Hallbury Summer – Episode Twenty-One (1)         The Message of The Stones

To my long-suffering readers, an apology.  When I decided to make a serial of ‘Hallbury Summer’, a book I had already written, I foresaw problems with dividing it into episodes of acceptable size.   I thought I had done quite well, until I finally came to a point where I couldn’t conveniently break into the story.  This is it.

So this week two posts that together make one satisfactory episode.  At least if they’re broken down I’ve spared you a reading marathon – or so I hope!The story so far:  we left Joe after his date with Sophie Forbes-Pattinson, in which the pair broke into murdered Violet Parkin’s house, seeking clues to her mysterious involvement with a local witches’ coven.  The only item they found was a small package.  Meanwhile, in Abbot’s Friscombe…

Jennifer Althorpe studied the house for some minutes before opening its green wooden gate.  Grimly functional, this house, a squat dwelling roofed with grey slate, a belching chimney despite so hot a summer’s day, and walls of hard, red engineering brick part-blackened by smoke – smoke which lingered over the whole neighbourhood in a choking blanket – listless windows returned her gaze.

Although there was so much to repulse the house did nothing to repel Jennifer, yet equally it could not invite, for there was no greeting to be found in those bland walls, no welcome on the frayed coconut of the mat which kept damp station on a concrete step.  Jennifer walked the path, the concrete path.  She squelched into the sodden mat, she pressed the weathered bell.  And she waited.

A woman’s moon face, blotched skin, tiny suspicious eyes, peered out.  “Yes?”

“Mrs Harkus?”  Jennifer asked.

“Might be.  What of it?”

Bella at the local café had been extremely helpful; almost worth the mediocre coffee and the limpid toast Jennifer had endured.

“Ask Mary Harkus.  She’ll tell you all about young Joe Palliser.”  Bella had advised her.

Jennifer asked.

“Come in.”  Said Mary Harkus, inclining her blunt head.

The wall of heat would remain in Jennifer’s memory for some time.  Before the troubles, Mummy and Daddy had been posted briefly to Aden.  One school holiday she had flown out to visit them, and would never forget the sudden blast of desert air as she stepped from the plane in that furnace of a place.  Mary Harkus’s living room was as close as she could ever come to revisiting the experience.  The fire in the grate was every bit as fierce as an Arabian sun, and the warmth it generated brought an instant bloom of perspiration to Jennifer’s delicate brow.

“Havin’ a bath.”  Mary said, as though that would suffice as an explanation.

“Do you grow orchids, or something?”  Jennifer asked ingenuously.

“Why no, bless you!”  Mary Harkus laughed:  her voice had a flinty edge, as though she would rather curse than bless.  She seemed impervious to the heat.  “’Tis these houses, dear.  They only got immersion heaters, see, and the ‘lectric costs a fortune?  So us do use the  back-boiler, see?  Anthracite’s cheaper.  The fire heats the water, see.”

“And everyone knows when you’re having a bath.”    Mary Harkus’s little eyes squinted enquiringly, so Jennifer directed her gaze pointedly to the chimney breast.  “Smoke signals?”

“Ah.”

“Is there a photograph of Rodney?”

She had in fact already seen one.  Selwyn Penny had been very helpful, though his newspaperman’s sensibilities had needed to be observed.  Jennifer already knew the story of Rodney’s fatal accident as the newspapers had related it: she was about to explore the local angle and Mary Harkus was about to give it to her.

This would be forgivable:  after all, she was a journalist in search of a story.  Mary Harkus was her best lead to an incident which, though it was deeply embedded in the past, shed light upon the man her quarry, Joe Palliser, was today.  This would be forgivable:  the ploy with which Jennifer Althorpe concluded the interview was not.

When she had eked out every detail of Rodney’s fatal accident from Mary Harkus’s account and though every fibre of her being just wanted to quit that duchess’s kitchen of a house, she remained seated somewhat damply on Mary’s couch, saying nothing as she affected to check through her notes.

“I’m surprised.”  She said at last (timing was vital).

Mary, whose patience was being tried (she had none) raised a quizzical eyebrow.  “Why?”

“Well…..I’ve covered lots of cases like this; read about a lot more.  And frankly, Mary (I can call you that, can’t I?) although the really guilty ones may escape the law, they rarely escape entirely, if you see what I mean?”

“I don’t.”  Said Mary Harkus.

“Well, I mean, I often think the police turn a blind eye because no-one ever gets arrested, or anything, but usually the guilty party ends up in a ditch somewhere.  Someone – shall we say an interested party – someone makes up for the inadequacy of the law, don’t they, and that doesn’t seem to have happened here.  No loyal relation or close friend to redress the natural balance, I suppose.  Joseph Palliser’s still walking about out there, isn’t he?  I mean, please don’t think I wish the man any harm, or anything, but really – has no-one even tried?  I’m just curious.”

Jennifer did not receive an answer:  she did not want one.  She left gladly, secure in the knowledge that a seed had been sown.  As she gulped in the fresh outdoor air she was sure Mary Harkus’s abiding sense of outrage would be compelling her to lift up her telephone.  Douglas Lynd had been right – Ian Palliser’s brothers were his Achilles’ heel.  Tomorrow, or the next day, or very soon, Joe Palliser would provide her with fresh copy, one way or another.  All she had to do was wait.

For the next few days Joe would be forced to put thoughts of Sophie to one side. Mr Carnaby had accepted his instructions for the purchase of the Lamb house, and his bank had to be seen so he could make arrangements for payment.  The Wolsey needed to be returned to the clutches of oily Mr Maybury for some corrective surgery, condemning him to a day of bus and rail travel once more, and then there was the day he used to journey to Branchester, the cathedral city where St. Andrew’s parish registers stored, to research Violet Parkin’s family line.  Throughout all this he kept Violet Parkin’s strange little packet unopened in a drawer in his room, promising himself he would return to it later.

Sophie rang on the Wednesday morning.

“It’s super today: I’m going to take Tumbler for a ride, would you like to come?”

Joe did his best to sound enthusiastic.  “I’m not exactly an expert.  Anyway, I don’t have a horse.”

“Transport provided!”  Sophie chimed.  “See you in an hour!”

Joe had come down to breakfast to find a local newspaper open on the kitchen table, trumpeting the headline:  “Hallbury Publican’s Suspicious Death.”

