“He’s ready for sleep now.” The woman told the one she had nicknamed Oddjob, who had not moved far from the door to Edgar’s new domain. “The things I warned you about – make sure you get them done. I’m not getting into that bed where it is.”
“I could bloody throw you in!” The man grumbled.
“You could. I’d be dead by morning. Something you would have to explain to whoever pulls your strings.”
Another word. ‘Morning’! There were such things as day, and night, and they could be separated. Their significance was unfamiliar.
“You already look like a f***ing corpse,” Oddjob said.
“Thank you.” She replied.
In her room, she cleaned off her make-up and with a mind otherwise unoccupied she began to revive a concept of time. Circadian rhythms reasserted themselves: how long was a day? What day was it? What week, what month, what year? How many days, weeks, years had she been Edgar’s companion, with no window to the outside world, no concept of day or night?
In the beginning, though she had few memories of the beginning, she had kept pace with time by counting her body’s rhythms and throwing casual questions into conversation with Edgar’s cantankerous addict of a nurse. But although she developed a friendship of sorts with him the nurse was under strict instruction to tell her nothing. The pregnancies finally put paid to those early judgments; impregnation and termination. After the second one of those it was made clear to her she could no longer bear children: sufficient damage had been done to prevent another ‘inconvenience’. In her heart she knew this had been done to her, rather than by her, but by then all hope of a normal life was gone, and in some ways she was thankful, grateful, even, to the oily little man who came to administer to her on each occasion, who was supposed to be a ‘doctor’. He was also the ‘doctor’ who attended her after the concussions.
Edgar was still prone to episodes of extreme distress. When they descended upon him he went through phases of virulent protestation, angry paranoia and, finally, quite uncontrollable violence. The old nurse was adept at predicting these phases and she had quickly learned from him. Not quite quickly enough. If she was left alone with that screaming fury, even in the padding of his room Edgar was capable of snapping her neck like a twig. If he caught her anywhere apart from his room he could, and did, bang her head against walls, chairs, the floor – anything, until the life was almost knocked out of her.
Such inducements encouraged her to create strategies of her own. She found ways to turn his obsession with her into something like affection, so in recent times he had begun to recognize the onset of a crisis and allow himself to be manacled. This was a boon he had bestowed upon her and his long-serving nurse: but now the nurse was gone, and the woman wondered if these thugs would be able to cope. There were no manacles in this new place. If she were capable of worry, she might have worried about that; but she was, in truth, beyond worrying, or caring.
The woman dug into a box of belongings the removers had left beside her bed and discovered her nightdress. She slipped it on, worming between unaired covers, and lay back, ready for sleep.
As she drifted, her shattered mind returned to a question that troubled her deeply. She had a name. She had no notion what it was.
Rebecca shivered. York railway station was not a warm place to be, even on a Spring afternoon. The plastic cup of machine coffee in her hand was hot, but its heat spread no further than her wrist. An intense weariness pervaded everything; the cold, that was the cold of the Boulter’s Green tunnel and the water that had nearly drowned her. Her sense of fatigue was sudden and overwhelming. She tucked the telephone receiver into her shoulder just as it answered.
“Pauly, put me through to Harve, darlin’.”
‘Becca! ‘Becca, come on!’ With eyes that would scarcely drag open, hands that could barely grip she found a little black and white box in her shoulder bag and, tipping two little white pills from it, she fed them to herself.
A swallow of coffee – too hot. “Harvey! Yeah, Becca Shelley. Where am I? York. Greased lightning, mate, me! Listen, did you check over the stuff Tarq gave you? Good story, huh?”
From the window table of a snack bar across the station concourse, Tarquin Leathers watched, sidelong, as Rebecca’s body language betrayed her. “Oh, dear. Not good.” He sighed. Patrick, seated at the same table, cocked an eyebrow. “She’s having trouble selling it, darling,” Tarquin told him informatively. “Harvey’s such a toad!”
“Harvey?” Patrick asked.
“Harvey Fitzgibbon, our editor. The Ape. We mustn’t worry, though, must we? How long since we met, dear Patrick. Eight years? Do spill. Are you still – what word shall I choose – interested – in this Eversley lady?”
Eight years, was it? Tarquin had changed very little. If anything, the journalist who had managed to turn Karen Eversley’s disappearance into a sensationalist ‘jilted lover’ story was a little more extravagant, and he had acquired a hat. Exhausted as he was when he and Rebecca had boarded the York train to find Leathers waiting for them, he had managed a complimentary comment for the Fedora.
“Dear boy, I am a serious member of the Fourth Estate these days. A certain attention to image is obligatory, don’t you think?”
“It suits you. You look a bit like Oscar Wilde,” Patrick had told him, as he drifted once again into sleep.
