Authors: Oliver Tidy
The Third Romney and Marsh File
Copyright 2012 Oliver Tidy
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This is a work of fiction. All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
‘Can you see him?’
‘They all look the same to me, sir.’
that hint of impatience which infused much of what he was moved to say since his return to work, Detective Inspector Romney said, ‘Let me have a look.’
Marsh handed him the binoculars and Romney began slowly sweeping the field below. He was forced to quickly accept that it would, indeed, be next to impossible to locate Detective Constable Grimes. Hundreds of similarly clad uniformed bodies milled about beneath and away from them in the baking heat and glorious sunshine of the Indian summer that the whole country was basking in. Even Grimes’ extra bulk didn’t help. There seemed a lot of fat people down there. A sign of the times, thought Romney. Probably not quite in tune with the period they were representing and therefore not particularly authentic. Romney thought about mentioning this to Marsh, but even for him it was too pedantic. Instead he settled for the next thought that popped into his head. ‘He must be sweating like a pig down there.’ Instead of sympathy with a colleague, Marsh detected a note of glib satisfaction in her senior officer’s observation. ‘And in that thick, woolly get-up. What on earth makes them do it? What’s the attraction?’
It was probably a rhetorical question, but Marsh wanted to offer an opinion, a defence for those who weren’t there to
stick-up for themselves. It was in her nature to do so and she was becoming a little weary of simply suffering in respectful silence the negative attitude that Romney seemed to harbour for everything that he encountered these days. Marsh also nurtured a glimmer of admiration – and not a little jealousy – for the passions and action being played out down there.
‘He loves his history, sir. They all must. It’s just one of his things. Like you and your first editions, I suppose. It’s the closest any of them can ever hope to get to the real thing, the excitement of it all. You’ve got to admit it makes an impressive spectacle.’
Romney grunted, making it clear what he thought of that.
expanse of grassed cliff-top stretched out and away from the walls of Dover castle on which they were perched. Across the dry moat, just a narrow band of mature trees and a thin B road to nowhere separated the castle from the battlefield. With the advantage of the battlements’ commanding view, Romney and Marsh, along with many other spectators – guests of the director and members of the film crew – looked on as the two opposing and sizeable forces made their final preparations for battle.
At the far end of the battlefield neat rows of little white canvas pyramids indicated the camp of the ‘invading’ French force. In front of these were rows of cannon pointing towards the castle and then in front of these lines of men dressed in the distinctive French uniforms of Napoleon’s heyday. Pockets of cavalry jostled and pranced at the front. The whinnying of the excited horses carried across the open area. Sabres, swords, bayonets, buckles, spurs, harnesses and other highly polished metalwork glin
ted and winked in the light of the crystal clear day as both men and animals fidgeted restlessly awaiting the signal to advance.
Below the observers and cameras and
partially hidden from view by the leafy trees were amassed hundreds of British army uniforms of the period: a large detachment of cavalry and the cannon fodder of the infantry. The noises from this group, being closer, carried up to the battlements with an eerie clarity. Men called and joked and roused and laughed. They were not concerned about entering the fray to lose an eye, a limb, or their lives, as the ancestors they were aping would have undoubtedly been.
, Romney said, ‘They just look like overgrown schoolboys to me. You wouldn’t catch me running around in thirty degrees with all that lot on shouting bang-bang you’re dead and then pretending to catch a bullet yourself and rolling over and over in all that sheep-shit.’ Despite the others crowding the tops of the ancient walls, Romney was making no secret of his disdain for the boyish enthusiasm of the hundreds of like-minded souls preparing to do mock battle. ‘You can’t even say it’s just an English disease. Look how many Frogs they’ve shipped over – all the horses, men and their gear. Think of the money. Did Grimes say how much he’s getting paid?’
‘Nothing apparently,’ said Marsh. Her eyes
flitted around the company to see if anyone had taken exception to his xenophobic remark.