“Ned Barker.”  Owen said without looking up from his seed catalogue.  “It appears that the police are involved in that one, now.”

Julia had a plate of bacon and tomato warming for him under the grill:  “It’s all too awful! What on earth is going on, Joe?”

Joe scanned the article, which described how Ned had been found by his wife Dorothy the morning after the desecration of St. Andrews’ churchyard.  Ned was thought to have died of a heart attack during the night, but, as was the law in the case of any unexplained sudden death, an autopsy had been performed.

Selwyn Penny’s article was unspecific.  It merely quoted the police as saying they were treating the death as ‘suspicious’ and were ‘pursuing their enquiries’.  They refused to reveal whether they were looking for any third party in connection with the death, or to consider a link to the murder of Mrs Violet Parkin the previous week.  Inspector Porcott of the Two Counties Constabulary pointed out that Mr John Parkin had already been charged with the first murder, and was being held in custody while he awaited trail at the quarter sessions.

“I wish I knew.”  Joe said in reply to Julia’s question.

Julia was right to ask.  He looked up at the two elderly people who had given him shelter and he saw the intense concern, the fear, almost, in their faces.  Without really considering, he had assumed they did not know Michael had absconded, just as they knew nothing about Michael’s involvement with the village witches.  Perhaps they did.  Or perhaps their disquiet was that of many middle-class people whose homes, but not whose hearts, are in country communities, when they discover the rural idyll is not what it seems.  For all of his wisdom concerning the construct of small village society, Owen might well be at the limit of his depth.  And Julia, though she gave the impression of someone who skated across the surface of life, would know inside herself that the ice had become perilously thin.  He was in so many ways their child, their product:  yet the village he inhabited, for all it was the same geographical place, was very different to theirs.  He had brought his village to their door, invited it inside.  They simply had no idea how to deal with that.

The hour had struck eleven by the time Sophie arrived, clopping down Church Lane on Tumbler, the big roan Joe had placated in the Parkin farm’s barn on their earlier meeting.  If he had expected Sophie’s strapping horsewoman image with jodhpurs and riding helmet he was to be disappointed.  Today’s Sophie had at last ‘dressed down’, although the combination of red halter top and designer jeans with trainers was scarcely less alluring than her denim mini-skirt.  She was leading a rather compact bay mare with a submissive look and placid eye, which she introduced as “Moppy.”

“She’s a complete darling.  She really won’t give you any trouble.”

Moppy greeted Joe with a bemused expression befitting any adult animal facing life with a name like ‘Moppy’, and exhibited exemplary forbearance while he set her stirrups as long as he dared, then took three attempts to mount her.  He had ridden before; a long, long time before, with Sarah Halsey for company.  Sarah, of course, was as accomplished at horse-riding as she was at everything else.

“I’m most dreadfully sorry I didn’t call you sooner, Joe,”  Sophie apologised.  “I’ve been away:  to Daddy’s in London, you know?”

Joe smiled.  “No need to apologise.”  He met her eyes, which said that she was fibbing – that she had been waiting with a vague notion he might call her first.

“I missed you.”  She allowed herself to say, as they set off.  Then quickly added:  “A bit.”

After a brief pause for negotiation, Moppy agreed to a walk on the Common; probably, Joe suspected, because her big friend Tumbler was being directed to go there, and she had no inclination to be left by herself with the obvious incompetent who slouched upon her back.

Sophie was bright and genial; “How is the Witch-Finder General today?” the sun grew stronger and it promised to be a perfect morning.

Abbey Walker was tending her front garden.  She straightened to greet them courteously as they clattered past, but with a reserve in her voice that told Joe she was part of Janice Regan’s gossip circle; so small a thing, yet enough to darken his particular skies a little.  The net was closing.   He had not heard from Tom Peterkin for all of that week, even though he had sought his old friend in his usual haunts, nor had he caught sight of Emma.   Yes, he had wondered if Tom knew the true state of Emma’s tormented mind; believed that he very probably would have guessed, and the awkwardness of this shared but unspoken knowledge was evidence of guilt in itself.  Neither had the nerve to contact the other, and as the interval grew so the hurdle became higher.

Sophie caught Joe’s absent expression.  “Did you open that little envelope from Mrs Parkin’s picture album?”

He confessed:  “No, I haven’t thought about it.  Something I must do.”

“A mystery!”  Sophie enthused.  “Do make sure I’m there when you do.  I’m simply dying to know what it is!”

“So if I told you I have it in my pocket…”

“Excellent!   Then I shall have an opportunity to exercise my sleuthing skills, Joe.  The perfect prelude to lunch.”

“Lunch?”

They followed that narrow lane which bisected the upper part of Wednesday Common, passing on their way a little copse of trees where Joe had hidden the car on what Sophie had begun to refer to as their ‘burglary night’ and walking on briskly for the first half mile until they reached ‘The Point’; a junction marked by a telephone box where roads from Abbots Friscombe, Little Hallbury, and Fettsham met.  The greater part of the common land lay before them, to the west of the Abbots Friscombe to Fettsham road.  For the most part this was laid down to bracken, interspersed with small clumps of blackthorn and mature broom.  From ‘The Point’ one very specific bridle path skirted the lower common like a perimeter track.  Too narrow for motor traffic, it owed its existence to horse riders who frequented it, or to adventurous youngsters, like Michael, Ian and Joe.

This trail would circumnavigate the wild land for two miles or more before it returned to the Abbots Friscombe road.  Much of it was pleasant, level ground ideal for a casual ride, until it reached its furthest point from the road where it began undulating sharply, the ditches often boggy even in the height of summer.  On the high, open areas exposed grey slabs of rock offered basking space for lizards, slow-worms and sometimes grass snakes: tales of adders abounded, although Joe had never seen one.

Here, about a mile from ‘The Point’ Joe motioned his intention to Sophie then left the trail to strike out across the turf, guiding a suspicious Moppy towards a stand of  trees and scrub some hundred yards distant.  He dismounted, tethering Moppy’s rein to a branch of hawthorn.  Exposed in open ground, these stunted thorns were ageless, undefined by time, and like everything associated with childhood, of course, they had diminished in Joe’s perception; yet walking among them, stooping to avoid their stoical resistance, they were a-brim with memories.  There, to his right, the grassy hollow where he had lain with Sarah; then, deeper into the wood, the little pool of turgid water surrounded by a clearing where he and his brothers had made their ‘den’ – their secret place, protected by solemn vows of silence.

