringing us our national cuisine of choice in most cases, there’s always some race who wants to come here and upset things for us.”

“Right, yes, I suppose so, I see what you mean, the Jews during the Commonwealth of Olly Cromwell, the Normans, the Vikings, Norwegians, Danes, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Romans, Celts, The Druids.”

“Right, all of them, I mean The Mongols were heading this way too, but they didn’t quite make it, did they?” Tompkins nodded his head as he spoke the words.

“No, but they were quite close, until they had to go back to elect The Great Khan, I believe.”

“The cheek! They thought our benefits were better.”

“Absolutely,” replied Noddy, “anyway, best of luck with the rest of the trip this afternoon, and I look forward to your pigeon, telling us what you need.”

“Splendid news, anyway, I should be off on me travels,” replied Tompkins. “Cheerio, everyone,” he boomed, “I’m going down to Sussex to see the defenders of our faith down there, so it was great to talk with you all and I look forward to seeing you at The Savoy Grill or The Glitz Bar one evening.”

“Cheerio, Tomcat,” chorused the assembled throng.

Tompkins left the room and hurled himself down the garden path before jumping over the gate and landing next to his motor.

He looked across the road and thought he spied a familiar face, a face he’d seen recently, in an Aston Martin DB9 on the corner.

“What’s that blighter doing here?” he said to himself under his breath, “how on earth did he know I was here?” Tompkins decided not to let on he had noticed anything, so he plunged to the pavement and pretended to tie his shoelaces, even though he was still wearing his slippers.

“Where’s my shoes?” he said out loud, looking in the front of the car, before finding them in the glove compartment.

“There must be a tracking device on my motor,” said Tompkins to himself, “and I know who put it there. Right, I have to find the gadget that Speedy Bee gave me for such occasions.”

Tompkins looked in the boot, found his bag of “personal effects”, and speeded off to the motorway services to find a suitable place to scan his vehicle. First though, he had to warn the chaps inside to exit via the backdoor and to use the secret stash of bicycles. He remembered the codes and the number of coos he had to emit for each.

“Coo, coo, coo,” cooed Tompkins.

Hearing nothing he continued – “Coo,coo, cooo…” however these coos were interrupted by a voice:

“Pigeons, take this…” followed by a discharge from a shotgun, which blew a section out of the yew hedge.

“Stop shooting,” shouted Tompkins, “I am giving a pigeon message in pigeonese.”

“Oh right, sorry about that,” said the voice. Tompkins heard the front door open and then a voice said, “Can you repeat that first bit, we missed that bit.”

“I will start again from the beginning,” said Tompkins, trying not to let his frustrations show too much, “and don’t shoot at any time. Coo, coo, coo,”

“That’s three coos,” said the voice.

“Coo, coo, coo,” continued Tompkins.

“Three more coos,” said the voice.

“Coo, coo, coo, coo,” cooed Tompkins.

Tomcat Tompkins – Part 8

“Shall I tell the chaps?” asked Berty.

“Absolutely,” replied Tompkins, slapping Berty on the back and almost knocking him through the wall into the garden, such was the power of the friendly gesture, “but when I have tootled off to the country for the rest of the afternoon.”

“Hello Tomcat,” said Colonel Mustard, “do you know MI6 still hasn’t picked up on my name.”

“What, how ridiculous they are,” replied Tompkins, “perhaps they play Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders over there.”

“Ya, you’re right, as usual,” replied Mustard, “and the Reverend Green’s the same in the C of E. He’s in the running to be Archbishop of York, apparently, so perhaps he might have to disappear suddenly, to South America, on missionary work, and decline their offer, because someone in the press is bound to notice.”

“Yes, it’s the Rev Green, with the archbishopric, in York – but if there’s no murders, he should be OK.”

“Ya, and of course Miss Scarlett is too busy to be here, too many clients to entertain in her bedroom, spilling the beans about their various operations.”

“Oh, don’t mention her, she wore me out one afternoon a few years ago, before I met Filly of course, but she was incredible.” Tompkins blew out his cheeks.

