Rebecca Shelley rested her head against the blue wing-cushion of her first class seat, letting the train rhythms flow through her body as she prepared for sleep. Beyond smoke-smeared carriage windows Beaconshire’s browns and greens of Spring flitted by, lit by the first rays of a very watery and apologetic sun. As always, her rebellious eyes defied her; tired though she was, they would not close.
Opposite her, Patrick’s head was already rested, his eyes already contentedly shut. She found herself openly appraising him, his thick, unruly hair, large, expressive features, soft, full mouth. In the last twelve hours her body had pressed for warmth against every inch of his, causing her to think she knew him as well as she had known any man. Even in the bone-chilling cold of that dreadful struggle beneath the stones she had discovered nothing to disappoint her. His was not a competitor’s body. He would be an unlikely sportsman, a very uncomfortable athlete; his courage was not exemplary, but it was enough. He was intelligent rather than clever, sensitive rather than slick – sensitive enough to cry. She had always thought she could love a man who cried.
Her friends sometimes teased her with the prospect of a relationship, to counter which she would reply to the effect that she had never had one, or wanted one. That was untrue, of course – wasn’t it? She had often speculated idly, when she met attractive opposites in the course of her job, or on the street. She was speculating in just such a fashion now: he was interesting, this Hallcroft man, yet would that interest stand the test of a month, or even a week in her company? The idea was ridiculous! He ran a business, a successful one, from a small mansion in the sticks. She was a professional journalist with a small, very untidy apartment in Fulham. He had a wife. Well no – he was married, but she could see, as everyone else around Jacqui could see, that the couple were an unequal fit. Jacqui loved him, he respected her. When he had agreed to come to London they had rowed – in another room, but Rebecca overheard. Jacqui mistrusted him. So she could see it, too.
Focus beginning to drift, thoughts clouding, Rebecca’s eyes submitted to impending slumber. She missed the moment when Patrick’s eyes blinked open, and she was unaware of how, for the miles until the train’s first stop at Baronchester, and with equal freedom, he studied her.
The travelling companions, despite exhaustion in the aftermath of their ordeal, were intent upon reaching London, because the evidence was mounting that Edgar, the Driscombe heir was to be pursued from there. For Rebecca, the spur of a breaking story offered motivation enough: for Patrick less so. His presence had no other function than to offer a firm identification if a woman, seen with someone they supposed to be Edgar boarding a van in East London, should prove to be Karen Eversley. And of course he was anxious but did he want that? Yes, he supposed. Nevertheless, he had seen the effect this revival of the Eversley affair had upon his new wife, as well as himself: there were feelings buried beneath the turf of his conscious mind, and he might have wished they remain so.
Karen; the old flame – the flame that would not go out, whatever the nobility of his efforts to extinguish it, but crept close behind him, leaving a little trail of ashen memories in its wake.
To meet the train Jackson Hallcroft, Patrick’s father, had driven his son, Rebecca, and Joshua Turnbull, their saviour at ‘The Green’ from Radley Court into Caleybridge. Jackson, who had refused to leave Turnbull alone at Radley Court with only his daughter-in-law and Inga for company, was yet unwilling to expose him to the mercies of Stafford Driscombe’s ‘people’, Everyone owed Turnbull a debt of gratitude so, given that the local police could not be trusted, they provided Turnbull with dry clothes and dropped him off at a street near to the bus depot, leaving him, with as much cash as the family could muster for a fare, to ‘make up his own mind’ as to his destination. They took this decision fully aware that Turnbull might spend the money on his next ‘fix’ and return to just those people he claimed to fear most, but their options were limited. Their last sight of this shrunken man, standing despondently on Bridge Street’s rain-washed pavement, was immortalised in the flare of Rebecca’s camera.
At ‘The Huntsman’, while Rebecca was changing into her own clothes and packing, Patrick made a telephone call. Jackson settled up with an extremely sleepy and irritable clerk before they embarked on a race for Caleybridge station. There, Patrick and Rebecca caught the early morning express, bound for London.
The white van was leaving. The woman watched it through a rain-spattered casement with vague fascination, her gaze fixed on its lights as it cut a path through the darkness, a lonely feature receding into a black landscape.
