The Custodian

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Here was the beginning.  A scratch, no more.   An inch or so of ragged edge, a tiny rift.  Yet, scored across a patina of mahogany that had seen the passing of two hundred and twenty-five years, such a mark was a sacrilege, a venial sin.

How proud was Mrs Birdhoot of that table; how honoured she felt to be its custodian, how acute her distress when a carelessly rested piece of mechanical foolishness with its sharp metal edge had caused the hurt!

“We never own such art,” Berkley, her son by her first marriage had reminded her; “We merely share the honour of preserving it for another generation.”

Tegan Birdhoot had wept and worried about the scratch for days.  She felt she had betrayed the trust of Berkley, her darling Berkley, who had found the table for her at a fashionable London dealer.  “Mother, you will love this!”  And she did.

Her husband, Roydon Birdhoot, only shared her appreciation of the table for its value, but she forgave him because his money brought many treasures within her reach, to be snared by his ample chequebook.  His joy was in ownership.  He was no custodian.  In his mind the table was his; a shrewd investment to be exhibited to those whose admiration he sought..

.  Mr Birdhoot was usually severe in his censure of Tegan because she was his third wife and he could not overcome his mistrust of women.  All the more surprising, then, that he seemed only vaguely concerned by this sullying of his table’s lustre.  “Unfortunate, but a simple mark.  I’m sure you can find somebody to get it repaired, Tegan, my dear.”

Tegan readily assented, and sought the services of ‘Peterkin and Son, Restorers of Fine Furniture’ for the task…

Martin Peterkin came.  He spent an age, it seemed, with his nose almost touching the table top and his spectacles, free-roaming, equally close.  Now and then he would push the rebellious lenses back into place, and gradually, when they thought he was not paying attention, they would slip down his nose again.

Tegan was solicitous.  “Are you all right, Mister Peterkin?”  She feared he might have fallen asleep.

Martin looked up with a start, and his spectacles made a run for it. He jammed them irritably back into place.  “Yes!  Yes, Mrs Birdhoot.  Yes.”  He ran the flat of his hand over the table’s surface once, paused, then repeated the gesture, several times.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” Tegan asked.

“No.  No, thank you.  It’s a nice card table.”

“Do you think so?  My son found it for us; it’s Georgian, about 1790, Berkley says.  Berkley is so knowledgeable about these things.  I love Sheraton!”

“Do you?  Yes, yes; although this table is not actually Sheraton, of course.”

Tegan’s jaw fell the number of inches required for her mouth to accept a golf ball.  “I do not believe I heard you correctly, Mr Peterkin, did you say, ‘not Sheraton’?  It so obviously is.”

“A late nineteenth-century copy, often known as Sheraton Revival. The Victorians liked Sheraton too. The quality of the relief carving gives it away. I do hope you didn’t pay too much?”

“No; fortunately, it seems.”  Tegan silently wondered:  was the twelve thousand pounds she had persuaded her husband to pay for the table too much?  “Can you manage to take out the scratch?”

Martin raised himself above table level to inspect the mark defacing the table’s finely polished mahogany top.  “We should be able to take care of the scratch for you.”

There was a note of reserve in Martin’s voice that Tegan found disturbing, “Well, there’s nothing else wrong with it.”  Then, having paused for reflection:  “Is there?”

Martin saddened her with a look, before lowering his head to the level of the table-top once again.  “There is crazing to the finish, though no more than you would expect to find in a table of this age, but…”  He ran a reverent hand over the folded top of the table, two or three more times, as though each pass might reveal a hidden message in Sanskrit, or awaken songs of tree spirits long dead.  “Please, Mrs Birdhoot, you must feel this for yourself.”

Bewildered, Tegan came to the table, replicating his gesture with a trembling hand.

“There, you feel it?”  Martin asked, removing his spectacles and meeting her turquoise eyes with his own earnest blue stare.  “It’s like a very slight ripple, but indisputably there. The veneer, I’m afraid, is raised.”

Tegan might have demurred, were she not aware of her lack of sensitivity in the touching department.  Cats she stroked had a tendency to spit at her.  “What does that mean?”

“It’s quite common in furniture of this age.  In an original Sheraton the construction would have been solid mahogany; this cabinet maker elected to use veneer on a cheaper wood, which has become unglued. That is the culprit…”  Martin waved an accusing finger at a nearby radiator.

“The heat?”

“Also…also the dryness of the air, yes.  Victorian furniture was made of wood seasoned less thoroughly than the timber we use today, I fear.  Shrinkage can cause it to crack, or as in this case the glue to let go,”   Martin shook his head sorrowfully and drew himself erect; “Thickly sliced veneers, you see?”

“It’s only very slight.  Barely detectable,” Tegan muttered, reluctant to admit she could not feel the defect at all.

“Slight, but enough.  Mrs Birdhoot, I can patch up the scratch but I cannot repair your table.”  Martin gave his verdict in a dolorous tone, “When I prepare the surface there will be movement, you see?  The veneer will move.  There is no stability.  The only way is to strip off the old and replace the veneer, renew the boxwood stringing, everything.”

“Oh, my goodness!  At what cost, I wonder?”

“I would have to ask for more than a thousand pounds. And the result would be serviceable to look at, but any expert would detect new, thinner veneers.  The restoration would devalue it.  Whereas a Sheraton Revival table in good condition might command a figure of, say, six or seven hundred pounds, a restored example could not expect to fetch more than four.”

Six or seven hundred??”  Tegan face was pale with anguish.

“Just so.  Repair is quite impossible, you see?  Economically absurd.”  Then, thinking for a moment, Martin said:  “Second opinion.  Yes, you must certainly seek a second opinion.  I will leave you with that thought, shall I?  No, please; I do not charge for this kind of consultation, Mrs Birdhoot:  I’m sorry I could not bring you better news.”

The visit was suddenly over.  Martin Peterkin, restorer and cabinet maker with the most impeccable reputation, was leaving.  Mrs Birdhoot, whose husband had invited his friend Ellis Margrave to her dinner party this very evening in the expectation that the table would be on show, was panicking.

“Take it!”  Mrs Birdhoot blurted; “The table.  Take it with you!”

Peterkin’s head ratcheted carefully around.  He carefully replied:  “You want me to repair the table?”

“Yes.  No!  Oh, Mr Peterkin, I must be honest with you.  I shall pay you rent, of course, but I cannot have the table in the house tonight.  I have a dinner guest who is an expert in antiques and who, I am sure, will verify your findings.”

“Ah.  Your second opinion.”

“Yes, but when he informs my husband that on my son’s advice I have used his money to buy a fake, there will be consequences.”

“Madam, a Victorian reproduction hardly qualifies as a fake!  I take it your husband believes it to be a genuine Thomas Sheraton.  He will be displeased?”

“Litigious, I should think.”

“An expert in antiques, you say?”

“He has friends,” Mrs Birdhoot lowered her voice deferentially, “At Southerby’s.”

“Dear, dear!  I see your difficulty, Mrs Birdhoot; yes, I do.”  Martin gave repeated nods to emphasise his appreciation.  Eventually:  “Very well, I shall store this table for you.  Let me give you a receipt…”

“You won’t describe it as ‘Sheraton Revival?”

“I shall merely say ‘antique card table’.”

“Thank you.  I shall tell my husband the table has been taken for repair, and I shall think of another stratagem to avert the crisis.  Oh, Mr. Peterkin, I am so grateful!”

Roydon Birdhoot was satisfied with his wife’s explanation for the table’s absence and impressed by her choice of restorer.  “I have heard he does very fine work.”

Her dinner went as well as Tegan Birdhoot’s dinners were wont to go.  Her husband’s celebrated guest Ellis Margrave was wooed by her Coquille Saint Jacques then charmed into satiety by her Coq Au Vin.  He was wined and dined amply enough for Roydon Birdhoot to procure his promise to return for further therapy in a month’s time.

“My stepson’s birthday.  We would love to have you join in our celebration. The Sheraton should be back from the repairers by then; it’s a rather fine table, I should like your opinion on it.”

Mrs Birdhoot felt sure something inside her was dying.

The ensuing four weeks were to be a test of Tegan Birdhoot’s resilience, of Tegan Birdhoot’s sheer strength of will.  She decided her only course was to find a genuine table that could pass muster for the lame duck now residing in a corner of Mr Peterkin’s workshop.  It would take every last penny of her personal resources, but failure would mean her husband’s humiliation, with consequences for herself and her son Berkley too dire to contemplate.

From the morning moment when Roydon departed for his work to the hour of evening when he returned, she ran the ether up to white heat in her pursuit of a genuine mahogany Thomas Sheraton card table.  ‘Phone call after ‘phone call had the same result.  No, this dealer had nothing of her description in his stock, that dealer thought such a table very rare, the other dealer thought she was mad to even ask.

“Sheraton?  Original, not ‘style’?  I do get them from time to time, but they’re always pre-sold.  I can take your details…”

As the third week approached its zenith, Tegan was in a state very close to a breakdown; for not only had she failed to find a replacement table, but Martin Peterkin was becoming impatient.  “I am really not insured for storage of my customers’ furniture items, Mrs Birdhoot, I am afraid I will have to insist you take your table back.”

The dove of salvation arrived, as doves so often do, in the nick of time.  In this case, the white feathers adorned a certain M. Clement Theron, a Chelsea art and antique dealer.

“Ah!  I believe I may have the solution to your dilemma, Madame!  I think I may know of such a table.”

“Oh, M. Theron!  You have it in stock?”

“Ah, no, no, no, Madame.  One never has such a piece in stock, no, no.  I believe it may be available, although of course we must negotiate a price, oui?  I imagine fifteen thousand pounds will secure it for you.”

“Oh, my goodness!”  Tegan Birdhoot was grateful to be sitting down.

Over the ensuing few days, Tegan martialled all her available funds, stripped her credit cards and made a pile of any jewellery she thought her husband would not miss, with the single purpose of accumulating M. Clement’s price.  As a rich man’s wife she had only a very small nest egg of her own, and after every avenue had been explored she still fell short by five hundred pounds – every avenue but one.

“Dear Mr Peterkin, I cannot take the table back, so I propose, reluctantly, to sell it.  With your permission I would like to ask a Mr Hogg to view the table on your premises?  I will agree a price with him on the ‘phone.”

It was a massive gamble, one only a desperate wife and mother whose marriage was forfeit might take.  Fortunately, it turned out well.  Tegan, though destitute and in debt, was able to cook dinner for Berkley’s birthday celebration secure in the knowledge that a genuine Thomas Sheraton table nestled happily in her drawing room.   Ellis Margrave, their returning guest, could not fail to be impressed.

The table, she considered, was substantially the same: a little deeper in colour, perhaps, and of course without that guilty scratch, but its mahogany top was polished to a fine, deep bloom.  Her husband was convinced by it and pleased with the ‘repair’ she had commissioned.    All was well.

Dinner consumed and drinks poured, all gathered in the drawing room.  Ellis Margrave instantly picked out the table.

“Ah!  An original Sheraton!  See the quality of finish these Georgian furniture makers could achieve?  Exquisite!  How did you come upon this little beauty, Birdhoot?”

“Actually,” Berkley the birthday boy stepped forward, “I claim the credit for this spot.  I must say, mother, you’ve polished it up quite impressively.”

“Very impressively,” Mr Birdhoot conceded.

“Shall I tell you what attracted me to it especially?”  Berkley went on, emboldened by wine;  “The dealer showed me.  It has this little secret drawer which you simply will not find unless you know where to look…”

“Really?”  Tegan’s voice rose in protest, “Darling, I’m sure our guest doesn’t need to be shown every little detail…”

“Nonsense, Mother – it only takes a moment!  If you’ll allow me…”

But mother had placed herself determinedly between her son and the table.   “Berkley, dear, you are boring our guest!”

“No, no!”  Ellis Margrave assured her; “I’m intrigued!  I don’t think I’ve seen one of these with a secret compartment added.  Do show me, Berkley!”

Berkley’s enthusiasm was gathering momentum.  “It’s extremely rare, I believe.  What’s more, I remember there’s this charming little message written on the base of the drawer;.  ‘Here my heart waits.’

“Mother!”  Tegan’s hands seemed to have clamped themselves to the table, so firmly her knuckles were white.  “Please move, Mother!  I want Ellis to see the secret drawer.”

“Must you?”  Cried Tegan.

“Must I what?  Good Lord woman, you’re as white as a sheet!”  Berkley gently but firmly steered his mother aside, then bent to grip the edge of the table top,  lift slightly and pull.  “There!  You see?  And you can still make out the message.  I have often wondered for whom it was written?”

Ellis smiled indulgently,  “For some lover, perhaps.  Quite delightful!  A fine piece, Roydon, and in good condition for its age.  Only an old Jeremiah like me would be able to just discern a small scratch repair on the top.  Should you sit down, Tegan?  You don’t look very well.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

This Historic Property…

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Would you like to live in this charming little 12th Century Austrian town?   Do you see yourself retiring to a life in the foothills of the Alps, less than an hour from Salzburg (think Mozart, and ‘Sound of Music’) in the hometown of FranzXaver Gruber, the composer of the carol ‘Stille Nacht’(‘Silent Night’)?

Availability of property of any quality in Braunau am Inn in is rare, unfortunately.  When a fine example does come on the market it is invariably pricey.  You would expect it to be so.  For a roomy statement town house, this house, for example; Salzburger Vorstadt 15, with its parking spaces, its garaging and all mod con, 1.5 million euros (1.7 million dollars) would not seem unreasonable, would it?  That’s what its 68-year-old owner Gerlinde Pommer thinks, and fortunately a northern regional court in Austria has backed her valuation up.

So, how about making an offer?

Well, there is a small problem.  You would face competition from the Republic of Austria, that has been renting the house at 5000 euros per month for some years.  The national government desperately wants to buy the place itself – in fact, it offered Gerlinde 310, 000 euros for the freehold only two years ago.  That’s why she appealed to her regional court – she thought the offer was too low.

Well, alright; there are two small problems to get over if you want to buy this house.  The second problem concerns a former tenant who was born there in April, 1889, while Lois Hitler and his third wife rented an apartment on the top floor.   Little Adolph’s residency was brief because his family moved on in 1892, but Saltzburger Vorstadt 15’s mark upon history as Hitler’s birthplace is indelible.

There’s a stone monument erected before the house to remind all who pass by of the horrors of the Holocaust, but that still doesn’t prevent neo-Nazis and pro-Nazi sympathizers from meeting there, treating the house as a place of pilgrimage.  It is because of a fear that the property might become a shrine for the extreme right wing of Austro-German politics that the national government wanted initially to tear the place down, but in the face of persistent opposition they have promised instead to ‘alter it beyond recognition’.  It stands empty, having been used for some years as a facility for the disabled.

So ‘with vacant possession’ might be appropriate, might it not?  Tempted?  No?

Then let’s sit back and watch as the arguments about valuation and possession go on, right up to European Court level, I suspect, because the Austrian State Government doesn’t want to pay Gerlinde’s price.

We’ll wait until something less problematic becomes available.  I wonder if Saltzburger Vorstadt 14 will hit the market anytime soon?

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

 

Picture attribute: By Stadtamt Braunau am Inn – Stadtamt Braunau am Inn, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18971999

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Eight   The hour of Counting

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So it was that in a blizzard’s teeth on a night in March 1970, Patrick Hallcroft’s long search for Karen Eversley came to an end.  Although the woman who sat opposite him in the transport that would enforce his return to normal life had no memory of him, and he had not the vision to be sure she was Karen, her identity would be established in due course, just as in due course she would remember him.

#

“She’s here, isn’t she?”  Patrick said, watching Jackson, his father, as the old man stirred the embers in the grate.

Jackson nodded.  “Stayed last night, in the guest room.  She heard you drive in.  She said she’d wait in the snug, in case you didn’t want to talk to her.”

“Has she said anything – about the book, I mean?”

Jackson  shrugged his shoulders.  “Nope.  I guess this is all about the book, but I can still read people, and she’s hurting in a lot of ways.  Who knows?  You have to see her, don’t you?”  And he turned back to stoking the fire.

#

Karen Eversley’s road to recovery had been long, a year or more before her memories of a time when she had a name and loves of her own would come back to her.  Why was Patrick not beside her on that difficult road?   Why did he return instead to his Beaconshire home and the closet of his former life, leaving her to the mercies of those who had, in effect, been her jailers?

No sooner had the helicopter borne Edgar away from the frozen moor than the sharp-faced commander of their rescue ordered their return to York.  The woman who called herself ‘Poppy’, who Patrick believed to be Karen, was impervious to his questions, maintaining a withdrawn silence on that journey.

In York, they were admitted to what seemed to be a military establishment on the outskirts of the City, where an ambulance awaited the woman.  Patrick was ready to protest at this point, because the woman seemed disinterested in his attempts to talk to her, instead allowing herself to be separated from their group.  He had no idea of his rescuers’ identity, or whose interests they served.  As he moved forward, voicing his objections, a hand restrained him, resting on his shoulder.

“It’s all right, Patrick.  I think you’ll find we’re the good guys.”

He turned, startled just by the familiarity of the voice:  “Tim Birchinall!”

Tim grinned at him.  “None other!  Well done, mate.  You found her.”