“Tomcat,” said Noddy, “how goes the fight?”

“Splendidly,” replied Tompkins, “we are winning and the enemies of our country are being put to flight.”

“Flights sound expensive, unless they’re going with Easy Air or whatever their name is.”

Tompkins gave out a stentorian laugh that caused the pigeons to vacate the roof of the house in panic.

“Boffo sense of humour, as usual, Noddy, no they’re not flying they’re being chauffeured by me good spouse, as we speak,” continued Tompkins, tapping the side of his nose conspiratorially, “she’s taking them on a mystery tour back to their own country.”

“How do we make sure they don’t come back?”

“We have a cunning ruse, we take away their passports and any visas they may have, so they can’t return to Old Blighty without a mighty effort on their part.”

“Tomcat,” said the Reverend Green, “how the blazes are you?”

“I am fair to middling,” replied Tompkins, “had a prang yesterday in the motor, but obtained  another in the nick of time, so I could meet you all here today. How’s the wife and kids, Rev?”

“Try not to talk about them too much,” replied Rev Green, “especially North of the Trent, where it could become contentious, but they’re fine as they are.”

“Do you keep them under lock and key?”

“Oh no, nothing so barbaric, they live in the holiday home in the Dordogne, when they’re not in Monte Carlo playing the tables or in Acapulco staying with the mother-in-law.”

“Splendid idea, a moving target’s harder to hit.”

“Tomcat, how the devil are you?” asked Teddy Smethurst-Pugh.

“Teddy, I am fine, you know, Teddy, I will send you a pigeon – we will need your expertise soon to sort out a problem we have with a visiting dignitary from The Dark Side, who will arrive at a port in the near future.”

“Needs to be processed, does he?” replied Teddy.

“He should be taken care of and his contacts followed and their contacts noted down for our information.”

“Goes deep, does it Tomcat?” asked Noddy.

 

“Looks like it,” replied Tompkins gravely, “but this could be the final chapter in our fight against the foe until the next lot come along.”

“You mean, there will be others, Tomcat?”

“Invariably, just remember before the Poles came over here, fixing everything, there were the Indians and Bangladeshis, bringing us our national cuisine of choice in most cases, there’s always some race who wants to come here and upset things for us.”

“Right, yes, I suppose so, I see what you mean, the Jews during the Commonwealth of Olly Cromwell, the Normans, the Vikings, Norwegians, Danes, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Romans, Celts, The Druids.”

“Right, all of them, I mean The Mongols were heading this way too, but they didn’t quite make it, did they?” Tompkins nodded his head as he spoke the words.

“No, but they were quite close, until they had to go back to elect The Great Khan, I believe.”

“The cheek! They thought our benefits were better.”

“Absolutely,” replied Noddy, “anyway, best of luck with the rest of the trip this afternoon, and I look forward to your pigeon, telling us what you need.”

“Splendid news, anyway, I should be off on me travels,” replied Tompkins. “Cheerio, everyone,” he boomed, “I’m going down to Sussex to see the defenders of our faith down there, so it was great to talk with you all and I look forward to seeing you at The Savoy Grill or The Glitz Bar one evening.”

“Cheerio, Tomcat,” chorused the assembled throng.

Tompkins left the room and hurled himself down the garden path before jumping over the gate and landing next to his motor.

He looked across the road and thought he spied a familiar face, a face he’d seen recently, in an Aston Martin DB9 on the corner.

“What’s that blighter doing here?” he said to himself under his breath, “how on earth did he know I was here?” Tompkins decided not to let on he had noticed anything, so he plunged to the pavement and pretended to tie his shoelaces, even though he was still wearing his slippers.

“Where’s my shoes?” he said out loud, looking in the front of the car, before finding them in the glove compartment.

“There must be a tracking device on my motor,” said Tompkins to himself, “and I know who put it there. Right, I have to find the gadget that Speedy Bee gave me for such occasions.”

Tompkins looked in the boot, found his bag of “personal effects”, and speeded off to the motorway services to find a suitable place to scan his vehicle. First though, he had to warn the chaps inside to exit via the backdoor and to use the secret stash of bicycles. He remembered the codes and the number of coos he had to emit for each.

