Now, for the first time, he bent down to open his briefcase and took out a file with a security marking. Rummaging among the documents, he brought out a single sheet of paper. "I've got the exact wording here. It makes Henry Holcombe's intentions clear. For men who undertake the dangerous and arduous business of exercising high responsibility in the service of the Crown and of their country, whether in the armed forces, politics, science, industry or the arts, and who require a restorative period of solitude, silence and peace. Engagingly typical of its age, isn't it? No mention of women, of course. This was 1930, remember. However, the accepted convention is held to apply, that the word men' embraces women. They take a maximum of five visitors, whom they accommodate at their choice either in the main house or in one of the stone cottages. Basically what Combe Island offers is peace and security. In the last few decades the latter has become probably the more important. People who want time to think can go there without their protection officers in the knowledge that they will be safe and completely undisturbed. There's a helicopter pad for bringing them in, and the small harbour is the only possible landing place by sea. No casual visitors are ever allowed and even mobile phones are forbiddenthey wouldn't get a signal there anyway. They keep a very low profile. People who go there are generally on personal recommendation, either from a Trustee or from a previous or regular visitor. You can see its advantage for the PM's purpose."
Reeves blurted out, "What's wrong with Chequers?"
The others turned on him the brightly interested gaze of adults prepared to humour a precocious child.
Conistone said, "Nothing. An agreeable house with, I understand, every comfort. But guests who are invited to Chequers tend to get noticed. Isn't that the purpose of their going there?"
Dalgliesh asked, "How did Downing Street get to know about the island?"
Conistone slid the paper back into his file. "Through one of the PM's newly ennobled chums. He went to Combe to recover from the dangerous and arduous responsibility of adding one more grocery chain to his empire and another billion to his personal fortune."
"There are some permanent staff, presumably. Or do the VIPs do their own washing up?"
"There's the secretary, Rupert Maycroft, previously a solicitor in Warnborough. We've had to confide in him and, of course, inform the Trustees that Number Ten would be grateful if some important visitors could be accommodated in early January. At present it's all very tentative, but we've asked him to make no bookings after this month. There are the usual staffboatman, housekeeper, cook. We know something about all of them. One or two of the previous visitors have been important enough to warrant security checks. It's all been done very discreetly. There's a resident physician, Dr. Guy Staveley, and his wife, although I gather she's more off than on the island. Can't stand the boredom apparently. Staveley's a refugee from a London general practice. Apparently he made a wrong diagnosis and a child died, so he's got himself a job where the worst that can happen is someone falling off a cliff, and he can't be blamed for that."
Excerpted from The Lighthouse by P. D. James Copyright © 2005 by P. D. James. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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