Patrick still harboured a shadow of doubt, “I don’t know, did we?   Is that her?  Anyway, how the hell…”

“…Did I find out about all this?”  Tim finished his sentence for him.  “You called Bea Ferguson, didn’t you – before you came up here?”

“From The Hunters, yes.  And she told you.”

“Of course.  She’s a blabbermouth, that girl. I’m glad she did.  I’m Special Branch myself, these days – that’s who these guys are, by the way – so I asked to come along.  She’s in good hands; the very best.  Certain people will be falling over themselves to keep her onside.”

“If it’s Karen.”

Tim raised an eyebrow.  “Of course it’s Karen!  She looks as if she’s had a very hard time, so, you mustn’t expect too much from her.  She’s been systematically brainwashed for years, poor sweet.  I doubt if she’s seen anything beyond the walls of her prison for a long, long time.  Look, leave these newshounds behind and come and have a pint, you look as if you could use one.  You can tell me all you can about your part in this, and I’ll do my best to explain everything from my side.”

The ambulance drove away, and Special Branch’s debriefing process began, which required an escorted journey by train to London for Rebecca, Tarquin and Patrick.  He had not seen Karen since.

And now a generation and more had passed, and the time had come for counting.  Each of Patrick’s steps across the great hall of his decaying family home seemed hollow, as if the mocking permanence of the stones stirred an echo of a ruined chapel in a flooded field – a memory so vivid still, after thirty years, that he had to stop himself looking down, lest he see an alternative fate inscribed beneath his feet.  How often had he crossed this hall in better days, as a child, as a young man full of dreams and hope? When carpet muffled his tread, when the wooden panels of its walls were abloom with polish?  They were dead now, those panels; dry and cracked like the walls, like the stones, like his dreams, like his hopes.

#

The girl Karen had fallen into his arms once, long ago.  The woman Karen had no need of his or anyone’s support.  Those mercies offered by her former jailers were extremely merciful.  The principals of Driscombe Holdings ensured she was given the best medical care and comfortably settled financially – with the provision, of course, that she must talk to no-one about her experience.  She was anointed into that select few who, as a price for their abuse by the Driscombe family (mostly in the person of Stafford, it must be said), were ‘set up’ very comfortably in apartments scattered about London.  You might question Karen’s morality in accepting this arrangement, and then use her frail mental health as an excuse to make allowances, but on both counts you would be mistaken: the woman Karen had a very definite agenda, for which there was no better position than in striking distance of Stafford Driscombe.

At the door of the snug Patrick paused, drew a breath before he gave its handle an experimental turn.  Who would he find, beyond this last partition?

Yes, he might have contested the wall of silence the Driscombe’s put up to separate him from Karen, were he not married, and his first duty to his wife Jacqueline.  She had loved him for a long time, including a short but tempestuous interlude during which she had played second best, unselfishly, to Karen; and now, faced with the buffers of real life, she felt insecure.  For Patrick, the moral argument was uncontestable.  Karen was safe, he had done enough.  Jacqui was his wife; he had no desire to hurt her, and so he played his part in their life together with all the willingness he could muster.  He’d written, of course, to Tim Birchinall because he had no more idea where Karen was now than when she had been incarcerated in the vaults of Boult Wells, and Tim had replied, regretting he was prohibited from divulging her whereabouts, but assuring him she was well.

She was seated on the ancient leather sofa with a book in her hands when he entered the room, and when she saw him she got to her feet, coming to greet him, taking his hands softly in hers when they kissed cheeks.  “How good it is to see you!  Your father wasn’t sure you’d come.”

He found himself looking into a face he had not seen plainly since its owner was twenty–six years old.  Yes, the eyes were still that startling blue, the nose that touch too large for perfection, but there the affinity ended.  There were scars – why had he assumed otherwise?  There were lines – hard lines, not just the etching of years.  He disguised his reaction with a cautious smile. “You asked.  How could I refuse?”

“I saw you arrive,” she said, “I didn’t come to greet you – nervous, I suppose; isn’t that silly?  How long has it been?”

“Too long,” he said, “Thirty years.”

Seeing her, he was reminded; not of the sweet girl he once wrapped in his arms, all those years ago; not the girl of his memories, but rather the shade of a creature who emerged from misty dark on a gale-scoured heath, leading his sworn enemy by the hand.  This Karen was not, and could never again become the woman he had loved, or the dream he had sought to restore.  He might have felt bitterly sorry for the years of pain and humiliation that had made of Karen someone apart, damaged, remodelled. He might have felt pity, but he could not feel love.

“Tim was an angel.  He helped me an awful lot through those first years.  He’s a Chief Inspector now, I’m told.”

“You’re ‘told’ – have you lost touch with him?”

“I have.  He wanted too much of me, Patrick.  He always did, I believe.”

So she had finished with Tim Birchinall; discarded him, he allowed himself to think.  He had drifted apart from Tim himself after his divorce from Jacqueline.

“You’re no longer married?”  She was surprised, genuinely so.  “How sad!”

“We separated nearly twenty years ago.  After – what happened – we could never get back on track, somehow.  We just found ourselves following different streams. She lives near Frankfurt now, with the man who was our agent over there, in the old days.  We’re still friends, I suppose.”

Sighing, Karen turned her head away, letting her gaze stray through the dusty glass of the window to the parkland beyond.

“It’s always the woman who uses that phrase, ‘we’re still friends’.  The men put up with it, why, I don’t know;  perhaps in some vague hope that things can return to the way they were.  They never do, of course.  Such a cruel irony.  You, who strove so hard in the cause of love and honour, should be the one who pays the highest price.  Do you ever think about me?”

The directness of her question surprised him; her head was still turned so he could not see the face that asked it.  “A little,” he said.  “Should I ask the same of you?”

“I suppose so.  Yes, I would say I do.”

“The Karen I knew then was the person I should have spent my life with,”

“That was brutal!” She adjusted herself a little in her cushions, making it easier to avoid his eye. “Honest, but brutal.”

”It was a brutal question.”

“I had to change, you see?  I had to.  The woman you remember wouldn’t have survived.”  Karen lapsed into silence.

“And yet?”  He said.

“And yet…”

Starlings in a murmuration performing their last dance of evening, wheeling and twisting against a western sky dulled to the copper of sunset,.   The beech, elm and chestnut trees waited in black shadow to receive them.  There was the path that led to the lake, and in her haze of recollection Karen imagined she saw Petra sprinting madly along it, shouting her approval to the wind.  “The last time I was here it was Spring; I’d forgotten how beautiful it was.  You must have found it difficult to leave behind.  You live in Bakersby now, I’m told.”

“Bakersby and London.  I have an apartment in Islington.  I bought a couple of factories near Bakersby, and I had to be close to the hub so I moved there.  This place holds too many memories.”

“Islington!  My apartment’s in Chalk Farm.  Why, we’re practically neighbours!”

“You haven’t asked me about Amanda.”

“Sprog.”  Karen’s lips gave the nickname a laconic twist.   “I don’t have to, do I?  In fact, I could probably tell you how Amanda Setterwick QC is faring.  I never encountered anyone so thoroughly efficient and so elusive at the same time.  What was the phrase that was fashionable then?  ‘Flit like a butterfly…?”

“Sting like a bee’.  That describes my sister to a ‘T’.   I can put you in touch, if….”

Karen waved a deprecating hand.  “Oh, no, no, no.  My people are dealing with Amanda.”  She turned reluctantly from the gathering shades of the park, blinking a little to distinguish Patrick’s face again, in the twilight of the room.  “Why now, Patrick?  Why rake everything up like this?”

“Ah, the book.  Do you need to ask why?  Payment is due, Karen, something has to be done.  Maybe you didn’t see those bodies, but I did.  I tried, very hard to get the police to investigate, and they wouldn’t.  What will your people do, try to stop publication?”

“No.”  Karen gave a quick headshake. “I hope you have been fair to Edgar with your book, but we’ll ride out what comes.”

“How is Edgar?”

Edgar.  What did happen to him, after the helicopter had swallowed him up that cold night?  In the same silence that cloaked Karen’s existence, Patrick did all he could to find out, only to be rebuffed at every turn.  The newspaper story was quashed because Rebecca never gained an interview with Edgar, and a lack of tangible proof was pounced upon by the ‘Daily Record’s’ owner.  Edgar’s whereabouts were a closely guarded secret, because Tamsyn Honeyday had achieved her objective when she alerted Special Branch’s investigative team to his existence – she did not need to hang Edgar over Stafford Driscombe’s head to guarantee his withdrawal from their contest for a ministerial position; the very fact that Edgar’s existence was known by those who dangled the sword of Damocles (in this case those few high-ranking members of Special Branch who she had entrusted with the exercise on the moor) was enough.  As far as Stafford’s fortunes were concerned, worse was to come.

“Edgar has what they term a ‘personality disorder’.  He’s much better now – proper medication and so on – but he’s seventy-five, so one doesn’t expect too much.”

“You married him.  Wasn’t that taking Stockholm Syndrome a little far?”

“The Company asked me to do it.  They wanted the matter of the title settled, and Edgar needed my motivation.”

“And a wife can’t be compelled to give evidence against her husband.”

“I don’t remember you being this cynical, Patrick. I suppose love takes many forms.  I comprehend Edgar:  I see what he is really about.  And I know the illness is not his fault, that he tries, so very hard now, to atone for what he is.  It’s hard to understand, I know, but no sooner were we apart than I began to miss him.  I love Edgar, and believe it or not, I know he genuinely loves me.”  She gave a wistful smile.  “Now do you wish you’d talked to me before you wrote your book?”

“Do you ever stay with him?  I mean….”

Karen smiled bleakly.  “Sometimes.  Clifton Drew, where he has a suite, is quite marvellous, and the staff there understand him almost as well as I.  I visit him once or twice every week.  It is not a normal marriage, it can never be that, but it is a marriage, of sorts.  I know you’ll find that hard to accept.”

“I do.  I find it hard to reconcile with the truth we both know.”

“He’s quite balanced in his everyday behaviour now.  He even takes his seat in The House, occasionally.  He made a speech last year – it was a bit rambling, bless him, but he got through it.”

“I presume your share of the title is no impediment, should you wish to exert your influence upon Driscombe Holdings.  With all you have on them, you would be hard to refuse.”

“Am I a member of the board, you mean?  Yes.  The existence of a titled board member is a prerequisite for a vehicle the size of Driscombe Holdings, and Edgar has no interest in that direction.  You would not believe how assiduously I have been building my own profile in the Company until now – this year – I’m ready to challenge for the Chair…”

“And as your kudos grows, Stafford Driscombe’s is diminished.  You’re capable of vengeance.  I get it, Lady Driscombe.”

“Do you like that?  Stafford’s wife doesn’t.  Jacinta and I are not exactly friends, either, since I introduced her sister to public life. Yes, I am vengeful.  For all those years, Stafford was my real jailer. I was his means to keep his brother suppressed.    I don’t blame Edgar, Patrick.  It was not his fault, all this.”

“Edgar killed people, Karen.  Edgar is a murderer!   That, I’m afraid, is what the book’s verdict must inevitably be.”

“So the police will come to arrest him in the early morning, break down the door, lead him away in chains – is that what you hope?  This is England, Patrick!  All that will happen is an action against you for libel and defamation. And as the CEO of Driscombe Holdings – a position I am virtually certain to attain at the next AGM – I will be forced to instigate proceedings!  Once our legals get hold of it they’ll come after you for everything you’ve got!”

“Amanda thinks otherwise.”

“Oh, Pat!  Amanda is very good, I agree, but at the hands of our legal team…”

“How many ways can I say this – he’s a murderer, Karen!  The developments in DNA testing mean there are so many new tools we can use to prove it.  There’s just so much you can get away with by disguising evidence. It’s not that easy anymore.”

“Edgar hasn’t been proven to have killed anyone!  He was a patient, my dear, he was – he is – ill.  We’ll commission learned opinion from every corner of the world to assure the court Edgar is harmless; incapable of hurting anyone.”

The sound of a car horn emanated from the forecourt.  Karen broke away, fussed with her handbag and withdrew a card.  “Speaking of DNA, I’ve ordered a taxi for eight o’clock, that’ll be him now.  I have to get the train back to town tonight.”  She handed her card to Patrick.  “This is my private number.  I’m hoping that when you’ve thought about this a little more you can come down from your moral high ground and negotiate.  Withdraw your book and to stay out of court, and all the publicity that implies we’ll pay you, handsomely.  Please consider it, will you?  I don’t want you to be hurt, Pat; given our history together it’s the last thing I would wish.  They wanted me to threaten you, my people, but I couldn’t do that.  Stafford, though, be careful of him, Patrick darling.  He is as vicious as a honey badger, and he never forgets.”

“I’ll be sure to look after myself.”

“I hope you will.  I don’t want to read of your mysterious suicide, Patrick:  I really don’t.  There!  I’ve been thoroughly discouraging, haven’t I?   I must go.”

“So soon.”  He said, as they walked to the door together, “I don’t get the connection, the urgency in returning to London, and DNA?”

“Oh, that!  Stafford’s solicitors have insisted Edgar take a DNA test, to reassure them he really is the eldest son of Lord St. John Driscombe, and therefore his true heir.  It’s a formality, really, but Edgar hates these things.  He’ll want me with him.”

“What if he were to fail it, this test?”

“I won’t even entertain it.  He wouldn’t  inherit anything, and that obviously isn’t going to happen!”

Patrick nodded, “Edgar on the loose without his titles to hide behind.  Imagine!  Have a safe journey!”  He said.

The last he saw of Karen, Lady Driscombe, was a fleeting smile as he closed her taxi door.  It was almost too dark to see her wave, quickly, through the closed window as the car drove away.  He stood in the drive watching until the taillights were lost from view, allowing himself to dwell, briefly, on all that might have been.  Then, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders he danced up the steps to the venerable old front doors of Radley Court, and closed them behind him.

THE END

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Seven Poppy’s Courage

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The woman was concerned.  “You’re hurt.”   Where Edgar’s hand clutched his side, there was blood.  Blood seeped between his big fingers.  She tried to clarify her thoughts; Edgar was here, which implied that he had won his confrontation with Oddjob, although she could not be sure.

“Edgar, where’s the big man?”

“Where I left him, Poppy.  He’s asleep.”

She had known Edgar use the word ‘asleep’ before.  It was a euphemism.  Oddjob was dead.  That would explain why Edgar was calm, his violence having found focus and spent itself upon Oddjob, leaving him feeling guilty and ashamed.  It was not a phase that could be relied upon to last, What was more, Barbut, Oddjob’s colleague would soon return, an encounter they must avoid.  Hiding was impractical, so the only answer was escape – to pass through the door to the outside, a place without walls.  Outside was darkness, outside was cold; early rain now turned to snow.   Edgar’s shivering form needed to be clothed.

“Come on, we must get that bandaged and find you something to wear.”  The woman rose to her feet, grabbing a selection of clothes from her box; capable, in command.   Edgar, by contrast, was in submissive mood, following her lead meekly from her room, along the landing of the old house and down its creaking stairs.  The floor of the hallway was covered by a threadbare runner of carpet.  She swallowed her revulsion because it was also covered, liberally, in blood.   There was no sign of Oddjob.

“Where is he, Edgar?”

Edgar nodded at the under-stairs cupboard.  “I put him in there.  He’s upside down.”

She stared.  “Why?”

“It’s just the way he went in, Poppy.  Shall I turn him round?”  Edgar offered, moving towards the cupboard door.

“No!  No, Edgar, it’s alright.  We’ll just – leave him like that.  Come now, let’s get you tidied up.”

“Anything for you, Poppy.  Anything, my dear.”

Edgar sat obediently on the edge of his bed as the woman investigated the gunshot wound in his side and adjudged it not to be serious.  She improvised a bandage before seeking out the clothes he had worn for their journey to this place.   Only then did she dress herself, surprised by the difficulties that donning a sweater, jeans and canvas shoes represented.  Someone’s coat had been thrown around her for the journey here: she had not worn outdoor clothing at all within her memory.  For his part Edgar dressed quickly and proficiently, reminding her that, although her treatment of him as a child suited them both, he was a sentient adult with a quick, incisive mind.

She folded up the blood-soaked rug, carried it at arm’s length into the kitchen, throwing behind the scullery door. “What did you do with the gun, Edgar?”

“I took it from him, Poppy.”

“I know that.  What did you do with it?”

“I shot him with it.  Three times.  In the head.  Pop, pop, pop.  Why did he want to hurt me?”

“He didn’t understand you, Edgar.  Where is the gun now?”

“Because I was bad to him?”

“Yes.  You know how bad you can be.” Much as the woman had disliked Oddjob, she pitied him for his last terrified moments.  She had been close to a similar precipice many times.  Oddjob had made a mistake.  He had paid.

She gave up on the gun.  Edgar clearly did not want her to know where it was.  She imagined he had jammed it into Oddjob’s throat, or somewhere worse.

Meanwhile, the pendulum of Edgar’s mood was swinging.  “Chin up, old girl.  This is no place for a chap of discrimination and taste, is it?  Let’s break camp before the cavalry arrives.”