Here, still, was the little circle of stones where Ian had burned his fingers on stolen matches as they attempted to build camp fires, the tree where Michael’s initials, distinguishable yet, were carved by his first penknife in the bark.  Saddened by the changing of the times Joe wondered how he and his brothers could each have grown so differently.  He did not know why, specifically, he had wanted to revisit the clearing in this little wood, just that he did.  Lost in reminiscence, he failed to notice that Sophie had joined him.  Her hand touched his shoulder.

“This is a sad place?”

He managed a weak grin, “Is that how it seems to you?”

“No.  To me it’s just a poky little child hideaway, I suppose.  It wasn’t my hideaway, though.  I rather gather it was yours, Joe.  I can sense the melancholy in you.  Unhappy memories?”

“Not really.  Maybe.”  Bearing the weight of years, Joe turned away.  Only then did he pick up an odour – just the faintest, barely present trace of wood smoke, or more probably fresh ash, in the breathless air; sufficient inducement to stoop and place a hand on one of the rough hearth stones.  Was it – could it be?  Was there a latent warmth that had persisted through the summer night?  There were ash traces surrounding it that were fresh and a whitish grey, and now he looked he could see how the stones had been rebuilt.  Someone had been there; and recently, too; maybe this morning, certainly last night.   That was why some subconscious urge had drawn him this way!  “Michael!” He breathed the name.  Now he was sure – like a homing pigeon given his freedom Michael had come back to Hallbury. But why?   If not to return to the scene of a crime, then why?

Sophie was looking at him quizzically.  “Who is Michael?”

“My younger brother.  I told you about him, remember?”

Sophie asked if he meant the one who was ill, and he was in a ‘home’ wasn’t he?  And Joe had to explain how Michael came to be missing, and even as he told her he could see her concentration straying.  He did not blame her.  That was the reaction of most people when he mentioned he had a brother who was mentally ill.

“So you think he might have been here?”

“Someone lit a fire: last night, I should think.”

“Gosh.”  Sophie responded – then:  “Could just be a tramp, I suppose?”

They remounted to make a contemplative journey back to the bridle path where, beneath the shade of a row of stately elms Sophie dismounted again to open a gate. They urged their horses across a ditch into open farmland.

“We use Williamson land for hunting.  Barry Williamson was made Master of Foxhounds this year.  He doesn’t mind our riding across his fields, as long as we’re careful.  I often come this way.  Do you know Barry at all?”

Joe had to confess that he didn’t.  Barry Williamson was chalked down as yet another acquaintance they didn’t share.

With Wednesday Common behind them, a dune-like landscape of ripening green or fallow brown fields swelled and flowed uninterrupted for several miles – westward to the River Staun, and northward with the valley as far as their eyes could see.  Interspersed among this arable patchwork were occasional rectangular islands of poppy-flecked meadow, and odd reefs of dark trees which conjoined to southward as forest, at the foot of the Calbeck Hills.  In the heat of a high summer sun this fertile valley would bleach in its final weeks to haymaking, its brave tall grasses burning to a gentle gold.  Away from the canopy of trees Joe felt his flesh toast beneath that same unremitting glare.  There was the merest trace of breeze, no more, to ruffle the hare-bells, nothing to disperse a shimmering heat haze.  Before Joe, for they rode in file, Sophie’s long back moved with supple ease, while his own thighs were already stiffening and beginning to hurt.  Under the thin cotton of his t-shirt he felt the tickle of sweat.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  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.

 

 

Hallbury Summer – Episode Eighteen. Rhinemaiden

The story so far:

Joe Palliser, though torn between his moral responsibility to his friend Tom and his feelings for Emma, Tom’s wife, is nonetheless drawn towards buying a house in Hallbury. Meanwhile, he approaches a journalist from his local newspaper to learn more about the disappearance of Christian Matheson, a child abducted in Hallbury many years  before.  The fear is growing that his younger brother, Michael, may be implicated in Violet Parkin’s murder and even in the disappearance of the child.

Alone with his thoughts, he is asked for assistance by Jennifer, an attractive motorist apparently in distress.  He takes her to her hotel in his car and is briefly compromised by her advances, which he manages to resist.  However, the encounter has been observed, and photographed.  Jennifer is considerably more than she seems…

Wednesday dawned in shades of grey and in a while that grey became rain, and the rain became a sustained downpour.  Joseph drove into Braunston where, after no small amount of deliberation, he lodged an offer of three thousand nine hundred pounds with the agent handling the Lamb house.  There was no denying the conflict churning in his head:  Emma’s presence alone should have been enough to turn him away, to leave Tom, his friend, in married contentment.  Janice Regan’s vituperation was a voice not just her own, but of others who would count themselves the elders of the village.  Charker Smith, that excellently honed tool of destruction, waited only to get drunk enough before he came to avenge his brother; and when he came….Oh, Joseph!

So why was he not more afraid?

Well, a part of him certainly was – a part of him was terrified, but that part of his mind also saw the Lamb property as an excellent opportunity and of course, should he elect not to stay in Hallbury he could always find a tenant.  But there was another part that seemed to almost defy explanation, something more powerful, something real:  Hallbury was his home.  And that filled him with a courage and resolve that was extraordinary.  He could ride out as many troubles as there were in his desire to stay there, because there, the place – not a house, or a woman, or the sweet breath of country air – was where he belonged.   He had run from it once, when he had lacked experience in life to understand the importance of belonging:  he would not make that mistake again.

The morning was far from over when Joe entered the gravel drive of Maddockgate Manor.  Mrs Forster, the matron, admitted him when he pressed the visitors’ bell.

“Mr Palliser, isn’t it?  Didn’t we explain that Michael has been moved?”

Yes, Joseph acknowledged; but perhaps Mrs Forster didn’t know that Michael had absconded.  His family were naturally very anxious about him – did she have any idea if he had friends who would take him in?   No, Mrs Forster said after consideration, she didn’t.

“He used to visit a supervised house in Marsden, didn’t he?”  Joe suggested:  “Could he have gone there?”

“I shouldn’t have thought so. It would be like turning himself in, so to speak.  The owner is a qualified psychiatric nurse, who I’m sure would call us if Michael appeared without an escort.  He would call us, very probably.”

