Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twenty-Two. Three Buses

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Stafford Dricombe often referred to the third floor of the Great House at Boult Wells as his father’s control tower, and certainly its windows commanded the best view the house could afford of the Driscombe estate.  From his position at its big west window he could see across the treetops of Berkley Wood all of five miles to Marney’s Folly, a bland and totally pointless tower a previous Driscombe had erected upon what was then deemed to be the highest point of the estate.  That was two hundred years ago, of course, when follies were the fashion and when the estate was no larger than seven miles across.  Now Driscombe lands covered a much larger spread, mainly in the form of tenant farms.  Their tentacles were long, towards Caleybridge in the South, Bulmouth in the North, Baronchester in the East.

Marney’s Hill was no longer the highest, nor could all the Driscombe property be seen from the top of his folly, for Africa was far from view, Asia even further.  Nor, were all the engines of Driscombe prosperity so visible: diamonds lurked deep beneath the bedrock of a far-off mine, and the oil that filled their pipelines never saw light of day.  Driscombe fortunes were entwined in property, immersed in politics, and bathed by financial markets.  They were only counted by those whose business it was to count – bankers in city offices in the major markets of the world.  Stafford knew nothing of accounting, cared nothing for the business of the Estate.  It was something he had been born into and never saw fit to question.

Today promised to be vexing.  He sighed heavily, looking down on those sunbathed lawns which fronted the House, then a little beyond to the walled area of the pool.  The sun was scarcely affected by breeze in that arena of mosaic stone and blue water. It would be hot.  Jacinta, Stafford’s wife, with two of her friends were stretched out on sunbeds beside the pool.  They were topless, all three, and although distance lent a certain modesty, it was easy to see from this high advantage how the years of over-indulgence had worked upon Jacinta’s figure.  The Honorable Lucy, at just seventeen the newest addition to Jacinta’s privileged circle, was, by comparison, a very model of temptation, and Stafford was tempted.  She had fruits just ripening, delicious to touch; a firm young body her brief yellow bikini pants did little to conceal.  Stafford would want her; Jacinta would know: a little game they played.  Supplying new flavours for him to taste was one of the subtle ways Jacinta kept the fires of her marriage burning; for she knew her own talents well.

“I can’t see clearly, Stafford, as you know,”  Lord St. John Driscombe had approached with his usual stealth.  “Yet I am aware that what is going on down there offends common decency.  I won’t have young women disporting themselves in such a flagrant manner.  Put a stop to it!”

Stafford glanced down at his father’s shrunken form, smiling mildly.  The old man, swathed in a blue silk dressing gown, leant heavily upon a walking cane, a stance made the more unsteady by a tremulous arm.  His tautly bald head was ploughed by the furrows of a frown.

“It is the fashion, father,”  He soothed.  “In private circumstances; I think this is private enough, don’t you?”

“I do not.  Exhibitionism!  Deplorable manners!  Unconscionable!”  Lord St. John snatched a ‘kerchief from his dressing gown pocket to catch the dew that was gathering at the tip of his rather prominent nose.  “Another consequence of your injudicious marriage.  That woman of yours flashes her blasted titties everywhere.  She does not merely dress like a tart, she manages to undress in similar style!”

“Please, Father!”  Stafford murmured,  “You speak of the woman I love.”

“I’m speaking of a blasted docker’s daughter!  A theatrical, for god’s sake!”

“You’ve dispensed with your chair this morning, Father.  Oughtn’t you be seated?”

“Don’t need it!  Never do.  I choose, y’see.  I choose.”

“Yes, Father.”  Stafford spied his father’s wheelchair parked in a corner of the room.  “Shall I fetch it for you?”

“If you must.”

The son brought the father his wheelchair promptly, aware how the ancient man could collapse without warning when the vitriol that bore him up was spent.  This suite of rooms at the top floor of the Great House was St. John Dricombe’s world, an air-conditioned palace he rarely left, even though a special lift stood ready to ferry him down to the outside world.  It was a luxuriously appointed prison, appropriate to his power and wealth, but it was a prison nonetheless.  No sooner was the chair positioned behind him than the old man sank into it with the grateful hiss of a punctured tire.

“I might take a constitutional downstairs later on.”

“Yes, Father.”

“Take a turn on the lawn.”

“Yes Father.”

“Well, I want those hussies out of the way when I do.”  The old man’s tone altered.  “He’s done it again, hasn’t he?”

Satisfied Lord St. John was comfortable, Stafford turned back to the window, not wanting to face the gimlet glare of those beady grey eyes.  “Yes,” He said gravely, his eyes focused now on Marney’s Folly.  “I’m afraid he has.”

“Can we contain it?”

“Of course.  We must, mustn’t we?  There’s a little more fuss, this time – third in a row, that sort of thing.  The press loves stuff like that.  I imagine it will find a space in the nationals, but it will all die down.”

“Stafford?”

“Yes, Father.”

“This has to stop.  This has to be the last, d’ye understand?”

Stafford’s sigh had the weight of the world upon it.  “Yes, I do understand.  If you could just…”

“We’ve been through all that.  You know what I think.”

“Yes, I do.”

“That’ll be all, then.  Get the kitchen to send up my breakfast, will you?”

The son departed, leaving the father to the gaoler of his years.  Free of the yoke of family, Stafford wasted no time.  In his rooms, he donned a pair of swim trunks inappropriate to his girth and age, threw a bathrobe and a towel over his shoulders, and padded out across the lawns towards the pool.

From his west window, Lord St. John Driscombe watched.  His eyes may have been too dim to see detail, his ears too muffled by years to hear, but he knew.  Maybe he remembered the days of his own youth, when he, in his turn, had been just as ready as Stafford to trade upon his position and wealth.  He could not blame his son, but he could foresee danger.  Confined within the high stockade of his family’s prosperity, Stafford suffered from none of the insecurities his father had experienced in his own time, which left him vulnerable to the moral gauntlets society might force him to run, and could cripple even one as rich as he.

Soft memories came back, little wisps of reminiscence that seemed to taunt him more and more with the years, and regrets came in shades of fragrant rose from that enchanted land of the past.

Lord St. John Driscombe gazed out over his verdant lands as he drifted towards sleep.

“Ah, dear Antoine!”  He murmured.

#

For  Patrick Hallcroft, there was no rest.  He had spent the quiet hours awake when the world was sleeping, staring into the shadows.  Where was Karen now?

In his pain he would have rejoiced, almost, if he had known she was safely asleep somewhere, even if that meant he would never see her again.  Another’s bed, perhaps?  No, he could not, would not ever, believe her to be so fickle.  Yet the other thoughts – the alternatives – were too terrible; he could not allow them to intrude in the sacred space of hope he kept alive in his heart, because in his heart he knew the critical hours were already past.   Three days:  it had been three days.   No-one had seen or heard of Karen for three days.

Patrick rose and breakfasted early with no credible plans.  What should he do?  A little after eight the telephone’s brayed and he raced to answer it, praying for news.

“Tarquin Leathers.”

“Who?”

“Let’s try this another way.  To whom do I have the honour?”

“I’m Patrick Hallcroft.”

“Great!  Right man!  Tarquin Leathers, darling –Sunday Record.  You might have read my stuff?”

“I’m sorry, I…”

“What price a by-line, eh?  Never mind, Patrick.  I’m on my way to see you, about your jilted lover story?”

The Press!   Patrick stirred his brain into action; “Yes, it’s more of a missing person story, really..”

“Nah.  Nobody reads them.  Listen, I’m coming from London, I’ll be a couple more hours.  You’ll be at home, won’t you, Patrick?”

“I will!”

With his head still trying to catch up, Patrick replaced the receiver, hearing Gabrielle descend the stairs behind him.  “Who was that?”

“The Sunday Record.  They’re coming to see me.”

“Ugh!  Ghastly rag!  But still, Patsy; national ‘paper, no publicity’s bad publicity, and all that?  I’m off, so I’ll miss them, I’m afraid.  Oh, and Mummy’s out too.  She’s trying to prise Sprog into another school.  This one’s nearly as far as Harterport – I ask you!  But still, you’ll have Mrs. B. for company, won’t you?”

Radley Court had lapsed into its comfortable morning silence when, much later, Patrick’s hearing picked up the crunch of wheels as a heavy car swung around in front of the house.  He caught a glimpse of a black Jaguar as it passed his window, so he was downstairs in time to greet the car’s occupant.

“Mr. Hallcroft?  Detective Sergeant Ames.  I wonder if you could spare me a few minutes?”  Patrick registered his surprise.  “Were you expecting someone else?”

Ames was comfortably aware of the task his superior officer had presented to him in a three-in-the-morning telephone call.  Someone had tipped off a hawk from the national press that a routine missing persons enquiry was being stonewalled.  His Chief Inspector had been quite specific.

“I’m putting you in charge of this one, Charlie. I want one of your best snow-jobs, please.  We don’t want to see it grow more than a couple of column inches.”

Professionally, Ames was up for promotion in June, so being slam-dunked into a case like this one, which could expose him to criticism from his superiors, represented a minefield; on the other hand, handled well, the result could be one of those unwritten portions of his CV which would make the appointing officers nudge each other confidentially and smile.  He was confident; the Hallcroft-Smythe boy seemed a decent, outspoken sort of chap – he fell into the easily placated, reasonable bracket of middle-class complainants who could be nudged off the circuit with a chrome bumper smile and a few well-placed cautions. These were the issues in Ames’s thoughts as he was shown into the refectory at Radley Court.  It was nine-thirty a.m.

“Thank you for seeing me so early, Mr Hallcroft.  This is about the alleged disappearance of  Miss Karen Eversley.”

Patrick sat the gruff-faced man at the table, offered him coffee, which was refused, then took a chair facing him.  Ames thumbed through a thin file he had managed to scoop together on a dawn raid at Caleybridge Police Station, wondering.  Apparently the boy’s mother had been a brief – maybe that was his only leverage.  Well, okay, maybe. Whose was the tip-off?  Did he have other connections?

“Your girlfriend’s mother is satisfied her daughter’s absence is nothing more than a decision to move away.  She has a letter that seems to bear that out, and she is confident it is genuine.”

“I don’t think it is.”

“I’ve just been to visit the lady.  She’s quite emphatic.  I’ve read the letter.  You’ve seen it, I imagine?”

“Yes.”

“Photocopied it?”

“I returned the original.  I have a copy here, somewhere. Karen borrowed one of my father’s cars to get away – she hot-wired it…”

“Very resourceful.  It doesn’t mean she was running away from anyone; merely that she wanted to get back to town and a taxi wasn’t immediately available.  Oh yes, someone called for a taxi, we’ve checked.”

“The car was damaged in a way that suggested it was being attacked.    She took nothing – absolutely nothing – with her.  Not so much as a toothbrush.  Believe me, she ran.”

Ames sighed.  Sitting back on the chair, he gave every appearance of considering his next words.  “So, Patrick:  on the one hand we have this letter, which Miss Eversley’s mother asserts  is genuine and states categorically that she left of her own free will; on the other, your insistence that she was attacked.  But then, you told us her car was at this place…what’s it called…Boulter’s Green.  It wasn’t, was it?”

“Yes, it was.  It has gone now:  Anyone who got hold of Karen would have access to the car keys, presumably.”

“Or she simply drove away again?”  Ames drummed the fingers of his left hand on the table.  It was a bad habit.  His wife frequently expressed her irritation when he did it and his colleagues liked to mimic him for it.  If Patrick had noticed it though, he gave no sign.  He waited patiently for the sergeant’s next remark.

“Must be useful to you, having a brief as a family member – she’d be able to advise you.”  Charlie Ames leaned forward, “If I were her I’d be advising you to be careful, Mr Hallcroft.  The police are very accommodating, and as far as I can see we have followed all the correct procedures.  There’s no justification for the allegations you seem to be making.”