He was right, it was time to run.  Nevertheless, at the front door of the house the woman wavered.  Out there, in the darkness, snow was falling:  the blowing white mist of the high moors draping every inch of cover.  Out there, there were no walls.  Space, immensity without limit.  Panic welled up inside her so swiftly it took her breath.  She was tottering, her head swimming.   Edgar’s arm supported her waist.   “Courage, Poppy!  One step at a time, eh?”

And he guided her into the night.

#

As the car headed north, Patrick asked:  “What will happen to Mr Purvis?”

Rebecca grinned at him over her shoulder:  “A nice comfortable night in the Accident Department, I hope.  He’ll get lots of free tests.  That’s what usually happens.”

“He does this sort of thing frequently?”

“Not frequently, exactly…Is there a map in this thing?”  She asked, rummaging through the glove compartment.

Patrick had already retrieved a road atlas from the pocket on the back of Rebecca’s seat.  He passed it forward.  “What do we want to find?”

“Amy gave me an address, but it’s so remote she had to use an Ordnance Survey map to find it.  It sounds ideal – fits what we’re looking for.”  Rebecca discovered a navigation light and flicked through the pages of the tattered atlas.  “But it won’t be in this, will it?  Look Tarq, this town – can you see?”  She held the atlas up to the light.  “Martlock?  Amy said there’s a road, or a track or something around about here on the B1724, at least, that’s what I think she said.  It’s only ten miles, yeah?   It goes straight up onto the moor, so it’s going to be quite hairy.   Pity you couldn’t pinch a Land Rover, genius!”

Tarquin slipped the Toyota into a higher gear.  “You’re the philosopher here, Patrick,” He said.  “Can you explain why it always rains when you are trying to drive an unfamiliar road in the middle of the night?  I’d really like to know.”

“Nothing personal;” Patrick assured him.  “It’s all to do with the juxtaposition of the spheres.  What sort of place is it, ‘Becca?”

“An old farmhouse, Amy thinks. I didn’t manage to get much info., with Beefy breathing on my neck.  Can’t you do anything with these wipers, Tarq?  I’m seeing double.”

“At least you’re seeing something,”   Tarquin muttered.

Martlock crept up on them without their noticing, an apologetic clutch of squat grey dwellings split asunder by a road its Victorian builders had never designed it to accommodate.   A few anaemic streetlights threw reflective glimmers onto the uneven tarmac, a few brave windows cast their dim message of habitation out into relentless rain.  A hardened town, embittered by a climate that could bring snow even in May: a scattering of shops half-starved – a market square, some cobbled alleyways that rose up onto the sheer slopes of the moors, looming behind their cloak of darkness.  Citizens scornful of the storm’s attack emerged shirt-sleeved from the public houses, The Red Lion, The Black Horse, gathering defiantly along the pavements, dodging puddles and glancing only briefly before launching themselves across the road.

It was over almost before it was begun, that town.  Ascending steadily as they drove beyond it, the companions were plunged into inky night once more, and rainfall that had been plagued by doubt finally became snow.  Hedges newly hued in white rushed by, occasional headlights, oncoming, brought hearts to mouths.

“Somebody’ll have reported this thing stolen by now,”  Tarquin said, referring to their transport. “Although why anyone would want it…”

“The turn-off should be here somewhere,” warned Rebecca.  “Just after a sharp right-hand bend.  That’s it!  Look!”

“Alright, alright, I see it!”  snapped Tarquin irritably.  “That?  Are you sure it’s that?”

“Must be.”

“Okay.”

The gap in some dry stone wall on their left provided access, but not to anything that might have been described as a road.  Tarquin sent the car diving into it with a silent prayer.   A sharp descent, a gut-wrenching bang as the car’s suspension bottomed out, then a rise and an airborne moment before the headlights stabilized, shining on a track that was doing its best to impress as a river, with water flooding down it.

“That was a ditch!”

Patrick groaned.  “We’re going to get stuck in this!”  The gradient before them was simply too steep.

“Not if we keep the speed up, m’dear!”  Tarquin yelled.  “This is hardcore.  Look to your teeth!”

His foot applied hard to the accelerator, the comfortable newspaper hack was suddenly rallying a special stage:   “Whoa!  Lots of hill!  Sit tight!”

Wheels spun, Rebecca squealed as the left front wing failed to miss a rock, with a crash which sent the whole chassis sideways.  A headlight was extinguished, the back end of the car slewed, Tarquin wound it back into shape, spinning the wheel left and right like a Finnish Ice Racer.   In second gear for most of the time, he was thrusting the car into the hill at near-suicidal speed.

“Tarquin!”  ‘Becca shouted.  “I don’t want to die, mate, okay?”

“Are you dead yet?”

“No.”

“Then keep quiet.   I’m working!”

Looking back in one of the ascent’s rare, more sober moments, Patrick spied the scattered lights of the little town far below, animated into crazy trampoline leaps by the action of the car.  Beyond the oval provided by their one remaining light he could see nothing in front but the reflections from the blizzard.

Becca shouted out again.   “Slow down, Tarq!”

“Why?”  Tarquin’s grunt was cut off as he nearly bit through his own tongue.

“Some windows – lights.  That’s the house, I think, yeah?  See it?”

In the next brief cessation of the gale, Tarquin did see it.  They each saw it, just as they saw the van parked in front of it..  “Bugger,”  Tarquin said.

“Turn off the light!”  Becca commanded.

“You’re f***ing kidding, aren’t you, darling?  I can hardly see with it on!”

“Then bloody stop!”

“Is there nothing this woman won’t put me through to get her Pulitzer?” Tarquin complained as he switched off the engine.  “I’m not as young as I was, you know!”

“Oh, shut up, Tarq!” Rebecca snapped.  “Whose is it, do you think?”

“My money says that’s the same van that was hired in London.”

Rebecca nodded in the dark.  “Mine too.  How far away are we – a quarter mile?  They must have seen us coming, even if they didn’t hear us.  They must be in the house.”

Patrick could barely disguise his eagerness.  “How many, I wonder?”

“Two, three captors – two hostages.  At least, that was what left London.”

“So what next?”  Patrick asked.

“Whatever the story is, we aren’t going to find out from here,”  said Rebecca, with decision. “I’m in need of some air – do you young chaps fancy a walk?”

#

No sooner had the woman followed Edgar’s lead and stepped from the house into the whipping blast of the open moor than she saw the beams of the van’s headlights snaking up the side of the hill.  They had made their escape just in time.  Shielded by darkness, Barbut’s return concerned her less now they were out on the moor.  Even the cold was a condition to which she was accustomed.  She had been cold, more or less, for eight years, just as she had been hungry, or hurt, or afraid.  This deprivation counted with her rather less than the emptiness of the void which surrounded her. Of far greater import was agoraphobia, the terror of limitless, unseen space, and Edgar’s mood.  He had been surprisingly complicit thus far, but for how long could she expect that to continue?    Edgar?  She need be in fear of him, not for him.

Probing through darkness, she and Edgar had covered very little distance when the familiar white van’s headlights were snuffed out before the house.  She was able to watch not one, but three heavily-built men emerge from the body of the van to hurry indoors, their jackets pulled over their heads against the elements.  Her thoughts rushed back to Oddjob’s conversation, overheard on the telephone:  sedation, the mention of a beach.  She held no illusions.  If she was to survive this night, if Edgar was to survive, they must get as far beyond the reach of these men as the elements would allow.

The heather and broom carpet was unforgiving, snatching at their ankles, and interlaced by little channels, a thousand of them, filled with frozen rainwater threatening to take their feet from under them.  Unseen sheep snickered in the dark, or gave vent to loud, old-man coughs that might cause many an inexperienced traveller to cower.  In her head, the woman pictured those three big men as they noticed the broken stair rail, registered Edgar’s room with its unsecured door.  Maybe it would be Barbut who would open that cupboard under the stairs…  Suddenly Edgar stopped, scenting the wind almost as a dog might – almost like the wild creature he was, the woman thought.

“We have company, Poppy.”  He said quietly.

The woman paused, listening.  At first all she could hear was the rush of the wind and steady whisper of snow, but as her concentration improved, there were other sounds too – of feet moving softly through the broom, even, she thought, a low undercurrent of urgent, hushed voices.  “How far away?”  She hissed, trusting Edgar’s instincts.

“About fifty yards, Poppy, I do believe.   Over there.”  Edgar pointed grandly into the darkness.   “Might be following us, do y’think?”

The woman had never known Edgar to act in this fashion.   Rational thought was rare for him:  phases of sobriety were usually tantalizingly brief and presaged fits of distress or anger.   She was on edge:  when would the mood break, and when it did, what would follow?   She could not handle a manic spasm out here on the moor – conditions were too severe.  She needed – they both needed – enclosure, something around them; to be inside a room, a box, space with features she knew and could touch. Above all, she must get Edgar out of weather which was beyond her experience.  Her heart was pumping wildly.  She had to take a risk, a chance.

She shouted above the gale:  “Help!   Help us!”

“Holy Crap, what’s that?”   The response was immediate, female, and much nearer than Edgar had led her to believe.   “Tarq!  Over here!”

From the direction of the house the sound of pandemonium breaking out announced a discovery – the blood-soaked rug, possibly, or simply their absence – or maybe someone had opened the under stairs cupboard.  Raised voices, torch beams, running feet.

A figure, small and slender and as inadequately dressed as the woman herself suddenly took shape in the white fog, to be joined almost immediately by a second, more substantial presence who clutched a hat to his head.

“It’s the abominable bloody snowman, Rebecca m’dear.  I do believe we’ve struck oil!”  Tarquin Leathers exclaimed.  “May I be so presumptuous as to inquire your names, my dears?”

Alarmed though she was by Tarquin’s extravagant language, so incongruous in the teeth of a howling blizzard, the woman had to trust these strangers.  It was not a matter of choice.

“I’m Poppy, and this is Edgar,” she raised her voice once more against the wind, “And we need to get out of here.”

If any reinforcement of her argument was needed, the crack of a gun and a snick of a bullet in the heather nearby supplied it.  “Back to the car!”  Rebecca yelled.

A third figure materialized in the haze of snow:  “Wait a minute!  Is this who I think it is?”

Another shot, another bullet, uncomfortably close.  “Have we met, dear boy?”  Edgar asked.

“Yes!  Last time, I pushed you into the river!”  Patrick rounded on Rebecca.  “Leave him here!  A bullet’s too good for him, but it’ll do!”

“You may be right, dear boy,” Tarquin reasoned, “ but if we stay to argue you will find these bullets undiscriminating.  Let’s save the moral discussion for later, shall we?”

“Patsy!”  Rebecca placed frozen hands on Patrick’s shoulders, “We need to get at the truth, yeah?  I know how you feel, but…”  Edgar was becoming agitated.  The woman was ignoring everyone now, as she tried to keep him calm.   Wordless, Patrick broke out of Rebecca’s grip, stamping away in the direction of the car.

“They’re coming!”  Tarquin roared, “I think we should leave – now!”

Barbut and his ‘colleagues’ were splitting up, two advancing across the moor in their direction, the other starting their van: its headlights flared.

Rebecca and Tarquin broke cover to run after Patrick, the woman followed, dragging Edgar behind her.   It was not a great distance, it did not need to be.

“I hate to resort to the bleedin’ obvious,”  Rebecca cried, “But the soddin’ car’s facing the wrong way!”

“I’ll turn it!”  Tarquin replied.

“How?  There’s no room!”  Patrick reasoned.  The van’s bright beams were piercing the snow, throwing light upon their distressed Toyota, already half-buried in the confines of the track.  “And no time.”  He added, with finality.

The van was upon them, the figures from the moor catching up fast.   She who called herself ‘Poppy’ was fussing with the man-monster, stroking his arms and cheeks, trying to placate him.  The next burst of small-arms fire from the two on the moor would not miss.  Rebecca and Tarquin?  They were unarmed, and Patrick hoped fervently the man-monster was not holding a gun.  It was over.

As if to vie with his argument, a chatter of automatic rifles split the night.   Bullet-holes sprayed across the windscreen of the van in a neat line.  It skidded sideways and stopped.  One of their assailants on the moor was thrown backwards in a way that suggested he would not get up again, the other threw himself flat.  Hands that brooked no dissent gripped Patrick’s arms, turning him.  Fresh headlights glared in his eyes as the massy presence of a large long-wheel-based land rover slid to a halt only yards away.

“He’s the one!”  The flint-like figure from the hotel might have been difficult to identify in the snow, but his voice betrayed him.  He was pointing at Edgar.  “Jacket him, now!”

Three men, those whom Rebecca had outsmarted earlier that evening, all now dressed in uniform camouflage and each carrying an automatic rifle, closed around them, forcing them into the Land Rover.  A fourth, who was the driver, produced a straitjacket, which, despite the woman’s protests, he and the one Rebecca had nicknamed ‘Beefy’ used to restrain Edgar, pinning him against the snow-burdened Toyota as they tied him in.   Edgar howled, loudly and long, but he was helpless against the trained force of these men.  Everyone waited then, while the flint-like superior officer with two of the men combed the area immediately around the track and inspected the van.

“One dead, the rest have gone,”  was the flint-like man’s verdict as he climbed into the front passenger seat of the Land Rover.  “Van’s empty.  I expect the driver high-tailed it back to the house.”  He extracted a microphone from an RT on the dashboard and transmitted:  “Hotel Tango Alpha, area secure.”  Then, turning to address his captive audience;  “I’m sorry for the rough handling.  We’ve made special transport arrangements for Lord Driscombe.   The rest of you will have to accompany us, I’m afraid.”

Rebecca’s rueful comment from the darkness:  “Fait accompli?”

The driver of the Land Rover took his place, yet made no move to depart.  The three-man assault force had thrown a coat over Edgar’s shoulders and remained out on the moor, supporting Edgar, kicking wildly, between them.   Their attention was focused upon the western sky, and soon the reason became apparent as sounds of a helicopter filtered through the snow, loud and growing louder.

Among the Spartan seating arrangements inside the vehicle, the woman was placed opposite Patrick, giving him an opportunity to assess her, if not see her (there was no interior light) for the first time.  He was nervous, excited; could she be?   She was concerned for altogether different reasons.

“Edgar?  Where are they taking Edgar?”

“I think it’s alright,” he reassured her, “I think you’re safe now.”

“Edgar!  What will they do to him?  Why aren’t they taking me?”

“I don’t know.”  He replied, carefully.  “Perhaps they feel it’s time you had some freedom?  You’ll have to help me because it has been a long time, and I long ago ceased to believe this was possible, but tell me, are you Karen?  Are you Karen Eversley?”

The woman turned her head towards him, as though something, some nuance in his voice had sparked a memory:  “I’m Poppy.”  She said.  “That’s my name, Poppy.  Why won’t they let me be with Edgar?”

The noise made further speech impossible because outside, a helicopter was landing in the snow.

Author’s note:  Don’t miss next week’s final chapter of ‘Nowhere Lane’!

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Six. Masters of Discretion

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Patrick, all protest smothered by Rebecca’s enthusiastic kiss as he was propelled backwards into his room, caught a brief glimpse of the sneer on a guard’s face before Rebecca kicked the door closed behind them.     She released him from her embrace with a severe look.   “You could put a bit more effort into it.”

“You took me by surprise!”  Patrick protested nervously.

“Oh, stop looking at me like that!  I’m not going to jump you.  What’s your bed like?”  She re-tied her bathrobe, throwing herself back onto the mattress, emitting a loud:   “Ooooh, you BEAST!”  Observing Patrick’s dumbfounded expression, she added quietly:  “That’s for the audience.  We don’t want to raise suspicions, do we?”  And when he shook his head in mystification, she laughed at him, saying in a stage whisper:  “Right, mate, how do we get out of here?”

“Get out of here?”  He foolishly repeated her words.  “What do you mean?”

“Dodge the goons.  There’s two in the corridor and one downstairs, it shouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“Wait a second!.  Last I heard, the story’s dead and those guys are taking charge?  We’re being escorted back to London, aren’t we?”

“I’m sorry!   I thought you wanted to rescue this Karen bird.  Was I wrong?”

“Of course not, but…”

“Faint of heart, Patrick, faint of heart.  That expression I used downstairs; remember?  ‘Two shakes of a lamb’s tail’?  A bit of code, that was.  Tarq understands ‘two shakes’ means two hours, and a ‘lamb’s tail’ is a motor – a car.   Right now, Purvy and Tarq are down in the bar with a few bevvies having a natter about the good old days, and Tarq’s beginning to look a little bit tanked up – all for Beefy’s benefit – that’s the big guard, Beefy, you like that, yeah?  Come the hour, Tarq needs some air and weaves his way out to the car park, watched by Beefy.  That’s when Purv collapses with his heart attack (or a fit, he sometimes does fits) to tax Beefy’s brains a bit.  We get a diversion going up here so he’s split three ways.  While he’s distracted Tarq nips off down the car park, nicks a car, and we all get out of here!  Good?”

“Optimistic!”  Was Patrick’s opinion. “Our friends don’t look like the type to be easily hoodwinked.  Is your editor going to pull this story or not?”

“Probably.  I don’t know.   I didn’t ‘phone him, I ‘phoned our researcher, Amy.  She’s got the address where they’re storing Edgar.”