Joseph repeated Michael’s assertion that he was allowed from time to time to go out on his own.  This drew a surprised look from Mrs Forster, for whom even the thought of such liberty was clearly shocking.  Michael was delusional, she responded – he might have been convinced in his own mind that he enjoyed such privileges, but that did not necessarily make them real.  Nevertheless Joe had inadvertently struck a nerve.  He pressed home his advantage.  Suppose, for whatever reason, they were real?  Suppose Michael had been trusted, say, to run short errands on his own, suppose he had been able to sneak away?

He needed to talk to the nurse in charge in Marsden: see if there are connections the family knew nothing about.

The matron considered this.  “Would you wait here for a moment?”

She kept Joe waiting, in fact, for about ten minutes, while she disappeared into her office.  At length she returned.  Unsmiling, she placed a piece of paper in Joe’s hand.

“Mr Winter, the charge nurse, is in until about two o’clock.  I called him to say you were on your way:  I didn’t explain why.”

Joe embarked upon the road to Marsden-on-Sea, pondering the matron’s exact meaning.  Why had she elected not to tell this person the reason for his visit?  In spite of her defence of the nurse, did she suspect that Mr Winter’s care was not all it might be?

A buffeting onshore wind wrenched irritably at the Wolsey and hurled spray at it as he drove along Marsden’s courageous little esplanade.  Flashing neon bravely proclaimed ‘Non-Stop Bingo’, ‘Live Arcade’, ‘Fish and Chip Heaven’ to a scattering of the foolhardy and the half-drowned who ran from one venue to another, plastic macs gathered transparently against the elements.  A motley line of desperate Edwardian hotels displayed signs offering ‘Special Bank Holiday Rates’ – timely warning of the forthcoming holiday weekend.

But it was the sea, the battle-front between land and water, that drew Joseph here.  It was many years since he had seen the Channel in full spate, and there was a perverse veneration owed to power such as this.  White caps charging forth upon  the shore, chasing along quoins, leaping the sea wall.  Winging gulls, masters of their element, riding the storm like ethereal surfers:  these were things he loved.  Joe had been to Marsden many times and often on days like these, once with Emma, happy to walk beside him by the shore, the gale screaming through her bright hair, laughing at the whip of salt rain on her face – kisses on cold, wet lips, arms warm with love.

How could he ever have forgotten her?  How could he have put her, all this, aside so easily?  However could he turn away again?  As he drew up to the neatly-written address which lay on the passenger seat at his side it was not the surf still stinging in his eyes, but mourning for opportunities missed, for lost love.

Rosebank Crescent was ‘on the hill’; one of many streets lined by similar detached villas, all of which were in a state best described as ‘mature’. Number seventeen’s red roof-tiles were greyed by lichen, its rendered walls a spider-web of cracks.  There was putty missing from the window frames, and paint missing where putty was not.

Joe wielded a big brass knocker which projected from the front door like a grotesque nose.  The letter box drew up a flappy lip:

“Who’s that?”  A voice empty of any form of artifice.

“I’m Joe Palliser.”

“Hello Joe!”  The wind thrashed, the rain lashed.  The door remained closed.

“Can I come in?”

After an interval:  “Who is it?”

“I’m Joe.”

Suddenly the door was flung open to reveal a very tall, very wide young man whose ample features creased into a beatific smile:  “Hello Joe.  It’s windy!”

“Yes.”  Joe agreed.

“Shut that bloody door!”  Snarled a voice from the rear of the house.

“Come on.”  Said the large young man.  He ambled backwards into an entrance hall.  “I’m Terry.”  He held out a big hand which Joe shook warmly.  “How do you do, Joe?”

“How do you do, Terry?”

As if ignited by a fuse, Terry turned and walked rapidly away towards a door at the rear of the hall, his denims taut around stubby legs, faded carpet slippers shuffling on the parquet.  “I’ll get him.”  He said over his shoulder.

The hallway of the house was furnished unpretentiously, a barometer on the wall, a small hall table, a couple of upright chairs.  Its walls were papered with woodchip and painted in mint green, a pendant light hung from a textured ceiling.  The wind’s surreptitious intrusion rattled its doors.  It was a house, but it was not a home.

Terry had been gone no more than ninety seconds when a much sparer specimen of masculinity, clad in a thin black polo-neck sweater and checked flares appeared.

“Can I help you?”  his voice was a high tenor.  “I’m Morris Winter.”

Joe saw why Mrs Forster had registered some disquiet at his suggestion that he might visit here:  the professional title of ‘charge nurse’ did not hang easily upon Mr Winter, whose careless appearance, flabby, unshaven face and defensive look spoke of one expecting arrest rather than an expert carer.  Winter ran his fingers through fair, greasy locks which fell nearly to his shoulders.

“Joseph Palliser.  I believe Mrs Forster told you I was coming?”

“Yeah, she did.”  Winter frowned suspiciously; “You from the gov’ment?”

“No,  I’m Michael Palliser’s brother?  You remember Michael?  He comes to stay here from time to time.”

Winter’s expression brightened.  “Mikey!  Ah yes, Mikey!  Of course! Look, you better come in; have a cup of tea.  Terry – make this nice man some tea.”  He grinned a gappy grin:  “He’s a good kid, Terry.  He likes to make tea.”

Terry had reappeared and stood in the doorway behind Winter.  He nodded happily.  “Good tea!”

“No thank you Mr Winter, I’m not staying.”  Joe said hurriedly.  “I just wanted to ask a couple of quick questions, that’s all.”

“Well, fire away, then.  Yes, fire away!  Sure you won’t have some tea?”

“No, no thanks. I’m trying to trace anyone who knows Michael.  He’s allowed out, isn’t he – do you know if he sees any friends in the town?”

Winter’s brow furrowed but he made no attempt at denial.  “He always has money of his own, has Mikey – not like some of them.  I tell him; if you get thirsty or hungry, there’s cafes who’ll welcome us.  We know which ones, see?  And he treats us sometimes, don’t he, Terry?”

Terry nodded a happy affirmative.  “Mikey’s rich.”

“So he does go out – for how long, an hour, a day?  Does he ever stay out overnight?”

“Oh no, no more than a few hours!”  Winter shook his head.  “I tell him: ‘we got to be back by eight o’clock, Mikey’.  He always is.  I wouldn’t let him stay out overnight.”

“Did he go out the Friday before last?”