Her curious hands explored the wooden frame with probing fingers to find every tiny weakness in the putty, every small draught.
She was confused. She had no idea where she was, only that the van journey to get here had been long and arduous. The rear of the van, though fitted with seats, provided a ride both cold and rough, with no other facility for comfort. Rain had beaten down on the thin roof, a constant tattoo of noise which mingled discordantly with a radio’s unceasing blast of contemporary music. One of the cheap speakers that relayed the sound had lost its attachment to the rear corner of the van, and swung by its wire for the whole afternoon, knocking against the van’s metal doors. That was over now. What was next?
She tore herself away from the glass, looked around her. A basic, functional room: all she could, or did, expect. Bare, white walls (she could ask for posters perhaps if she was to stay here), a bed made up with a green blanket that looked fairly comfortable, a brown oak wardrobe and an extra garment rail, already crammed with her garments. Next to the only door a dressing table with all her pots of make-up and other cosmetics brimming from it. They had lost no time, the big lounge-suited men who took care of her – who were patrolling somewhere out there, in the dark.
Sighing, the woman sank down upon the bed, allowing her eyes to rest. She remained prone for maybe half-an-hour, listening to the silence, though she knew her day was not yet ended. When, from somewhere else in the house, she heard a cry like a hound giving tongue, a continuous siren of sound rising to a furious crescendo, she was prepared. She was ready. She rose to her feet and crossed to the dressing table.
“Coming, Edgar,” She murmured, as though the face in her mirror was his.
A hand nudged Patrick’s shoulder. Rebecca grinned down at him. “Restaurant Car’s open. Come on sleepy-head, let’s get some breakfast.”
The dining car was quiet. There were some customers, though, to set the galley rattling and bring the parlance of cooks to life. A clutch of owlish commuters with thick British Railways coffee squinted at big City broadsheets – Telegraph, Times and pink Financial Times – leaving printers’ ink fingermarks on their cups.
“How can you eat that?” Rebecca reproved Patrick for his choice of a full English breakfast feast – double egg, sausage, bacon, fried bread, tomato…”
“I’m hungry. I need building up. How do you stay alive on a pastry boomerang?”
“This is not a boomerang, it is a croissant. Furthermore, it is a British Railways croissant, and as such it is as filling as any three-course meal (and as chewy).”
“Not surprising. It looks as if it suffered an abusive childhood in the Loire Valley.”
“Honestly, mature though it is I imagine this train is as close to France as this croissant will ever get. Why the Loire?”
“I just like the name. Region Pays de la Loire; do they eat croissant there, do you think? So what happens at Paddington?”
“No idea, I hope someone will meet us and tell us. They’re working on tracing the van after it left our contact’s yard. We’ve also got someone watching Stafford Driscombe.”
“He wasn’t with the group who hired the van?”
“Nah. They would just be goons. But the fact they transferred from a car to this van implies they had something to hide, and maybe they had a journey in mind. I reckon they’ve left London. If Edgar Forbes what’s-his-face is with them, they’ll need to be going somewhere secure and private.”
“Could just be a nursing home,” Patrick suggested.
“Could be. I don’t think so. Too risky. See, our Stafford’s in an awkward spot. There’s nothing wrong with having a brother who’s not quite the full shilling, but to suddenly reveal him after thirty-odd years might not seem an ideal cabinet minister-type decision. And then, of course, there’s all the murders. Sorry, I know that’s a sensitive point; I’ll shut up now.
“We’re due into Paddington at eight-fifteen, right in the middle of the bleedin’ rush hour, so this next bit’s promising to frustrate.”
Their express rolled under Paddington Station’s Victorian canopy in the company of three or four local commuter trains that disgorged their stressed human stampede almost simultaneously. Borne along by the suited host Patrick and Rebecca were submerged for a while until the forced Venturi of a ticket barrier spat them out onto the concourse.
“Bloody ‘ell, they’ve sent Purvis!” Rebecca exclaimed as they carved through crowds towards a taxi rank. “What are you doing here Purv – you can’t drive, can yer?”