“Coo, coo, coo,” cooed Tompkins.

Hearing nothing he continued – “Coo,coo, cooo…” however these coos were interrupted by a voice:

“Pigeons, take this…” followed by a discharge from a shotgun, which blew a section out of the yew hedge.

“Stop shooting,” shouted Tompkins, “I am giving a pigeon message in pigeonese.”

“Oh right, sorry about that,” said the voice. Tompkins heard the front door open and then a voice said, “Can you repeat that first bit, we missed that bit.”

“I will start again from the beginning,” said Tompkins, trying not to let his frustrations show too much, “and don’t shoot at any time. Coo, coo, coo,”

“That’s three coos,” said the voice.

“Coo, coo, coo,” continued Tompkins.

“Three more coos,” said the voice.

“Coo, coo, coo, coo,” cooed Tompkins.

She’s Coming For You – Chapter 16

Santiago de Compostela is the destination for more than 100,000 pilgrims per year who walk on the Way of St James or Camino de Santiago from most parts of Spain and other areas of mainland Europe. According to the pilgrimage museum in Santiago, there are thirty-nine pilgrim routes in Spain and Portugal, as well as routes in France, Germany, Czechia, and Poland, which connect with the traditional start of the Camino in St Jean Pied de Port.

The Camino is now becoming big business again. I had seen pilgrims in Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon already on my trip and would see them in Pontevedra a few days after leaving Santiago. How did this all start?

Santiago is the Spanish for St James, who was one of Jesus’s disciples and also his first cousin. It seems from the legend that St James never visited Galicia when he was alive, though he might have visited Zaragosa where he had a vision of the Virgin Mary.

The legend states that he returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded by Herod Antipas – a verified fact – but then the legend continues with the claim two followers of St James organised a boat that took his dead body to the Atlantic coast of Spain, namely to a place called Padron, which is today famous for its peppers. Padron is roughly twelve miles from Santiago.

The body was buried and then the storyline goes cold until 813 when a hermit, attracted to a hillside due to a vision of stars, found the tomb of St James. Compostela means ‘field of stars’. At the time the Moors had occupied most of Spain, so finding the bones of a disciple acted as a rallying point and St James became a champion for the few Christians in Asturias who were resisting the Moors.

Alfonso II, King of Asturias, paid his respects and in 834 built a chapel for the bones to be housed in. St James began to be seen on the battlefields when the Christians were fighting the Moors and was credited with inspiring their victories.

St James’s burial in this area is referenced by two well-known works. In 650, St Isidore of Seville told a similar story to the one above in his De ortu et obitu patrum (Life and Death of the Saints). In 730, in Martyrologium, the Venerable Bede referred to the transport and burial of the body as ‘contra mare Britanicum’ i.e. by the Atlantic Ocean.  

The Camino de Santiago is sometimes viewed as a metaphor for the trail marked out in the sky by the Milky Way in its journey towards the end of the earth (Finis Terrae) – an earthly manifestation of a route through the heavens. This could be why some pilgrims continue to Cape Finisterre and symbolically burn their clothes there. Ancient traditions regard Charlemagne as the initiator of the Camino, as St James appeared to him in a dream and asked him to open up a way to St James’s tomb through the lands occupied by the Saracens.   

The pilgrimages really began following the journey of Godescale of Puy to Santiago in 951. Santiago de Compostela became the third most holy city of Christendom, after Jerusalem and Rome, so that in the 11th and 12th centuries half-a-million people were visiting each year.

This meant that the various routes to Santiago became lined with monasteries and hostels where the pilgrims could stay and be provided with sustenance for their journey. There was even a guidebook written by a French monk called Aymery Picaud that provided pilgrims with items to look out for on the way.  An order of knights was founded to protect pilgrims from robbers.

By the 11th century, the pilgrimage routes from Europe had been consolidated. Institutions in support of pilgrims emerged, such as brotherhoods who helped organise pilgrimages and hostels en route where pilgrims could stay – the Confriere de Saint Jacques founded in Paris in 1315 is a good example.