“Last time he was down here?  Might of, yes, I think he did.”

“And came back at about eight?”

“Yeah.”  Winter reflected.  “Got himself in a bit of a state, he did.  Does that from time to time, Mikey.  Had to give him a pill, that night.”

“Was he out longer that day – was he ever unsupervised?”

A flicker of concern crossed Winter’s face.  “No.  Did I say that?  No.”

“Who was with him, Mr Winter?”

“Well – I was, wasn’t I?”

At this, Terry’s moon-faced smile suddenly changed.  He raised an anxious finger, as if he had something to say if he were given permission.  Joseph picked up on the gesture:  “Can you help, Terry?”

Terry said to Mr Winter:  “You were with me.”

Winter glanced over his shoulder, saying quite sharply:  “No, you didn’t come with us, Terry – not that time.  It wasn’t your week.”

“You and me played draughts.”  Terry reminded him.

“No, you got it muddled up, Terry,”  Winter corrected.  “This was last week.  You weren’t down here last week.”

Terry’s brow creased in concern.  “Can’t play draughts when Mikey’s here.  He calls it ‘devil game’ and he hits the board.  We only play when…”

“Terry!”  Winter’s voice took on a dangerous edge:  “You weren’t here, mate.”

Terry was not to be repressed:  “Mikey went out so we played draughts.”

Winter smiled, a thin, unconvincing smile:  “He gets confused.”  He said.

Terry’s face displayed anything but confusion.  Joe, worried that Terry might be at risk if he persisted, took up the thread hurriedly:  “Supposing Michael should get out – slip away – on his own, is there anyone in the town or nearby he might confide in, or who he might call a friend – apart from here?”

“No, not that I can think.  Not that it could happen.”  Mr Winter’s rictus smile was becoming irritating.  “I’m sorry I can’t help you clear up your little mystery, whatever it is.”

In the background, Terry had begun to rock on the balls of his feet.  This display of agitation, though silent, was not lost on Winter:  Joe could see his eyes shifting, his jaw starting to work:  “If there’s nothing else?”

“Thank you for your help.”  Said Joe, turning to leave.  “If you think of anything…”

“I’ll tell the proper people, yes.”

Suddenly Terry’s voice rang out:  “Mikey went out.  Him, he was worried, ‘cause Mikey didn’t come back, not ‘til very late!  Very, very late!  We played….”

Winter’s voice sliced through the outburst as finely as a razor:“Terry!  No cake!”

Whatever the threat could mean, it silenced Terry.  His face fell, his body collapsed as though he had been punctured.  The prolonged “Ooooh” he uttered had an undertone of fear.

Winter’s visage was contorted by desperation:  “See here, Mr Palliser:  outsiders, they don’t know what its like, this job.  It don’t pay well, there’s never a moment when you can…alright, maybe Mikey does get out from time to time.  He’s usually OK, yeah?  He’s fine.  Just goes out in the town, has a little walk along the front, drops into a café or two.  He never does no harm to anyone, never gets in anyone’s way; only the other week – I don’t know – something must have gone wrong:  somebody had a go at him, or something.  See?”

Joe found himself nodding, almost sympathising with this tired and probably inadequate man who was expressing sentiments he had experienced himself so many times.

“Don’t worry;” he heard himself saying; “I’ve no reason to persecute you. I needed to know, that’s all.”

At the door, Winter took him by the arm.  “You won’t say nothing?”  Joe shook his head.

“The Shilling Café,”  Winter said.  “On Duke Street, just off the Esplanade.  He goes there.”

Outside on the street, the wind had increased in fury.  A tidal surge was carrying full waves over the seawall, thrusting angrily into ornamental garden plots, thrashing across the esplanade, deserted now, the whole seafront empty except for a few brave walkers who tempted and teased at nature, staring her in her raging eye as she lunged for them with boiling cascades.

The Shilling Café proclaimed its raison d’etre on a hand-written sheet of paper taped to its window:  ‘Meal for a Shilling!’   The facia celebrated its cheapness:  within, two naked strip lights threw a soulless glow over cream walls, bentwood chairs and bare tables; nearly all of which were empty.  Behind the counter amid an array of stainless steel and china, a small woman in a floral apron welcomed Joseph expansively.

“Well now!  Here’s someone with a taste for adventure! I was just thinking about closing, dear.  But seeing as its you…”

Joe ordered a cup of tea and a ham roll and while he waited for them to appear, he asked questions;  “Do you know someone called Michael, or Mikey, who comes in here?”

“Oh, Mikey!  He’s one of Morris Winter’s guests.  Yes, I know him, don’t I?”

“Has he been in here recently?”

“Mikey?  Why he’s in and out all the time, dear – whenever he’s down here.  He’s a bit mad, mind. He calls me his Flossy Hilda – told me once I reminded him of a Rhinemaiden – I ask you!”

“Really?”  Joe felt he ought to keep the conversation to essentials – who knew where Mikey’s mind might have taken him next?  “Was he in here on his own, the Friday before last?”

“I can tell you he wasn’t,” said the woman, “’cause it was his week and I laid in a lasagne for him specially.  He likes lasagne.”  She shook her head.  “Then he didn’t come.  Set your clock by him, normally.”

“I don’t suppose he’s been in since?  In the last couple of days, for instance?”

“Well no.  But he wouldn’t be, dear.  It’s not his week.  Are you looking for him then?”

“I’m his brother.  We seem to have lost touch, that’s all.”  Joe explained.  “Did he ever have company?”

“His Brother?  Well, I’ll never be!  Mind, I can see the likeness there.  Morry Winter must have brought him in the first time, ages back, but no-one since.  Oh, wait, now, there was that well-dressed fella – a couple of times, him.  Not long ago, either.”

“Can you describe him?”  Joe asked.

“Well-dressed, dear, like I said.  A nice suit:  not John Colliers, if you see what I mean?  Sort of thirties, medium height – dark hair, I think.  Proper nice looking wasn’t he?”

“What sort of nice looking?”  Joe persisted:  “What colour eyes – large nose, small nose?”

“Well, sort of average, I think.  Here’s your roll, dear.”

Try as he would, Joe could not elicit further detail concerning this mystery man, so he quaffed his tea and an amply buttered ham roll with a taste memory that would stay with him for the rest of the afternoon.  As he left, the little woman in the apron asked: “You’ll know, won’cha?  These Rhinemaidens – what do they do, exactly?”