A substantial man with significant yellow teeth like a beaver was holding up a white card which read: ‘SHELLEY’ in scrawled felt-tip. “Nah, George is driving.” He spoke like a rising bubble. “We’re meeting Tarq at King’s Cross.”
“Why – train north?”
“Think so. Tarq should have it confirmed by now. Hope he has, anyway.”
The car had forced itself into the rank of taxis amidst loud argument. Rebecca and Patrick slid into the back seat, whilst Purvis leapt into the front. George grunted a welcome, then began the business of levering the car out of the taxi queue – more argument, a lot of creative language and a liberal quantity of motor horn.
Rebecca leaned towards Patrick and told him confidentially, “No matter what you might be led to believe in the next twenty minutes George has never killed anyone. Brief me, Purv: you’ve been watching Mrs Driscombe, haven’t you? Anythin’ interesting?”
“Loads, ‘Becca, me love. Loads!” The beaver teeth flashed in Patrick’s direction; “I’m watching Jacinta’s apartment, aren’t I? Well, nothing until yesterday afternoon: this woman in a mini collects her and they drive off somewhere – so I calls it in to Tarq and he says if she comes back, spook her. Get down there, lots of close-ups, ask her about her husband, that sort of thing; see what she comes up with. He says, ask her where her husband’s brother is! Good one, right?
“Sure enough, a couple of hours, she’s back, and she’s cracking up – I mean, really. Get this, when I ask her where Stafford’s brother is, she goes white as a bleedin’ sheet. And there’s more. The totty in the mini, the one she’s out with. It’s her SISTER, baby! Her own blood and flesh! Shitty-mouthed little cow, as well – you should have heard her! Anyway, she’s screaming out at me to leave her sis alone, and Lady Muck can’t find her key, so I says: ‘Where’s Stafford’s brother now?’ She doesn’t answer. There’s no heavies around, so I get between her and the door and I keep asking; same question. She keeps schtum, doesn’t she? Sis though, she’s goin’ mad. The two of them start shouting at each other and Sis is trying to get her back in the car, and she’s on at me all the time, questioning my ancestry and that, and I keep pushing with the question, and at last – get this – Sis is shouting: ‘No-where near here. Nowhere you can find him’.”
Rebecca cheered. “Yeah! Well done Purv!”
“Wait, that’s not all. I take a stab, don’t I? I have a go. I say: ‘Yeah, long way to Yorkshire.’ And Lady Muck glares at me, and her mouth drops, and she says: ‘how d’you know that, you bastard’?”
“Yep. If yer lookin’ for Lady Muck’s brother-in-law, Becca luv, start with Yorkshire. That’s why Tarq’s booked us all on the nine o’clock out of King’s Cross. It stops at York.”
‘George’ had left the run of one-way systems and never-ending traffic queues as soon as he found a rabbit hole down which to plunge, and there followed a bewildering succession of narrow streets overloaded with parked cars, tight corners taken too fast, cyclists terrorized, pedestrians narrowly avoided. Patrick quickly lost all sense of direction and contented himself with clinging to his seat while he prayed.
“Wouldn’t the tube have been quicker?” He ventured when he could find breath.
“Nah, not this time of day.” Rebecca replied; “Be bleedin’ lucky to get on it, and worse luck if it gets stuck. Don’t worry, George knows his stuff. He’ll get us there.”
“Ex-police Class One driver,” George said cheerfully over his shoulder. “Used to do this for a living.”
“Still does,” Purvis commented. “Look at that stupid berk! Get off the bleedin’ road, Charlie!”
The woman was waiting for the knock at her door, unsurprised when it came. The voice through the panels was harsh. “He wants you.”
It was a new man. A man she did not know or like. He seemed unwilling. Who could blame him: could she? She opened her door to him and he stared.
“Alright. Put a dressing gown on. I don’t want to see your artwork.”
In the torment of the move she had almost forgotten what it was like, being ashamed of her painted nakedness, so the big man’s remark stung her, a little. She threw a bathrobe over her shoulders.
“How the f**k can you go around like that!” His voice reeked of disgust.
She answered simply: “He likes it.”
The man led the way along a short passage to stairs, then down into the hallway of the house. He waved a hand at a door. “He’s in there. He’s pissed.”