The motivations to go on the pilgrimage were many. Some people were told that if they went on the journey, the time they spent in purgatory after they died would be halved. Others were motivated by chivalry or by humanist reasons, giving them a chance to contemplate their existence. There were also forced pilgrimages imposed by the civil authorities as punishment for crimes committed.  

Some people stopped in Santiago de Compostela because they were flying back from here. I would do my best to make sure not all of them made it.

Tomcat Tompkins – Part 7

“Guy Fawkes?”

“Yes, that person, the Catholic – do you know anything about this repatriation of my friends?”

“I am sorry, Vasek, I don’t understand why that’s happening – do you think they’re just going on a coach tour, drinking too much, and then forgetting to get back on the coach to come back to jolly Old Blighty?”

“I don’t believe so, as they are looking for work all the time and wouldn’t go on a free coach trip. They wake up and find themselves back in their own country, where they don’t want to be.”

“Well, I’m not sure what to say, other than people should try and make the most of these opportunities to travel and see foreign climes, especially if they’re not having to pay.”

“I thank you for your information,” replied Vasek, “and now I must leave you to your fish and porridge breakfast.”

“Thank you and have a splendid lunch yourself,” replied Tompkins and strode back into his house thinking Vasek was a good man to know.

“Cripes,” said Tompkins to himself, when he got back into the kitchen, “are my cooking skills so bad that Vasek could smell my breakfast from out there? That’s an awful thing to have said to you, y’know, bish and bosh, Tomcat get a grip on things.”

Once he’d devoured his breakfast and swilled it down with a vast mug of coffee, Tompkins checked his new Jaguar to make sure Vasek had removed all the signs of the showroom.

With great care, he inspected the tyres, the boot, and the glove compartment, placing a few ‘personal’ items in their proper places, to show any interested parties that the car was his. The only problem was the number of miles on the clock, which stood at a paltry 171 though Tompkins knew this would soon change with his imminent trip to the south coast via Bristol, to see his pals.

Before he zoomed off, Tompkins attached suitable replies to the three pigeons and released them from his modest rooftop garden, modelled on Kew Gardens, where he did his gym sessions and weights routines. He made one more visit to the bedroom.

“Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” said Tompkins, putting on his white driving gloves and yellow scarf, before bounding down the stairs and closing the front door behind him with one mighty swipe of his arm.

 

He started up the Jaguar and smiled at the familiar tone – it was sounding like his own car already. He slammed down the accelerator, avoiding a school bus and a fire engine, and made for the motorway.

First, out of a sense of guilt, he drove past the car showroom and saw a dramatic scene. The police were inspecting a damaged Jaguar in the centre of the showroom. All the sales people were lined against a wall and being shouted at by a large man in an expensive off-the-peg suit.

Amongst them was the friend of the family, who was looking somewhat perplexed at the turn of events. Tompkins made a mental note to make sure the man in the off-the-peg suit would soon have an unplanned holiday in the outer recesses of Romania, along with nine Romanians, who wouldn’t be happy at his presence amongst them.

Tompkins filled up the car at the next garage and headed down the motorway towards the south-west, zipping along the outside lane, middle lane, and inside lane, when it suited him to do so. In just over an hour, he parked outside a large house in the Clifton area of Bristol.

Tompkins opened the car door, leapt out, and did 50 press-ups on the pavement, just to get the stiffness out of his back and neck. Having completed these, he jumped over the garden gate and slammed his large hand against the black-painted front door of the house a few times. The birds stopped singing and next door’s cat, sleeping in their lounge window, opened an eye just to see who was shaking the house.

The door was opened by a man of about 40. He was about six feet tall and smoking a cigarette. His green jumper and yellow corduroy trousers didn’t match, but he didn’t care a damn what other people thought.

“Tomcat,” he shouted, “how the devil are you, I knew it was you, everyone else either uses the front-door bell or the knocker, but only dear old Tomcat tries to knock the door down with his bare hands.”

