The little auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre was hushed, expectant. The audience, held in thrall, focused, every eye upon the stage and the motionless figure of Daphne Scott-Halperton, slumped in a chair that had baronial pretensions. Daphne suddenly stirred. Her arms and fingers quivered. “I feel,” she declared in a stentorian tone, “I am in the presence of spirits!”
“She certainly is!” Jack Eversley, seated in the seventh row, murmured audibly. “At least half a bottle, I’d say.”
A red-hatted woman a row in front turned to glare at him.
Karen squeezed her father’s hand. “Shut up, Dad. Give her a chance – you’ll see how good she is.”
Brutally exposed by the scrutiny of a single spotlight Daphne, in a black-fringed red silk gown, did seem to have imbibed a quantity of something. A woman of impressive stature, approaching six feet in the vertical when standing and five feet in circumference, she seemed more fitted to a career in heavyweight wrestling, perhaps, or grand opera. There could be nothing frail about her; yet after that one initial spasm her head lolled to her left and her arms hung lifelessly over the chair’s ornately carved armrests. She might have fainted or been asleep. Knowing better, her pensive audience waited. Daphne stirred, jerked and looked up, emitting a groan like a rusted gate.
“Are you there, May?” She cried in a passable imitation of a male tenor. “I can’t see you, May. I can’t see you!”
“I’m here…I’m here.” A voice bleated plaintively from the gloom at the back of the auditorium. The owner of the voice hesitated, then emitted a further squeak. “Is that Bert?”
“Bertram!” Daphne’s alter-ego growled: “How many times have I told you, May? My name is Bertram!”
“But you said you didn’t like…”
“You were late again this week, May!” ‘Bertram’ snapped. “Why are you always late?”
“Oh, Bertram – Bert – I’m not always…” May protested, only to have Daphne Scott-Halperton silence her with an imperious hand.
“I miss you, May. I miss your singing about the house. When you sing I can hear you. It brings me close to you.”
“Does it?” May’s voice from the darkness wavered with emotion. “Oh, Bert, I miss you too, my dear…”
This confession of loss stimulated a muted chorus of ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ from the audience, who leaned forward in their seats in case they should miss the next communication from beyond the grave.
Not Jack Eversley: Jack slumped back in his seat. “Oh, bloody hell!” He muttered.
“Dad! Behave yourself!”
“I am always nearby, May my dearest. You mustn’t worry about me. I’m always there.”
“No he’s not, he’s dead! It’s a bloody pantomime, this!”
“Father, be quiet!”
A wit from somewhere back in the dimmed auditorium took up Jack’s thread: “He’s not dead. He’s behind you!”
From somewhere else: “Oh no he isn’t!”
May piped up again. “Can I ask…”
Daphne, glaring balefully at Jack Eversley, who had by now also incurred the undying hatred of the red-hatted woman, cut May off again. “He’s gone, I’m afraid.” Her voice returned to its usual strident pitch, and said, in a tone designed to wither the bones of any heckler: “He was called away. The channel to the afterlife can be such a busy place, you know.”
“But I wanted to ask where he put the keys for the shed. It’s been six months now and I can’t…”
“Have you noticed;” Jack Eversley said, none too quietly, “How nobody ever gets called July? All the other summer months – April, May, June, even August. Never July.”
He was heard on stage. Daphne Scott-Halperton, who had lapsed back into a posture which contrived to be both angry and somnolent at the same time, opened one eye. “Someone is trying to get through.” She said flatly. “Someone recently deceased is seeking a young woman or a girl here, and she is being blocked. There is an unbeliever standing between us.” She threw Jack a baleful look, then enunciated with great deliberation. “She wants to speak to Kerry.”
Karen caught her breath. “Sis? Oh, Sis? Dad! It’s Suzanne!”
The hand Karen was squeezing went suddenly cold.
Daphne sat forward, squinting at somewhere far off. “She can’t get through. She’s being prevented. However I can just hear her and she wants to tell you she’s sorry, Kerry. The accident, that wasn’t her fault. She tried very hard, but she couldn’t stay with you. She wants you to know she’s out of her pain, she’s healed and she’s in a beautiful place.”
Karen had to force her words through her tears: “Is that true? Is she really happy?”
“Could not be happier, my dear. Oh, this is so much clearer! Wait now!” The medium reached before her as if she were parting curtains which clouded her sight. “Yes! Yes, there! I see warm sun upon yellow corn. I see a pretty, red-haired girl with a broad smile, and I see cottages with thatched roofs beside a little stream. I can just feel it!” She smiled benignly. “I can feel the cool breeze on my face!”