Fleeing the gale, Joe hunched into his collar, making for the sanctuary of his car so quickly he failed to notice an Austin Princess that was parked across the street.  He knew for certain now – Michael had been away from his carers and alone on the day Violet Parkin died.  Hallbury was not so far away – had he also been there?  Had he, with the extraordinary strength of madness, wielded the pitchfork that had dispatched the old lady so cruelly?  How else could he know the precise manner of her death? As Joe made his way back to Hallbury, counting off the miles, his mind was intrigued by a new mystery:who was the man in the suit; the good looking man who was so completely unmemorable?  Whoever he was, Michael had clearly known him, and their meetings, or at least one of them, would have had to be by arrangement; unless, of course, this man was following Michael…

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  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.

Photo Credit:  Brandon Molitwenik on Unsplash

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Five. The Lost Ones

On the morning following her second date with Patrick Karen met her best friend, Bea, at Café Trocadero, a small coffee bar in a back alley off North Street in Caleybridge.

“I got you a Cappucino.”  Bea greeted her, her welcome flashing through deep navy blue eyes.  “There’s a queue already.”

For all its lack of self-advertisement, (it was hidden away behind main street shops) the little café was busy when Karen arrived.  Its reputation as a meeting place was well-known among the local art college set, for whom ‘down the Troc’ meant casual morning coffees or sandwich lunches.

“I can’t stay too long.  I’ve got some lunchy thing going with our heroes of the Council.”  Karen told Bea.  “Purton again.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?  More business?  God, I’m desperate for a ciggy!”  Bea ferreted in her patent leather handbag, retrieved a packet of Rothman’s and offered.  “You?”

“Crone, you know I’m resisting!  I don’t know, Bea.  Purton’s a contact, I guess.  I think he’s a bit creepy.  Speaking of creepy, didn’t you get invited to dinner with Francis and Shirl?”

Bea winced over the flare of her cigarette lighter.  “Oh, don’t!  Grotty little man – he and Shirley are so freaking proud of their new house, – I mean, new house – picture it!  I spent the entire evening keeping Bops and Francis from ripping each other to shreds.  And Shirley’s no help.  I kid you not, she was sitting in that leather armchair of hers like Eleanor of Aquitaine, and snatching at empty air, you know? All evening?  I worked it out.  She was catching those little bits of dust that float about and trying to put them in her ashtray.  I ask you?”

She drew deeply on her smoke.  “Oh, that’s better!  How you manage, I can’t begin to imagine.”

“That’s Shirley.” Karen laughed.  “How is Bopper?”

“He’s alright, I suppose.”  Bopper or Bops (real given name Robert) was Bea’s husband of two years.  “Worried about work.  There’s rumours about the factory closing down, you know?”

“Yeah, I heard,”  Karen said.  “What will you do if it closes, Bea?”

“Jump in the freaking river, or something.  Anyway, it hasn’t happened yet:  what about your news, girl?  Come on, tell!”

“Tell what?”

“Oh!  Oh, all innocence!  Only Patrick Thingummy-Croft, that’s what!  And don’t attempt to deny – the entire town is a-buzz, darling.  What a fish!”

“Well, fish he may be, but it was only an outing.  Wonderful, so the entire town knows?  Tim’s coming down this weekend, isn’t he?”

“An outing?  It was a date, dearie.  Capital ‘D’.  And when I say the ‘entire town’ I mean Shirley, actually, although how she knew…  So what’s he like?  Oh, poor Tim!”

Karen blanched.  “What do you mean, ‘poor Tim’?  I just went out with this guy once.  He had tickets for the Beatles, for gods’ sake!  Anyway, he’s far too young for me; and far too rich, apparently.”

Bea shook her head.  “Sad.  I said ‘poor Tim’ because I saw the look in your eyes when I asked what he was like.  He fancies you, you’re attracted to him…”

“Shut up, Bea!”

“Ah, that blush of yours; it gives you away every time!  Mind you, he is young, isn’t he?  So much more stamina.  I think he looks Irish, with all that hair – so bloody sexy!”

“And it isn’t going to happen,”  Karen said firmly.  “Yes, he’s quite nice, and – alright, I could like him quite a lot if I allowed myself – but you know the score, don’t you?  I don’t see myself as a spoilt rich boy’s plaything.”

“Why not?  I would be!  Darling, you’re a Ju-whatsit expert in a wacky job with a six-foot-six copper for a boyfriend.  You’re gorgeous but you’re not exactly a soft target, you know?  Tim’s kept you strapped down for years, Karen.  Spread your wings a bit, and if Patrick’s prepared to accept the odds have a little fun with a son and heir!”  Bea stopped herself, reading the mist that once again clouded Karen’s eyes.  “But it’s more serious than that, isn’t it?”

“Of course not!”  Karen said brusquely.  Then she sighed.  “Sorry, Bea, I don’t mean to snap.  It’s more about Tim, really.  We’re just drifting apart, and me going out with someone else, well, that’s another sign, I suppose.”

“Writing on the wall?”

“Maybe.  Yes, maybe.”  Karen said.

#

It was not a lunchtime venue Karen would have picked willingly.  Beaconshire County Hall’s staff canteen was an echoing cavern of metal frame chairs and scratched tables that banged and scraped like a school orchestra.  In a supreme act of tokenism, the management had sectioned off a corner as an ‘Executive Dining Area’ within which, barricaded by planters of undernourished geraniums and ferns, tables with chairs upholstered in lemon-coloured vinyl squatted upon a square of starved carpet.  There was even table service, of a sort, although nothing could be done for the food.

“Miss Eversley!  Good of you to join us!”  Frank Purton stood up as Karen wormed her way through a host of dining County Hall ‘Executives’. Purton was a swarthy presence with blackened hair and a wide, thin mouth that so lacked lips as to be almost invisible when it was shut.  This feature, surprisingly offset by a pair of wide, brown, enquiring eyes gave him a chimp-like appearance.  Yet he was a lawyer of reputation in the County and Karen had already been exposed to the incisiveness of his mind.

“Can I introduce a personal friend of mine?”  Purton’s voice had a sharp, saw-like edge.  “This is Norman Wilson.”