“Just one hand, Tiffkins, who’s in with you today?”

“Well, let me see, pretty much everyone you asked, Squaffy Jones, Berty Bertram, Teddy Smethurst-Pugh, Father Brown, Father Black, Father White, Reverend Green, Colonel Mustard, Noddy Houghton-Smythe, Cuthy Cuthbert, you know, those sort of splendid chaps, all of your acquaintance.”

“Yes, all are splendid chaps’ Lets get in there and see what we can do; I have to be quick, because I should be down near Chichester in two hours, y’know.”

“New car, Tomcat?” enquired Tiffkins.

“Well, yes and no, I had a smash yesterday, so I had to replace that motor with another auto, which was undamaged,” replied Tompkins, “and I need to drive it around a tad, just to get the mileage somewhat believable, just in case anyone asks, y’know.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll manage that Tomcat, you could get a few Bulgarians in there by the looks of it. Anyway, in we should go.”

Tompkins stepped through the door and was greeted by a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” from the assembled white men.

“Hello Tomcat,” said Father Brown, “how is my splendid friend, today?”

“Very well, thank you,” replied Tompkins.

“Hello Tomcat,” said Father Black, “how is my splendid friend, today?”

“Very well, thank you,” replied Tompkins.

“Hello Tomcat,” said Father White, “how is my splendid friend, today?”

“Very well, thank you” replied Tompkins, thankful that the triplets hadn’t brought their five half-brothers along.

“Ay, Ay,” said Berty, “is that a Tomcat I see?”

“It is, woof woof,” replied Tompkins, “Berty, you will shortly receive a visitor, a winged messenger with some instructions for the lads here in Bristol. The 28th is the day and Harwich is the place where our esteemed enemy will arrive to pay his henchmen and cronies a visit. Organising their trouble for Old Blighty, but we will be there to stop them, and to divert their plans elsewhere.”

The Andalusian Ferret

Ferrets are regarded as fierce creatures whose demeanour indicates a pent-up aggression towards everything, most of all towards their prey. Whilst this is true of almost all ferrets, there is one honourable exception, the Andalusian or Moorish Ferret.

According to the natural histories of Northern Africa, the Andalusian Ferrets, owned by the Moorish aristocracy, were interbred with members of the weasel family during the 7th and 8th centuries AD and acquired the cunning and intelligent characteristics of these animals. During the following centuries after the Moors settled in Spain, the Andalusian Ferret was influenced by the early forms of flamenco, these sounds being part of its everyday environment. The ferret also noticed how captivated people became when watching the Flamenco dancers and particularly their movements. The ferrets decided to apply these subtle, suggestive moves to their hunting technique.

When the Andalusian Ferret observed a rabbit or rat, it didn’t chase after the creature straightaway. Nor did it keep out of sight. Instead, the ferret moved to a place where it could be seen, but made sure it appeared non-threatening to its potential prey. The ferret then  proceeded to move around on its hind legs, moving its front legs in time to an imaginary beat known only to the ferret.

These non-threatening movements calmed the rabbit or rat and they became entranced by the rhythmic flow of the ferret’s limbs. Sadly, for the prey, they rarely saw the Andalusian ferret’s accomplice until it was too late to save their lives.

After the Moors left Granada in 1492, the Andalusian ferrets were either left behind to fend for themselves or were taken back to North Africa. The ferrets who were left behind lived chiefly in The Alpujarras in the Sierra Nevada where the local ferrets used less subtle hunting techniques and the Andalusian ferrets had to adapt to survive. The ferrets who went back to North Africa lost their flamenco environment and so the techniques used dissipated through the centuries. To this day, however, ferrets and weasels still do, occasionally, use little dances to captivate their prey and this can be traced back to the Andalusian Ferrets of a thousand years ago.

She’s Coming for You – Chapter 15

This was the longest train trip of the holiday and would be the last one for Pat Walker. Things would change at Santiago, out of necessity. She’d not had a chance until now, but she knew Santiago had to be the place.

