Novelist Amanda DuPres pressed Save with satisfaction, chapter thirteen complete. Her litter bin was full of recycled paper from various sources, every sheet carefully saved, the back of each piece covered in the barely legible scrawl that represented the first draft of her latest chapter. Now the paper would finally make it to the council’s recycling bin and hence to the hidden mysteries of the recycling centre. She often wondered if anyone ever read her notes before they were consigned to be shredded or pulped. Amanda had only the haziest idea of what happened to her bin’s contents; the important thing was that she adhered to the instructions in the booklet, every plastic bottle and tray scrutinized to find the triangle symbol and number.
The bin was full to the brim this week as she had completed the clearing out of her aunt’s bungalow. Regarded as eccentric, the old lady had for years washed and saved all her margarine tubs in case they came in handy. Perhaps some of them had, but that still left cupboards full. Now at least they would be recycled.
Amanda locked her front door and admired the plants in the south-facing rambling porch; some spring sunshine and the overwintering pelargoniums and begonias thought it was summer already. Lucky the boot box was full of rainwater; plastic milk bottles topped up from the water butts that adorned every corner of her house. If it stayed warm today there would be enough water to refresh all the planted containers in the front garden when she got home. As far as Amanda was concerned there was nothing that could not be filled with a riot of plants; rowing boat, Belfast sink, old wheelbarrow and Wellington boots were among the collection.
Amanda edged her little car out of the driveway; through the narrow gap between plant containers and bins waiting for collection. She never put her bins out on the pavement, lest a blind person or parent with a double buggy came by. The other residents of Pierrefonds Close had been encouraged to do the same and if the council chaps carelessly left emptied bins out on the pavement, there was always at least one neighbour around to bring them all back in.
With everything in order at home she set off for Durlswood House, looking forward to her rostered day as a volunteer steward. The public were okay, few asked her in-depth questions, usually the way to the toilets or the coffee shop, but occasionally she engaged someone in intelligent conversation and slipped them a flier about her books; psychic historic novels. As she drove along she was already planning chapter fourteen of the fourth novel about the alchemist Isis Grant. Born by the Thames in Oxford and a lover of ancient Egyptian mysteries, his name had seemed perfect when she first created him.
Pierrefonds Close remained quiet that morning, the only signs of life when those not at work popped out, wondering why the recycling bins had not been emptied; unaware yet that their little cul-de-sac was in lock down, the surrounding roads closed to traffic.
DI Caruthers had the search warrant; his new DC, Anne Bellingham, tried not to look too excited at the prospect of her first raid with the Terrorist Squad. The address seemed rather unlikely, but she presumed Caruthers knew what he was doing.
At the property her doubts resurfaced. ‘Are you sure Gov, this looks like the respectable home of someone who loves gardening.’
‘That doesn’t preclude her son from being a terrorist. The poor woman probably has no idea what he’s up to.’
Ringing the doorbell and knocking produced no result, but the outer door was unlocked and the team sprang into action before the suspect could escape over a back fence. Anne was left with a dog handler to guard the front door. DC Bellingham was not the only new member of the team, Sally the Springer spaniel was beside herself with excitement on her first outing and soon made her handler aware of something interesting in the porch. But Sally had forgotten about explosives, the plant filled porch brought back happy memories of her puppyhood.
Anne signalled to the DI. ‘Gov, I think we’ve got something, in this box.’
She put on her latex gloves ready to have a look.
‘Wait, it could be dangerous. Call the dog off. Stand back everyone, right back.’
Keen to find more evidence, Anne took the chance to look in the large bin on the driveway. On top was a pile of letters and important looking papers, down a little further the bin was packed full of margarine containers, more than any one person could use in a week unless they were using them to mix chemicals…
Gingerly DI Caruthers lifted the lid, then even more carefully lowered it and retreated back down the driveway.
‘Good work Anne, okay I want the whole cul-de-sac evacuated, now. DC Bellingham, call in the Biochem team, tell them it’s urgent.’
Regrouped on the main road the DI addressed his team. ‘It’s far worse than we were informed. At least a dozen bottles of unidentified liquid stored in plastic bottles. That in itself is dangerous, the chemicals could eat through the plastic.’
The residents of Pierrefonds Close were flustered and confounded and nobody was listening to them, even if they could be heard above the sound of approaching sirens. Anne tried to reassure them and promised that everything would be explained if they could just make their way to the United Reform Church hall. Clutched under her arm was a plastic evidence bag filled with sheaves of paper.
At the church hall cups of tea were being handed out, but it was not enough to placate the residents of Pierrefonds Close.
‘It’s ridiculous, Amanda is not a terrorist, she belongs to the National Trust.’
‘We’re all law-abiding, we don’t even leave our bins on the footpath, it’s an outrage.’
‘…and now our recycling bins haven’t been collected.’
‘We don’t know where her son is because she hasn’t got one.’
‘…when can we go home?’
‘Have we got everyone?’ asked the DI above the hubbub.
‘We won’t know for sure till we have identified everyone and their addresses,’ said Anne. ‘Let’s hope they know their neighbours and who should be at work.’
‘You go round and calm their ruffled feathers.’
‘Wait, look Sir.’ Anne was already delving in the bag. Now she looked closely she could see the pages all had scribbles on the back, hard to read, but not impossible. She went cold as she read what looked like chemical symbols and worse, the letters ISIS. Of course neighbours never do believe what can happen under their noses, it just went to show…
Back at Pierrefonds Close there was no one left to see a white van draw up; out clambered figures clad in white suits and space helmets. A fire engine and ambulance waited nearby. The bottles were packed individually in metal cases to be transported to Porton Down.
In the car on the way back to the station DI Caruthers was full of praise for Anne, but something was niggling her. Female intuition was not acknowledged to exist, but she was sure something wasn’t right as she went over the morning’s events.
‘We did get the right house? I mean we haven’t actually arrested a suspect.’
‘When those bottles have been analysed and we know what we have prevented, that’s a good job done. As for the papers, excellent work, they must surely lead us to him and his accomplices.’
‘But doesn’t it seem unlikely that a terrorist would put instructions for making chemical weapons and secret communications in a recycling bin?’
‘Perhaps he thought it was the last place we would look.’
‘Yes… he would assume our experts would be looking on the dark web?’
‘Precisely and thanks to your lateral thinking we have outwitted him.’
Early the next morning DI Caruthers asked DC Anne Bellingham to accompany him to the hotel where Ms. Amanda DuPres was staying after her house had been made uninhabitable by the follow-up search. Although it was politically incorrect to say a woman’s touch was needed, he hoped Anne could calm her.
‘Run past me what we know about this woman.’
Anne was not looking forward to telling him what she had found out, nor was she looking forward to meeting Ms. DuPres.
‘She’s a novelist, not famous, an indie author.’
‘Self-published, I looked up her website last night and downloaded her books onto my Kindle. I have an awful feeling…’
‘Never mind about her books, what about her son, relatives, contacts?’
‘Have we got the results for the bottles yet?’
‘No, no, it’s a strict protocol they have to follow, takes time, but let’s see if we can find out more from this woman. Night duty had no luck. Her solicitor’s advised her to say nothing.’
‘But what if she has nothing to say? What if we have made a terrible mistake?’
The inspector didn’t answer her, his mobile phone started ringing and he pulled over to answer it.
‘Yes Sir, Porton Down on the phone? Sorry, what did you say? Rainwater?’
© 2017 Janet Gogerty
Janet loves writing novels, short stories and blogging. Her favourite theme is how ordinary people cope when strange things happen to them.