The woman nodded, expressionless. She did not fail to notice extra bolts that were obviously recent additions to the door’s oak sturdiness. Its handle was stiff. The man followed her inside.
It was a small room – not cramped, but modest by comparison with the one Edgar was accustomed to, with walls painted a neutral cream and a single pendant light hanging from a stained white ceiling. The floor was carpeted – a cheap imitation of Persian weave, and the double bed, confined to one end of the room, though fitted with retaining rails, was equally reduced in extravagance from the silk and leather acre of mattress she was used to sharing with Edgar.
He, Edgar, was seated in a heavy wooden-armed chair facing her. His legs and arms were strapped to the chair and he was naked, apart from a pair of ludicrous black tights and a small towel, discreetly placed across his lap.
“Poppy darling! My dearest!” He welcomed her effusively. “Come and see what they have done to me!”
She glanced about the room, a professional glance. “The bed.” She said in a toneless voice to the man behind her. “It needs to be moved away from the wall.”
“It stays there.” The man said.
“No, it moves away from the wall. I have to be able to get away on both sides, do you understand? And those bonds won’t hold him. He can smash that chair if he’s angry enough. You need something stronger, and a firm anchor point to restrain him.”
“You’ve got what you’ve got.” The man grunted.
“Shall I prove it now, then?” She offered, still in the same dead voice.
“What do you mean?”
“I can make him really, really mad at you. I can, can’t I, Edgar? If I were you, I should start running.” Edgar illustrated her point with a helpful snarl.
“All right, all right.” Muttered her guard. “We’ll see to it.”
“There are two of you then. The other one, the one in the van – is her coming back?”
“None of your business.”
“I’ll take that as a no. There should be three of you. You’d better go now. I don’t play to an audience.”
The man withdrew, although whether he would continue to witness his floorshow through the keyhole of the door she had no way of knowing.
“Darling Poppy, I’m so glad you’re here. You have no idea what they have been doing to me. Look at the state I’m in!”
The woman looked. Through all the fog of merciful forgetfulness, she retained some strands of memory. His hair, though still long and straggling was steel grey with age and receding. If anything his complexion had become more sallow with time, his hawk nose even sharper, his nightmare eyes still blackly shining with a penetration that might find its way through steel. His body was thin: it could not gain weight no matter how religiously he was fed, although it had lost not an ounce of its determined strength.
“You look fine.”
“I’m a waste ground; a waste ground, Poppy darling. And you; how do you look? Take that rag off. Let me look at you!”
The woman shrugged the bathrobe from her shoulders so it fell at her feet. She stepped out of it without thought.
“You’ve done the special one for me, like a princess!” Edgar cried. “You know what that does to me.”
Over time; interminable time, her response to this one of Edgar’s many obsessions had honed her body make-up arts to a generous perfection. She had learned how color could entice or repel, defend her, or portray vulnerability so that, subtly employed, she could induce different shades of mood in Edgar. Tonight, she had chosen blue. A light blue powder over her entire form, highlighted to white so the bones of her fingers, her collar bone and her femurs almost shone like silver. The shadows were dark, as dark as midnight could make them.
“I wanted you.”
“And you called me, as I taught you. But you don’t want me, you don’t, Edgar. Not tonight. You’re tired.” The strangeness of this statement came upon her so unexpectedly she almost choked. ‘Tonight’. It was night, not day. For the first time in her memory, there was an outside, a window.
“I want you. Come here, my darling Poppy!”
“No, Edgar. Not now. Tomorrow. We’ll play together, one of our special games. It’ll be twice as good for waiting.”
“I am tired.”
“Of course you are. It’s been a long day.”
Almost immediately, Edgar began to affect drowsiness, as though he was about to sleep. “We are going to be married, you know, Poppy darling. It will be a grand affair!”
“Yes, Edgar. Soon.”
“Soon. The Prime Minister will come!”
“I know; I know.” The woman withdrew, slowly, gathering her bathrobe to her as she did so.
Edgar’s voice followed her: “You’ll be dressed in black, you’ll be covered in stinking shit! Stafford will give you away and I’ll wed you with a ring of razor wire to cut off your f***ing finger you bitch!”
© Frederick Anderson 2018. All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content