What she had to remember here was to sit in the correct carriage, otherwise she would end up in Vigo, Ferrol, or Oviedo. Ferrol was where the dictator General Franco came from, and so had right-wing connections Walker found hard to bear.

The station in Leon is a terminus, there are no through trains; trains arrive and then return the same way.  Walker checked her ticket and climbed into the carriage; she had folded her rucksack inside her travelling bag. She placed this on the rack above her seat, next to the window, and then helped a woman with three young children place their bags onto the rack opposite.

An old lady smiled at her, but a younger man regarded her with suspicion. He seemed to be weighing up all the passengers in this carriage. This man interested Walker as she realised he was not Spanish, but more likely came from North Africa. Walker was sure he was heading to Santiago de Compostela, yet he appeared to have no bags with him. She would have to watch him, and the thought crossed her mind that the man might be from the American embassy. Were they on to her already?

The train inched out of the station and Walker settled down to read her book, which she kept in an inside pocket of her new travelling jacket, a purchase that had pleased her. She might even fly back to the UK from her final destination wearing it. In the book, the assassin was almost in place and had everything he needed. Walker felt in a similar position and allowed herself to become involved in the book.

An hour out of Leon, the inspector came along the carriage checking people’s tickets. Walker stood up and pretended to be looking for something in her bag as the RENFE man did his job. She glanced at the North African’s ticket and saw he was going to Santiago. She wondered why, but let things take their course as it wouldn’t be a good idea for her to be on another train where someone wound up unconscious in the toilet. She realised the police algorithms would find her name on both passenger inventories in a nanosecond.

Walker sat down and continued with her reading, though she drifted off sometimes as she thought about her target, who was riding in the carriage ahead of her. Santiago was the final destination of the party of six before they flew to Frankfurt and then back home.

At Ourense, the North African got up and headed to the platform as he’d done at all the other stations, ostensibly for a smoke, but Walker noticed that this time he was clutching a phone and his cigarettes. Walker followed and eavesdropped on the conversation, which alarmed her and energised her in equal measure. This could either hinder her or help her, depending on how Walker responded. If the police knew of the plot, then Walker could get clean away and be sure that blame would fall elsewhere. On the other hand, the number of plain-clothes police might increase.

Tomcat Tompkins – Part 7

“Guy Fawkes?”

“Yes, that person, the Catholic – do you know anything about this repatriation of my friends?”

“I am sorry, Vasek, I don’t understand why that’s happening – do you think they’re just going on a coach tour, drinking too much, and then forgetting to get back on the coach to come back to jolly Old Blighty?”

“I don’t believe so, as they are looking for work all the time and wouldn’t go on a free coach trip. They wake up and find themselves back in their own country, where they don’t want to be.”

“Well, I’m not sure what to say, other than people should try and make the most of these opportunities to travel and see foreign climes, especially if they’re not having to pay.”

“I thank you for your information,” replied Vasek, “and now I must leave you to your fish and porridge breakfast.”

“Thank you and have a splendid lunch yourself,” replied Tompkins and strode back into his house thinking Vasek was a good man to know.

“Cripes,” said Tompkins to himself, when he got back into the kitchen, “are my cooking skills so bad that Vasek could smell my breakfast from out there? That’s an awful thing to have said to you, y’know, bish and bosh, Tomcat get a grip on things.”

Once he’d devoured his breakfast and swilled it down with a vast mug of coffee, Tompkins checked his new Jaguar to make sure Vasek had removed all the signs of the showroom.

With great care, he inspected the tyres, the boot, and the glove compartment, placing a few ‘personal’ items in their proper places, to show any interested parties that the car was his. The only problem was the number of miles on the clock, which stood at a paltry 171 though Tompkins knew this would soon change with his imminent trip to the south coast via Bristol, to see his pals.

Before he zoomed off, Tompkins attached suitable replies to the three pigeons and released them from his modest rooftop garden, modelled on Kew Gardens, where he did his gym sessions and weights routines. He made one more visit to the bedroom.

“Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” said Tompkins, putting on his white driving gloves and yellow scarf, before bounding down the stairs and closing the front door behind him with one mighty swipe of his arm.