“A uniformed officer put Karen – Miss Eversley –at risk by his actions.  I have been assaulted and no-one has even asked me for a statement. Now, you’re refusing to take this matter seriously.  Listen;”  Patrick was rising to his task  “Karen Eversley’s disappearance isn’t the first to be associated with Boulter’s Green; two other young people have vanished recently.  She was investigating those disappearances when she was taken.  Something’s wrong here, you must see that!”

“I do not see anything of the kind.  That’s a very serious accusation.  If you’re alleging that an abduction of some sort has taken place with the complicity of the local force…”

“I’m not saying who is directly implicated, I’m simply telling you something is wrong.  Three disappearances!  Somebody should be taking an interest, at least, surely?”

“These other two disappearances; were they reported?  There’s no evidence of it here.  And is this place some kind of catalyst?  I only have your word for that.  What real evidence I have suggests Miss Eversley left of her accord.  I have nothing, apart from some damage to a car which you attribute to an attempted assault, to say otherwise.”

“Her possessions?  Where are they?  Her apartment’s been stripped!  Her friends?  No-one has heard from her.”

“Circumstantial at best.”  Ames laid the file on the table, his palms on the file.  “There’s nothing here, Mr Hallcroft; nothing.  As far as I can see the local boys have done more than enough to check and re-check your story.  You might have had a robbery, that I concede, but as to Miss Eversley’s involvement…”

“So you’re determined to do nothing.”

“I, Mr Hallcroft?  I’m an experienced copper, looking at a very sad young man whose girlfriend has moved away without telling him.  I feel sorry for you, I really do.  But I am also looking at a complainant without any case to bring, a complainant who copied a personal letter without the recipient’s permission, someone whose behaviour has been generally disruptive and who is seeking the ear of the national press…”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You will be contacted very shortly by a journalist.  I want you to be aware of your position, Mr Hallcroft!  Discuss it with your mother, if you will.  You are making unsubstantiated allegations against the police, and the police don’t take kindly to being pilloried by the press when they have no case to answer.  I’m advising you to think before you say anything, and I’m warning you that you face action if you persist in this – criminal prosecution, damages…have a think about that, will you?”  Ames rose to leave.  “Thank you.  I’ll find my own way out.”

A beneficent sun had reached the summit of its climb before more gravel was compressed, this time by a small but exciting automobile with several Italian references.  The figure that emerged from it did not look Italian at all.

Tarquin Leathers was a large man with a great deal of good living encompassed by his red waistcoat.  The thicket of unnaturally black hair that coated his head was forced into a quick decision when he raised his hat in greeting as to whether it should remain with its host or follow the chapeau.

“Mr Hallcroft!   What a journey!  My dear, the traffic! How are you?  Can we talk?”

“Mr Leathers.”  Patrick said.  “I’ve been told not to talk to you,” There had been sufficient time for him to ruminate upon D.S. Ames’s visit, “but I will, anyway.  Come in – can I get you coffee, or something?”

In the breakfast room once again, Patrick reiterated his story, bringing in D.S. Ames’s comments at the end.  “I’ve been threatened by the police twice now.”

“It’s good!  It’s very good!  It means they’ve something to hide!  I like the story of your centre-temps with the man-ogre by the river, darling.  Describe him for me again, will you?  Long, unkempt hair, aquiline nose, gorgeous toothy snarl?  Must be careful – mustn’t go too Transylvanian, must we?  Think now – did he have any deformities?”

Patrick, his story fully told and copiously noted, watched the newspaper man leave in his little car, understanding that Bridget Eversley would be his next port of call.

“That’s if you can get anything out of her.”  He warned.

“Oh, my darling man, you have no idea!  As soon as she knows I’m press, she’ll sing like a tweety-bird!”

Reflecting that he had not eaten, Patrick headed to the kitchen, where he made himself a sandwich and repeated his morning’s interviews in his mind, trying to elicit any new knowledge they had to offer him.  He knew already, did he not, that the police were intent upon obstructing any but the sketchiest inquiries into Karen’s absence?  Yet it had taken Tarquin Leathers to point out the significance of D.S. Ames’s arrival on the scene.

“A detective sergeant from ‘Division’, my dear chap.  A ‘fixer’, I shouldn’t wonder.  You should be ecstatic!.  Your stirrings have caused ripples in the big pond!”

For himself, Patrick was more inclined to believe that after an hour of waiting, two buses had appeared at once.  His days of persistence were yielding a minor hailstorm of results – something over which he could exert very little control.  However, something had disturbed that bigger pond, and Leathers had been less than forthcoming concerning his sources.  Enthusiastic about the publicity, Patrick had been too scared of pressing for that information.  Nevertheless, somebody had touched a wire.  Who was it?  Tim Birchinall?

“Anybody home?”

The voice from the hall had a slight country lilt.

“I’m looking for Mr. Patrick Hallcroft.”  The intruder said.  “Have I found him?”

Emerging from the kitchen, Patrick frowned.  “Did anyone invite you in?  Who are you, please?  What do you want?”

The man did not reply at first.  He was stocky, square in build, with a slightly florid complexion not enhanced by his choice of dark colours; black shirt open at the neck, chestnut sports coat and lovat cord slacks concertinaed over brown brogues.  He looked, if anything, more awkward than his style statement.

“I didn’t want to wait outdoors,”  He said;  “Too conspic’u’s.  Dunno what I wants, really.  Somethin’ to say.”

“You’d better come through to the kitchen, then.”  Patrick regarded the man warily,  “Should I know your name?”

The question, simple as it was, did nothing to improve the man’s confidence. “Dunno as I should tell you that, neither, but I s’pose…”

“Suppose?”  Patrick was already back in the kitchen.  His visitor followed him in.

“Yes.  I’m not in uniform, see?”

“Oh, you’re a policeman!  I feel so special!  You’re my second policeman of the day!  Coffee, sandwich?  Have a sandwich!  I’ve got beef, or ham?”

At the news that others had gone before the man blenched visibly. “Well, I’m no-one, really.  Just a constable, see. I’m off duty.  I’m a friend of Tim’s.  I’m Ray Flynn.”

 

© 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

 

 

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Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twenty-One. A Common Woman.

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It was near to darkness when Patrick pulled up outside the block that housed Karen’s apartment, where he supposed Bea Ferguson would be waiting for him, although he had not anticipated meeting her in the hallway.   Karen’s friend was huddled in a green hooded coat, rubbing hands covered by woollen gloves.  “It’s really cold, yeah?”

“Why didn’t you wait upstairs?”

“I dunno.  Maybe I wanted to prepare you a little bit first, but then I thought about it and I didn’t know what I was going to say to you anyway.”  Bea turned to the stairs.  “Let’s go up and you can see for yourself.”

“You can get inside the apartment?”

“If she goes away who’s the lucky moo who gets to check up on her stuff for her?  Moi, Patrick, moi.  Oh, and usually send her something she’s forgotten.  She always forgets something.  So I’ve got a key.  This key.”  Bea dangled a Yale key on a string from her fingers.  “I sort of wish I hadn’t.”

Patrick had a deepening sense of foreboding.  “Why, what’s wrong?”

They reached the landing before Karen’s door.   Bea slipped her key in the lock and turned it, then probed behind the jamb for a light switch.  “Like I said, see for yourself.”

He knew at once.  The echo told him.   Beyond that door would be nothing.   Yet still an exclamation of shock and surprise forced its way past his lips; for the apartment was very, very empty; without shades over the bare light bulbs, without furniture, curtains or carpets to cover the floor.  Only the telephone remained, on the floor in the lobby.  The number disc in the centre of its dial had been removed.

“It’s disconnected.  It was still on this morning, because I tried to call her,” Bea told him.  “I had to use the box on the corner tonight to ‘phone you.  What’s going on, Mister Hallcroft – has this got something to do with you?”

“Of course not!”  Patrick was going from room to room, finding nothing.  And not for the first time in the two days since Karen’s disappearance he found himself having to shake his head to clear a confusion of thoughts and ideas.  “I mean, how?  Just how?”

“I’ll tell you how.  All her stuff’s gone!  Some bugger’s just marched in here and cleared the place out.  This isn’t Karen, Patrick.  My mate Karen wouldn’t do this!”

“Here’s something else she wouldn’t do.”  Patrick had known he would have to show Bea his copy of Karen’s letter and the moment seemed to be now.  He withdrew it from his jacket pocket.  “At least I hope not.”

Bea read the letter slowly, turned it over in her hands and then read it again.  “Oh, man, what’s going on?  You poor sod.”  She said, sympathetically.  Then:  “I don’t get it.”

“It seems pretty explicit.”

But Bea did not agree, “No!  I mean, Karen?  No!  For a start, she wouldn’t write on paper like this.  Blue vellum?  Not Karen.  Anything would do for Karen because she hates writing letters.  I don’t think she’s ever bought a writing pad in her life!  And black pen, she uses, never blue.  I get annoyed with her for that, but she once explained to me all legal documents have to be filled in in black.  Yeah, with me?”

“With you,”  Patrick confirmed.

“Another thing.  Karen and her mum, they aren’t too close, if you see what I mean?  If she was going to chuck you, and I know she wasn’t, she wouldn’t ask her mum to do it for her.  She’d at least call you!  Apart from anything else, she wouldn’t trust her mum to do it. See, if her mum liked you, she might not do it at all.”

“In that case,”  Patrick said, already seeing Karen’s relationship with her parents thrown into a different perspective:  “I’m glad I showed it to you.”

“So am I, Patrick, so am I.  Trust me – although this may look like her writing, she didn’t write it.”

“Anyway,”  Patrick reverted to the subject of Karen’s furniture,  “This has to have happened today.  Someone should have seen something.  Have you tried the apartments downstairs?”

Bea said that she hadn’t, so they knocked on doors, but despite the lateness of the hour and the annoyance that caused, they learned nothing.  No, Karen’s neighbours had not seen any sign of removal men because they had been elsewhere; at work, or simply ‘out’.  When all the possibilities had been exhausted, the pair were forced to admit defeat, and return to their respective cars for their journeys home.

Near to tears, Bea rounded on Patrick:   “I’ve ‘phoned round to just everybody.  Nobody’s heard from her!  I hope you haven’t done something to put her in danger, mate…”

“You know I haven’t! She was being followed.  It’s all to do with a case she’s on.  I can’t figure it out yet, but I’m going to find her.  That’s a promise, Bea!”

Nodding, Bea drew a deep breath.  “Her mum must know something about this, though whether we’ll get much out of her is another matter.  Go and see her again.  I can’t, I’ve got to work.”

Patrick could, and the very next morning, he did.

At nine-thirty the terraced street was quiet.  Unwilling children, happy children, cacophonous children had all been subsumed by their schools while relieved parents sat indoors. dosing their fatigue with coffee.  The world of work had gone to work, the world of street life was on hold, as yet unwoken.

The Eversley’s door was as bland as it had always seemed, yet Patrick had a premonition.  As soon as he touched the doorbell it was confirmed.   The curtain of Bridget Eversley’s front room twitched savagely and behind it Bridget herself, scowling.

Patrick did not have to wait for long.  There was an abrupt turn upon a latch, and the front door swung back, framing the stern figure of Bridget.

“What do you want, young man?”

“I’m sorry.  If it’s inconvenient, I can come back.”

“If you’ve something to say, you should get on with it.  Be quick.  I shouldn’t be talking to you at all, y’see?”

“No, I don’t think I see.  Did you know Karen’s apartment has been cleaned out – all her furniture, clothes, everything taken?”

“I expect she sold it.  Needed the money, I shouldn’t wonder.  Do you know I had a visit from the police last night?”

“The police!”