He dragged himself back into the present. “I’m married now.”
“Ah.” Leather’s discerning stare probed him. “Ah. Oh, Lord, they’re arguing now! I hope our Purvis is having more success.” Purvis, who had shared their carriage on the journey north, was finding the party some accommodation: he was also sourcing a hire car, which filled Patrick with alarm, having been witness to Rebecca’s comment when they met Purvis at Paddington: “You can’t drive, can you Purv?”
“Oh, he can drive!” Tarquin had subsequently assured him, “by which I mean, he has a licence. As for the rest…”
Patrick inclined his head towards the window, “She’s coming over.”
“Oh my!” Tarquin murmured; “She does look cross!”
Rebecca came straight to their table. “Well, he won’t run what we’ve given him.”
Patrick was shocked, “Why?”
“He says it’s because he wants Karen Eversley’s exclusive – I see what he’s saying, about putting her in danger if we publish today, but I also smell fear. I’m betting our beloved owner’s behind this. The nobility is closing ranks. We’ll need something extraordinary if we’re going to get this published at all, guys.”
“I don’t get it.” Patrick said.
“Simple, dear man,” Tarquin interpreted for him. “There are two possible stories; the one darling Beccy and I wrote up over the ‘phone last night, about a potential Tory minister sheltering his mad brother in a cellar. Mad brother with a history of assault, etc., do y’see? Political scandal, page one, banner headlines, a Daily Record ‘investigation’. That’s the story I put on Ape’s desk this morning, before I caught the train.”
Rebecca cut in: “Which he won’t run. The only story he wants is about Ms Citizen rescued from the clutches of a nutcase. Two columns on page five which, once the lawyers have got at it, probably won’t even name the kidnapper because so far nothing is proven. Is that Purvis coming?” She had identified a figure at the end of the concourse. “He does know we’re here, doesn’t he?”
Patrick felt the old anger returning. “I thought you shed that kind of negativity when you left the Beaconshire Herald,” he accused Rebecca. “Are Driscombe Holdings a valued advertiser, then? Or is the reason a little more sinister, this time?”
Rebecca shook her head sadly. “Our ‘paper’s owner is Lord Landseer. Who knows where we go from there – maybe he has shares in Driscombe Holdings? Let’s not worry about it, yet. We still have a story, yeah? What is Purv doing – he’s going right past? Oh, look!”
Tarquin Leathers groaned. “Messrs Tweedle, Dum and Dee. I thought I saw them on the train. They must have picked us up at King’s Cross…shall we take evasive action?”
It took Patrick a few seconds to pick out the two men tailing Purvis; not in the least twin-like, they were a grey-headed individual in a blue car-coat and a larger, younger man in sweater and jeans. At Rebecca’s bidding: ‘Walk casually and don’t look for them,’ He joined Tarquin in following her out of the coffee bar, then briskly down the station concourse to the street outside.
“This way, sweeties,” Tarquin prompted them to turn left alongside the rank of taxis; Patrick, m’dear, see if you can spot a hire car in the wrong place.”
“Like that white Cortina outside the Parcels Office?”
“Exactement! I’ll drive.”
A hundred yards needed to be covered to reach the vehicle and they did this at the best approximation to a run they could make, bearing light suitcases.
Tarquin opened the car’s driver door. “Yup, keys are here. Well done, Purvy!”
Patrick jumped into the back and Rebecca the passenger seat, glancing over her shoulder as she did so. “Nope, no-one behind. Go for it Tarq!”
The car started obligingly. Leathers spun it around, heading back along the station’s frontage. “Where can he come out, do you think/”
Rebecca spotted Purvis emerging from a door marked ‘Staff Only’, “There!”
Patrick managed to clear the heap of luggage next to him just in time to avoid a collision with Purvis’s ample rear as he joined them in the car. “Go, go go!” Warbled Purvis, and they did.
York in mid-afternoon was busy, its narrow streets a hive of early season tourists prepared to ignore a north-east wind in their buzzing quest for nectar among the antiquarian books, ancient buildings and religious wonders of the mighty Minster. Upon Purvis’s instruction, Tarquin extricated them from the maelstrom of traffic and sought out the main northern road, the A19.
“I’ve booked us into the Warefield Park Country House Hotel; it’s about six miles out, the manager said.”
“If we make it,” Tarquin responded; “The hire company’s been typically generous with the fuel. We ought to stop and fill up.”
“I don’t think we should,” Rebecca countered. “There’s no-one behind us yet, but they soon will be. We want to get off the road and out of sight.”
“Fingers crossed, then.”
“And legs. I haven’t had a wee in bloody years! How the ‘ell did they rumble us, Tarq? Someone been talking?”