Rebecca bounced hard on the bed, three, four, five times; each bounce accompanied by a loud “Yes!”  Then she stopped, grinned broadly at him and moaned:   “Yeah Patrick, yeah Patrick!  Ooooh, Patsy!”  After a pause, sotto voce:  “I’m good, aren’t I?  Okay, here’s how it runs.  I go back to my room. On the hour, you call reception, sound panicky.  Tell them there’s a young woman being harassed up here by two drunks, and someone should call the police.

“I chuck some clothes on – not too many, a little bit disarranged, a coupla  minutes – and then I scream and I keep screamin’.  Our goons come runnin’.  Doors open.  Hotel security’s jumpin’ about, guests start kickin’ up, our big chimps have to act civilized.  We run.   Time it right and they may even meet the local constabulary in the foyer!  We do more running, they have to stop and do explaining.”

Patrick bit his lip.   “It might work…”

“What d’you mean ‘might’?  It’s a perfect plan!  Can’t fail.  Remember, call the desk straight away.  We’ve got to give the local plods time to arrive.

“Right; sorry, Pat darling, it’s been wonderful and you’re fantastic but I have to go back to my room now.  How’s this for the ‘well seen to’ look?   God, I’m such a whore!  Come on, come over to the door – you’ve got to kiss me goodnight.  Nice and quiet and discreet, mind.  We’re supposed to be satisfied and ready for sleep!”

So it was that under their nearest guard’s disapproving stare Rebecca slipped out of Patrick’s door.  After it had closed behind her, she spoke to him, quietly and sweetly.   “Thanks, mate.  goodnight, now,” and retreated to her room.

#

A traumatized Jacinta reached for the glass that had become a constant companion, only to have her apoplectic husband snatch the decanter from her hand and hurl it at a Chinese vase in the corner of the living room.  Both exploded in a dreadful cataclysm of splintered ceramic and glass.

“How the hell could you let your bloody sister in on this?  For God’s sake, woman; if there was anyone in the world less discreet…”

“Oh, there speaks the master of discretion!”  Jacinta flared.  “There speaks the monster who kept his insane brother incarcerated in a cellar for years – right beneath my bloody feet!   I didn’t know!  No-one knew!”

“And why did I keep that little item from you?  Because the moment I tell you, you go running to your f***ing sister, and within twenty-four hours the world knows!”

“Not the world!  That isn’t fair!  Not the world, Staffy!  And what am I supposed to do, with the press attacking me openly on the public road – while you skulk around the lobbies like f***ing Bill Sykes, instead of being here, when I need you?”  Jacinta took a deep breath, “See here, Stafford, I will not be painted the villain in this.  When all’s said and done he was just one mucky little reporter from a mucky little newspaper, which I’m sure you can suppress.  All he has is rumour, darling – all he has is rumour.”

“Ah!  Rumour.  All he has?  Which is why three ‘mucky little reporters’ are searching Yorkshire as we speak, and one of those reporters is Rebecca Shelley?   They will find Edgar, in spite of anything I can do to stop them now, and when they find him, Marmaduke Peverel’s people won’t be far behind!”

Jacinta shook her head, bewildered.  “The Earl of Peverel?  What the hell has that old fool to do with anything?”

“Oh, for god’s sake!”  Stafford punched the air in his frustration, “Did you somehow imagine that just because you whispered a few sweet nothings in Ted Heath’s ear the Secretary of State job would drop into my lap?  It may surprise you, my dear, but I am not everyone’s choice for high office – Peverel, for example, would infinitely prefer to see Guy the Gorilla in the post.  Fortunately or otherwise, he has someone rather better in mind, and possibly more formidable:  Tamsyn Honeyday.”

“Tamsyn?   She’s an utter darling!   She wouldn’t…”

“Wouldn’t she?   She’s been after a seat on the front bench for years, and although he doesn’t like it to be acknowledged publicly, Peverel is very much her patron.  Somehow, Peverel has heard that Edgar exists, is fully aware of the scandal his exposure would cause and, furthermore, seems to know more or less where he is.  I would imagine his close friendship with Landseer, the owner of the ‘Record’, might have something to do with that, or a few judicious uses of a wiretap.  Whatever the reason, there are a lot of people far too close to discovering my brother, and very likely to substantiate your ‘rumour’ within hours!”

Jacinta was pale.  “Well, isn’t it obvious?  They mustn’t find him.  You must move him again.  Immediately!”

“It isn’t exactly easy to move Edgar around, my darling.  Finding the right accommodation takes time I don’t have.  No, he is in the right place, or at least somewhere I can still exercise a modicum of control over the situation.  I’m afraid the obvious answer is one that, in honour of his father’s memory, I have striven to avoid.  My dear brother, together with that ghastly woman of his, must be put beyond anyone’s reach, once and for all.”

A cold spark of fire kindled in Jacinta’s eyes.  They followed her husband as he went to the telephone, lifted the receiver, dialled.   “Mortimer?  Sorry to disturb, old chap.  Stafford Driscombe.  Do you recall our conversation the other evening?  Yes, that’s right, it turns out your services will be needed – tonight, if possible.  Does Hortsea Beach sound conducive?  Say three hours – no, four, for safety?  Two packages, old boy; I’ll see they don’t give you any trouble.”

“Oh, Staffy!”  Jacinta’s mouth moistened with hunger, “Oh my darling, are you going to kill them?  Staffy, oh, Staffy!  Will you do it yourself?”

#

She was tender, the woman, drawing coarse bedcovers over Edgar whilst he looked up at her adoringly. “Why are you so good to me, Poppy?  I’m really very naughty, you know.  Stafford wanted to take you away, did I tell you that?  Whatever would I do without you?”

She patted his cheek, reassuring him in a voice slightly slurred by a split in her lip. “Well, baby, you won’t ever have to do without me.  I’m always here for you, you know that.”

The one the woman called ‘Oddjob’ stared as her bloodied figure emerged, almost naked, from Edgar’s room.  He may have been experienced in ‘Professional Security’, but he was a novice at this.  Her eyes covered the hallway in the licking glance of a snake.  “Where’s his nurse?  He should be here.”

Oddjob frowned.  His colleague  Barbut, who was responsible for administering Edgar’s injections had gone to meet a couple of heavies they knew, hadn’t he, good lads who would manage Edgar’s ‘moods’ in their own way, but he wasn’t going to tell the woman that.  “He hasn’t come back yet.  I’ll send him up to you as soon as he arrives.”

“Oh, not for me, this is nothing:  no, it’s for Edgar; his sedative.  You’ll have to do it.  You have about ten minutes before he starts stressing.  Get forty mils into him and see if you can really knock him out this time, will you?”  She began climbing the stairs, adding, over her shoulder, “You’ll need to turn his mattress and change his bedding.”

Oddjob blinked.  “I can’t inject him!  I don’t know how.”

“Then start learning, or in a very little while you’ll have a ravening ape on your hands.  And no, before you ask, I’m not doing it.  He won’t let me near him with a needle.”

In her room, the woman washed thoroughly.  As she sponged away the makeup with which she had painted herself and dabbed at the dried blood on her face she paused, just long enough to think of Edgar, and how he was feeling now.   She had deceived him and in her own desensitized way, she regretted it.  Not that surrendering to full sex with him would have made any difference; she had learned the rules long ago.  Complete the business, satisfy him, and get out, because those pangs of betrayal and remorse which, being Edgar, would inevitably ensue must soon find expression in violence.  His illness rendered him incapable of proportion at such times, instead sending him to extremes when he could maim or possibly even kill.  She had acquired this knowledge the hard way, and barely lived to correct her mistake.

Seven, eight minutes passed.   She listened for the opening and closing of Edgar’s door, his groan of acceptance before the needle offered relief.  Nothing.  There was no sound.  She alone knew how much the move from his familiar surroundings had upset Edgar – she could read it in his body language, because brutality was a language where Edgar was concerned.   A new nurse, new rooms, colder climate – none of these things would have escaped him.  He felt lonely now, and not a little afraid.

At the foot of the stairs, the telephone rang.

She spoke aloud, as though Oddjob could hear her.  “Don’t answer that!  Give him his injection now, quickly!”  She rose to her feet, making for the door.  Then she overheard his half of the conversation, and she paused.

“Where?  That’s near Scarborough, isn’t it?

“No, I’ve got some help coming; we’ll be able to see to both of them.  What?  Of course they’re reliable. The nutter and the woman? Sedatives?  Yes, fair enough.  We can use those, can’t we?”

A brief pause.  The woman found herself rooted to the spot.  What was he doing, the stupid man?  Edgar’s treatment was imperative!

“Tonight?   F**k!  Alright, I’ll get it rolling.  Give me the name of that beach again?  Yeah – yeah – yeah, got that.  Gotta go, his Lordship’s getting edgy.  I might as well give him the big fix.  What?   Go on!   Tell me?”

Her heart was beating audibly.  Why hadn’t he hung up?  In her mind’s eye she could see Edgar, sketch the twisting motions of his mouth, the contortions of his fingers and hands.   He would be boiling now.  She wanted to scream aloud,  “Hang up!  Hang up!”  But the words stuck in her throat. What had Oddjob said – sedatives?  ‘The nutter’ must mean Edgar, and she, ‘the woman’.  What was meant by ‘the big fix’?

Instantly, the woman’s thoughts turned to her own defence.   Her window had been nailed shut – no escape from there.  The bed was heavy.  She pushed it against her door; stacked the chair on top, then – then what?  She sat trembling on the bed, and waited.  The telephone conversation below her had stopped.  The air was laden with silence – a cold, expectant silence.

Edgar could move without sound.  He was as agile and stealthy as a fox, which was why, when Oddjob at last replaced the telephone receiver and turned, Edgar was right there, in the doorway, facing him.   One glance at his eyes should be enough –   forget that his body was misshapen by the knotted steel of his muscles, that his mouth bubbled with spit, that his fingers were curled into talons; just one glance at those eyes…

Oddjob stepped back, remembered his training just in time, so as Edgar bore down upon him he twisted aside, a matador instantly ready to deliver the coup-de-grace, hands set for a double spear throat strike, and that should have worked, but for all his aggression, Edgar was wilier than any bull.   He went for the aide’s own windpipe, fingers grasping as though he would rip it out; heaven knew, he was strong enough.  Choking, Oddjob could not unbalance him – Edgar’s sense of centre was instinctive, like the animal he was – like the striking cat that goes for the neck – for one fatal bite undeterred by anything so simple as a karate riposte.   Martial arts were for people, and in this mood Edgar was not human.

Upstairs, the woman heard a crash as the security man was thrown across the hall, the splintering of wood as he collided with the stairs.  The thud of a body on the floor that shook everything in the house.

She heard the staccato crack of a pistol, too.

The woman breathed fast, limbs trembling.  Another shot.  Two more – four gunshots.  No!  Oddjob had been scared enough of Edgar to shoot him, He had killed Edgar!  He would come for her soon – and all she could do was wait.  Listen, and wait.

Time was passing – how long? Clasping at an empty hole in her stomach, the woman wept; what would she do, now Edgar was gone?  Who would defend her from – from whom?  Oddjob? The security man could have retreated, horrified by his crime:  he could be running somewhere out there on the moor because he had killed poor Edgar and he was a murderer now.  She could be waiting here for no reason; maybe all she had to do was pull the bed away, open the door and go down those stairs, go to the place where her poor, mad captor and lover had at last found rest, an end to his pain.  But maybe Oddjob was still there, and his friends would be coming soon…so she waited.  She had no plan, no expectation, she had only fear – fatal thoughts for herself.  Edgar was dead.  She would be next.  She must be next.

The bed moved.   Was it her imagination?

It moved again.

The chair beside her swayed, threatening to topple over.

She leapt from the bed, pushing with her shoulder against the door, thinking with her added weight, thin and frail though she was she might stop it opening.  This shouldn’t be necessary, she reassured herself:  the lock would hold – must hold.

The bed moved again.

It was a shock this time, as if a minor quake beneath the floor had shaken it.

Now a louder noise, wood protesting under strain.

In frozen fear, the woman watched the door bulge before force little short of superhuman. The lock burst with a rifle crack and suddenly her bed was grinding back across the floor and the chair was falling and…

“Oh Poppy,”  Edgar poked his head into the room.   “I’ve been very, very naughty!”

#

Patrick was pleased with the theatrical note of his call to the desk, and how he convinced the clerk that drunken hulks were terrorizing a young woman on his floor.  Rebecca could certainly scream; and, as she promised, she could keep screaming.  He heard his guard curse, then pound off down the corridor.  Swinging his door open, he witnessed a very distressed looking Rebecca, her blouse torn, half-slumped against her door jamb, arms waving ineffectually as she kicked out at the guard at her end of the passage.  Doors began opening; a very red-faced young man in a porter’s outfit appeared.   The second guard pitched in, trying to restrain an increasingly hysterical Rebecca, who screeched repeatedly:  “Get them off me!  Get them off me!” as they desperately tried to manoeuvre her back into her room.

By a stroke of fortune the guests in the room opposite Rebecca’s were obviously newly acquainted, even more fortunate that the male half of that pairing was at least six feet tall and as fleshy as a gnarled tree trunk, all the way up.  Valiant as they were, neither the fresh-faced young porter nor his elderly co-worker who immediately joined him might have tackled these professional thugs on their own, but a rampant male anxious to prove his manhood to his admiring consort tipped the scales in favour of Rebecca, who managed to wriggle free.  Patrick was already there and engaged, adding his own weight to the fray until she tapped him on the arm, gently reminding him that they should be somewhere else.

The pair dashed for the stairs.  Behind them, they could hear as the confusion of voices found direction, serving notice that their two watchers were regaining control.   If they had inclination, they might have turned to see the rampant young male being pinned face down on the floor with his arm in a hammerlock by the blue-jacketed guard, who in turn was suffering severe facial damage from the fingernails of his captive’s companion.  Sweater and jeans was locking the hotel staff into Rebecca’s room.

They did not turn.  They ran.

The commotion above stairs diverted an interested gaggle of businessmen and women from the hotel bar to such an extent that for a while no-one noticed Purvis writhing in apparent agony on the lobby carpet, or the anxious hulk of Beefy crouched over him.  The sight of a man with a half-dressed young woman sprinting towards the foyer added sauce.  A pretty girl in distress will always find friends, and when two large men came rushing down the stairs in pursuit it was easy to identify a cause.  Not all did, of course; most pretended they had something else to do and stood by the walls, but a sufficient few lent their added weight to thwart those giving chase to Rebecca and Patrick.

Rebecca gained the open air of the forecourt first and caught sight of Tarquin’s frantic wave.

“Over here!”

Grabbing Patrick’s arm she yanked him in Tarquin’s direction.  With the sound of a police siren gathering in volume in the background, her colleague was waiting by the open doors of a blue Toyota.  The car’s engine was running.

“Get in!”

Tarquin was already halfway into the driving seat and the wheels turning when Patrick lifted his trailing foot from the tarmac of the carpark, slamming his door to the squeal of tires.

“That was quick!”  Patrick complimented him.

“Silly sod left his keys in.  There’s always one.”

Rebecca snapped:  “Drive normal, Tarq!”   A police car, its blue light flashing, was descending the ramp to the hotel.  It’s driver passed them by without a second glance.

“Which way?”  Tarquin asked.

“North.”  Replied Rebecca, helpfully.

“Which way’s that?”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

A Winter Path

L.T. Garvin, expressing the essence of winter for me:

L.T. Garvin

Always something amiss

blue frost sweeping the edge

of a hard north wind

An open wound

Festers in the flutter of consciousness

a patient soul smothered in dark ashes

Slumbering in discontent sleep

On a path spanned

by the assault of seasons

time dated by carbon

On a trail of jagged footprints

a tortured traveler

Sets afoot

in a field of solitude amongst

allotments lined with marble markers

the words now fade to charcoal

That marked the haunted plains

sprinkled over with gold and crimson

discarded leaves drift between spaces

as time unwraps the tragedy

where one day the flowers

will fold their sorrowful  blooms

in sweet surrender

forest-3143164_1280

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Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Five The Journey North

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“He’s ready for sleep now.”  The woman told the one she had nicknamed Oddjob, who had not moved far from the door to Edgar’s new domain.  “The things I warned you about – make sure you get them done.  I’m not getting into that bed where it is.”

“I could bloody throw you in!”  The man grumbled.

“You could.  I’d be dead by morning.  Something you would have to explain to whoever pulls your strings.”

Another word.  ‘Morning’!   There were such things as day, and night, and they could be separated.   Their significance was unfamiliar.

“You already look like a f***ing corpse,”  Oddjob said.

“Thank you.”  She replied.

In her room, she cleaned off her make-up and with a mind otherwise unoccupied she began to revive a concept of time.   Circadian rhythms reasserted themselves: how long was a day?  What day was it?  What week, what month, what year?  How many days, weeks, years had she been Edgar’s companion, with no window to the outside world, no concept of day or night?

In the beginning, though she had few memories of the beginning, she had kept pace with time by counting her body’s rhythms and throwing casual questions into conversation with Edgar’s cantankerous addict of a nurse.   But although she developed a friendship of sorts with him the nurse was under strict instruction to tell her nothing.   The pregnancies finally put paid to those early judgments; impregnation and termination.  After the second one of those it was made clear to her she could no longer bear children:  sufficient damage had been done to prevent another ‘inconvenience’.  In her heart she knew this had been done to her, rather than by her, but by then all hope of a normal life was gone, and in some ways she was thankful, grateful, even, to the oily little man who came to administer to her on each occasion, who was supposed to be a ‘doctor’.  He was also the ‘doctor’ who attended her after the concussions.