 

He started up the Jaguar and smiled at the familiar tone – it was sounding like his own car already. He slammed down the accelerator, avoiding a school bus and a fire engine, and made for the motorway.

First, out of a sense of guilt, he drove past the car showroom and saw a dramatic scene. The police were inspecting a damaged Jaguar in the centre of the showroom. All the sales people were lined against a wall and being shouted at by a large man in an expensive off-the-peg suit.

Amongst them was the friend of the family, who was looking somewhat perplexed at the turn of events. Tompkins made a mental note to make sure the man in the off-the-peg suit would soon have an unplanned holiday in the outer recesses of Romania, along with nine Romanians, who wouldn’t be happy at his presence amongst them.

Tompkins filled up the car at the next garage and headed down the motorway towards the south-west, zipping along the outside lane, middle lane, and inside lane, when it suited him to do so. In just over an hour, he parked outside a large house in the Clifton area of Bristol.

Tompkins opened the car door, leapt out, and did 50 press-ups on the pavement, just to get the stiffness out of his back and neck. Having completed these, he jumped over the garden gate and slammed his large hand against the black-painted front door of the house a few times. The birds stopped singing and next door’s cat, sleeping in their lounge window, opened an eye just to see who was shaking the house.

The door was opened by a man of about 40. He was about six feet tall and smoking a cigarette. His green jumper and yellow corduroy trousers didn’t match, but he didn’t care a damn what other people thought.

“Tomcat,” he shouted, “how the devil are you, I knew it was you, everyone else either uses the front-door bell or the knocker, but only dear old Tomcat tries to knock the door down with his bare hands.”

“Just one hand, Tiffkins, who’s in with you today?”

“Well, let me see, pretty much everyone you asked, Squaffy Jones, Berty Bertram, Teddy Smethurst-Pugh, Father Brown, Father Black, Father White, Reverend Green, Colonel Mustard, Noddy Houghton-Smythe, Cuthy Cuthbert, you know, those sort of splendid chaps, all of your acquaintance.”

“Yes, all are splendid chaps’ Lets get in there and see what we can do; I have to be quick, because I should be down near Chichester in two hours, y’know.”

“New car, Tomcat?” enquired Tiffkins.

“Well, yes and no, I had a smash yesterday, so I had to replace that motor with another auto, which was undamaged,” replied Tompkins, “and I need to drive it around a tad, just to get the mileage somewhat believable, just in case anyone asks, y’know.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll manage that Tomcat, you could get a few Bulgarians in there by the looks of it. Anyway, in we should go.”

Tompkins stepped through the door and was greeted by a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” from the assembled white men.

“Hello Tomcat,” said Father Brown, “how is my splendid friend, today?”

“Very well, thank you,” replied Tompkins.

“Hello Tomcat,” said Father Black, “how is my splendid friend, today?”

“Very well, thank you,” replied Tompkins.

“Hello Tomcat,” said Father White, “how is my splendid friend, today?”

“Very well, thank you” replied Tompkins, thankful that the triplets hadn’t brought their five half-brothers along.

“Ay, Ay,” said Berty, “is that a Tomcat I see?”

“It is, woof woof,” replied Tompkins, “Berty, you will shortly receive a visitor, a winged messenger with some instructions for the lads here in Bristol. The 28th is the day and Harwich is the place where our esteemed enemy will arrive to pay his henchmen and cronies a visit. Organising their trouble for Old Blighty, but we will be there to stop them, and to divert their plans elsewhere.”

She’s Coming For You – Chapter 14

The Cíes Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Pontevedra in Galicia, in the mouth of the Ria de Vigo. They were declared a Nature Reserve in 1980 and are included in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park created in 2002. The Cíes comprise three islands, Monteagudo (North Island), do Faro (Lighthouse Island) and San Martiño (Saint Martin).

The North Canal separates Monteagudo from the Morrazo peninsula, while the Freu da Porta Strait separates San Martiño from the coast of Cape Santoulo. Rodas Beach links Do Faro island to the North Island. During high tide the sea flows between the islands on the western side and, blocked by the beach, fills the lagoon between the sand and the rocks. At one hundred and ninety-seven metres, Alto das Cíes on Monteagudo is the highest point.