“How do you do; Karen, isn’t it?”  Norman Wilson, a grey-eyed thirty-something, half-rose from his chair.  In complete contrast to his host’s regulation suit, Wilson wore a thin red sweater and brown casual trousers.  He seemed quite slow and nervous – out of his element, perhaps?  Karen spent half of their encounter trying to catch a glimpse of his feet, suspecting sandals and socks.  She was here at Purton’s behest, the result of a telephone conversation that morning, and curious to discover why he had invited Wilson, though she suspected it had something to do with…

“Boulters Green.”  Purton laid her suspicions to rest.

The canteen was presided over by a four-masted square-rigger known as Hilda, whose echoing commands punctuated any meal experience, something to which, Karen was later told, those who lunched there regularly were accustomed,.  Norman Wilson was clearly not a regular diner.  He startled visibly at Hilda’s cry of “More Soup – more soup here!” and her “This sausages is rubbish!” made him almost jump from his seat.  As manageress, waiting upon the ‘executive corner’ was a function Hilda would not delegate.  Her blue-check aproned mass advanced with billowing dignity towards their table.  Wilson visibly cringed.

“Sirs, Madams, what you want today?  Not sausages – sausages is not good.”

“Try the lasagna.”  Frank Purton advised.  “Hilda’s lasagna is excellent.”  And Hilda beamed rosily from ear to ear, responding in a tone that was almost confidential, given her vocal talents:  “How you like you pasta – well done?”

“Boulters Green?”  Karen enquired after their orders had been taken.  “I thought we’d laid that one to rest, Mr Purton.”  That had been the subject of her earlier telephone call.

Purton nodded.  “We checked the maps ourselves today.  Absolutely incontrovertible.”

“Then I don’t see…”

Frank Purton fiddled with his napkin, almost as if he was aware of the weakness of his own argument and a suggestion, possibly, that he was missing the Rotadex that was his constant office companion.

“That’s not the problem.  Norman?”

Norman Wilson startled slightly again, this time because his fascinated gaze had been fixed upon a cruising Hilda.  His eyes had followed her ever since she left their table. Purton went on:  “Norman and I play golf together, that sort of thing.  Have done for years.  We were discussing this and that the other day and our little matter came up.”

“It’s rather more than a ‘little matter’, Frank.”  Wilson objected.

“Yes; yes, I’m sorry.  Please, you explain to Miss Eversley.”

“Karen,”  Karen said as kindly as she could.

Wilson nodded.  “I have a nephew, Miss…Karen.”  After a hesitant beginning, his words fell over each other in his eagerness.  “A lad named Gavin; Gavin Woodgate.  He’s disappeared, Miss…Karen.  Completely vanished!  I would never have put two and two together if Frank – Mr Purton – hadn’t raised the subject, but there’s a connection, you see, with Boulter’s Green.  Between High Pegram and Pegram-Saint-Something-or-Another, you see.  That’s where he was last seen.”

Wilson’s right hand was around the back of his neck, apparently manipulating the muscles there.  His left rested on the table, twitching.  The man was obviously on edge.

“I’m very sorry.”  Karen sympathized.  “How old is Gavin?”

“Nineteen.  He’s nineteen.”

Their lasagna arrived at alarming speed, in the hands of a slim, anaemic-looking girl wearing a white mop cap which, after she had delivered their plates, she removed to wipe her hands.  Karen’s pasta lay on the white china before her like pages of ancient parchment, almost daring her to eat it.  She stabbed at it with her fork, but the tines failed to pierce its integrity.  “And he disappeared how long ago?”  She asked.

“Three weeks.  Three weeks ago.”

Wilson’s habit of repetition was becoming almost as irksome as the food.  “You shouldn’t be concerned.  I’m sure he’ll turn up.  Lads that age…”

“You wouldn’t know.  You don’t know Gavin.  He’s a quiet, studious sort of boy.  For Gavin to stay away even one night would be a terrifying experience.  It just isn’t in him.”

Purton offered support.  “I have to agree.  I have met young Gavin and he’s definitely not the impulsive type.  If he was planning to, let’s say, take a holiday, he would plan it meticulously.  He certainly wouldn’t just disappear.  It’s very odd.”

Karen swallowed a briquette of pasta painfully.  “You want me to find him for you?”

“Frank insists you are the best.  Hence…”  Wilson waved a hand at the empty air.

“One door closed, another to open.”  Purton was obviously referring to her morning telephone call when she had told him of her lack of success in connecting anything or anyone to his mysterious letter.  “Another job for you, Karen.”

Disengaging herself from the lasagna’s accusing stare, she asked:  “That last time he was seen, was he alone?”

“He liked country walks, you see.  A friend of his (nice lad) drove past him on the road that goes by the lane to Boulter’s Green.  He was on his own.  Sunday afternoon, that was.  He didn’t return home, or turn up for work the following morning.”

“Okay.  I’ll need a recent photograph.  Tell me all you can about Gavin.  Where does he work, what are his interests, who his friends are, especially the one who saw him?  I take it you informed the police?”

Was Karen mistaken?  Did Purton and Wilson exchange glances?  The movement was very quick, a flicker of eyes, no more.

“Of course,”  Wilson said.  “Their reaction was much the same as yours.  He’s nineteen, an adult.”

Hilda collected their three scarcely blemished booklets of lasagna.  Her accusing sniff must have been no more than a habit, given the standard of cooking, yet it made Norman Wilson flinch again, almost as if she inspired fear in him.

“You not enjoy, yes?”

“Honestly Hilda, no.”

“You not hungry, I expect.”

Back in her office that afternoon Karen feasted upon salmon and cucumber sandwiches from a little deli on the corner of her road.  Whilst eating, she tried to focus on her new task.  It was a standard ‘missing persons’ enquiry really, but it was work, and pleasing that Frank Purton had the confidence to recommend her for another job.  She was just trying to wrap her head around Norman Wilson and his apparent nervousness when the ‘phone jangled at her.

“Karen, it’s Frank. I want to flesh out our conversation over lunch.  Sorry about the food, by the way.”

“No problem.  For well-done Lasagna, it was perfect.”

“Karen, I want to emphasize that this is Norman’s investigation, not County Hall’s.  Are we sure we have that clear?”

“Of course.”

“Good, because unofficially, strictly unofficially, mind, the County has an angle on this.”

“Which is?”