Edgar was still prone to episodes of extreme distress.  When they descended upon him he went through phases of virulent protestation, angry paranoia and, finally, quite uncontrollable violence.  The old nurse was adept at predicting these phases and she had quickly learned from him.  Not quite quickly enough.  If she was left alone with that screaming fury, even in the padding of his room Edgar was capable of snapping her neck like a twig.  If he caught her anywhere apart from his room he could, and did, bang her head against walls, chairs, the floor – anything, until the life was almost knocked out of her.

Such inducements encouraged her to create strategies of her own.  She found ways to turn his obsession with her into something like affection, so in recent times he had begun to recognize the onset of a crisis and allow himself to be manacled.  This was a boon he had bestowed upon her and his long-serving nurse: but now the nurse was gone, and the woman wondered if these thugs would be able to cope.  There were no manacles in this new place.  If she were capable of worry, she might have worried about that; but she was, in truth, beyond worrying, or caring.

The woman dug into a box of belongings the removers had left beside her bed and discovered her nightdress.  She slipped it on, worming between unaired covers, and lay back, ready for sleep.

As she drifted, her shattered mind returned to a question that troubled her deeply.  She had a name.  She had no notion what it was.

#

Rebecca shivered.  York railway station was not a warm place to be, even on a Spring afternoon.  The plastic cup of machine coffee in her hand was hot, but its heat spread no further than her wrist.  An intense weariness pervaded everything; the cold, that was the cold of the Boulter’s Green tunnel and the water that had nearly drowned her.  Her sense of fatigue was sudden and overwhelming.  She tucked the telephone receiver into her shoulder just as it answered.

“Record, desk.”

“Pauly, put me through to Harve, darlin’.”

‘Becca!  ‘Becca, come on!’   With eyes that would scarcely drag open, hands that could barely grip she found a little black and white box in her shoulder bag and, tipping two little white pills from it, she fed them to herself.

A swallow of coffee – too hot.  “Harvey!  Yeah, Becca Shelley.  Where am I?  York.  Greased lightning, mate, me!  Listen, did you check over the stuff Tarq gave you?  Good story, huh?”

From the window table of a snack bar across the station concourse, Tarquin Leathers watched, sidelong, as Rebecca’s body language betrayed her.  “Oh, dear.  Not good.”  He sighed.  Patrick, seated at the same table, cocked an eyebrow.   “She’s having trouble selling it, darling,”  Tarquin told him informatively.  “Harvey’s such a toad!”

“Harvey?”  Patrick asked.

“Harvey Fitzgibbon, our editor.  The Ape.  We mustn’t worry, though, must we?  How long since we met, dear Patrick. Eight years? Do spill.  Are you still – what word shall I choose – interested – in this Eversley lady?”

Eight years, was it?  Tarquin had changed very little.  If anything, the journalist who had managed to turn Karen Eversley’s disappearance into a sensationalist ‘jilted lover’ story was a little more extravagant, and he had acquired a hat.  Exhausted as he was when he and Rebecca had boarded the York train to find Leathers waiting for them, he had managed a complimentary comment for the Fedora.

“Dear boy, I am a serious member of the Fourth Estate these days.  A certain attention to image is obligatory, don’t you think?”

“It suits you.  You look a bit like Oscar Wilde,” Patrick had told him, as he drifted once again into sleep.

He dragged himself back into the present.  “I’m married now.”

“Ah.”   Leather’s discerning stare probed him.  “Ah.  Oh, Lord, they’re arguing now!  I hope our Purvis is having more success.”  Purvis, who had shared their carriage on the journey north, was finding the party some accommodation:  he was also sourcing a hire car, which filled Patrick with alarm, having been witness to Rebecca’s comment when they met Purvis at Paddington:  “You can’t drive, can you Purv?”

“Oh, he can drive!”  Tarquin had subsequently assured him, “by which I mean, he has a licence.  As for the rest…”

Patrick inclined his head towards the window, “She’s coming over.”

“Oh my!”  Tarquin murmured; “She does look cross!”

Rebecca came straight to their table.  “Well, he won’t run what we’ve given him.”

Patrick was shocked, “Why?”

“He says it’s because he wants Karen Eversley’s exclusive – I see what he’s saying, about putting her in danger if we publish today, but I also smell fear.  I’m betting our beloved owner’s behind this.  The nobility is closing ranks.  We’ll need something extraordinary if we’re going to get this published at all, guys.”

“I don’t get it.”  Patrick said.

“Simple, dear man,”  Tarquin interpreted for him.  “There are two possible stories; the one darling Beccy and I wrote up over the ‘phone last night, about a potential Tory minister sheltering his mad brother in a cellar.  Mad brother with a history of assault, etc., do y’see?  Political scandal, page one, banner headlines, a Daily Record ‘investigation’.  That’s the story I put on Ape’s desk this morning, before I caught the train.”

Rebecca cut in:  “Which he won’t run.   The only story he wants is about Ms Citizen rescued from the clutches of a nutcase.  Two columns on page five which, once the lawyers have got at it, probably won’t even name the kidnapper because so far nothing is proven.  Is that Purvis coming?”  She had identified a figure at the end of the concourse. “He does know we’re here, doesn’t he?”

Patrick felt the old anger returning.  “I thought you shed that kind of negativity when you left the Beaconshire Herald,” he accused Rebecca.  “Are Driscombe Holdings a valued advertiser, then?  Or is the reason a little more sinister, this time?”

Rebecca shook her head sadly.  “Our ‘paper’s owner is  Lord Landseer. Who knows where we go from there – maybe he has shares in Driscombe Holdings? Let’s not worry about it, yet. We still have a story, yeah?  What is Purv doing – he’s going right past?  Oh, look!”

Tarquin Leathers groaned.  “Messrs Tweedle, Dum and Dee.  I thought I saw them on the train.  They must have picked us up at King’s Cross…shall we take evasive action?”

It took Patrick a few seconds to pick out the two men tailing Purvis; not in the least twin-like, they were a grey-headed individual in a blue car-coat and a larger, younger man in sweater and jeans.  At Rebecca’s bidding: ‘Walk casually and don’t look for them,’ He joined Tarquin in following her out of the coffee bar, then briskly down the station concourse to the street outside.

“This way, sweeties,” Tarquin prompted them to turn left alongside the rank of taxis; Patrick, m’dear, see if you can spot a hire car in the wrong place.”

“Like that white Cortina outside the Parcels Office?”

Exactement! I’ll drive.”

A hundred yards needed to be covered to reach the vehicle and they did this at the best approximation to a run they could make, bearing light suitcases.

Tarquin opened the car’s driver door.  “Yup, keys are here.  Well done, Purvy!”

Patrick jumped into the back and Rebecca the passenger seat, glancing over her shoulder as she did so.  “Nope, no-one behind.  Go for it Tarq!”

The car started obligingly.  Leathers spun it around, heading back along the station’s frontage.  “Where can he come out, do you think/”

Rebecca spotted Purvis emerging from a door marked ‘Staff Only’, “There!”

Patrick managed to clear the heap of luggage next to him just in time to avoid a collision with Purvis’s ample rear as he joined them in the car.  “Go, go go!”  Warbled Purvis, and they did.

York in mid-afternoon was busy, its narrow streets a hive of early season tourists prepared to ignore a north-east wind in their buzzing quest for nectar among the antiquarian books, ancient buildings and religious wonders of the mighty Minster.  Upon Purvis’s instruction, Tarquin extricated them from the maelstrom of traffic and sought out the main northern road, the A19.

“I’ve booked us into the Warefield Park Country House Hotel; it’s about six miles out, the manager said.”

“If we make it,” Tarquin responded; “The hire company’s been typically generous with the fuel.   We ought to stop and fill up.”

“I don’t think we should,” Rebecca countered.  “There’s no-one behind us yet, but they soon will be.  We want to get off the road and out of sight.”

“Fingers crossed, then.”

“And legs.  I haven’t had a wee in bloody years!  How the ‘ell did they rumble us, Tarq?  Someone been talking?”

Tarquin shrugged,  “Driscombe’s people, maybe?  Or Special Branch?  They don’t look like Rozzers.”

By the time they arrived at Purvis’s chosen hotel and found themselves a sufficiently hidden parking spot behind a very large van, the car was, in Tarquin’s rich terminology, “Running on fumes,”

“They’ll be looking for it by now, anyway, so it’ll be no use to us.”  Rebecca opined as they headed for their check-in.   “I reckon we’ve bought ourselves a bit of time, let’s use it.”

The four parted in the hotel lobby, agreeing to reconvene in the ‘Fairbrother Lounge’ after a half-hour.  In his room Patrick showered and changed into fresh clothes, although this did little to overcome the fatigue of the previous day’s experience, which hung over him like a pall.  When he descended, still feeling leaden, he found Rebecca already returned to the lobby, and once more on the end of a telephone.

“I’ve ordered tea,” She told him, her hand over the mouthpiece.

Tarquin was waiting in the ‘Fairbrother Lounge’.  He had settled himself in a comfortable armchair by a window.  “Not a bloody hill in sight!”  He complained, “I can’t see why they make so much fuss about Yorkshire, can you?”

Patrick weighed the comment.  “As a matter of interest, why are we here?  I know Purvis badgered the name of the county out of Jacinta Driscombe, but it’s like looking for a needle in a winter cattle fodder resource, isn’t it?”

“Not quite!”  Rebecca joined them.   “Remember I told you we’d been working on the Stafford Driscombe story for a while?  We know quite a lot about Driscombe Holdings, one of whose potash mining concerns happens to be here in Yorkshire.  They own a couple of holiday cottages as a staff facility; a seaside let currently occupied by a team manager, and a get-away-from-it-all moorland house miles from anywhere, which is, as far as we know, empty.  So when he scored a direct hit with Madame Driscombe, Purv was really just joining the dots.  Inspired, but not a miracle.”

Purvis joined the group.  “Someone talking about me?”

Patrick spread his hands; “So what are we doing sitting here?”

“Slight problem,”  Rebecca admitted.  “We don’t yet know exactly where this house is.  Approximately, yes; but it’s a big approximately.  Amy, our researcher, is gettin’ the address – I was just talking to her.  A contact knows it, but she can’t get hold of him.  She’ll call us back.”

“So we’re waiting,”  Purvis said.  “Bugger!”

And the grey man said:  “Perhaps we can save you the trouble.”

He had entered the room silently and unseen.  He was tall, around six-feet-four with the white close-cropped hair of middle age or premature worry.  His eyes hid within deep sockets weighed down by heavy brows, and his skin bore a pallor that had never encountered the sun, or so Patrick thought.   The set of his thin mouth, the squareness of his cheekbones and chin, the impeccable neatness of his grey suit, right down to his expensive Italian shoes all spoke of the company man, but this, Patrick knew, he was not.  He was the hatchet man.

“Miss Shelley, isn’t it?”  He had a hectoring voice that showed a tendency to bark.  “Mr  Hallcroft, Mr Purvis and Mr Leathers, too, I believe.  Apparently you have rooms booked here.   You’ll be comfortable at least.  Then tomorrow no doubt you will wish to return to London – or, in Mr Hallcroft’s case, to Caleybridge.”

The two men who had tailed Purvis at the railway station now joined him, flanking him on either side.  A third, unfamiliar figure lurked in the background.

Patrick was careful to control his response.  “We weren’t planning an early return, Mr….?”   He waited, but hatchet man did not offer a name.  “We have business here.”

The man gave him a sardonic look.  “No, Mr Hallcroft.  You have no business here.”

“I assure you we do.” Patrick snapped.

He felt Rebecca’s touch on his arm.  “It’s all right, Pats.  I think I know what this is about.  Who are you, mate?  Special Branch, or something a bit nastier?  Can I have your name for a quote?”

“No, you may not.  The matter you believe yourselves to be pursuing is being taken out of your hands. It’s a law enforcement issue in need of careful handling.  Telephone your editor, I’m sure he will put things in perspective for you.  Mr Hallcroft, Mr Leathers, Mr Purvis?  These gentlemen will look after you, and in the morning they will see you safely to your train.  I’ll leave you to it then?”

He raised an eyebrow at the man in the blue car coat, who nodded expressionlessly.  Then the hatchet man walked away.

Patrick called after him.  “I ‘m not going back.  You have no legal power to make me go, either, have you?  This is a free country, Mr whoever-you-are.  Unless you intend to charge us with something…”

The man wheeled; “Try me.”  He said.  “Shall we start with obstructing the police?  Go home, Mr Hallcroft, you’re a long way out of your depth.”

“F**k!”  Tarquin said, with feeling, as the hatchet man finally departed.  “Might as well sit down.  Drink, Patrick?”

The men from the train had taken seats to either side of Patrick and their demeanour was enough to tell him they were not slow-witted or likely to be slow in any other respect.   They were not to be drawn, either.  The third man, an Aran-sweatered monolith, took up a position by the door.  They were sentries.  They were on duty.

“So?”  Purvis said.  “Which pack do you boy scouts run with?  MI5, Special Branch, MI6, none of the above?”

No answer.

Patrick was ready to explode.  “So that’s it, is it?   You know what’s at stake, here, don’t you?  They’re going to make this disappear, aren’t they?  And that may just involve making someone we both know disappear too, mightn’t  it?”

“Pats, you’re wasting your breath, darlin’,”  Rebecca said.  “I’m goin’ to have to ‘phone Harve again, although I know he’ll shut us down.  They’re taking care of it in their own way, and we’re goin’ to get a train back to town.  Personally, I’ll have to.  If this story’s lost its legs, I’ve got a lot of other little birdies sitting on my branch right now.”

“You too?”  Patrick stared at her in disbelief.

Rebecca, rising from her own chair, crossed to his and sat on the arm beside him, squeezing his hand.   “They’re coppers, Patsy love, of one sort or another.  They do their duty thing.  It’s all they know how to do.  Me, I’m going to get a sandwich or somethin’, then have an early night.   I haven’t had enough kip to revitalize a sparrow these last few days.  You do the same, yeah?”  And she chucked him under the chin, making him meet her eyes.  He tried not to react to what he found there.

“Okay, I guess you’re right;”   he growled.  “I’ll eat in my room.”

Purvis looked distressed.  “Don’t worry, Purv,”   Tarquin consoled him, “I’ll eat with you.  We’ve got to keep the old tucker sack lined, haven’t we?”

Patrick glanced around those assembled for some sign of an alternative plan but he saw none.  Rebecca said:  “Two shakes of a lamb’s tale – I’ll be asleep in two shakes, betcha!”  She gave Patrick a knowing smile and turned away.  As she passed the most monumental of their guards she patted his bulging hip.  “Nice gun.”

“They’re bastards;” She said casually, over her shoulder.  “Just your average toad-on-a-lily-pad bastards.”

So the party split up in the hotel lobby, Tarquin and Purvis to head for the restaurant and an evening meal, while Rebecca and Patrick ordered food to be sent to their respective rooms.  These conflicting intentions ignited a minor crisis among their warders, who were concerned at leaving any of the four in their care unwatched.   After urgent discussion, they must have reasoned that Tarquin and Purvis were the least threatening, if only because they were nominally in Rebecca’s charge; so they placed them under the eye of the one Rebecca had identified as wearing a gun, and trailed the two early retirees faithfully upstairs.  Patrick felt like making a sudden late break for the lift, just to see what they would do, but it was no more than a passing whim.

His room was a basic double, with basic bedclothes, a cramped en suite and very little else.  A chair and small table squatted by the window, with a view of the forecourt one storey down.  He found himself a miniature bottle of whisky on the mini-bar and downed it in one, then poured out a miniature vodka to chase it, taking this to the little table and the moderately comfortable chair.   The forecourt was relatively quiet at the advancing hour, affording opportunity to stare into the sad, blinking lights that fringed the low wall of the parking lot.

A discreet knock announced the night porter with sandwiches.   He chewed upon tasteless ham and sharp, acid pickles without enthusiasm because for once he did not feel an evening hunger; did not want to eat at all.

Outside his door, the two sentries settled themselves for a watchful night, one a few feet further along the corridor towards Rebecca’s room and the stairs.   Other residents might give them a curious glance or two, but they were used to that, so they gradually lapsed into ‘vigil’ mode, ready for several uneventful hours.

When the bathrobed Rebecca emerged from her room, therefore, they were almost pleased with the diversion, especially as she had been strategically careless in tying her cord, permitting a generous glimpse of leg.

“Evening, boys!”

She trotted slinkily up the corridor towards Patrick’s room.   The two sentries exchanged glances.  They closed upon her so he of the blue car coat stood between her and Patrick’s door.

“Oh, sure!  What are we going to do, set up an armed rebellion or something?  Listen, mate, it gets lonely in these rat-holes, you know.  A girl needs a little company.”

The sentry behind her could have said exactly what he thought, but he saw no reason to make a moral judgment.  He glanced at his colleague, who gave a barely perceptible nod, and stepped wordlessly aside.