Near vertical cliffs of over one hundred metres rise on the western side, and many caves have been formed by erosion from the sea and the wind. The eastern side is less steep, covered by woods and bushes and protected from the Atlantic winds, which allows beaches and dunes to form.

***

The freighter had made good progress and was in place outside Spanish territorial waters as darkness fell. Four men from the crew lowered the inflatable boat into the water and stowed two waterproof canvas bags. The two men on board thanked God for their opportunity. They opened the throttles gently and slid out into the open sea, heading for a particular cave.

Within twenty minutes they’d arrived and placed the six-foot long bags onto a ledge just above sea level. Here they would remain until collected by people who would put the contents to good use. Satisfied their work was done, the men returned to the freighter. Twenty minutes later the inflatable was at the bottom of the ocean and the freighter was heading back to the Mediterranean. This time it would take a different route and risk being stopped by the navy, as there was nothing left to hide. The freighter had delivered its cargo.

Tomcat Tompkins – Part 6

Tompkins awoke with the sun streaming through the red, white, and blue chintz curtains – it was just after noon, early for him. He looked around the blue-painted room and located his red dressing gown and light-blue slippers, which were under the white 19th-Century chaise-longue, for reasons Tompkins had forgotten.

He romped down the stairs and cooked his favourite breakfast of kippers and porridge. It reminded him of those summers long ago when Tompkins and his pater would walk for miles after a huge breakfast such as this. They’d swim in a few lochs, climb trees, chase deer, run up mountains, carry boulders, and generally have a wonderful time in the Scottish Highlands. The chimes of Big Ben from the front-door bell broke Tompkins’s reveries like cold ice on an aching tooth.

“Bish and bosh, who can it be at this early hour?” said Tompkins to himself as he strode to the door, almost pulling it off the hinges.

On the step was a short man, wearing a deerstalker hat and smoking a cigarette he’d rolled himself.

“Yuri, how the blazes are you?” boomed Tompkins.

“My name, Mr Tompkins, is Vasek, I am not sure where you get the name Yuri from, anyway your car is here for you.”

“Well, that’s quick work, Vasek, my Polish friend.”

“Slovenia, Mr Tompkins, Slovenia,” replied Vasek..

“Well, alright, East European, it’s still quick work, regardless of where you are from in that part of the world.”

“Well, quick work of a kind,” replied Vasek with a smile, “you see your car was, now what are the correct words in the English, a complete write-off, so I swap your car with another car in the showroom, before they open up, as you say in England.”

“You broke into the showroom, drove my car in, and drove another car, this car…” said Tompkins pointing at the shining motor on the street..”out of the showroom, after changing the number plates?”

 

“Well, yes and no – I wouldn’t say I drove your car, I would say we push your car with considerable effort, but it is now under a white sheet – like a Klu Klux Klan car – and awaits the salesman, who is in for a surprise by what he finds, I think.”

“He will, I hope it’s not Snippy Watson, because he’s a good friend of the mater’s family in Sussex, and has a delicate disposition, as they say, so he might faint with shock. Anyway, how much do I owe you?”

“Three hundred for the manual labour of we six pushing the car and two hundred for cleaning it and making sure it had none of your fingerprints on it.”

“Sounds a good deal, Vasek, do you have the keys?”

Vasek handed them over. Tompkins picked up the Meissen Vase standing in the porch and felt underneath it. He pulled out out a small plastic bag containing five 100 pound notes and handed it to Vasek.

“We always keep loose change hanging around, just in case the cat food supplier needs paying or the milkman wants to settle the weekly bill.”

Vasek smiled and accepted the money with a slight nod of the head.

“I will see you soon, Mr Tompkins. Oh there is one thing. My unfortunate, unemployed friends from East European are disappearing from the streets here in England, only to turn up in their home towns a few days later, wearing cartoon masks of the Bonfire Man…”