“Gavin Woodgate isn’t the only missing person who was last seen on that road.  A Miss…hang on, I had a name…”  She could hear Purton’s Rolodex whirring.  “Anna Parkinson.  It’s a difficult one for us, Karen.  This girl was about Gavin’s age or a little bit more…”

“So they could have run off together, is that what we’re saying?”  If that were true, she could understand why Frank would have been reluctant to bring the subject up in front of Wilson.

“Oh, no.  These episodes, if that’s the right word, are a few months apart.  The thing is, Miss Parkinson was a lady in a certain trade, if you take my meaning?  Now, normally this is one for the police, who would take little action, but given the delicate nature of the situation…”

“Delicate?  What exactly is the County’s angle on this, Frank?”  Karen asked, her curiosity aroused.  “Was one of her clients a Councilor?”

“She was a – favourite – of someone important in the County; someone whose affection for Miss Parkinson leads him to want to find her, but who is extremely worried about issues of confidentiality.  Look, I’ll send everything I have over to you; apart from a certain name, of course.”

Puzzled, Karen asked:  “And she was last sighted on a country road in winter?  Not the most likely place you’d expect to see a working girl.  Who’s your witness?”

“Oh, dear, I suppose you have to ask that, don’t you?  Look, put delicately, the important person I referred to argued with Miss Parkinson over some…some matter when they were out driving together.  Miss Parkinson became quite excited, as I understand, and they parted.  It was a quarrel, nothing more…”

“He threw her out of the car.  I take it he stopped first?”

“Yes – at least, I hope so.”

“Nice gentleman.  And this just happens to have taken place on the High Pegram road, near the lane that leads to Boulter’s Green?”

“Yes.”

“Do we know precisely when – I mean, was it day or night; at what time, and so on?”

“It was late at night, I think.  He wasn’t too specific.  Look, Karen, I trust you to keep this confidential.  If it leaks out, it could do a lot of damage.”

Karen sighed.  “I’m sure.  Don’t worry, Mr Purton, your important person’s reputation is safe in my hands – even if I do think he should be in jail.”

Frank Purton’s information arrived ‘unofficially’ by way of a very junior-looking clerk the following morning.

“What’s your name?”  Karen asked him brightly, taking the large, plain brown envelope he offered.

“Peter Lasky, Miss.”

“Thank you, Peter.”  He looked about the right age.  “Do you know Gavin Woodgate?”

Peter Lasky shook his head vigorously.  “Nah.”

“He worked at County Hall, didn’t he?  Architects’ Department?”

“Dunno.  Don’t know ‘im.”  Peter had reached the door, groping for the handle behind his back.

“OK.”  Karen sighed.  “Here’s my card.  If you or your mates remember him later, give me a call, yes?”

“Yeah.”  Taking her card gingerly between his thumb and forefinger as if he thought it might be infected, Peter left.

In a small town like Caleybridge, somebody once said, everybody knew everyone else.  Over the next few days, Karen would learn just how many had never heard of Gavin Woodgate.

But not yet.

The big envelope lay on her desk, staring up at her, and she stared back.  She needed air; her brain needed air, her digestion, still suffering from her previous day’s encounter with Hilda’s little piece of Italy, certainly needed air.  Grabbing her spring coat, Karen took her office keys from the hook and let herself out onto the street, leaving the envelope unopened behind her.  Anna Parkinson would keep her secrets for a while.

Every now and then the English spring produces a day which surpasses itself for just that fresh, clear air Karen needed – a day of calmness, a day of peace.  This was such a day.  She felt no guilt at confronting the work ethic, especially in the face of such naked invitation, so she shut all thoughts of her two missing persons away in a mental cupboard she had installed specially for such occasions, and walked.

Her steps led her to Albert Park.  Here, on a rising slope overlooking the river, a bandstand stood, surrounded by benches where she liked to sit sometimes, away from the town’s noise and hustle, watching the placid waters of the Caley.

Resting here brought back the reclusive innocence of childhood, memories of how once Suzanne, her sister, and she had spent hours in this place, sitting and reading until rain or darkness forced them home.  They were so shy, the pair of them!  They had few friends and needed none, for they were wrapped in a world entirely their own.  Oh, Suzy!  How close we were when we were young, how far apart we grew with the years!  Those memories still hurt, despite the passing of time.  There were wounds – wounds which had led her down the spiritualist path, and which persuaded her that somehow she could retrieve that pearl of early innocence.  In death, Suzanne was the friend and confidante she had not always been in life.  Miss Scott-Halperton might have been the fraud her father said she was, but those sessions had helped her to resurrect her sister’s ghost.

Karen dozed for an hour before a chill breeze awakened her.  The cloud now hiding the sun brought Tim to her mind, and she quailed at the thought of the weekend to come.  It was time to return to work.

Reluctantly rising to her feet, stretching the stiffness from her hips and back, she was brushing down her coat when she saw him.  He was all of fifty yards away, leaning with his long back to the railings which bordered the river, powerful hands extended to grip the top rail to his either side, his black leather duster coat riffling in the strengthening wind.  His face was framed by lank dark hair which straggled across long, aquiline features and his eyes, black and sharp as needles, were focused entirely upon her.  So intense, those eyes, as if they could reach inside her and tear out her soul!  She dropped back upon the bench, her stomach clenched with fear.  To be stared at was an intrusion not unfamiliar to her, but never like this.  This was neither approbation nor anger.  It was cold, analytical, as though she were dead and lying on his table, ready to be cut open.

Very carefully, for she had to keep control of rebellious legs, she rose from the bench once more to turn back into the comparative safety of the street.

And he followed her!

She knew though she dared not turn.  He was close: she could hear his heavy tread above the traffic noise as path turned to pavement. Trying to summon up some professional nerve she quickened her pace, listening for his footfall, and sure enough it was there, matching her own! The street was busy, she reasoned – there were plenty of spectators if this creature ventured to attack her: that could not be his plan, although the thought sent a peculiar thrill through her body she would rather not explain.  No, he would track her and if she should be so foolish as to lead him to somewhere he would not be disturbed – somewhere like her office – then he might make a move.  She didn’t want to lead him there, he must not learn where she worked, so somehow she had to shake him off.  On the street now, she cast about her desperately for a diversion, some way to lose him without sacrificing the protection of the crowd. If she ducked into a shop she might use their telephone to summon the police, although she did not relish the thought of the conversation that would follow: former colleague’s girlfriend or not, the local constabulary was scathing in its criticism of her profession.  So how?  There had to be a better way…

 

© 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