The double knock on Patrick’s door surprised him.   Puzzled, he unlocked it and cautiously pulled it open.   Whatever he was prepared for, Rebecca exceeded by confronting him with her cord undone and the front of her white robe held open, revealing a pretty floral bra and the briefest possible pair of matching knickers.  “Yay, Pats – see what I brought specially for you?”   And before his look of surprise could evolve into horror she draped herself against him, arms about his neck, and closed his lips with a passionate kiss.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Four Waste Ground

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Rebecca Shelley rested her head against the blue wing-cushion of her first class seat, letting the train rhythms flow through her body as she prepared for sleep.  Beyond smoke-smeared carriage windows Beaconshire’s browns and greens of Spring flitted by, lit by the first rays of a very watery and apologetic sun.  As always, her rebellious eyes defied her; tired though she was, they would not close.

Opposite her, Patrick’s head was already rested, his eyes already contentedly shut.  She found herself openly appraising him, his thick, unruly hair, large, expressive features, soft, full mouth. In the last twelve hours her body had pressed for warmth against every inch of his, causing her to think she knew him as well as she had known any man.  Even in the bone-chilling cold of that dreadful struggle beneath the stones she had discovered nothing to disappoint her.  His was not a competitor’s body.  He would be an unlikely sportsman, a very uncomfortable athlete; his courage was not exemplary, but it was enough.   He was intelligent rather than clever, sensitive rather than slick – sensitive enough to cry.  She had always thought she could love a man who cried.

Her friends sometimes teased her with the prospect of a relationship, to counter which she would reply to the effect that she had never had one, or wanted one.  That was untrue, of course – wasn’t it?  She had often speculated idly, when she met attractive opposites in the course of her job, or on the street.  She was speculating in just such a fashion now:  he was interesting, this Hallcroft man, yet would that interest stand the test of a month, or even a week in her company?  The idea was ridiculous!  He ran a business, a successful one, from a small mansion in the sticks.  She was a professional journalist with a small, very untidy apartment in Fulham. He had a wife.  Well no – he was married, but she could see, as everyone else around Jacqui could see, that the couple were an unequal fit.  Jacqui loved him, he respected her.  When he had agreed to come to London they had rowed – in another room, but Rebecca overheard.  Jacqui mistrusted him.  So she could see it, too.

Focus beginning to drift, thoughts clouding, Rebecca’s eyes submitted to impending slumber.  She missed the moment when Patrick’s eyes blinked open, and she was unaware of how, for the miles until the train’s first stop at Baronchester, and with equal freedom, he studied her.

The travelling companions, despite exhaustion in the aftermath of their ordeal, were intent upon reaching London, because the evidence was mounting that Edgar, the Driscombe heir was to be pursued from there.  For Rebecca, the spur of a breaking story offered motivation enough: for Patrick less so.  His presence had no other function than to offer a firm identification if a woman, seen with someone they supposed to be Edgar boarding a van in East London, should prove to be Karen Eversley.  And of course he was anxious but did he want that?  Yes, he supposed.  Nevertheless, he had seen the effect this revival of the Eversley affair had upon his new wife, as well as himself: there were feelings buried beneath the turf of his conscious mind, and he might have wished they remain so.

Karen; the old flame – the flame that would not go out, whatever the nobility of his efforts to extinguish it, but crept close behind him, leaving a little trail of ashen memories in its wake.

To meet the train Jackson Hallcroft, Patrick’s father, had driven his son, Rebecca, and Joshua Turnbull, their saviour at ‘The Green’ from Radley Court into Caleybridge.  Jackson, who had refused to leave Turnbull alone at Radley Court with only his daughter-in-law and Inga for company, was yet unwilling to expose him to the mercies of Stafford Driscombe’s ‘people’,  Everyone owed Turnbull a debt of gratitude so, given that the local police could not be trusted, they provided Turnbull with dry clothes and dropped him off at a street near to the bus depot, leaving him, with as much cash as the family could muster for a fare, to ‘make up his own mind’ as to his destination.   They took this decision fully aware that Turnbull might spend the money on his next ‘fix’ and return to just those people he claimed to fear most, but their options were limited.  Their last sight of this shrunken man, standing despondently on Bridge Street’s rain-washed pavement, was immortalised in the flare of Rebecca’s camera.

At ‘The Huntsman’, while Rebecca was changing into her own clothes and packing, Patrick made a telephone call.  Jackson settled up with an extremely sleepy and irritable clerk before they embarked on a race for Caleybridge station.  There, Patrick and Rebecca caught the early morning express, bound for London.

#

The white van was leaving.  The woman watched it through a rain-spattered casement with vague fascination, her gaze fixed on its lights as it cut a path through the darkness, a lonely feature receding into a black landscape.

A windows.

Her curious hands explored the wooden frame with probing fingers to find every tiny weakness in the putty, every small draught.

Her window.

She was confused.  She had no idea where she was, only that the van journey to get here had been long and arduous.  The rear of the van, though fitted with seats, provided a ride both cold and rough, with no other facility for comfort.  Rain had beaten down on the thin roof, a constant tattoo of noise which mingled discordantly with a radio’s unceasing blast of contemporary music.  One of the cheap speakers that relayed the sound had lost its attachment to the rear corner of the van, and swung by its wire for the whole afternoon, knocking against the van’s metal doors.  That was over now.  What was next?

She tore herself away from the glass, looked around her.  A basic, functional room:  all she could, or did, expect.  Bare, white walls (she could ask for posters perhaps if she was to stay here), a bed made up with a green blanket that looked fairly comfortable, a brown oak wardrobe and an extra garment rail, already crammed with her garments.  Next to the only door a dressing table with all her pots of make-up and other cosmetics brimming from it.  They had lost no time, the big lounge-suited men who took care of her – who were patrolling somewhere out there, in the dark.

Sighing, the woman sank down upon the bed, allowing her eyes to rest.  She remained prone for maybe half-an-hour, listening to the silence, though she knew her day was not yet ended.  When, from somewhere else in the house, she heard a cry like a hound giving tongue, a continuous siren of sound rising to a furious crescendo, she was prepared.  She was ready.  She rose to her feet and crossed to the dressing table.

“Coming, Edgar,”  She murmured, as though the face in her mirror was his.

#

A hand nudged Patrick’s shoulder.  Rebecca grinned down at him.   “Restaurant Car’s open.  Come on sleepy-head, let’s get some breakfast.”

The dining car was quiet.  There were some customers, though, to set the galley rattling and bring the parlance of cooks to life.    A clutch of owlish commuters with thick British Railways coffee squinted at big City broadsheets – Telegraph, Times and pink Financial Times –  leaving printers’ ink fingermarks on their cups.

“How can you eat that?”  Rebecca reproved Patrick for his choice of a full English breakfast feast – double egg, sausage, bacon, fried bread, tomato…”

“I’m hungry. I need building up.  How do you stay alive on a pastry boomerang?”

“This is not a boomerang, it is a croissant.  Furthermore, it is a British Railways croissant, and as such it is as filling as any three-course meal (and as chewy).”

“Not surprising.  It looks as if it suffered an abusive childhood in the Loire Valley.”

“Honestly, mature though it is I imagine this train is as close to France as this croissant will ever get.  Why the Loire?”

“I just like the name. Region Pays de la Loire; do they eat croissant there, do you think? So what happens at Paddington?”

“No idea, I hope someone will meet us and tell us.  They’re working on tracing the van after it left our contact’s yard.  We’ve also got someone watching Stafford Driscombe.”

“He wasn’t with the group who hired the van?”

“Nah.  They would just be goons.  But the fact they transferred from a car to this van implies they had something to hide, and maybe they had a journey in mind.  I reckon they’ve left London. If Edgar Forbes what’s-his-face is with them, they’ll need to be going somewhere secure and private.”

“Could just be a nursing home,”  Patrick suggested.

“Could be.  I don’t think so. Too risky.  See, our Stafford’s in an awkward spot.  There’s nothing wrong with having a brother who’s not quite the full shilling, but to suddenly reveal him after thirty-odd years might not seem an ideal cabinet minister-type decision.  And then, of course, there’s all the murders.  Sorry, I know that’s a sensitive point; I’ll shut up now.

“We’re due into Paddington at eight-fifteen, right in the middle of the bleedin’ rush hour, so this next bit’s promising to frustrate.”

Their express rolled under Paddington Station’s Victorian canopy in the company of three or four local commuter trains that disgorged their stressed human stampede almost simultaneously.  Borne along by the suited host Patrick and Rebecca were submerged for a while until the forced Venturi of a ticket barrier spat them out onto the concourse.

“Bloody ‘ell, they’ve sent Purvis!”  Rebecca exclaimed as they carved through crowds towards a taxi rank.  “What are you doing here Purv – you can’t drive, can yer?”

A substantial man with significant yellow teeth like a beaver was holding up a white card which read:  ‘SHELLEY’ in scrawled felt-tip.  “Nah, George is driving.”  He spoke like a rising bubble.  “We’re meeting Tarq at King’s Cross.”

“Why – train north?”

“Think so.  Tarq should have it confirmed by now.  Hope he has, anyway.”

The car had forced itself into the rank of taxis amidst loud argument.  Rebecca and Patrick slid into the back seat, whilst Purvis leapt into the front.  George grunted a welcome, then began the business of levering the car out of the taxi queue – more argument, a lot of creative language and a liberal quantity of motor horn.

Rebecca leaned towards Patrick and told him confidentially, “No matter what you might be led to believe in the next twenty minutes George has never killed anyone.  Brief me, Purv: you’ve been watching Mrs Driscombe, haven’t you?  Anythin’ interesting?”

“Loads, ‘Becca, me love.  Loads!”  The beaver teeth flashed in Patrick’s direction; “I’m watching Jacinta’s apartment, aren’t I?  Well, nothing until yesterday afternoon: this woman in a mini collects her and they drive off somewhere – so I calls it in to Tarq and he says if she comes back, spook her.  Get down there, lots of close-ups, ask her about her husband, that sort of thing; see what she comes up with.  He says, ask her where her husband’s brother is! Good one, right?

“Sure enough, a couple of hours, she’s back, and she’s cracking up – I mean, really.  Get this, when I ask her where Stafford’s brother is, she goes white as a bleedin’ sheet.  And there’s more.  The totty in the mini, the one she’s out with.  It’s her SISTER, baby!  Her own blood and flesh!  Shitty-mouthed little cow, as well – you should have heard her!  Anyway, she’s screaming out at me to leave her sis alone, and Lady Muck can’t find her key, so I says:  ‘Where’s Stafford’s brother now?’ She doesn’t answer. There’s no heavies around, so I get between her and the door and I keep asking; same question.  She keeps schtum, doesn’t she?  Sis though, she’s goin’ mad.  The two of them start shouting at each other and Sis is trying to get her back in the car, and she’s on at me all the time, questioning my ancestry and that, and I keep pushing with the question, and at last – get this – Sis is shouting: ‘No-where near here.  Nowhere you can find him’.”

Rebecca cheered.  “Yeah!  Well done Purv!”

“Wait, that’s not all.  I take a stab, don’t I?  I have a go.  I say:  ‘Yeah, long way to Yorkshire.’ And Lady Muck glares at me, and her mouth drops, and she says:  ‘how d’you know that, you bastard’?”

“Yorkshire?”

“Yep.  If yer lookin’ for Lady Muck’s brother-in-law, Becca luv, start with Yorkshire.  That’s why Tarq’s booked us all on the nine o’clock out of King’s Cross.  It stops at York.”

‘George’ had left the run of one-way systems and never-ending traffic queues as soon as he found a rabbit hole down which to plunge, and there followed a bewildering succession of narrow streets overloaded with parked cars, tight corners taken too fast, cyclists terrorized, pedestrians narrowly avoided.  Patrick quickly lost all sense of direction and contented himself with clinging to his seat while he prayed.

“Wouldn’t the tube have been quicker?”  He ventured when he could find breath.

“Nah, not this time of day.”  Rebecca replied; “Be bleedin’ lucky to get on it, and worse luck if it gets stuck.  Don’t worry, George knows his stuff.  He’ll get us there.”

“Ex-police Class One driver,”  George said cheerfully over his shoulder.  “Used to do this for a living.”

“Still does,”  Purvis commented.  “Look at that stupid berk!  Get off the bleedin’ road, Charlie!”

#

The woman was waiting for the knock at her door, unsurprised when it came.  The voice through the panels was harsh.  “He wants you.”

It was a new man.  A man she did not know or like.  He seemed unwilling.  Who could blame him:  could she?  She opened her door to him and he stared.

“Alright.  Put a dressing gown on.  I don’t want to see your artwork.”

In the torment of the move she had almost forgotten what it was like, being ashamed of her painted nakedness, so the big man’s remark stung her, a little.  She threw a bathrobe over her shoulders.

“How the f**k can you go around like that!”  His voice reeked of disgust.

She answered simply:  “He likes it.”

The man led the way along a short passage to stairs, then down into the hallway of the house.  He waved a hand at a door.  “He’s in there.  He’s pissed.”

The woman nodded, expressionless.  She did not fail to notice extra bolts that were obviously recent additions to the door’s oak sturdiness. Its handle was stiff.  The man followed her inside.

It was a small room – not cramped, but modest by comparison with the one Edgar was accustomed to, with walls painted a neutral cream and a single pendant light hanging from a stained white ceiling.  The floor was carpeted – a cheap imitation of Persian weave, and the double bed, confined to one end of the room, though fitted with retaining rails, was equally reduced in extravagance from the silk and leather acre of mattress she was used to sharing with Edgar.

He, Edgar, was seated in a heavy wooden-armed chair facing her.   His legs and arms were strapped to the chair and he was naked, apart from a pair of ludicrous black tights and a small towel, discreetly placed across his lap.

“Poppy darling!  My dearest!”  He welcomed her effusively.  “Come and see what they have done to me!”

She glanced about the room, a professional glance.  “The bed.”  She said in a toneless voice to the man behind her.  “It needs to be moved away from the wall.”

“It stays there.”  The man said.

“No, it moves away from the wall.  I have to be able to get away on both sides, do you understand?  And those bonds won’t hold him.  He can smash that chair if he’s angry enough.  You need something stronger, and a firm anchor point to restrain him.”

“You’ve got what you’ve got.”  The man grunted.

“Shall I prove it now, then?”   She offered, still in the same dead voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I can make him really, really mad at you.  I can, can’t I, Edgar?  If I were you, I should start running.”  Edgar illustrated her point with a helpful snarl.

“All right, all right.” Muttered her guard.  “We’ll see to it.”

“There are two of you then.  The other one, the one in the van – is her coming back?”

“None of your business.”

“I’ll take that as a no.  There should be three of you.  You’d better go now.  I don’t play to an audience.”

The man withdrew, although whether he would continue to witness his floorshow through the keyhole of the door she had no way of knowing.

“Darling Poppy, I’m so glad you’re here.  You have no idea what they have been doing to me.  Look at the state I’m in!”

The woman looked.  Through all the fog of merciful forgetfulness, she retained some strands of memory.  His hair, though still long and straggling was steel grey with age and receding.  If anything his complexion had become more sallow with time, his hawk nose even sharper, his nightmare eyes still blackly shining with a penetration that might find its way through steel.  His body was thin:  it could not gain weight no matter how religiously he was fed, although it had lost not an ounce of its determined strength.

“You look fine.”

“I’m a waste ground; a waste ground, Poppy darling.   And you; how do you look?  Take that rag off.  Let me look at you!”

The woman shrugged the bathrobe from her shoulders so it fell at her feet.  She stepped out of it without thought.

“You’ve done the special one for me, like a princess!”  Edgar cried.  “You know what that does to me.”

“I do.”

Over time; interminable time, her response to this one of Edgar’s many obsessions had honed her body make-up arts to a generous perfection.   She had learned how color could entice or repel, defend her, or portray vulnerability so that, subtly employed, she could induce different shades of mood in Edgar.  Tonight, she had chosen blue.  A light blue powder over her entire form, highlighted to white so the bones of her fingers, her collar bone and her femurs almost shone like silver.  The shadows were dark, as dark as midnight could make them.

“I wanted you.”

“And you called me, as I taught you.  But you don’t want me, you don’t, Edgar.  Not tonight.  You’re tired.”  The strangeness of this statement came upon her so unexpectedly she almost choked.   ‘Tonight’.  It was night, not day. For the first time in her memory, there was an outside, a window.

“I want you.  Come here, my darling Poppy!”

“No, Edgar.  Not now.  Tomorrow.  We’ll play together, one of our special games.  It’ll be twice as good for waiting.”

“I am tired.”

“Of course you are.  It’s been a long day.”

Almost immediately, Edgar began to affect drowsiness, as though he was about to sleep.  “We are going to be married, you know, Poppy darling.  It will be a grand affair!”

“Yes, Edgar.  Soon.”

“Soon.   The Prime Minister will come!”

“I know; I know.”  The woman withdrew, slowly, gathering her bathrobe to her as she did so.