“You’ve been reported!  Going around, harassing people, making a nuisance of yourself…”

“That’s untrue!  I only want to…”

“You want to get over it, young man, that’s what you want to do.  You saw her letter. She doesn’t want to see you no more.   ‘Ccording to the policeman, she was a bit frightened of you.  You wanted to be with her all the time, that sort of thing.  Possessive, that’s what he said.  Now make yourself scarce or I’m going to get on the ‘phone right now.”  And Bridget Eversley slammed the door.

Dumbfounded, Patrick stood on the street for a few minutes, staring up at the windows and curtains that were suddenly closed to him.  Overnight he had pondered upon why Bea, who had apparently only met her once, had been so scathing in her criticism of Bridget.  Now he saw.  Nevertheless, he had to question himself; was it true?  Had he been the real reason Karen had fled?  A darkness that had been lurking in the corners of his mind, a worm that writhed and twisted deep within; they threatened him now.

He drove back through the town half-expecting to see her face among the faces on the pavements; to catch the frightened look in her eyes when she saw she had been discovered, watch her duck quickly into some shop or doorway to avoid him.

“…he expected so much of me…  Maybe he expected too much…”

Patrick returned to Radley Court.

Throughout his life, the old Georgian pile had been his refuge and his home, the burrow into which he could fly when the world was growling and likely to bite.  Not now.  As he drew up beneath those tall windows the Court’s emptiness echoed like the doors in Karen’s apartment.  They seemed to offer little better than a roof and nothing so much as a welcome.

Amanda, his younger sister, emerged onto the threshold, ready to pounce.   Patrick greeted her moodily.  “Ah, the Great Uneducated.  Hasn’t mumsy found you a school yet?”

Amanda rarely approached her brother, seeing him, to his mind, as a disfigured vexation – a break in her perfect circle. Yet for one so young she had an uncanny ability to lift his spirits, because her permanent sense of outraged moral rectitude amused him, even in his darkest hours.

“Gabrielle told me what has happened.  I sympathize, although of course I spent no time in Miss Eversley’s company.  I wouldn’t, you see.  I deceived myself into thinking we could be friends, but she has proved to be a common woman, I’m afraid.  Really, Patrick, you should try to meet some rather better people.  Why are you laughing?”

“’Manda, has no-one apart from me ever told you what you sound like when you say those things?  It’s funny – repulsive, but funny!”

“I don’t see why.  I’m serious.  A decent girl wouldn’t run off like that.  A decent girl would…”

“Yes, yes.  You tell me, my sweet little prig; what would a ‘decent girl’ do?”

“Well, she’d finish with you in a dignified manner.”

“Can I finish with you in a dignified manner?”

“Certainly not, I’m your sister.”

“All right, tell me, then – what’s the proper way to finish with a boyfriend?  The sophisticated way.  How would you do it?”

“I’d choose somewhere decent and refined…”

“God, why?”

“So he would be embarrassed to make a fuss, of course!  And I’d just tell him, firmly, that I had found another.”

“Another what?  Look, are you going to be quiet?”

“I thought you were in need of serious conversation.”

“Whatever made you think that?  Amanda, my little duchess, Karen hasn’t left me, she’s been taken from me.  There’s a difference.”

“So you insist that to be the truth?  You are so misled!  A common woman, Patrick, with common morality!  Do not waste your grief upon her!”

“Amanda?”

“Yes?”

“Go away.  Now!”

Amanda grimaced, then trotted indoors.  Patrick, following her, watched her cross the hall to the stairs in a series of un-ladylike cartwheels.  In her absence, the house returned to an empty, uncomfortable peace.

He mooched from room to room, unable to favour one place over the next, neither wishing for company – although his mother was home – nor content with solitude.  All the while his mind was churning, self-accusing then self-justifying, doubting, then angry at himself for entertaining doubt. The strident advice of Karen’s mother, the harsh criticism of his father still rang in his ears, eroding his determination.  But through all the turmoil, in the end, there was his shining vision of Karen and his memory, still fresh, of their shared moments among the stars.  In the end, there could be no doubt.

Nevertheless, it would be midday before he could gather himself together sufficiently to pick up the telephone.

“Metropolitan Police switchboard.”

The operator was immediately helpful, and the process surprisingly fast and efficient.  No, he hadn’t a warrant number, only a name, Timothy Birchinall.  Could Constable Birchinall call him back, the matter concerned Miss Karen Eversley?  Yes, his message would be passed on.  Of course, it would be Constable Birchinall’s decision whether to respond.

Gabrielle found Patrick alone in the snug when she returned from work that evening.  He was doing nothing but stare at the wall, his hands clutched about his knees and rocking in his chair, back and forth.  With some difficulty, she got him to recount the misfortunes of his day.

“A lot of wasted hours.   Karen’s parents seem to have been warned off, possibly lied to, by the police, so I don’t feel I can go back to either of them.  I’m certain the long-haired man has her and to be honest, Gabs, I don’t know where to turn.”

“Try not to stress!”  She laid a cool hand on her brother’s twitching fingers.  Seeing him in this distracted state was not familiar to her.  He was normally calm and decisive –positive in thought and deed.  “I’m sure there’s some logical explanation.”

Patrick shook his head.  “I’m not.  I left her on her own – I knew I shouldn’t have.  I just didn’t think it through.  He’s got to her, and God knows what he’s done!”

Gabrielle winced.  “You weren’t to know he – they – whoever – was going to try something like this. Stop blaming yourself.  The way it seems to me, she got away from whoever it was, anyway.  I think she went out to those ruins on her own terms.”

“Then where is she now?  ”

“What are the police doing?”

“Nothing!  They refuse to do anything – if anything, they’re trying to keep me quiet – to criminalise me. They’re accusing me of causing a nuisance, or something.  Oh, Gabs, you know what I’m thinking; what if he’s hurt her.  What if he’s…?”

“What can I say, Patsy?  All I can think is if anyone could take care of themselves Karen could.  She seemed to me to be a pretty robust and strong.”

Some time had to elapse before Gabrielle could coax her brother to calm down.  Her own mind was troubled now, almost as much as his.  Try as she might, she could not fit the evidence together in any way that was believable:  the clearance of the apartment was most difficult to explain: if Karen had arranged it, the move must have been planned before – long before – Karen’s visit to her house.  Removal men did not act on a few hours’ notice, but a few weeks, or days at the very least.  And even then, how had she packed all the odds and ends that go with a removal:  the boxes of books, the china, the clothes, the bric-a-brac of living?

Patrick read her mind.  “You don’t know what to believe, do you?”  He said.

“I believe you, darling brother.  How should I not?  Alright, you’re given to exaggeration from time to time, and you might be romancing slightly over this slavering cretin’s mendacious intent, but I don’t believe you’re lying.  It’s just hard to accept, that’s all.”

“What is?”

“Well, that somebody who was staying in my family home has been taken, I guess.  It just doesn’t happen; not in dear old pottering Beaconshire.”

At around eight-thirty the telephone bell clattered in the hall.  Patrick answered it.  The voice a the other end of the line was deep and unfriendly.

“You’re Patrick Hallcroft.  Birchinall here; what do you want?”

“Thank you for calling back, Mr Birchinall, I’m sure I’m not the first voice you would want to hear…”

“Very perspicacious of you.  Shall we get on with this – is there something I can help you with?  I take it you haven’t just called to say hello?”

“Is she with you?”

“She?”

“Karen.  Is she with you in London?  I’m not making a scene or anything, I just want to know, that’s all.”

The line was quiet for a few seconds, then Tim Birchinall said:  “Why would you think she was with me?”

“Because she isn’t with me.  She’s disappeared.  She was being harassed by a big long-haired guy, something to do with an investigation she was on, and I think she was forced to run from him.  Nobody’s seen her or heard from her and I think something’s happened to her.  I just hoped she might have come to you…”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute!  This big bloke with the long hair – did you see him?”

“Not in daylight.  I had to fight him off for her once, but it was in the dark.  He wears a long leather coat.  My sister got a better look at him, do you want to speak to her?”

The voice on the line sighed.  “No, that won’t be necessary.  The bad news is, I’m afraid, she isn’t with me.  Patrick, isn’t it?  I’m sorry I was sharp with you, Patrick; you did the right thing by ‘phoning me.   I’ll pull a few strings at this end if I can.  You may get a visit from a police constable shortly, okay?”

“The police aren’t interested.”

“No?  Well, I hope this one will be.”

#

She was seated upon red cushions in a tattered Lloyd Loom conservatory chair that faced a small upright table.  These two items of furniture, with the addition of an ancient leather sofa, were the only adornments to the space she had already come to know as ‘the end room’.  Two strip lights on a low ceiling cast dimly upon the torn ruins of a carpet patterned in a Turkish mode, and upon windowless walls of white emulsion; or emulsion once white.  There were two doors to the room; one, which faced her, was kept padlocked and referred to as ‘the supply cupboard’ the other, behind her to her right, led to a passage.  Her ‘bedroom’ was one of two doors from the left side of that passage; the other was the room of Joshua, the nurse.  Two doors also broke up the wall on the right of the passage.   One, a bathroom, was well appointed and clean, the other, which Joshua was particularly careful to explain, was ‘Edgar’s Room’.

“Never go in there unless he invites you, which he will do through me.  If by any chance he changes that, make sure I know where you are.”

The door was substantial, faced with padded leather.  Karen had wanted to know how much of Edgar’s room was padded on the inside.

“That, lassy, you’ll be finding out soon enough.”

“Is he in there now?”  She had asked.

“He’s sleeping.  That’s what he does, mostly.”

“And when he wakes up?”

“He’ll be hungry.  He’ll eat, then he’ll want you.”

“What if I refuse?”

“Then he’ll get agitated.  I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” Joshua told her.  “You’re not going to like what he wants, I’m afraid, but you mustn’t blame him too much.  Edgar’s ill.  He’s a very sick man, is Edgar.  When he’s awake he can’t cope – the tension gradually works on him until he explodes, you see.  It’s anxiety, really, but it manifests as harm.”

“Harm to me?”

“See it this way, girl.  It’s a challenge, alright?  From now on think of living as a challenge.  Every day you survive you live another, and if you’re clever and you can discover how, you might keep Edgar going for days, maybe even weeks.  But you’re the minnow and he’s the shark, you see.  It can’t last forever, can it?

“You’re saying he’s going to kill me, aren’t you Joshua?”

“Try not to think about that – not yet.  You have to write a list of your needs for me.  Be as specific as you can, there’s no need to deprive yourself.  I’ll get you a pen and some paper.  Co-operate, that’s the first step.  Then I’ll help any way I can.”

“Help me get out of here?”

“No, hon, I can’t do that.  No-one ever gets out of here.”

“There have been others, then.”

So there it was.  Her destiny was to die.  And in the ‘room at the end’ there was a confirmation of her fate – the slightest of odours which,  though she could not trace it to any source, was one she knew well enough – it was the smell of death, the distant foulness of decay.  Yes, there had been others.

All Karen could do was sit, wearing the white shift that was required of her, waiting out her time.  There was a pile of well-thumbed paperbacks on the table for her to browse, which she did, idly, unable to concentrate, as the minutes ticked by. Soon enough the sound of the door latch came, and from behind her, Joshua’s voice:

“He’s awake.  He wants to see you now.”