Tarquin shrugged, “Driscombe’s people, maybe? Or Special Branch? They don’t look like Rozzers.”
By the time they arrived at Purvis’s chosen hotel and found themselves a sufficiently hidden parking spot behind a very large van, the car was, in Tarquin’s rich terminology, “Running on fumes,”
“They’ll be looking for it by now, anyway, so it’ll be no use to us.” Rebecca opined as they headed for their check-in. “I reckon we’ve bought ourselves a bit of time, let’s use it.”
The four parted in the hotel lobby, agreeing to reconvene in the ‘Fairbrother Lounge’ after a half-hour. In his room Patrick showered and changed into fresh clothes, although this did little to overcome the fatigue of the previous day’s experience, which hung over him like a pall. When he descended, still feeling leaden, he found Rebecca already returned to the lobby, and once more on the end of a telephone.
“I’ve ordered tea,” She told him, her hand over the mouthpiece.
Tarquin was waiting in the ‘Fairbrother Lounge’. He had settled himself in a comfortable armchair by a window. “Not a bloody hill in sight!” He complained, “I can’t see why they make so much fuss about Yorkshire, can you?”
Patrick weighed the comment. “As a matter of interest, why are we here? I know Purvis badgered the name of the county out of Jacinta Driscombe, but it’s like looking for a needle in a winter cattle fodder resource, isn’t it?”
“Not quite!” Rebecca joined them. “Remember I told you we’d been working on the Stafford Driscombe story for a while? We know quite a lot about Driscombe Holdings, one of whose potash mining concerns happens to be here in Yorkshire. They own a couple of holiday cottages as a staff facility; a seaside let currently occupied by a team manager, and a get-away-from-it-all moorland house miles from anywhere, which is, as far as we know, empty. So when he scored a direct hit with Madame Driscombe, Purv was really just joining the dots. Inspired, but not a miracle.”
Purvis joined the group. “Someone talking about me?”
Patrick spread his hands; “So what are we doing sitting here?”
“Slight problem,” Rebecca admitted. “We don’t yet know exactly where this house is. Approximately, yes; but it’s a big approximately. Amy, our researcher, is gettin’ the address – I was just talking to her. A contact knows it, but she can’t get hold of him. She’ll call us back.”
“So we’re waiting,” Purvis said. “Bugger!”
And the grey man said: “Perhaps we can save you the trouble.”
He had entered the room silently and unseen. He was tall, around six-feet-four with the white close-cropped hair of middle age or premature worry. His eyes hid within deep sockets weighed down by heavy brows, and his skin bore a pallor that had never encountered the sun, or so Patrick thought. The set of his thin mouth, the squareness of his cheekbones and chin, the impeccable neatness of his grey suit, right down to his expensive Italian shoes all spoke of the company man, but this, Patrick knew, he was not. He was the hatchet man.
“Miss Shelley, isn’t it?” He had a hectoring voice that showed a tendency to bark. “Mr Hallcroft, Mr Purvis and Mr Leathers, too, I believe. Apparently you have rooms booked here. You’ll be comfortable at least. Then tomorrow no doubt you will wish to return to London – or, in Mr Hallcroft’s case, to Caleybridge.”
The two men who had tailed Purvis at the railway station now joined him, flanking him on either side. A third, unfamiliar figure lurked in the background.
Patrick was careful to control his response. “We weren’t planning an early return, Mr….?” He waited, but hatchet man did not offer a name. “We have business here.”
The man gave him a sardonic look. “No, Mr Hallcroft. You have no business here.”
“I assure you we do.” Patrick snapped.
He felt Rebecca’s touch on his arm. “It’s all right, Pats. I think I know what this is about. Who are you, mate? Special Branch, or something a bit nastier? Can I have your name for a quote?”
“No, you may not. The matter you believe yourselves to be pursuing is being taken out of your hands. It’s a law enforcement issue in need of careful handling. Telephone your editor, I’m sure he will put things in perspective for you. Mr Hallcroft, Mr Leathers, Mr Purvis? These gentlemen will look after you, and in the morning they will see you safely to your train. I’ll leave you to it then?”
He raised an eyebrow at the man in the blue car coat, who nodded expressionlessly. Then the hatchet man walked away.
Patrick called after him. “I ‘m not going back. You have no legal power to make me go, either, have you? This is a free country, Mr whoever-you-are. Unless you intend to charge us with something…”
The man wheeled; “Try me.” He said. “Shall we start with obstructing the police? Go home, Mr Hallcroft, you’re a long way out of your depth.”
“F**k!” Tarquin said, with feeling, as the hatchet man finally departed. “Might as well sit down. Drink, Patrick?”