Edgar’s voice followed her:   “You’ll be dressed in black, you’ll be covered in stinking shit!  Stafford will give you away and I’ll wed you with a ring of razor wire to cut off your f***ing finger you bitch!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Three Dark Water Rising

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Of the trio locked together at the foot of Nowhere Lane, perhaps Jackson Hallcroft was most equal to their situation.  Neither he nor Jaqueline, his son’s new wife, could pass any judgement on their eel-like captive, who they had pinned beneath them, and against whose struggles Jacqueline’s foot,  pressed precisely upon his most sensitive anatomical point, was the only effective deterrent.  Jacqueline herself, whose rain-washed tears expressed both hope and frustration, had no idea why her husband’s car was parked in this deserted spot in the early morning hours, still less about the dishevelled figure they had disturbed inside it.  How had he come to discover the car there?  Was he about to steal it?

“Will ye take yer foot off me?”  Their captive protested hotly, feigning outrage.

Jackson was not fooled.  His mind had provided answers to Jacqui’s questions, moved on. He had to raise his voice to be heard above the rain. “You were in my son’s car, guy.  He came here with a woman: do you know where they are?”

“Oh, he came here wi’ a woman, did he?” A leer that accompanied this reply was lost in darkness.  “No’ a night for romance, is it?”

“Have you seen them?  Did you do something to them?”

“Me?  I’ve not seen anyone, man!  Mind, if they’re out here in this weather they’ll be drowned by now.  The river’s going over.  Woman, did I not hear this man promise to not harm me?  Will you take ye’re f***in’ foot off my old fellas, it’s hurtin’!”

In reply, Jacqui applied a little more pressure to the tender region;  “You’re lying.  You tell us where the people who were in this car are now, or I’ll start kicking!”

“Honest to god, I’ve seen no-one!  No-one!  Why would anybody come here on a night like this – I ask ye?””

“Good point!”  Jackson snapped, “What are you doing here?”

“Me, man?  I’m a gamekeeper, man.  It’s part of the job, y’see?”

“And car theft’s in your job description?”

“I was shelterin’ while I checked it over.  This is private land.  It’s rainin’, y’see?  I was getting wet.”

“Then why did you run?  Seems different to me, guy.  Seems to me like you know more than you’re telling.  Jacqui, I guess we’re wasting time here.  I need to get the torches, and we have to start looking if there’s anything to find.”

“This?”  Jacqui poked her foot into the thin man, who squeaked gratifyingly, “Let it go?”

“Yep.  Have to.  Leave him to massage his conscience for a while.  It won’t take me a minute to immobilise the Landrover, so the lane’s blocked and there’s nothing to steal, bud, okay?”

Reluctantly, Jacqui removed her restraining foot so the man, slipping in mud now ankle deep, could struggle to his feet.  He backed away, spitting out rainwater.  “This isn’t public land.  I’m telling you to leave!”

Jackson rounded on him, “Don’t push it!”  And he turned to Jacqui.  “We’ve wasted enough time.  We’d better get searching.”

Retrieving torches from the Landrover, Jackson relieved the vehicle of its distributor cap, while Jacqui had no choice but to stand and wait, clutching the post of the old gate for support against the churned mud.  The self-styled gamekeeper walked on up the lane, his jacket collar turned up and muttering barely intelligibly about ‘summoning the law’.

Wishing him luck – “If you can get them out here you’re a better man than me,” Jackson returned to Jacqui, and together, guided by torchlight, they set off across the wild meadow toward those bush- and bramble=smothered ruins which Patrick had once identified as Boulter’s Green.

The impossibility of their task came swiftly home to them.  A wind of increasing intensity thrashed sheets of rain into their faces, destroying their vision.  Water which gripped their ankles from the first had risen to their shins before they were halfway to the ruins. The rising ground between the old buildings, though now a furious waterfall, at least provided a moment’s respite from the storm; but the prospect when they reached the higher side of the ruins filled them with dread.

“If they’re here,” Jackson shouted, “God help them.”

Had they previously visited this place, their torches would have cast light upon a green field that led to the bank of the Boult River, then land that climbed from the river’s further side to the great house of Boult Wells.  They had no such frame of reference, and all they saw before them now was water, a black lake stippled into a gauze of spray by relentless rain, finite only at the rising river bank below Boult Wells, and a steadily advancing margin no more than ten yards from their feet.  Helpless, the pair cast about them with torchlight that revealed nothing.  Without knowledge of the land they could go no further forward, lest they inadvertently fall victims to the rush of the main watercourse; and besides, there was nothing, no feature, no unexplained whirl or eddy, to give them hope.

“They must have gone another way,”  Jacqui exclaimed. “They can’t have stayed here in this!”

Jackson shook his head sadly.  “Where else would they have gone?”

“To the house?  I don’t know; this is madness.  They can’t still be here – they can’t!”

“They’re here.”  A voice behind them, unexpected.  Jackson, spinning around, nearly fell.

“You again!”

Illuminated by Jackson’s torchlight the thin man drew his fiery little frame erect, as though he had shrugged a heavy burden from his back.  “Over here,” he commanded them, turning towards the overgrowth of the middle ruin.  “Help me.”

At first, Jacqui was confused.  The thin man had led them to an inscribed stone that seemed it might be a marker to a grave.  Three large rocks lay on top of the stone, rocks this man was exhorting them to move.  They were buried here?  Her husband’s body, Rebecca Shelley’s body, laid to rest here?

With her mind possessed by images of murdered bodies and shallow graves, she cried aloud:  “No!   No!”

But there was an urgency in the thin man’s efforts which seemed to give so final a solution the lie.  “Come on, woman!  Put ye’re back into it!”

Hope dawned:  “They’re alive?  Under here?”

“Maybe, aye, if we’re not too late!  Hurry now – help me push!”

Obediently, she pushed, and rolled, and the big lumps of rock responded to their united efforts, but still the water came creeping, nearer, nearer; and it seemed an eternity before the thin man and Jackson could combine in hauling upon an iron ring at the gravestone’s edge sufficiently to lift it and slide it to one side.  Jacqui’s torch, playing into the aperture beneath, revealed two ashen faces staring up at her.

“About f***ing time!”  Rebecca mumbled.

Urgent hands grabbed shoulders, lifting – lifting Patrick and Rebecca bodily, slabbing them like dead fish onto the wet ground.

Jacqui, frightened, falling beside Patrick, sobbing and trying to make him warm;   minutes when her man could do nothing but lie in the mud, gasping frantically for air. Jackson’s voice, anxious; was he injured?  A pair of boots was all his son could see of his third rescuer, and then only because long imprisonment had accustomed his eyes to the dark.  Feeling some of his strength returning he struggled to raise himself

“Aye, laddie, get to your feet if you can!”  The owner of the boots encouraged him.   “We have to be out of here!.”

It was a voice Patrick recognized.  He rolled over, to see first Rebecca lying at his side face down, still gulping for breath, then the dark shadow of a man whose age-scored wrinkles, hollow eyes and thin, wiry arms were so distinctive.

“The voyeur from the moor!”  He managed to gasp out.  “You changed sides, or something?  Thank you!”

“Don’t thank me!  Didn’t do this for you.  Did it to even scores with those bastards!  Now we have to get away before they come back.  You still got your car keys?”

“I think so.”

“Come away then.  Girl, can yer walk?”

Still breathless, Rebecca managed a nod. “My camera…”

“I’ll carry it.”  Jackson volunteered, “Let’s get you to your feet.”

On legs numbed by cold Patrick floundered, staggered, collapsed again, shapelessly.  At the thin man’s anxious prompting he struggled to his feet once more.  With his wife holding his arm while Jackson supported Rebecca the party began painfully slow progress across land now rapidly submerging beneath the ice-cold waters of the River Boult; sliding and almost surfing down through the gap between the ruins, then thigh deep across the little meadow to all that remained visible of its rotting gate.

When they finally made it, hauling himself into his car was as much as Patrick could achieve.  Rebecca could not manage even that, so Jacqui helped to lift her into the back seat.  He sat in front, handing Jacqui his keys.

“Hospital?”  Jacqui yelled to Jackson, seeking confirmation as he and the sare-faced old man took to the Landrover,

“No way!”  Rebecca protested as vehemently as she could, “I’ve got a story to call in!”

Jacqui raised an enquiring eyebrow in Patrick’s direction.  He nodded.

“Let’s go home.”  He said.

The party encountered no opposition in their return to the Pegram road, save from Nowhere Lane itself, which had become a river in the deluge.  At two o’clock in so hostile a morning they met very few obstructions save surface water, and made short work of their return to Radley Court.

Rebecca wanted to use the telephone immediately, refusing offers of towels and fresh clothes “I’ve already missed the first edition.  I need to ‘phone in.”

It was at least half-an-hour before everyone was dried and gathered around the fire Inga had kept alight for them.  Their wizened old rescuer sat morosely apart, hunched within a mantle of towels, while Jackson, Patrick and Jacqui warmed themselves by the burning logs in the grate.

“This is Joshua.  Mr Joshua Turnbull.”  Jackson broke the ice.

“Aye, that’s me.”  Joshua acknowledged, looking ill at ease, “See, I don’t want no trouble.”

Patrick, already a little recovered, was able to summarise his own and Rebecca’s discovery of the tunnel and the strange basement apartment; this before Rebecca entered the room, having finally dried herself and changed into some of Gabrielle’s old clothes, which fitted where they touched.  She had made two telephone calls to London, one to her newspaper, the other to someone she described as a ‘contact’.  Patrick, who marvelled at her capacity for recovery, explained to her. “This is the guy Karen saw at the ruins, before she disappeared.  That’s right, Joshua, isn’t it?”

Joshua frowned. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You knew Karen.  Karen Eversley.  You warned me not to try to find her.  You were with Mark Potts in the King’s Arms car park; remember?”

“I don’t remember that,” Joshua muttered.  “See, I don’t want any trouble, all right?”

“We understand,” Jackson soothed, “Tell these guys what you told me in the Landrover, Josh.  You worked for the Driscombes, yes?”

“I’ve worked for the family for years.  A lot of years.”

“All of the family?”  Rebecca’s voice was sharply impatient.  “Both brothers?  They’ve been hiding something, haven’t they, the Driscombes?  There’s an older brother, isn’t there?”  She read from a piece of notepaper in her hand.   “Edgar Forbes Melchett Driscombe, eldest son.  That right?”

“I don’t want any trouble.”

“I know, you said that.  I’ll help you, then.  He dropped out of sight, did Edgar Forbes Melchett, after a certain little girl’s thirteenth birthday party back in 1937 when he was sixteen.  He attacked little Deidre, didn’t he – really messed her up.  It made the local papers before his father, St. John Driscombe, could squash the story.  Luckily for Edgar Deidre’s father was a manager on the Driscombe estate, so he had to keep schtum or lose his privileges -.his house, his job – bad old days, eh?   Edgar’s the family’s dirty secret, isn’t he, one they pay fortunes to keep.  We would never have found out he existed if he didn’t escape from his burrow every now and again, or if the occasional vulnerable female hadn’t fallen victim to his appetites!”

Joshua glared at her. “They’ve got very long arms, have the Driscombes.  You should be showing respect..…”

“They can’t reach us here.”  Jackson reassured him.

“There’s nowhere they can’t reach.  You’re right, woman. Edgar, he’s Stafford’s brother.  You found the Kennel, that’s where Edgar lived.”

“A very apt name for it.”  Patrick said.

“Stafford called it that.  Stafford said his brother was no better than a dog, and dogs live in kennels, y’see. The family Rottweiler, Stafford called him.  Edgar’s no fool, though.  It suited his lifestyle, didn’t it?”

“Kidnapping and raping women, you mean?  Yeah, great for that!”  Rebecca growled.  “A blonde girl, Karen was one of those – now do you remember her?”

“Aye, alright.  Stafford, he said wait until she comes to us, and sure enough she did.  She came back to the ruins.  I just chloroformed her– didn’t do her no harm.  The problem was Edgar, though, as always.. Edgar didn’t like waiting, especially for her.”

Patrick said, “He harmed her?”

“Edgar.”  Snapped Rebecca.  “We’ll get to Karen in a minute, yeah?  I’ve got a call- back coming and I need more. Joshua, I’ve seen your ‘Kennel’, and I’ve been in Edgar’s bedroom.  You were what, his nurse?  Explain those manacles.”

“I looked after him.  He had episodes when the only way was to restrain him. I was on my own.  It’s not easy to get a grown man into a straitjacket on your own, so – manacles.”

“Like they’re any easier?”  Rebecca glanced at Patrick.  “Edgar, he’s as mad as a box of frogs, right?  Look, I don’t get it.  Why didn’t the family put him in a home or something?  Why the basement flat?”

“Edgar’s the eldest son, isn’t he?  Old St. John, could never accept his illness; while he was alive he protected Edgar because he was certain he would improve with age.  He had the basement done out as a secure environment for Edgar’s ‘occasional upsets’.   He said there were plenty of eccentrics among the nobility and Edgar was no worse than most of them.  When he died the other year he saw no reason to vary the noble tradition.   He bequeathed the Driscombe estate to his eldest son.”

Rebecca breathed.  “He stitched it all up in his will – Edgar gets the lot?   Yeah.  Yeah, I guess that explains a few things.  I imagine Stafford would want to challenge it, though.”

“Maybe.  Driscombe Holdings is divided between its mining interests and the private lands.  The will gives Stafford the business side, Edgar gets the estates and the title.  I suppose Stafford might want it all, but Edgar can be quite lucid when he wants to be, and there’s hereditary tradition involved.

“Now the old man’s out of the way, it’s Stafford’s political ambitions keeping him on eggshells.  He can’t have scandals, y’see?  If he puts Edgar in a home and Edgar starts to talk…”

“Well, he’s certainly putting Edgar somewhere,” commented Rebecca.  A telephone rang in the hall, interrupting her line of thought; “That’ll be for me.”  She got to her feet and recognising her breach of etiquette gave an apologetic smile.  “Sorry!  I hope you don’t mind?.”

“So you’ve been sheltering a serial killer,” Jacqui took up the questioning, “How many, Mr Joshua?”  She glanced around at the others for ratification, “If you do n’t mind me asking. We seem to be condoning murder here.”

“I don’t know nothin’ about murders,” Joshua shrank back into his towels, “I don’t know nothin’ about what happened to them.”

“Oh, really?”  Jacqui spread her sarcasm thickly, “So one by one the women you procured for him disappeared and you didn’t wonder what happened to them?”

Jackson cut in.  “How many, Josh?  Karen, and how many others?”

“Nine or ten, maybe, I can’t remember, man.  I didn’t do nothing to them.”

At this, Patrick drew a breath so profound his whole body seemed to shake. “So you closed your eyes.  What’s the pay rate for that, Josh?”

“I don’t – didn’t – get paid.  Just my clothes, food, lodging, and that.”

Jackson elucidated, “And ‘gear’, isn’t that right, Josh?  What are we talking, heroine?”   When Joshua failed to answer, Jackson urged him;  “Explain Josh?  They’ve abandoned this ‘Kennel’ as you  call it – why?”

“Special Branch came to inspect the house.  Stafford didn’t want the Kennel found, or Edgar – so he sealed it up and had Edgar moved.  I don’t know where.”

“You didn’t go with him?  How come?”

“I was told I’d follow tonight, after I’d moved your car, but I could tell they were cutting me loose.  Stafford always gave me instructions in person, but not this time.  This time it was one of his people.  He had a new bloke take charge of Edgar for his journey.  See, you’re right, they kept me supplied.  They wouldn’t be wanting me around, either.  I’m getting old.   There was trouble seven, eight years ago when Edgar started getting out and causing problems in the town.  I was careless.  I got myself back in favour, though, because I helped them get women for him…”

“Karen?”  Patrick asked.

“Her, and one before.  Anna.  Stafford had some aggravation from her, so he wanted to ‘feed’ her to Edgar – at least, that’s how he put it.  Anna though, she was a tart.  Edgar used her, but he didn’t like her.”

Patrick sucked air through his teeth.  “That’s Anna’s body in the tunnel, isn’t it?  Is that what happens to girls Edgar doesn’t like?  There’s a guy, too, isn’t there?”

“There was a bloke.  Anna tried to persuade Edgar to use this friend of hers to get him more girls.  I had to set it up so he came to the Kennel.”

“That’ll be Gasser.”

“Yes, him.  Stupid.  He only wanted to get inside the house.  He had an idea he could blackmail the Driscombes over Edgar, but Stafford found out.  You don’t blackmail the Driscombes.”

“So they ended up together in the tunnel.”

“I didn’t do nothin’!  I didn’t hurt anyone!”  The muscles in Joshua’s arms were as tight as wire.  “Don’t you say I did!  Stafford’s security people, they took care of stuff like that.”

Jacqui frowned.  “Then they could have taken care of Karen, too?”

“Didn’t do nothin’”  The thin man drew his towels about him.  “They’re goin’ to be after me. Can’t leave me to talk, no more than Edgar.  I’m dead, see?  I’m the victim, here!”

“You’re a junkie, Mr Turnbull,” Jacqui told him.  “You brought your status on yourself.”

“In need of a fix,” added Jackson, “They won’t be too worried.  No-one believes a junkie.”

The room fell into oppressive silence.

A spell broken by Rebecca, returning almost at a run.  She addressed Patrick directly.  “How well are you?  Can you travel?”

“I think so.  Travel where?”

“London, to begin.  I don’t fancy meself drivin’ tonight, but I’m taking the next train back, and I think you should be with me if you’re able.”