‘What?’ Romney followed this with a small nasal-noise of derision. ‘You mean they’re doing this for free? No charge? All that lot down there? Grimes has taken a week’s leave to play
soldiers for some film company – who will probably make a fortune out of it – and he’s not getting anything out of it himself?’
‘I’m sure he must be getting something out of it, sir. He wouldn’t do it otherwise. I’m sure they all are. It’s just not financial reward.’
‘Well, I can think of plenty of things I’d rather be doing on a week off than play soldiers for someone else’s entertainment.’
‘From what he told me
, they’ll get travel expenses and food, but because it’s not being bank-rolled by a major production company they’ve agreed to war for the simple pleasure it brings them...’
‘Like Blair and Bush, you mean?’ interrupted Romney.
‘...and maybe the possibility of getting their faces on the big screen. Grimes said it was a chance for fame and immortality. But he might have been joking. He also said it was good free publicity for the society. He said they need that.’
‘I’m sure that any self-respecting editor confronted with Grimes’ ugly mug on celluloid would pretty soon consign him to the cutting room floor. Well, bully for him and all his mates. Very generous I’m sure. I wish they’d get on with it, though. We can’t stay up here all afternoon. Some of us are supposed to be working.’
‘I think it was good of him to suggest it to us, sir. I’m looking forward to the engagement. You don’t get many chances in your life to witness something like this.’
Romney snorted again and turned his attention from the Napoleonic nineteenth century beneath them to the high-tech twenty-fir
st century off to their right: the cables and leads and cameras and rails and scaffolding and lights and the people. The dozens and dozens of people. What did they all do? thought Romney. He doubted any of them were working for the love of it.
‘You know who the director is?’
‘Never heard of him.’
‘He’s fairly young, sir, by industry standards, but he’s already making a name for himself. He’s not up there with the big boys yet, but he has received critical acclaim. He tends to be controversial with his themes. Seems like a bit of a shock-jock. That might be holding him back a bit. He wrote and directed,
‘My Mum Made Me A Paedophile’.
‘I beg your pardon.’
‘It wasn’t the sort of thing you’d find on at the local cinema. It wasn’t a mainstream release.’
‘I should hope not. There are enough nutters out there without encouraging more.’
‘It won prizes at a couple of film festivals – Sundance, Cannes.’
‘Why doesn’t that surprise me? And how do you know so much about him?’
‘I looked him up. I like film. You could say it’s one of my ‘things’.’
, as a serving police officer, I wouldn’t go around letting people know you admire men who make paedophile films.’
‘It’s not exactly like that, sir,’ replied Marsh
, detecting the testiness in her own voice now.
She was beginning to reg
ret encouraging Romney to take the drive up there. It was supposed to be a treat for them both. Get them out of the office for a couple of hours and some free entertainment. She had just been trying to cheer him up a bit and was now wishing she hadn’t bothered.
Romney said, ‘Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Probably some
pathetic excuse of those sick perverts who prey on the young, the innocent and the defenceless. I don’t believe in that sort of glorification. It’s wrong in my opinion. And I would imagine that opinion is shared with a good many other normal people, like Superintendent Falkner for example. Anyway, if this Crawford’s into that sort of thing, what’s he doing making films of the Napoleonic wars? Bit of a change of direction isn’t it?’
, it’s not exactly a film about the Napoleonic wars. That’s really just the historical backdrop to the main topic.’
Why couldn’t she just leave it?
‘As I understand it – and I only looked it up briefly on the web – this is a documentary about the issue of bestiality in armed conflict.’
Did she have to be so forthright? How did she expect him to react to that given his obvious mood?
‘What? Sex between people and animals? Is that what you’re saying?’ Romney’s voice had risen in pitch and volume.
‘Apparently, it’s always been a bit of a taboo subject for historians and academics.’
‘I’m not bloody surprised. Who’d be interested in that apart from the sick-minded?’
‘Hugo Crawford, for one, sir.’ And then she realised she was enjoying goading him. That was dangerous and would have to stop immediately.