 

© 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 Twenty                       Bopper and Bea

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Above all things, Patrick hated inaction.  Caleforth, the village where Karen’s friend Bea Ferguson had made a home, harboured few temptations to a young man with time to kill, yet he judged there was little to be achieved by returning to Caleybridge, so he decided to wait out the hour or so before Bea returned from work.  A mile beyond Caleforth the road swung away to the south-east, leaving a narrow lane which Patrick knew well from his teenage courting adventures.  It climbed steeply to a lofty perch known locally as Monument Hill.  Here open grassland was presided over by a tall Victorian tower, testament to the deeds of someone so entirely forgotten there seemed to be no good reason to maintain his monument, which was falling down, stone by stone.  Nevertheless, it was somewhere for romantics to park in the disguise of night, and the further discretion of the wooded hill below offered refuge to more adventurous lovers.  Afternoon had not yet faded into to dusk, so Patrick had the entire expanse to himself.  He parked, restored the car’s ragtop to its raised position, then he huddled in his passenger seat, intent upon sleep.

Sleep would not come.  Rest would not come.  From this high advantage his eyes were drawn once and again to the wide vista of Beaconshire’s northern lands, flushed by that clear, weak sunlight which comes after rain.  Away to his left in benign dominance the purple roofs of Crabbart Moor, to his right grey Caleybridge sprawled across the valley, sparkling with reflections like a bejewelled spider;  then, on towards the distant sea, a valley patchwork of green and gold, grass and rain-swept hay.  A lonely tractor far off, wandering soundlessly across a freshly-cut field.  Cattle congregating in a pasture, waiting to be summoned for milking.  Traffic rushed to and fro on the Bulmouth road with increasing urgency, as if the ribbon of tarmac was an open wound it was its purpose to stitch; and winding through the valley was another ribbon – the ragged black scar of the River Boult.  Boulter’s Green lay there, somewhere, in a dark defile at the edge of a forest that was, together with all the fields beyond, the southernmost finger of the Driscombe Estate.  Seeing that great expanse of land, even at such a distance, Patrick felt the impact of Driscombe wealth and power, as if it held him as it held all it surveyed, in the palm of its hand.  Only the moors, old as time, seemed impervious to its grasp.

Where was the space Karen occupied in this vast diorama?  Could she be down there somewhere, or had she fled far beyond those misted horizons to a place where she might be free of him – of those who would hurt her?  In his head Patrick could not have blamed her had she taken flight, yet in his heart he knew she had not.  No, the answer was here – she was here – if he could but see.  Eventually, exhausted by speculation, he slept.

Awakened suddenly and rudely, Patrick opened his eyes to meet those of a gaunt and unwholesome looking man outside his window!  For a moment the surprise overtook him.  He flinched instinctively and his inaction gave the snooper an advantage.  By the time he had wrestled with the latch to his door the man was already stalking away.  By the time he had clambered out of the car there was a distance between them and the time for anger had passed.   Should he shout after the man; demand to know what he was doing?  Pursue him?   Undecided, in the end he did neither, but glared at the retreating back, wondering if the intrusion was sinister, or no more than the curiosity of someone who was obviously unwell.

It was six-thirty.  An angry raincloud hung over the eastern valley.

“Hi-ya!”  The girl framed by the doorway was dark and vivacious, with a serious expression, large eyes almost fever-bright and sleek black hair combed straight to her shoulders.  “You came by earlier.”

“I did.”  Patrick’s mood lightened instantly.  Bea Ferguson had that effect on people.  “You’re a friend of Karen Eversley’s, aren’t you?  How did you know…?”

“Oh, Aggy Blenkinsopp next door told me.  Bless her, she misses nothing.  Do you want some coffee, something to eat?  Whatever happened to your face?”

In the stresses of the last days Patrick had forgotten his bruised cheek, which still showed traces of purple.  “It was a door,” He explained.

“That’s what they all say.”

The cottage’s interior suffered that pleasing disorder that surrounded two busy working people.  In the midst of it, Robert Ferguson was splayed out in a cloth-covered blue armchair, wearing nothing but a grey t-shirt and a pair of navy blue underpants.  His wife’s respectability was preserved rather better by a housecoat.

Patrick knew he was intruding.  “Look, I won’t keep you.  I’ve lost track of Karen, that’s all, and I wondered if you’d heard from her in the last day or so.”

“Nonsense!  I was just about to do dinner, so you’re welcome to stay if you want.  Have some coffee, at least.  Bopper, put your jeans on, sweetness.  This guy doesn’t want to see the family jewels, does he?”

Bopper raised an eyebrow.  “You never know,”  He said, with as much innuendo as he could muster. Then raising himself resignedly to his feet, which was a long way, he added:  “Stick around.  The show has just begun…”

“I’ll make coffee.  Milk?  One sugar?  Two?  None?”  Bea was already in the small kitchen behind the living room, leaving an open door she could call through.  There was an exposed stairway to the right and Bopper pounded up the bare treads on his way, presumably, to a bedroom.  Footsteps on the ceiling ensued.  “You sound as if you’re worried,”  Bea said.

“I am worried,”  Patrick admitted.  “She seems to have disappeared.”

“That’s our Karen!”

“How do you mean?”

“Hard one to pin down.  She does the free agent bit really well.  You can’t say you haven’t noticed – if you’ve known her for a while, that is.”  Bea re-emerged from the door at the back with two cups in her hand.   “Here.  This one’s for Bops.  I had mine earlier.  You’re Pat Hallcroft, aren’t you?”

“She told you about me?”  Pat took the cup, thanking her.

“Well, not so much.  But word gets around, you know, Patrick?  You can’t take a girl like Karen on a date in this town without attracting attention.”  Bea motioned him to sit down.  “So, she’s gone out of town and you want to know where she’s gone, yeah?  Let’s trade.  Are you two friends now, or more than friends?”

“She didn’t say?”

“Nope.  I haven’t heard from her in more than a week.”

“Then I guess you can’t help me.  I thought you were close.”

“Oh, I can help you!  And yes, we’re close alright – two peas, Patrick.  Thing is – before I say anything to compromise my friend Karen – are you?”

“Am I what?”

“Two peas – in a pod, dimwit!  With Karen; you know?  Do you, like – er – have knowledge of each other, sort of thing?”

“Why do you need to know that?  I just want to know how to find her, that’s all…”

“Because, Patrick, because.  A girl such as I likes to be first with the hot news, you see?  And because I wanted to see how well you can lie; which is not very well.  So you sealed the deal – fab!”

“Well, the hot news is she’s dropped out of sight and I can’t find her. As to the other thing…”   Patrick allowed himself to smile.  “A gentleman doesn’t tell.”

“You don’t have to.  It’s written all over your face.”

“Alright, alright!  We may have shared a pod.”

And you like her a lot – I hope – and she’s disappeared and you’re worried.  Right?”

“Isn’t this where we started?”

“No, no it isn’t.  Karen has a new boyfriend and they’re third base or above.  That’s good quality crack for a girl like me.  Karen’s ditched her police hero and all the history for Patrick Hallcroft – wow!  Headlines!”

“Don’t let her get you twisted up,”  Bopper advised, descending the stairs in a pair of worn navy jeans.  “Is that my coffee?”  He pinned Patrick with a knowing look.  “If it wasn’t all over town before it will be now.”

“It is, my darling; and you’re right, it will be.  The wires will hum.  Now, how can I help you?  Where would she go?  If she’s staying with any of her friends I will find that out by tomorrow.  Give me your number and I’ll call you tomorrow evening.  Does that help?”

Relieved, Patrick laughed and said that it did.  This brought a rare smile to Bea’s face which lit up her cheeks like the shine of fresh rain.

“She won’t be far away.  For a start there’s a Spiritualist meeting at the Gaiety next Thursday.  She won’t miss that even if she’s hunted by wolves.”

“So the Spiritualist thing is for real, is it?”  Patrick murmured.  “I only just learned about that from her mother,”

“Karen didn’t tell you, did she?  She’s sort of ashamed of it, I think.  You know about the sister, of course – Suzanne, yeah?  So she’s desperate to get in touch; you know, voices from beyond the grave and stuff.  She wanted me to go with her once but I said no.  Not my thing.  I don’t have any dead sisters.  See, now, I really am a help to you, aren’t I?  You go to the meeting.  She’ll be there, sure betcha!”

“How she gets hold of all this information?  ‘Tis a mystery no-one can understand.”  Bopper said sagely, settling back in his chair.  “Now, chap; are you staying for supper, or what?”

Having found two new friends, Patrick finally left the Ferguson’s as night closed in and a three-quarter moon was rising amid a pool of silver.  He drove the short miles to Caleybridge with a heart that felt a little lighter than before, because Bea’s optimism felt like real progress.

“I’ve known Karen for so, so long, Patrick.  She’s confident on the outside, but she’s very lonely on the inside.  Between you and me, though, she fancies you like mad, so you shouldn’t worry.  She’ll come back to you, and when she does, she deserves to be loved.    Don’t hurt her, okay?”

More than once on the drive to town Patrick glanced in his mirrors, thinking that one of the array of headlights on the road behind was following him.  In Caleybridge he deliberately diverted, using a long route through the town’s eastern suburbs before he struck north on the Halminster road towards his home.  For a while there was only darkness behind him, convincing him he had imagined it, but then those familiar headlights reappeared.  He swung into the minor road which led to Radley Court, watching for the lights to follow, but they did not.  Their source drove by, as though their driver had satisfied himself of Patrick’s destination.  He could not say for sure within the limits of his mirrors but he thought he saw them slowing to a halt a little further on.

The avenue of tall trees, burdened by the weight of their foliage frowned over him, severe against the moon, and reminding Patrick of their ghostly secrets.  He had lived here all his life, never growing to conquer his fear of their dark company, and walked here too, had to do so in the days before his car, on nights as black or blacker than this, shivering against the trees’ chill shadows and feeling their soft, silent whispers seeping through him.  Even in the car he was not immune, although the discomfort would last no more than a mile, maybe, before he turned into Radley Court’s front drive and the rhododendrons stretched out before his headlamps in a florid welcome.

#

The next morning Patrick had two tasks to occupy his mind, both entailing a hospital visit so he started early, huddled in his driving jacket with the Daimler’s top down to let in a morning breeze sharp enough to draw tears.  It would take a frustrating wait until eleven o’clock for his nine o’clock appointment to come to fruition, and an amiable but clearly ill-briefed doctor to reassure him that discarding the dressing on his head when it became rain-soaked had done him no harm.  He was dismissed after application of a small sticking plaster.

He discovered Jacqui, still pinned by her halo brace, out of bed and seated in the ward day-lounge.  She greeted him bravely.  “I’ll be rid of the scaffolding soon.”  She said.  “I’m doing rather well, apparently.  A coat of paint and I’ll be good as new.  Do you think I suit the turbaned look?”

“You’re an exotic work of art nearing completion, that’s how I think of you.”

“Really?  A little too Dali-esque, that’s how I think of me.  I feel as if I’ve still got the builders in.  After these bandages come off I’ll never wear a hat again – not even to a wedding.  So tell me; how’s the love life, Romeo?  Have you got her back?”

“No.  But it’s only a day, isn’t it?  I’m working on it, and thanks to you I caught up with Bea.”

“Has she heard anything?”

Not yet – she’s phoning around.  Let’s get back to you.  Do you remember what happened to you now?”

“Nope.  Doctor Crippen thinks I probably never will. ” She said.  “The police came just after your last visit,  I couldn’t tell them anything.”

“Crippen?”

“My consultant.  I’ve got one, you know.  Trouble is, though, he’s a little bit creepy.  I think he’s more used to examining dead bodies – at least, that’s how it feels when he examines me.  But I feel ever so much better, so I suppose he must be good.”

“Crippen’s not his real name, then.”

“I couldn’t possibly divulge.  As far as I know he doesn’t have any travel plans.  Oh, Pat, you really like her, don’t you?”

“Can we concentrate on you?”

“Of course,”  Jacqui said.  “I love talking about me!”  But had there been a radio telegraph behind her eyes she could not have read the message on Patrick’s face more clearly.  He was hurting.  She would have hugged him, she told herself, if there had not been all this metal in the way.  And hugging him?  That was her secret dream.