“Why?  What’s happening?”

“We’ve had a sighting.  Yesterday afternoon three heavies hired a van from one of our ‘paper’s East End contacts.  They loaded two individuals into the back, one a rather weird-looking fella with long, straggly hair, the other a woman.  Patrick, I don’t want to get your hopes up, but this contact thinks the woman she saw matches our description of Karen.”

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Two. Missing

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Inga, who everyone regarded as Radley Court’s housekeeper,  discovered Jacqueline in the ‘snug’.  She was solicitous.  “You want I make some tea for us?  You should eat.”

Jacqueline Hallcroft inclined her head slightly, murmuring:  “Please,  Inga,”  without breaking her mood.  A reminder that the year was still young, a wood fire, hissing and snapping in the fire basket painted her white blouse with a whisper of rose  Her hands rested upon the back of the old leather sofa, her chin upon her hands, watching through the window as curtain-folds of rain swept the darkened vista of Radley Court’s green acres.  Inga, so sensitive to every nuance of her employer’s emotions, doubted she had even heard.

“You are worried, yes?”

“Yes.”  Jacqueline took a long breath.

“This rain is so heavy, I hear it on the news.  They are saying it will be floods soon.   The River Boult, it will not bust itself, Mr Jackson says.  He says it never does.”

Jacqui smiled absently, “You think I should be worried?”

“No, I think you are.”

“Look, Inga, he’s probably managed to get the car stuck somewhere, you know how he is.” Privately, she doubted.  She had never visited Boulter’s Green or driven down Nowhere Lane, but what could Patrick possibly find to do for seven hours in a muddy field with three piles of stones?  Or how might he pass the time, sheltering from this rain with a young, nubile journalist in tow?   In the car, or maybe already back at The Huntsman?  Seeing Inga beside her did not help.   Could the girl not stand for ten seconds without posing?  God, why was she everywhere surrounded by youth?  Long legs, short skirts…  Three days after her bloody honeymoon, why did she feel so dreadfully insecure?

A telephone ring came echoing from the hall.

Inga trotted cheekily away, leaving Jacqui freedom to repeat that question of herself.  Patrick had never been anything less than devoted to her, since those first London days.  It had been as if the fates had invented two new people, as if she had been reborn, yet sometimes it seemed as though there was nothing Patrick could do to convince her of his own rebirth.  There was a corner of his mind (or was it a corner of hers?), a not-so-often cast in his eye she saw – a reservation he could never hide.  And the more she tried to ignore it, the more it drew her, so there were times when she looked at Patrick and could see nothing else.

“It is for you, the call.”  Inga had returned, framed by the doorway.  “Is a Mister Leathers, I think.”  She giggled,  “He called me his ‘darling’.”

Jacqui found the receiver parked neatly across the main body of the ‘phone.   “Who is this?”

“Ah, Mrs Hallcroft, have I found you?  Leathers here, the ‘Record’.   I don’t suppose Miss Shelley is with you?”

“I’m afraid not, Mr Leathers.  She’s out with my husband.”  Had she let a trace of cynicism creep into her voice?  Leathers heard it.

“Ah, my dear, you have absolutely no need to worry, you know.  Our ‘Becca’s a consummate professional.  That’s one of the many things I hate her for.  No, she promised to call in at lunchtime, and it’s unlike her to be careless in matters of punctuality.  She asked me to chase up some information for her, and she’ll want to know the results, I think.   Did she mention anything to you?”

“No, I’m afraid…”

“No matter.  I called her hotel, she went out this morning and hasn’t returned yet.  She’ll call, I’m sure.  So sorry to have troubled you…”

Without wasting any further time, Jacqui dialled Jackson Hallcroft’s office.  “Jackson, can you get away?  I’ll pick you up in the Landrover.  Something’s wrong.”

#

Stafford Driscombe withered beneath Jacinta’s stare.  His wife was seated more or less as he had left her, eight hours before, by the front window of their apartment in Kensington.  The curtains were drawn, now, and a glass of gin had supplanted her lunchtime platter, but the look she was giving him was chillingly sober.  He could not avoid seeing the air ticket that lay defiantly displayed on the table.

“I think you had better level with me.”  She said, quietly.  “What’s going on, Staffy?  Who were those people?  Who was that woman?”

“I have not the faintest idea what you mean.”  He crossed to the cocktail cabinet to pour himself a whisky.  “I have had a hard day, can this not wait until tomorrow?”

“No.  I repeat, who were those people – the ones who accompanied you this morning?”

“Why do you feel you need to know?”

“Why?   Turn off the light.”  Jacinta’s voice was edged with steel.  “Go on, do it!”

“Good God, for what reason?”  Stafford blustered.  But he obeyed, nonetheless.

“Now come here.”  His wife beckoned him to the window, drawing the curtain aside just a little.  When he hesitated, she said stridently:  “Stafford, come on!”

“What am I looking for?”  He muttered, joining her.

“See the first floor display window over there?  Take a moment to adjust your eyes, then tell me what you see through that window, my precious darling.”

“All right, I see him.”

“He’s been there all day!  He has a camera!  Is he press?” Then, because Stafford did not seem to want to reply:  “Well, is he?   I’m going to ask you once more, Stafford, and if you don’t answer me I am out of that door!”

“Bloody hell, woman!”

“I’m leaving you.  I’ve packed a bag, and I’m going to put as much distance between us as I can in twenty-four hours.”  Jacinta picked up the air ticket and waved it in front of his nose.  “I‘m used to being kept in the dark, Stafford, but not when the consequences of your stupid actions are likely to implicate me!  Now, who were those people today?  Who was the woman?  Yes, the woman!  You weren’t going to tell me about her, were you?  And why is that odious little man with his camera so interested in taking my picture?  Did he get a clear shot of her, do you think?”

Stafford sighed a long sigh, then slaked his thirst with a generous slug of single malt.  “I don’t know, I imagine not.  Don’t leave me, Sweetie, please?  I don’t want to lose you, you know that.”

“And the timing couldn’t be worse, I know that, too.   So, explain, Staffy.  Explain now.”

“Very well.  Come away from the window.  I will tell all.”  Slumping into an easy chair by the far wall of the room, Stafford switched on a standard lamp that shone down upon his features, illuminating the flab of his advancing years; the balding scalp now grey, the heavy eyes, the slack, spoiled lips.  “There are times when I wish I had avoided politics altogether, you know.”  He said.  “So many things have to be looked into, so many ‘i’s dotted, ‘t’s crossed, and so on.  Those people today were specialists, my dear.  Their business is sweeping up the dust of a misspent life and disposing of it tidily.  They are really very good at what they do.  Today, I was just helping them do their job, that’s all.”

“And the woman?  Who was the woman?”

“Honestly, you really don’t need to know about her.”

Jacinta snorted,  “Yes, Stafford, I do.  I can’t watch over your carelessness if I don’t have the opportunity to question the suitability of these little dalliances of yours.  Remember Lucy Bedington-Carey?  Have I met this one?  Or is she part of your ‘dust’?”

“Possibly.”

“Is that all you have to say?”  Jacinta’s stare was unremitting.  “Do you expect to get away with that?  What kind of damned fool do you take me for?  I want to know details, Stafford.  I want to know why I am involved, and exactly what I am involved in.”

“Of course you do!  And I will explain, but it is complicated.  To be truthful, I am trying to pick upon a place to start.  You see, the mess is a minor issue; it isn’t as serious as you seem to believe.  And it isn’t  mine, not entirely…”

#

The rain had begun a little before noon, as Patrick and Rebecca were embarking upon their subterranean discovery.  It had become harder as the hours passed, until by evening it was a deluge of some substance.  In the open landscape of the Boult valley the river did its natural duty, which was to drain the onrush of surface water from the hills and offer a conduit to the sea.   It was a disciplined, partly engineered watercourse that would not ordinarily flood, but merely rise to its task.  There was an effect, however, that lay unseen.

Patrick and Rebecca, entombed beneath the turf of the riverside meadow, could only feel the creeping embrace of water in the old tunnel as, rendered invisible by darkness, it rose silently around them. At the foot of the steps which finally led up to their blocked means of escape the river came seeping, pooling around Rebecca’s ankles, her calves, her knees.   It was advancing steadily.  Neither of them knew how high it would rise, nor if it was possible the tunnel might become completely flooded.  That was a question left unasked.   In the meantime, they were left in no doubt of the severity of the deluge from above.  Although they could not see or hear it, it found every means of penetrating their tiny space.

Rebecca’s immediate danger of total immersion could be avoided by crowding up to the top of the steps where  Patrick knelt, working with hammer and chisel to try and cut around the flagstone that blocked their path.  He was chipping against impacted stone and clay, aggregate five centuries old, the fabric of a tunnel that was as stalwart as it was cunning, whilst becoming seriously concerned for Rebecca.  Her spare flesh was ill-suited to resist the onset of cold.  “’Becca, you can’t stay down there, you’ll freeze to death.  You’d better come up.”

“Yeah?”  She was shaking so hard she could barely talk.  “If I do you’ll have no room to work.”

“I’m not getting anywhere, as it happens.   I could use your ideas if you have any.  And we’ve got to get you warm.”

“I’m not goin’ to refuse.”  As once before, when they had first put their combined efforts into trying to raise the stone, Rebecca fed herself up into the space Patrick could provide for her.  “There, that’s nice.  Are you goin’ to cuddle me, then?”

“I can hardly help it.  It’s a bit like squeezing a wet sponge.”

“Funny!  Very funny!  Here’s me trying to spark a bit of romance…Patrick, there’s somethin’ I ought to tell you, somethin’ on my mind.  In case we don’t get out of this, you see?”

“We will get out of this.  Jacks knows where we are.”

“Yeah?  It’s been a long time, and she ain’t turned up so far.  I’m beginnin’ to doubt it, mate.  She might reach the ruins; after that I’m not sure there’d be anyone up there who’d know where to start looking.  Anyway, see – this mad bloke, it’s not much of a stretch to assume it was him lived in that room, and we’ve got to suppose he’s been responsible for a few missing persons, not just Karen.”

“Possibly.  I’m sad for the others, of course, but only Karen concerns me.”

“Yeah, well listen.  There were three bodies down there….”

“Do we have to talk about this?”

“Yes.  Because it’s very possible Karen wasn’t one of them.  Two were killed around the same time – that ties in with those two kids you told me about – Gasser something and Anna Parkin?”

“Gasser Gates and Anna Parkinson.  God, poor Gasser!  And I never thought I’d say that.”

It’s no surprise though, is it?  You thought they vanished around here, and it seems very likely they did.  The third body’s been down there a lot longer, Patrick.  Years longer – nothin’ left but the bones.  D’you remember tellin’ me about a red Riley parked with Karen’s car in that old boathouse?”

“I do.  It was a basket case.  Someone found a way to move it, though.”

“Fifteen years ago, a woman disappeared somewhere around Caleybridge.  It’s hard to find out much about her because most of the records have been lost, but we know she was called Rachel Priest.  We know that, and we know at the time she disappeared she was driving a red Riley Pathfinder.”

Patrick nodded, because at some level the information had reached him and been absorbed.  His mind was on the advancing water because at that precise moment it had reached his feet…

Above their heads what light the day afforded was melting slowly into night.   Close by, on the road to High Pegram, the headlights of Jackson Hallcroft’s Landrover lanced through failing visibility and ever-increasing rain, as Patrick’s new wife and his father searched for, but could not find, the lane to Boulter’s Green.

“It should be somewhere here.  He said it was here!”  Jacqui’s voice was brittle with desperation.  “An old signpost, a lane on the left.”

“There’s no signpost, honey. We’ve been this way three times and we haven’t found anything.  I reckon he meant the upper road, on the other side of Pegram.”

“Which is nowhere near the river!”

“Maybe; but maybe the lane he was talking about led down to the river.  The road might loop round.  Hell, it could go round in circles in this weather and we wouldn’t know.  Anyways, I can find nothing along here.  I’m going to try.”

Neither Jackson nor his daughter-in-law had ever visited Boulter’s Green.  Although Jacqui had worked in Patrick’s department for years she had never even seen the marking on the Council’s map that had first led Karen to the place.   Other than by Jacqui’s vague memories of Patrick’s description, upon the only occasion they had discussed the location of the old ruins in any detail, they had no clear idea of what they sought:  the signpost might have been the only thing to guide them, and the signpost was gone.

The headlights sped off into the twilight, probing fruitlessly for a sign that was not there.   Later, a despairing Jackson would visit the duty sergeant at Caleybridge Police Station to ask for directions to Boulter’s Green, and he would be met by a blank stare.

“Boulter’s Green, was it sir?  No, I’ve never heard of it, I’m afraid.”

“Are you new here?”

“No, no.  Been here thirty years.  I’ll be retiring soon.”

“Ask around.  Is there anyone else who can tell us where it is?”

“Well, no.  Everyone’s out, see?  A busy evening, the weather being the way it is.”

“Then radio them!”

The sergeant’s bland expression was unchanged.  “I don’t think we need to do that, sir.  Boulter’s Green – it doesn’t exist, now, does it?  Your little joke, isn’t it?  You know it’s an offence, wasting police time, don’t you?”

“Sergeant whoever-you-are, two people who went out this morning to visit this place you insist is a figment of my imagination have not returned.  They are missing:  just like Karen Eversley is missing, just like two other people before her were missing; all of whom disappeared after being seen near this non-existent place.  Doesn’t that at least get your attention?”

“Sir, there is nothing I can do for you tonight.  If you wish to file a missing persons report, you need to wait for twenty-four hours, sir.  Now take my advice and go home.  You’ll probably find them there.”

From beneath a stone slab, buried by rocks in Boulter’s Green, if you were standing close by, you might have heard two voices weakly calling, needing help.  No-one was close by.  In the world above those plaintive cries the hour was passing midnight, below and around them the water had risen until only a small chamber a few feet square remained, and now, though the stone that thwarted their freedom left gaps sufficient to admit a limited amount of air, there was little enough to breathe.

“This is f***ing ridiculous!”  Rebecca managed between short gasps.  “This is the coldest I’ve ever been, the longest I’ve been this close to a fanciable bloke without any nookie, and all I’m really interested in is keeping my bleedin’ camera dry!”

“Definitely a turn-off.”  Patrick conceded. “Especially stuck in my neck.  Keep quiet, and try to save your breath.”

“Patrick, mate, you know there’s no point, don’t you?  At best no-one’s going to come until morning, and I won’t last ‘til then.”

“Just don’t give up.  Keep breathing for me, will you?”

“Yeah.”

“Just keep breathing.”

“Yeah.”

And soon there was only that; the faint whimper of breathing to break the silence, while the rain beat steadily down.

#

Jacqui, waiting in the Landrover outside Caleybridge Police Station, could read the frustration in Jackson’s face as he clambered back into the driver’s seat.

“It’s down to us,”  he said wearily.  “I guess I knew that already.”

“Then one more try!”  She urged him, determination etched into every line of her face.  The Pegram road, and really slowly, this time.  I want to get to know every inch of that damned hedge!”

Another fifteen minutes, then, to reach the road, watch-hands tracking faster than motion as the rural miles crept by.  Time so substantial they could feel its passing, fence and hedge unremitting, no clue betraying the whereabouts of a tiny, wooded lane in the rain-drenched darkness.  Blasts of anger from those with simpler destinations, some dangerously late in picking out the little Landrover in their headlights, to remind them of their precarious state.

It was Jacqui who spotted it, finally; Jacqui who saw how the hedge disappeared for a moment into shadow – no more than an undulation, perhaps, but then…

“There!”

Jackson turned the wheel blindly, no signal – drawing blaring ire from one more frightened motorist who had seen those weak tail lights almost too late.   Her eyes closed tightly, Jacqui braced for the impact that must surely come, but no:  the Landrover thrust through brushwood that had been dragged across the entrance to Nowhere Lane and its two occupants crowed their victory as if this stony backwater was the gateway to Atlantis itself.

Backwater, certainly.  The downpour had turned their path into a minor river which better defined its course than the growth lining its either side.  Headlights blinded by brush were less an indication than the splashing onrush of floodwater beneath their wheels, which Jackson quickly learned to use to his advantage, steering to follow the sound.   In such fashion they arrived at the final sharp incline that marked the lane’s conclusion, and almost collided with Patrick’s car.

With an oath, Jacqui’s father-in-law managed to stop only fractionally late, slewing sideways as his wing nudged the stationary vehicle’s fender.  Jacqui was already primed to leap from her seat.

“There’s someone inside!  Patrick?”

The car’s driver door swung open, and the figure who emerged was not Patrick.  Caught in headlights, Jacqui saw the cadaverous features and owlish eyes of a much older man who did not seem disposed to stay around, but set off down the remaining yards of the lane like a hare, with Jackson in close pursuit.  Hunter and hunted got no further than an old gate which barred escape long enough for Jackson to grab an ankle and bring his quarry down.  Ancient though he may have appeared, this fugitive fought like a man possessed of demons, demanding the combined efforts of his pursuers to finally restrain him, with Jacqui’s foot firmly planted in his groin as insurance.

Jackson shouted above the rain.  “Listen, buddy, we don’t want to do you any harm, okay?  No harm! We need your help!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content