, apart from the sick-minded. Anyone who makes films about paedophiles is sick in my book. Well, I’m not and neither should you be, Sergeant. Come on, we’re not hanging around here to watch a lot of fantasists start rogering the livestock. We might have to start arresting people, and I’ve got enough paperwork on my desk as it is. Does Grimes know what he’s got himself involved in?’
‘I don’t know, sir. He didn’t say anything.’
Romney turned as if to carry out his threat of departing. Only his obvious desire to ridicule the proceedings further and get some of his own idiosyncratic brand of humour off his chest prevented him from leaving. ‘I hope his desire for a bit of fame won’t cloud his judgement when they start asking for volunteers to kiss the sheep. He’s got a position in the community to consider and they wouldn’t like that at headquarters. Still, he was born around here wasn’t he? I believe that sort of interaction is historically endemic in the area. You could say it’s in his cultural DNA. I wouldn’t be surprised if it still went on – I’ve seen the women who lurk in the shires, so I do have some sympathy with the men-folk. You know they have a saying in these parts: women are all right as a last resort, but you can’t beat the real thing.’ After waiting for the laugh that didn’t come, he said, more seriously, ‘Frankly, I’m surprised at English Heritage allowing that kind of thing to go on on its property.’
‘It’s history, sir. And film is art. You can’t simply censor things because it offends your individual sensitivities. Too much borderline stuff would never be
made if we all felt like that. So much would simply be lost.’
‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this from a serving police officer. I think that maybe you need to reflect o
n your moral position, Sergeant, reappraise your value system. You’re beginning to sound like you condone this style of animal abuse.’
Was he teasing her? Had she underestimated him?
anical sermonising – tongue in cheek or otherwise – was interrupted, much to Marsh’s relief, by the temporary and tinny public address system which whined out across the area below their position on the battlements.
‘Right everyone, number ones please. I hope I don’t have to remind anyone that this is a big shot. We won’t be able to do it over and over. Let’s nail it first time
, please. Focus on your individual role. Good luck and enjoy it. Together we’re making history.’
‘Making him a small fortune more like,’ said Romney. ‘Where do you think he steals his lines from? Obama’s campaign speeches.’
‘Can we just watch the battle scene, sir? Please? It would be a shame to miss it now we’re here and they won’t want us walking around if they’re filming.’
Romney blew out his cheeks in resignation. ‘Just the battle scene and then we’re leaving. Is that the Mayor over there?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘I wonder if he knows what he’s publicly
condoning with his presence. At least we’ve got an excuse if anyone asks.’
‘What’s that then, sir?’
‘We’re the police. We’re liaising with security.’
‘Talking of security, did you see which firm is in charge on location here?’
‘No. Oh, don’t tell me it’s that cowboy outfit Wilkie’s with.’
‘Afraid so. Local knowledge. Probably cheaper to hire than a firm from further away.’
‘Christ, that’s all I’d need, to run into him.’
‘OK everyone. Get ready. Remember, wait until the cannon of both sides have fired their volleys before advancing. Annnnd action!’
Despite outward indications that he wanted to put as much distance between himself and what he now understood to be the focus of the cinematic project, inwardly Romney felt more than a twinge of anticipation for what was to come. Marsh was probably right: watching the carefully orchestrated military engagement of the two substantial forces spread out beneath the castle’s battlements would be worth seeing.
From atop these same battlements to their left the line of cannon heralded the start of the action with carefully spaced explosions of noise and smoke. The shock waves of the reports jarred the frames of the onlookers and stretched ear drums
. The choreographed explosions in the ranks of the distant opposition threw up great plumes of earth and the occasional ‘body’. There was a return of cannon-fire, the smoke beating the boom to the senses at the distance. As the final cannon spewed out its empty threat leaving only the smoke of all of them to drift across and temporarily obscure the view the two opposing forces began their lumbering ordered progress towards convergence.