It was well past midday when Patrick returned to Radley Court and found the message in Gabrielle’s handwriting beside the hall telephone. He rang the number she had scrawled.  A woman’s voice answered.

“Oh, hello dear, is that Patrick?”

Patrick confirmed that it was.

“It’s Karen’s mother, dear.  You came to see me yesterday.  I wonder if you could pop round sometime soon, if you’re free?  There’s something I have to talk to you about.  Can you come this afternoon?”

“Of course, Mrs Eversley.”  His heart leapt.  “Have you heard from her?”

“In a manner of speaking… I’d rather show you, dear.  I’ll see you soon, then?”

#

The Patrick who stood warmed by afternoon sun before Bridget Eversley’s door could not hide the impatience behind his smile.   Here was news at last, maybe the breakthrough he was waiting for!

“Come in, dear.  I’ll make us some tea.”

Karen’s mother ushered him into the softly furnished cosiness of her front room.  She sat him in one of her armchairs, satisfying herself that he was comfortable before she produced the small sheet of paper which she intended him to read.

“Take your time and look at this, Patrick.  I’ll leave you alone for a minute while I do that tea, dear.”

The slip of paper was a letter, handwritten, blue biro on blue vellum.

Dear Mum,

I have to tell you in a letter because I’m forced into a quick decision.  Mum, I’ve messed up and I need to move away. I will be gone for a while. 

I’m making a fresh start somewhere new.  I will bring you up to date as soon as I can.

I’m so sorry to do this to you, but will you tell Patrick for me?  I’m such a coward, I can’t bring myself to write to him:  he expected so much of me, and I feel like I’ve failed him somehow.  Maybe he expected too much.  Anyway, I’ll miss him an awful lot, tell him that, will you?   I think this is best for both of us.

Love to Dad.

All my love to you both,

Karrie.

Patrick stared at the letter for a time he could not determine.  The rattle of teacups passed unnoticed.

“It was a shock to us, too, dear.”  Bridget Eversley said quietly.

Patrick shook his head, as if to clear the clamour of conflicting voices that filled it.  He read the letter for a fifth time.  There was no address upon it.

“By the postmark it was sent the day before yesterday, posted in Baronchester.”  Bridget told him.  “I suppose she sent it on her way to wherever she is going.”

“It is her handwriting?”  Patrick asked.

“I wondered, so I checked.  We have plenty of her writing about the house to sample from.  I’m sure it’s hers.”

Paul was at work.  Patrick discovered him at his desk and persuaded him away for coffee.

“I can’t stay long,” Paul told him,  “We’ve got an urgent job we have to finish tonight.  Can I see the letter?”

Patrick handed the letter to him as delicately as if it were gelignite.  Paul grinned.  “We’re not going to fingerprint it, are we?  I take it you want me to misuse the photocopier?”

“Please.  I’m being careful because she wants it back.  But first I want to know what it says to you.”

“Nothing but the patently bleeding obvious.  It says she’s gone.  As to why…”

“Would you agree there’s something odd?”

Paul frowned.  “Odd?  Yes.  Not like her, I’d have thought.  But the letter seems to be written spontaneously and willingly, and it says you’ve been chucked, old son.  None too ceremoniously, either.  She was a nice girl and it’s a shame, but you need to think about moving on, occupying your mind.  When are you back at work now?  Do you know?”

“I’m told I should take another few days, so next week, I guess.  If there’s nothing odd, explain how that was posted two days ago, the day she disappeared, with a Baronchester postmark.  The police say the car was moved from Nowhere Lane sometime in the early hours yesterday, but I know it was parked there well into the night before.  What did she do – drive up to Baronchester to post the letter, then return to the lane, then leave again?  It doesn’t make sense.”

“ You’re clutching at straws.  Maybe she gave the letter to someone else, one of her friends, to post on her behalf; or maybe someone else moved the car.  Personally, I think she’s gone, mate.  You’re asking me, that’s what I think.”

So Patrick thanked his friend and left, with his photocopies in his hand, to return Karen’s original letter to her mother; and discontented though he was, he could think of no solid response to Paul’s argument.

That evening, which was the second since his girlfriend’s departure, was interrupted at nine-thirty by the clamour of the telephone.

“You’re Patrick, yeah?  It’s Bea.  Patrick, we’ve seriously got to talk!  Can you come?”

“Sure, is the morning okay?”

“No, now.  I’m at Karen’s apartment, Patrick.  You’ve got to see this!”

© 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

 

 

Young at Heart

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Charles Aznavour has died.

Curiously, when I type his name here Spellcheck underlines it:  Spellcheck has never heard of him.  Yet when I type ‘Sinatra’ it raises no objection.  And this is strange because through European eyes Aznavour’s diminutive 5ft 2inches frame was the embodiment of Sinatra, Bennet, Martin and even a little bit of Perry Como.  His career was as long, his fan base as widely spread, and his talent every bit as undeniable.  He just wasn’t American:  no, more than that, he was definitively French.

Aznavour was 94 years old.  He was born in 1924.  His career was ‘launched’, if that is the word, by his appearances with Edith Piaf, but international recognition had to wait until he was fifty years old.  ‘She’ became an international hit, launching a brief spate of added ‘interesteds’ to his already devoted followers.  He was feted by, and dueted with  Nana Mouskouri, Lisa Minelli, even Pavarotti for a while before fading back, not into obscurity, but to a level of established stardom that assured him of a packed house wherever he went.  He spoke fluently, and therefore sang, in five languages; his own native French, Italian, German, Spanish and English.  At the age of 90 he filled London’s Royal Albert Hall with a rapt audience for a concert.  He never retired.

To me, Aznavour was the ultimate singer/songwriter.  His songs were never covers, they were all of his own authorship, and they are many.  Hundreds, perhaps.  There were collaborators, of course, there always are, but those evocative lyrics, those haunting semi-tones were his.  Lyrics that wrenched at the heart – the regretful:

Yesterday, when I was young
The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue
I teased at life as if it were a foolish game
The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame…

Or the defiant, the ebullient:

I have lived each single moment, as a man of flesh and blood
With my soul and all my senses open wide
I have lived and tasted everything that called out to be tried
I’m afraid of neither heaven nor of hell
Never caring if I had a soul to sell.

I have one particular memory of an Aznavour song.  From such a consummate showman the lyric is the more surprising because he was a convinced heterosexual, and its timing (this came out in 1974) perfectly reflected a society struggling with the questions of a new morality.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlgQloEy2HE

Lyrics that made the thinking among us think a little more.  Bonne nuit, Charles, but no regrets.  I am sure you tried all that was out there to be tried.

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Nineteen. A worm

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The night had been merciful to Patrick.  Ravaged by all the tensions of the day and his imaginings (what danger might Karen be in, or the unthinkable – was it already too late?)  he had wanted to keep going; to keep up his search for her.  Even after he abandoned his vigil in Nowhere Lane his desperation drove him on, standing shaking and soaked to his skin before the night desk at Caleybridge Police Station, where the desk sergeant was made to listen to his account of events before, not unkindly, telling him to go home. Midnight was close before he drew the Daimler to a shuddering halt in the drive of Radley Court and his family were able to step in and advise – no, insist – he rest.

“Bath and bed for you, young man!”  Gwendoline instructed him in a tone she normally reserved for Amanda.

“It makes sense, Patsy dear,” Gabrielle soothed.  “There’s nothing to be achieved now, and you wouldn’t be a lot of use to Karen in this state.  Get some sleep.”

“You’re making a fool of yourself, boy,”  Jackson told him; though his tone was less censorious than before.  As he watched his son labouring up the big stairway there were etch-lines of concern on his normally placid features.

So Patrick acquiesced, and of course sleep came, the moment he laid his head on the pillow.  Sleep; dreamless, deep, and long.  It was near ten the next morning when he woke.

“Let me get this straight.”  The detective constable looked up from his report pad.  “You’re trying to tell me this Miss Eversley has been abducted – is that what you’re saying?”

Patrick nodded emphatically.  He had waited at the police station for nearly an hour to gain an interview with a member of CID.  He wasn’t about to see it wasted.  “How many times do I have to repeat myself?  She was following up an investigation.  The investigation took her to the old ruins at Boulter’s Green.  I followed her there.  She walked from her car to the ruins, and she did not walk back.  I waited for hours but she didn’t return.”

“You’re certain of this, are you?  Did you see anyone – anyone at all – during the time you spent there; any other persons acting suspiciously, any activity of any kind?”

“No, I didn’t.  I stayed until long after dark.”  Patrick paused, “No, wait – that isn’t quite true.  When I was down by the river there was someone, a woman, looking out of one of the windows of the Driscombe place.  Anyone in that house would have a clear view of Boulter’s Green, wouldn’t they?  Couldn’t we ask them?”

The detective frowned.  “I’m afraid we won’t be disturbing Lord Driscombe unless we have a lot more to go on, young man.  He is a Peer of the Realm, I’d advise you not to forget that.  Now, this was yesterday afternoon, after your father reported the theft of a vehicle.  You found that vehicle, didn’t you?”

“Yes; yes I did.”  Patrick felt that his concerns were being somehow turned against him.  “But yesterday morning we told your officer – my Dad told him – Karen had been abducted.  It wasn’t a theft.”

“’Karen’ would be Miss Eversley, yes?   You recovered your father’s car from outside her apartment.  Let me see, what were your words last night?”  The policeman studied the report in front of him.  “Ah, yes.  ‘She was being chased.  He was after her’.  Any idea who was after her?”

“No, I don’t know his name.  But he was large enough and strong enough to frighten her.  I had to defend her from him once; I reported it, and he’s been stalking her ever since, so I know the threat was real.”

“You certainly made a report, Mr Hallcroft.  We investigated that.  We found no evidence of an assault having taken place, or any witnesses who could describe this person.  A tall man with long hair and a leather overcoat – isn’t that your description?  A little theatrical, don’t you think?”

“Don’t believe me, if you choose not to. My sister and her boyfriend had to deal with him, they’ll tell you.  Karen also reported to you she was being followed, after he assaulted her.”

“True, true.  You might say in the few days of your acquaintanceship with Miss Eversley the pair of you drew quite a bit of police attention.”

“That’s so unfair!  I’ve known Karen longer than ‘a few days’.”  Patrick wished he had brought his mother to this interview.  “Look, it’s obvious Karen had no intention of stealing anything: my father’s car was parked on the street.  She’d left it there and swapped to her own car, once she’d got away.”

“Got away?  So she wasn’t abducted, was she?  In fact, there’s no evidence she didn’t simply ‘borrow’ your father’s vehicle to get back to town.   You see, Mr. er..”  The detective constable glanced up at Patrick with pedagogic disdain:  “Mr Woodcroft, Miss Eversley wasn’t exactly short of enemies, was she?  In her line of work, it’s entirely possible a disgruntled client might threaten violence against her, but they wouldn’t be interested in abducting her. If someone broke into your house, as appears to be the case and they were chasing her, she certainly got away; as to where she went after that, well, following your reasoning, somewhere out of reach, don’t you think?”

Patrick firmly refuted the policeman’s explanation.  “No constable, I’m reporting her missing.  I believe she may be in danger.  I’m asking you to follow that up.”

“You’re sure she’s not at home, or her place of business?”

“Certain.  I checked both.  Why?”

The constable studied his pad for a moment or two.  He pursed his lips.  “Well, we might as well get this out of the way.  You see, Mr Hallcroft, I’m having a little bit of trouble with this story of yours.”

Patrick stared.  “Why?”

“Last night you came in here unloading all this and you seemed, if the night-duty officer’s account is anything to go by, a little bit off-balance.  Nevertheless, we did send a car out to this lane you spoke of, and our constable investigated it thoroughly.  He walked the route you described to the ruins and he looked around as well as he could by torchlight.  He saw nothing unusual.”