The men from the train had taken seats to either side of Patrick and their demeanour was enough to tell him they were not slow-witted or likely to be slow in any other respect. They were not to be drawn, either. The third man, an Aran-sweatered monolith, took up a position by the door. They were sentries. They were on duty.
“So?” Purvis said. “Which pack do you boy scouts run with? MI5, Special Branch, MI6, none of the above?”
Patrick was ready to explode. “So that’s it, is it? You know what’s at stake, here, don’t you? They’re going to make this disappear, aren’t they? And that may just involve making someone we both know disappear too, mightn’t it?”
“Pats, you’re wasting your breath, darlin’,” Rebecca said. “I’m goin’ to have to ‘phone Harve again, although I know he’ll shut us down. They’re taking care of it in their own way, and we’re goin’ to get a train back to town. Personally, I’ll have to. If this story’s lost its legs, I’ve got a lot of other little birdies sitting on my branch right now.”
“You too?” Patrick stared at her in disbelief.
Rebecca, rising from her own chair, crossed to his and sat on the arm beside him, squeezing his hand. “They’re coppers, Patsy love, of one sort or another. They do their duty thing. It’s all they know how to do. Me, I’m going to get a sandwich or somethin’, then have an early night. I haven’t had enough kip to revitalize a sparrow these last few days. You do the same, yeah?” And she chucked him under the chin, making him meet her eyes. He tried not to react to what he found there.
“Okay, I guess you’re right;” he growled. “I’ll eat in my room.”
Purvis looked distressed. “Don’t worry, Purv,” Tarquin consoled him, “I’ll eat with you. We’ve got to keep the old tucker sack lined, haven’t we?”
Patrick glanced around those assembled for some sign of an alternative plan but he saw none. Rebecca said: “Two shakes of a lamb’s tale – I’ll be asleep in two shakes, betcha!” She gave Patrick a knowing smile and turned away. As she passed the most monumental of their guards she patted his bulging hip. “Nice gun.”
“They’re bastards;” She said casually, over her shoulder. “Just your average toad-on-a-lily-pad bastards.”
So the party split up in the hotel lobby, Tarquin and Purvis to head for the restaurant and an evening meal, while Rebecca and Patrick ordered food to be sent to their respective rooms. These conflicting intentions ignited a minor crisis among their warders, who were concerned at leaving any of the four in their care unwatched. After urgent discussion, they must have reasoned that Tarquin and Purvis were the least threatening, if only because they were nominally in Rebecca’s charge; so they placed them under the eye of the one Rebecca had identified as wearing a gun, and trailed the two early retirees faithfully upstairs. Patrick felt like making a sudden late break for the lift, just to see what they would do, but it was no more than a passing whim.
His room was a basic double, with basic bedclothes, a cramped en suite and very little else. A chair and small table squatted by the window, with a view of the forecourt one storey down. He found himself a miniature bottle of whisky on the mini-bar and downed it in one, then poured out a miniature vodka to chase it, taking this to the little table and the moderately comfortable chair. The forecourt was relatively quiet at the advancing hour, affording opportunity to stare into the sad, blinking lights that fringed the low wall of the parking lot.
A discreet knock announced the night porter with sandwiches. He chewed upon tasteless ham and sharp, acid pickles without enthusiasm because for once he did not feel an evening hunger; did not want to eat at all.
Outside his door, the two sentries settled themselves for a watchful night, one a few feet further along the corridor towards Rebecca’s room and the stairs. Other residents might give them a curious glance or two, but they were used to that, so they gradually lapsed into ‘vigil’ mode, ready for several uneventful hours.
When the bathrobed Rebecca emerged from her room, therefore, they were almost pleased with the diversion, especially as she had been strategically careless in tying her cord, permitting a generous glimpse of leg.
She trotted slinkily up the corridor towards Patrick’s room. The two sentries exchanged glances. They closed upon her so he of the blue car coat stood between her and Patrick’s door.
“Oh, sure! What are we going to do, set up an armed rebellion or something? Listen, mate, it gets lonely in these rat-holes, you know. A girl needs a little company.”
The sentry behind her could have said exactly what he thought, but he saw no reason to make a moral judgment. He glanced at his colleague, who gave a barely perceptible nod, and stepped wordlessly aside.
The double knock on Patrick’s door surprised him. Puzzled, he unlocked it and cautiously pulled it open. Whatever he was prepared for, Rebecca exceeded by confronting him with her cord undone and the front of her white robe held open, revealing a pretty floral bra and the briefest possible pair of matching knickers. “Yay, Pats – see what I brought specially for you?” And before his look of surprise could evolve into horror she draped herself against him, arms about his neck, and closed his lips with a passionate kiss.
© Frederick Anderson 2019. All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content
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