“No, nor did I; that’s the point!  But her car is parked there…”

“That’s the thing Mr Hallcroft.  It isn’t.”

“What?”

“There was no sign of a car.  Nothing.”

Patrick regarded the detective constable blankly.  “It was there, and it was locked.  I don’t believe you.”

“To be honest, it’s immaterial whether you believe me or not.  We haven’t found the vehicle.  So as far as we’re concerned, if Miss Eversley is missing at all, the most likely explanation is that she has simply gone away for a few days.  She is an adult, and no-one from her family has reported her missing.  We might pursue her for theft and any part she played in the damage to your father’s property, but otherwise the police can’t be involved.  I’m sorry.”

 

Ah, we are only human, are we not?  Patrick’s conviction was total:  Karen already held an unassailable place in his heart.  She was his chosen; the one he would spend a lifetime beside if he could.  And only those who have loved and lost could ever understand his agony of fear for her.  Yet it would be wrong to assume that other counsels could not plant a tiny worm where such pure flowers grew.  Driving through the town after his visit to Caleybridge Police Station the detective’s explanation of the previous day’s events picked at the locks of his devotion.  He was not a fool.  In his imagination, he extrapolated upon their interview.

“Tell me, sir, how long have you known Miss Eversley?”

“A few weeks.”

“Really?  As long as that.  Were you intimate with her?”

“Well, yes.”

“Well yes.  And what do you know about Miss Eversley’s past?”

“She had a sister.”

Slowly, as if writing this down:  “She – had – a – sister.  What was her sister’s name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where did Miss Eversley go to school?”

“I don’t know.”

“Has she any close friends?”

“I don’t know.”

 I don’t know.  I don’t know.

Now, when it counted, he was discovering how little he did know about the woman who had entered his life.  He had to believe what the policeman had told him.  The car had been removed.  After he left could Karen have returned in the night and driven away from that muddied lane?  If so, where?  Where would Karen, feeling afraid, seek shelter?  And if she had found refuge, why had she not called to tell him she was safe?  There was, of course, an alternative answer he did not want to contemplate; that she had winged her little car up the A38, so by now she could be with Tim Birchinall in London.  Birchinall, his rival!  He baulked at the thought, not really believing she could do that to him so coldly, but knowing she was in fear of her big, aggressive Mr Nasty, and that might be enough to make a renewed relationship with a rugby playing policeman a temptation she couldn’t resist.

Only Karen’s mother was at home when he pressed the doorbell that afternoon.  A matronly figure whose apron was wrapped about her by her personality, she greeted him effusively.

“So you’d be the young man our Karen’s been seeing?  Come in, dearie, come in!  You’ll catch your death out there!”

If Patrick had sought to raise concern in Bridget Eversley, though, he was to be disappointed.  She sympathized with his agony, but not the reasons for his concern.  When he told her how worried he was for her daughter, Bridget thought he was over-reacting.

“A dark man?  No, she hasn’t told me about any dark men, dearie.  You shouldn’t worry about Karen, you know, she’s strong-willed and she’s wily, that one; gets it from her sister Suzanne.  She knows how to look after herself.  She’s probably gone off on one of those Spiritualist retreats – she does, from time to time.”

Patrick was puzzled.  “Spiritualist?”

“Oh yes, dearie, she’s very much took up with that.  You didn’t know?  There’s monthly meetings she goes to; some woman at the Gaiety, can’t think of her name.  She took her dad last time.  Kept him quiet for a few days after, I can tell you.  Then again, if business has been a bit slow lately she might have gone to one of her friends, I suppose.  She does that sometimes, too.”

Patrick pressed her; did she know where he might find any of Karen’s friends?

“There’s one, Bea I think her name is, but I can’t say where she lives. I met her once, it was at the County Show.  Nice girl; dark, sort of flashy, but nice.”

When they put their heads together, Patrick and Bridget, they discovered their knowledge of Karen’s life and habits amounted to surprisingly little.  “She’s an independent minx.  If she’s lit off for a while, I shouldn’t be surprised, nor should you.  She’ll be back when she’s missing her Sunday dinner.”

#

The circumstances were not ideal for a first meeting with one of Karen’s parents, Patrick told himself, but at least he had learned something more about their enigmatic daughter,   Spiritualism!   He found the very thought of Karen attending a spiritualist meeting disturbing; it was inconsistent with the image he had built of her: it did not fit.  Nor would her mother’s description of Karen – ‘She’s strong-willed and she’s wily, that one’ – comply with his; the woman in his heart was gently loyal, grounded and dependable, the woman in his head was subtly altered now.  He could not avoid thinking about that.

Exhausted by small doubts Patrick was glad enough to break from his search for a brief while, and Jacqui, still abed at the hospital, was at least as glad of his visit.  She smiled delightedly when he walked in.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes!”  She crowed.  “Where did you go yesterday?””

Despite the turban of bandages around Jacqui’s head and the brace that kept her from moving her neck, her facial features had regained their refinement, so her obvious pleasure at seeing Pat made her look radiant.

“Doesn’t anyone else visit you?”  He asked.

Jacqui pouted.  “I told you once, but you probably didn’t listen properly.  My mum and dad live in Australia now, and when they went they took my brother Ade with them.  Not that Ade would have been a dutiful relative when it came to things like visiting.  He used to have trouble remembering where the door was, most of the time.  Still, our loss of a drug addict is Australia’s gain.  Aunt Vi came to see me this morning.  She thinks I’m too thin.  Do you think I’m too thin?”

Patrick said he thought she was just perfect, and they chatted on happily for a while; touching upon subjects like hospital food, beds, and matrons.

“The night matron on this ward’s a killer!  I swear she creeps around the beds in the early hours administering lethal doses to anyone who dares demand a bedpan.  They clear out the bodies in the morning.  Anyway, you haven’t told me yet.”

“Told you what?”

“Where you went yesterday.  How’s your little Miss Marlowe?”

So Patrick told her – about the large man who had been stalking Karen, about the connection between two dilapidated buildings on a regional map and a case she had been working on, and about her disappearance.

“My god, Pat, this is horrible!  Poor Karen!  Where can she have gone, I wonder?”

“I’m worried out of my wits.  I wonder if she might have gone back to Tim, you know?  London’s a good distance away, and he’s a copper, after all.”

Jacqui placed a comforting hand on Patrick’s arm.  “Scared you might lose her?  What, gone back to the rugby-playing lump, after having tasted you?  Don’t be silly!  I met – what was his name – Tim, once.  Dull as ditchwater, darling!  No contest!  You think they’re after you, too, don’t you?”

“I was warned off,”  Patrick said.  “Maybe I should have taken notice, and you wouldn’t be in here.”

“Really now?  You think my attacker mistook me for you?  Pat – do you?”

“Maybe: just maybe.”

“Wonderful!”  Jacqui groaned.  “Dear old Jacqui, getting in the line of fire, as usual.”

“Don’t say that.  I had no idea…”

“I know, Pat, I know.  Let me see, if she’s gone to ground somewhere, where could that be?  You’ve tried everything – parents, friends…?”

“That’s the thing.  She seems to have had only one best friend.  Someone called Bea?  I have to trace her.”

“Bea Ferguson?  Oh, I might be able to help you there.  See if you can find me a piece of paper and a pen and I’ll write the address down for you.  She had loads of friends, though, Pat:  loads!”

The rain had ceased before Patrick left the hospital, prompting him to lower the top on his car and driver faster than he should, relishing the fresh wind in his face as if it might blow any trace of mistrust from his heart.  It was no distance to Caleforth, the village where the young Fergusons had made their home.  Theirs was a small red door in a street of little cottages clustered together in terraced solidarity.

“Who are you looking for, dear?”  The next door was white and open.  An elderly head was peeping through it.  “They’re both at work.  They’ll be back about six o’clock, I expect.  Shall I tell them you called?”

#

At first, she had thought the colours flashing through her head would never clear, the pain of the blow would never ease:  which was why, perhaps, she kept her eyes closed against the world.  That was why?  No, fear was why.

Behind closed eyes she was safe:  the tall man would be unsure of her condition, giving her some time to assess.  She had no clue where she was, other than the detail of her immediate surroundings, a bare white room with the bed she lay upon, an upright chair and a stout wooden door.  There were no windows: the only illumination came from a strip light on the stale white ceiling.  All this she had seen before the big man’s hand sent her back into her nightmare.

He had gone, she was fairly certain.  Her screaming seemed to concern him; had he been afraid someone would hear?  She believed she was alone and the door was closed.  If she could be sure, absolutely sure of that, she might chance opening her eyes, but lacked the courage to put it to the test.  Better to feign unconsciousness or sleep.

She had slept, at some time.  She was stretched out upon the bed, and before she was hit she had been sitting up.  Gabrielle’s marl sweater and Lee Cooper jeans had been stripped from her body: In their stead, she seemed to be dressed in some form of shift.  Someone – she could only assume it to have been that tall grey vulture of a man – had undressed her, and this induced a shudder of loathing she could not suppress.

“You’re awake then.”  The voice was dull, toneless.  Not the voice of the grey man.

Reluctantly, because her head was still buzzing, she blinked her eyes open.  He was sitting on the upright chair, watching her.  She remembered.  “You’re Joshua.”  She said.  Her jaw was bruised, her mouth difficult to move.

“You can call me that if you like.  It’s of no consequence.”

She attempted an embittered smile as she recollected the phrase.  “Was it you put me in these clothes?”

“Yes.  It’s how he wants.  Oh, and don’t worry yourself.  I left your underclothes alone – and I’m a nurse, by the way.  I’m qualified.”

“Should that console me?  I seem to remember you pretending embarrassment at the sight of my legs, not long ago.  But here you are, in the end, just another dirty little pervert.”

Joshua grinned.  “Ah’m a good actor, aren’t I, lass?”

Her mouth wouldn’t cooperate because her lips were swollen.  She was drooling, and the drool was blood.  “And who is ‘he’?  The lunatic who hit me – who’s that, Joshua?  Are you his keeper?  He belongs in a zoo, doesn’t he?”

“His name is Edgar.  I’d worry about Edgar, if I were in your place.  He’s gone to a great deal of trouble to get you, and he’s not likely to waste his opportunities now he’s succeeded.”

She pulled herself erect, sending a thunderflash of pain rocketing through her neck and head.  When the red mist cleared she could look down at herself.  “A white shift.  Very clinical.”

“He likes white, does Edgar.”

Though every move brought a new flush of pain, she could certainly move.  Nothing was wrenched, or broken.  “What does Edgar want with me?”  It was a foolish question really.  The answer, though, was unexpected.

“He’s in love with you.”

What?

“Alright, he’s obsessed with you, if you like.  Whatever you want to call it, he thinks of it as love.  He believes, for the minute, that he loves you.  A bit like a child loves a toy, you know?  Until he gets tired of it and breaks it.”

“Jesus God!”  Ignoring the warning pain in her head Karen leapt to her feet, made the two strides to the door.  She had the advantage of surprise and she used it, throwing the door open, launching herself through it into she knew not what, only hoping there was some magic path leading back to the light.  But beyond the door was a corridor, a bare, dim space, lit by another fluorescent strip screwed to another low ceiling.  There were steps leading upward not more than a few paces away.  She raced for them, only to find they ended in a hatch that was secured by heavy bolts.  When she swung back again Joshua was standing in the middle of the corridor, smiling benignly.

“There’s no way out, I’m afraid.  No way at all.”

 

© 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

 

 

Dark Sky

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A reblog!  This is a bit of fun, really, and a quick experiment with a strange new medium for me. Those darned statistics show my kind followers keep returning to this poem, so I thought I’d try giving it a voice (my voice, and you’ll probably have to turn the volume up – sorry!)

 

The sky this morn is black with crows,

The rising sun an angry rose

Casts blood in petals on the land.

And I sing, to remember all I was

In another age, in another time,

Beneath a sweeter, brighter sky

When all the world was you and I.

White horses walked in sylvan glades

In days when Knights could honour maids

And seek their favours in return.

And nought I sought in recompense

But ever fought in your defence

Long after honour was all gone

And long before I lost the dawn.

The twilight now, in softened hue

Fades all my memories of you.

Evening mist now veils your face

Treasured thoughts of so long ago

Will soon lie cold beneath the snow

 In shelter from the wind’s embrace

To be awakened never more.

Night clouds gather, my day is past

I will take you to my bed at last

That part of you forever young

Though undefined within my heart

Shall be the verse of my last song.

And when I lose my final fight

Your wraith will guide me into night.

 

 

 

 

Red September

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September is the party conference season in our sceptre isle, something which should not bother normal people most years.  This year, however, there are sinister political currents flowing.   We should be wary of this autumn’s neap tides.  Because for ordinary Britons everywhere they may become an inundation.

There are three political parties, three conferences.

Vince Cable

The Liberal Party Conference, which doesn’t really count because they are represented by twelve Members of Parliament and led by amiable geriatric, Vincent Cable.  It was last week, so you missed it, but don’t worry, so did everyone else.

This week, though – this week is the conference for the Labour Party, represented by 257 Members of Parliament.

Theresa May and Jeremy

‘Tis said among those whose delight is argument that the quickest way to lose your point is to bring Hitler into the conversation.  So I’m going to lose mine straight away, because to me, at least, this year’s Labour Party Conference resembles nothing so much as a 1930s rally of the Third Reich.  Leader of the party and aspiring Fuhrer is  Jeremy Corbyn; rather middle class-looking, much the sort of figure you would expect to tick you off for stepping on his flowerbeds, but do not be deceived.  He is a class A zealot who yearns to plant his red socialist standard in the Prime Minister’s parking space.

Corbyn sailed to power in his party on a tidal wave of idealistic students and far-left socialists who he encouraged to become party members so they could vote for him.  He charged them a special cheap membership fee of £3 a head.  This group persists and burgeons beneath the banner of ‘Momentum’, driving out more moderate members of their party.  I like to think of them as ‘The Momentum Youth’.

In its time the British Labour Party has had many different manifestations – this is one of the least pleasant.  Far from the centrist politics of their last Prime Minister, Tony Blair (think WMD), Corbyn’s affinities are unashamedly with the Trades Unions.  His declared intention to nationalise everything that moves is a transparent attempt to restore the Union despotism of the 1970s which brought his country to its knees.

The problem seems to be a reluctance to learn:  nobody, par exemple, who experienced the nationalised railways the first time around would want to see those dirty untended carriages or suffer those relentless strikes again.  No-one would want to buy from manufacturers ruled by their union conveners whose power could halt production lines at any time.  Yet it just might happen:  Corbyn might snatch power in a General Election soon, not because of his popularity as a potential Prime Minister but because of the inadequacy of the present one.

Next week will feature the Conservative Party Conference.  A genial bunfight in normal years, sometimes this can throw up great boiling geysers of schism and outrage, and this is potentially just such a year. The cause of such foment?

That damnable Brexit chappy!

Everybody knows a national referendum clearly showed a majority of the British people wanted to leave the European Union.  To some, however, that democratic defeat was like the proverbial red rag to a bull.  They have been trying, by fair means sometimes but mostly foul, to scare the socks off the general populace with horror stories and selective use of terms like ‘falling off the cliff’ and ‘crashing out’.  They have produced barrel-loads of ropey statistics and dubious long-term prognostications, while accusing those in favour of the decision of ‘populism’ (which is apparently some kind of offence, unlike Machiavellianism, their stock-in-trade).

So far, these tactics have been so transparently redolent of self-interest they have only succeeded in hardening attitudes in the country at large, but they prosper in the belly of the Conservative Party.  To Prime Minister Theresa May has fallen the odious task of reaching a ‘negotiated settlement’ with the disdainful bureaucrats of Brussels.  Her inability to come up with a recipe that is satisfactory to everybody has proved her undoing, and she is nobody’s favourite at the moment, espoused by neither the gun-toting-bring-back-the-navy-and-blockade-the-English-Channel ‘hard Brexiteers’, nor the hand-wringing ‘Remoaners’ who don’t want us to leave the EU at all.

The Conservatives at Conference have a recipe for crises such as these.  They deny any possibility of a ‘split’, they swear fealty to their Glorious Leader, and they stand in rapturous applause for the stirring words of her rallying call, while those whose work it is are eyeing her back for the exact position to deliver the knife-thrust.  Meanwhile, in a well-attended fringe meeting, her successor in title makes his pitch…

Conference Season in the UK is not always so entertaining, or disturbing, as the closing weeks of this September promise to be.   There is a real risk that the established political parties will be rent asunder by internal strife, delivering the UK back into the clutches of the Federal Republic of Europe against common consent.  If that happens there will certainly be hell to pay, and possibly even revolution.

In a parallel universe, Jeremy Corbyn may grasp the reins, plunging the country into a dark neo-communist age.  That would be a real ‘crash out’.  On balance, I think not.  The Momentum movement seems unable to shake off the taint of anti-Semitism, and in this country no-one likes racial prejudice.

Perhaps, after all, it is a matter of a few ripples in the lapsang souchong and there are halcyon days ahead.  Perhaps it is time for revolution, because none of the principal political parties represent the people anymore.  At my age, why should I care?  I can sit back and watch, popping my pills and drawing my pension as the political world passes by, and nothing is likely to cause me direct harm from all this, is it?  Yet somehow I do care.  Could that be because I have seen it all before, and what distresses me is our tragic inability to learn?

Crossing Borders. A Three Part Series.

This wide-eyed Scotsman has my unqualified admiration. His descriptions meet me halfway to the page and he avoids the ‘me in front of the Taj Mahal’ traps of most travel blogs. He travels Eastern Europe as I would love to travel, had I youth and strength. Enjoy following his adventures!

The Travelling Tales of a Wide-Eyed Scotsman

Part 1. Leaving Bucharest, Mihail & The Romani People.

Excerpts from my journal, updated and rewritten for your reading pleasure.

Boyana (A small town on the periphery of Sofia, Bulgaria).

I left the hostel around midday and took a few buses to the outskirts of Bucharest. I feared finding a lift to take me further on my journey would prove unsuccessful but to my surprise I was picked up almost instantly by a young guy. Mihail was heading for a town not far from the Romanian/Bulgarian border and so very kindly offered to take me directly there. I couldn’t believe my luck. We got to talking about all things Romanian and about my presence in an impoverished area. How he felt compelled to pull over and help me as there were never many foreigners in this part of town.

He began to speak about the persistent stereotypes of Romanians around…

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Nowhere Lane – Chapter Eighteen.  Through a Glass Darkly

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Jacinta Driscombe tapped a rhythm on the cover of a ‘Country Life’ that had settled on a corner of her Queen Anne table, turned a page or two with indolent, scarlet-tipped fingers.  They were pages she had read not once, but a dozen times.  Sighing, she flicked them closed, stepped elegantly to a cocktail cabinet by the blue drawing-room window, where she poured herself a generous measure of gin.  Sauntering in a rhythmic, gliding sequence akin to a dance Jacintha settled upon a long velvet settee in the centre of the room, draping herself over its blue cushions and allowing gravity to arrange her burgundy organza dress however it would.  She sipped her drink carefully, mindful of red lipstick that must not be smudged.

Footsteps emanating from the bare boards of the adjacent Music Room had never sounded more welcome – she called out in plaintive tones.

“Staffy darling, where in god’s name have you been?  Did I not insist we had to be there by eight?  Weren’t you even listening to me?”

Stafford Driscombe paused in his approach to observe from the doorway the woman he had taken as his wife, now a dozen years ago.  It was, as far as he could recall, the last time he had seen her sober.  “I see you’ve begun early.”  He said dryly.

“Well, you’re so bloody late, Staffy, aren’t you?”  Jacinta sniffed.  “You stink of dead rats or something, darling, and oh my heavens, what are you wearing?  You can’t possibly go dressed like that?”

Stafford looked down at himself.  His casual attire was the worse for harbouring little stringers of mud in its corduroy folds.  “No, I suppose I can’t.  It’s simply pouring down out there now.  Have to change.  I’ll just be a jiffy, old thing.”

Jacinta dismissed him with a shrug.  “Well hurry up!”  And she raised her voice sufficiently to be heard by his retreating back.  “What were you doing, anyway?”

“Something I had to attend to, dear, the new apple tree saplings for the upper garden; Bramleys, don’t y’know?  Tell Giles we want the car, will you?  I’ll be back before you know it.”

Jacinta raised herself from the couch gracefully, revisiting the decanter for a top-up before, on a whim, covering the distance to the east window and the telephone in a series of dance steps, a part of a routine she had learned in her West End run of ‘Salad Days’.

To be with Jacinta was to stand in awe of her flawless beauty: watching her decorous fluidity of movement, her faultless poise you could not imagine she was anything other than an aristocrat; a daughter of one of the old families, born to privilege.  There was nothing that might suggest she was the youngest of seven children born to a London Docks crane operative who raised her in Shoreditch.  Her early years were a well-buried mystery, allowed to remain so by a circle of society that might privately be aware her husband fell for her upon seeing one of her stage performances but would keep the knowledge to itself.  The Driscombes had considerable wealth, which brought influence of a kind that rendered such gossip dangerous if allowed to flourish.

As an actress, Jacinta Peyton had ability quite aside from her personal charms; enough, perhaps, to have supported a glittering stage career.  Hollywood had expressed interest in the young actress who had worked for twelve hours a day and then five hours every night to earn her fees for RADA.  She was among the youngest ever to gain membership of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and her Desdemona at the Old Vic displayed artistic maturity that belied her age.

So why, at twenty-seven or twenty eight (the exact figure was uncertain;  Jacinta never discussed her age) she elected to turn her back on the glamour of her West End life was never really explained:  Stafford Driscombe was heir to the Driscombe fortunes, but otherwise an unremarkable young man, with a rather undershot jaw and big teeth that gave him a pronounced overbite.  He was tall, he had the assurance that his status gave, but it was difficult to believe Jacinta’s motive was true love.  Perhaps she was tired.  Perhaps she had that inner insecurity all true artists suffer, that she might not be equal to the image she portrayed.  Or perhaps she saw the prospect of her part as a gentlewoman in the highest echelons of society as the greatest acting challenge of them all?

Whatever the truth, it was certain she was always on stage.  Her bearing was impeccable, her accent impregnable.  Only once (Marvin, Stafford’s personal servant, swore in the privacy of the servants’ wing) was she heard to unleash a string of cockney invective.  That was at night and in the imagined sanctity of her bedroom, on the occasion of one of Stafford’s ‘visits’.

“Whatever he asked her to do, I don’t think she liked it.”

At most social gatherings Jacinta could rely upon an invitation to sing.  She might accept once in a while, though not too often, because she did not want to be thought of as ‘a common entertainer’, but when she did agree she had the voice of an angel.  Then, in lowered tones, one or two of those present might murmur the word ‘professional’, though no-one would expand upon their definition.

Tonight, despite Stafford’s distaste for her drinking, she would play her part flawlessly as usual.  Even though the gathering she was committed to attend was no more than a party for the Conservative members of Caleybridge Council, she would be at her best, as always.  And by gradual, tedious degrees she was raising her husband’s very moderate political profile to a day when she foresaw she might become a Prime Minister’s wife; and only from those giddy heights might she, at last, freely confess to her humble background.

Jacinta stared moodily out of the East Window as she raised the receiver from its cradle.  She had to press the sixth intercom button three times before she heard the click of a response.

“We need a car; I think the Bentley.  Bring it round, will you, Giles?  In uniform this time, please.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Rain beat upon the east window, a muffled tattoo not without its own music, be it as it may in a minor key.  Beyond the glass, out in a grey world that might have forgotten springtime for a day, wind ruffled the obedient biennial soldiers in their flowerbeds, and seeing a threat of trespass, stirred the ensign beeches into waving semaphore: only the three great oaks, their mighty generals, remained impassive.  A single intruder was of no interest to them.

Jacinta’s gaze picked him out; the figure of a man who stood alone upon the river’s further bank, huddled against the rain.  Through the distortion of raindrops upon the glass it was difficult to distinguish detail at such a distance, but she thought his eyes were raised in her direction.

“Staffy?”  She heard footsteps behind her.  “Staffy darling, there’s someone down by the water.  Just standing there in this weather!  What does he want, do you think?”

The footsteps didn’t yield a reply, so Jacinta turned.  “Oh, it’s you.”  She said.

#

Patrick, having discovered his father’s damaged Jaguar parked outside Karen’s apartment, wanted nothing more than to continue his hunt for Karen.  Instead, he was forced to kick his heels standing guard over the car until Jackson could be ferried into Caleybridge by Gwendoline.  There was no question of leaving the precious machine because its security had already been compromised by his girlfriend’s skilful manipulation of its ignition, and a couple of teenage boys were showing particular interest in it.   Their questions seemed perfectly innocent but it was evident they had enough knowledge to resume where Karen had left off, and Patrick was afraid the temptation might prove too much.

Neither was Jackson as prompt as his son might have wished.  He seemed to have his reasons for delay – there had been further conversations with the police, discussions with the vet that were necessary for Petra’s recovery, Amanda, who had taken the opportunity afforded by her expulsion to make herself scarce needed to be found and stuffed very reluctantly into the back of Gwendoline’s Citroen for the journey, and so on.  But Patrick suspected his father was using the situation to punish him a little, and maybe saw the hunt for Karen as less urgent than he.  Perhaps the police officer’s scepticism had placed a seed of doubt about Karen’s honesty in Jackson’s mind – could he really believe she had absconded?

Once reunited with his Jaguar, Patrick’s father demanded he assist in a roadside repair, dispatching Gwendoline and the ranting Amanda back to home and tea.  Then he was required to follow Jackson back to Radley Court in his own car, in case the Jaguar should break down or run out of fuel, which was very low.

The father was dismissive of his son’s manifest impatience:  “The girl’s got her reasons for doing what she has, boy.  Running around like a headless chicken won’t achieve anything.  Leave the searching to the police.”

Much of the day had passed before the headless chicken was finally able to get running; as soon as he could Patrick returned to Caleybridge; first to Karen’s office, just to ensure she was not there, then to a turning from some traffic lights in the West Town that became the Pegram road.  He drove fast on a road now almost deserted in the lea of the evening rush, knowing the start Karen had over him, and melting the miles beneath his Daimler’s eager wheels, but still twenty minutes would elapse before he was forced to slow, probing overgrown hedges for that inconspicuous finger which pointed into Nowhere Lane and Boulter’s Green.

The way was muddied from a day of intermittent rain.  If anything, the hedges were even more intrusive, the lane even stonier.  Patrick winced at every scrape from a straggling branch, every protest from his car’s suspension, each bang as a rock hit the car floor.  He nevertheless persisted for all of the first mile until he reached the place where Karen had parked when they visited the lane together, electing to walk the last, steeper mile of track down to the old gate where it ended, and a wild meadow separated him from the ruins of Boulter’s Green.

In the gloom and the rain he almost missed Karen’s car.  It had been driven hard against the hedge very near to the foot of the hill, not a hundred yards from the gate.  Then it had been smeared with mud and overgrowth from the hedge dragged across it, as though someone had intentionally tried to conceal it.  For ten minutes he struggled to part the festoons of beech and bramble to reach the handle of the nearside door, only to find that, like the driver’s door, it was locked.   The windows were clear enough to see within, but nothing had been left on its seats or floor to tell a story.

Patrick’s guess, or perhaps no more than a hope, was that Karen had left it here on a similar quest to his own, and she might return for the car later.  It was a slim chance, but enough to encourage him.  With rain blowing in his face he climbed the gate and set out through the wet grass, feeling the chill of its moisture weighing down his clothes and creeping through the leather of his shoes.

Did he expect to find Karen hiding here, crouched cold and miserable in the shadow of the ruins, waiting for him to rescue her?  He paused before the tumbled walls to call her name, then again upon the upper meadow at their further side, to be answered only by silence.  The wet stones stared blandly back at him:  he was an interloper, a disturbance to their aged peace.  He did not belong.

After several minutes during which he searched, fruitlessly, for any trace of Karen, he returned to the gap between the ruins, looking back to where her car was still parked, still waiting.  From this advantage he could see the trails that human feet had beaten through the grass – two trails:  one, of course, would be his own; the other…

So: he knew, now, she had been here, had walked across that meadow!  Had she gone further?  There were no tell-tale trails of trampled vegetation in any other direction, either across the fields into open country or towards the river, but he reasoned with himself that the grass was shorter, that it maybe kept its secrets the better for that, and set off towards the line where the river formed the boundary of the Driscombe estate.

The rain was a driving, relentless force.  It soaked Patrick’s clothes until they hugged his flesh in an embrace as cold and clinging as the earth of a grave.  He felt heavy with the over-bearing weight of it: rivulets that cascaded down his face, ran from his nose, from his chin.  The river ran red and angry with that same water.  The river roared.  Across its rushing, forbidding breadth, the bank on the further side was steep; cut intentionally to discourage; whoever had enough audacity to breach its waters might easily slide back into their embrace if they tried to mount the muddy slope, but no-one would cross that torrent.  At least for the last several days, no-one had tried.  The virgin grass that clung there had not been crushed or scored by human feet.  It was intact.

Upon the hill beyond the river the Driscombe Great House stood, its host of ancient chimneys proud and tall and its windows glowing with warmth and light.  A slender figure of a woman, tall and graceful, was standing behind a large mullioned frame of glass with something, a drink perhaps, clasped in her hand.  For a moment Patrick’s gaze was drawn to her, and he had a fancy that their eyes met.

She was not Karen.  But Karen had come back, as she had promised she would, to Boulter’s Green.  And she had gone no further, it seemed.  She was no longer there, and though he called her name again and again, she made no answer.  Reluctantly, unable to do more, Patrick returned through the wet meadow to where Karen’s car stood waiting.  There, saturated by the rain, he kept vigil until the dark and the cold overcame him.  Karen did not return.

 

Dark as night?  No, night was not dark enough.  Dark as blindness?  Again, no.  For blindness has no weight:  it deprives, yet has no substance.  Not like this dark.  Not like this blackness.  Not like the knowing, the certainty, the heavy, cold, sweat-excretive dread.  And the stench in the breathing air – an intense aroma not unknown to her.  A smell of age and something other.  Something near – very near.

This blackness hid the fingers from the hand, the hand from the arm;  the arm from the eye.  But there were fingers out there, Karen was certain.  Other fingers; another hand.  The hand of something, or someone.  It was – where?  Behind her?  Beside her?  Worse – was it even now just before her face, reaching, clawing: would it touch her?  Would it touch her now?

Karen bit back the scream.  There was no logic in this, no reason why she should be afraid – was there?  No reason to think she was other than alone?  If she sat quite still she might hear…

Very gradually, her senses attuned to the silence, the musty odour of earth.  Her shivering stopped.  Her quick, gulping sobs of breath began to steady.  Piece by careful piece, like unfired crocks she might array within a kiln, or dried flowers pressed in the leaves of a book, the past was returning to her.  She had followed a lead, a desperate strand that might bring her salvation – but when?  All so long ago; long, long ago.  She would never remember the hand that pressed a pad across her mouth or the precipitous drop into sleep.  And so she was here.  A couch, or a bed.  She had awakened, raised herself to a sitting position.  An inventory of herself would tell her she was alright, she was unhurt; so now, perhaps, she might try to move, to stand up.  But then, where would she move?  Forward?  Why not back?  What if that something, or someone, was behind her now?

Oh, if only she could SEE!  Her eyes struggled helplessly against a wall of absolute deprivation.  But at least she could hear, at least touch.  And here in the emptiness there must be some border, some wall or surface she could find.  You have legs to move Karen – move them!  She strove for co-operation from limbs which seemed no longer hers.  She stretched forward with a shaking, tentative hand…to nothing.  There was nothing.  Empty space.  Her hand paddled pointlessly at dank air.  A step then – there must be a wall there, or somewhere – a contour she could follow.  Get on your feet, Karen!

Memories flooding back.  She shifted her weight, balanced to stand up, shaking with apprehension and terrified to lose that small comfort of contact beneath her.  Gently, so gently, her fingers probed outwards – outwards – and forwards – and touched.  Touched flesh.  Oh shit!  Oh fuck!  Oh Jesus!  Frantically, she fell back, struggling against the alarm that had overset her.

She cried aloud:  “Don’t!  Don’t touch me!”

Above her a lance of light flickered as an angry wasp of a starter compelled an illuminated strip into life; and suddenly she was in a room with bare walls, a chair.  And a man.  The man.  The grey man.

He towered above her with his angry face glaring down.  A wet sneer drooled from his lips.

“Oh you’re mine now, Ducky, aren’t you?  So good of you to visit us.  So glad you came!” He spoke like a wood rasp, grinding, cutting.  And his hand came across her face like a horsewhip, cracking.  Her head exploded in a thousand coloured lights.  Karen screamed.  She kept on screaming.

 

© 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

 

 

 

 

 

Obituary for a Joker

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A brief note but I have to do this.

Five days ago Alan Irwin Abel passed away.  Really.

Now I’m guessing if you live in America most of you know, but in case it slipped past you, or if you live elsewhere in the world where his death does not seem to have received coverage, here are some quick insights to a man who was multi-talented, and who sense of humour will be missed.

In 1959 Abel founded SINA – the Society for Indecent Naked Animals, whose object was to clothe all animals from toy dogs upwards.  He published a magazine as its organ of support and gained the attention of Walter Cronkite, who gave it a ten-minute slot on his news programme.

He ‘died’ in 1980 of a heart attack while skiing in Colorado, posted his own obituary in the New York Times, then held a press conference the following day to prove his death was a hoax.

Yetta Bronstein, housewife, was another of his creations.  Yetta (a mythical figure, his wife providing her voice) sought election for Presidential office; her platform included national bingo, self-fluoridisation, a suggestion box on the White House fence and Jane Fonda naked on postage stamps, to boost the ailing income of the postal service.  Yetta herself never appeared (couldn’t, of course) at rallies, so Abel appeared instead as her campaign manager.

In 1985 he organised a protest at the quality of daytime television by arranging for a ‘mass fainting’ by members of the audience for the Donahue Show.

Among his enterprises could be counted a ‘School for Beggars’ in New York (which claimed to teach down-and-outs ways to improve their ‘income’), and ‘Euthanasia Cruises’ – which sort of speaks for itself.   I believe, although I haven’t been successful in tracking back to this one, he also suggested the famine of human body parts for transplant could be resolved by a system in which the recipient paid a rental for a donated organ on a 99-year lease.

I guess Abel’s time has passed, in that anyone can be a hoaxer now.  But he didn’t have, for most of his life, access to mass media, so the orchestration of these, and many other pranks must have taken an elaborate sense for detail and considerable organisational skills.

So this was my brief obituary.  The world is the worse for the loss of Alan Irwin Abel.

https://theinfluencers.org/en/alan-abel/video/2