“Can I – can I talk to her?”
Daphne Scott-Halperton sighed. “It is such a distance, Kerry, and the way is so crowded. But she waves – you see? She waves as she walks away…what tiny steps she takes in those green shoes!”
That put paid to a few doubts, the elderly medium thought as she surveyed her audience. Research; research was the key! He might have been a sceptic when he came in, the middle-aged barracker in the blue coat, but his saucer eyes and white face told her he would be back. As for his daughter, struggling to restrain her emotion? She had always believed – been one of her regular attendees, usually at the front. Probably she had anticipated her companion’s behaviour and wanted to bury him in the audience to keep him quiet. This was the high point, the climax to an hour of predictions, communication with her ‘spirit guides’ and education in her version of the hereafter. It was time to close.
Miss Scott-Halperton rose to her feet, her eyes widened, her lips apart. For a moment she seemed to stagger, catching herself quickly to prevent a fall. Slowly she raised her hands, palms open in supplication, and then, as if quailing from some unseen terror, she clenched them to her chest.
“There is wickedness here.” Her voice was deep, her lips trembling. “There are dark forces – vile creatures from a pit of demons, and they mean such harm – such harm! Stay close, all you who hear the spirits, I beg you! Stay close to one another tonight, for if there is one thing in the universe with the power to vanquish all evil, it is love!”
Daphne’s next words were to be a benediction. Now she would spread her arms over her audience and give them her blessing; tell them how the good spirits with their ineffable love would watch over them and guide them safely to their homes. These things she would have said, had she not raised her eyes – had she not seen.
The gallery of the little theatre should have been empty for Daphne never drew a crowd large enough to fill all two hundred of its seats. So the upper tier remained in darkness. Yet she saw the figure distinctly, in spite of the gloom. Robed in the colours of night, a man with long, lank hair stared down from the gallery rail, his head cocked bird-like to one side, and his craven eyes set upon one person in her audience – one person alone.
Daphne collapsed into her chair, her benediction frozen in her throat. Her customers, believing she had finished her closing words, gave a polite spatter of applause, then began to disperse. When she gathered sufficient courage to look upward once more, the man had gone.
“It was rubbish! A load of cheap parlour tricks!” Jack Eversley complained.
“Oh, Dad, admit it! She had you believing for a minute, didn’t she?” Karen grabbed her father’s hand, hurrying him through the rain. “It was Suzanne! It really was. Who else ever called me Kerry? And the red hair – how would she know that? Where could she possibly have got that sort of information?”
Jack Eversley doubted. “I don’t believe it. I don’t. Just tricks.”
Karen hugged his arm. She knew how deeply he felt her older sister’s loss, and though five years had passed since the road accident which took her life, how little he had forgotten. “I miss her so badly, too.” She said. “Suze was special to me, Dad. Really she was.”
“Of course she was!” Jack drew his daughter into the shelter of a shop doorway, taking her shoulders and turning her so she could look into his eyes. Wet from the rain, his face shone, as though the polish that furbished the furniture he made had somehow glossed his skin. “Karen love, you’re being deceived, can’t you see? That woman can’t bring Suzanne back to us. All the stuff about thatched cottages and yellow corn – Suzanne hated that sort of thing: Chocolate Box England, she called it. And in all her short life I never saw her wave – she made a few other signs, but never a wave. If the old dear really got a picture of her she would have seen a girl on a motorbike, or wearing those daft glasses of hers.”
Karen sighed, then gave her father’s wet cheek a patronizing pat. “Green shoes, Father? How would she know about the green shoes?”
In the noise-filled silence only rain on a pavement can make, father and daughter half-walked, half-ran the empty streets. Beyond that brief discussion, neither spoke. Their memories of Suzanne still defied expression, despite the passing of time. There were wounds too deep for mere years to heal.
Karen shared her father’s pain although perhaps for other reasons that were uniquely hers, for as much as she had loved her sister, close as they had been through their growing up Suzanne was always the great talent, the superior intellect, the Wenceslas to her page. Suzanne was the junior clerk at chambers who would have been a barrister one day, and a brilliant one. In sport, Suzanne always excelled – the runner who had represented her county, the motorcyclist who could ride as fast or faster than most men. When the motorcycle brought her down at last, in their parents’ eyes Suzanne was still the great hope, and Karen, just twenty then, the lesser child who lived forever in her shadow. It was rarely stated, and direct comparisons were never made: ‘Suzie would have known what to do’ or ‘Suze was cleverer than that’. No, but Karen was just a pen-pusher in those days, a worker at Balkins’ Food Mart; Karen would never take silk, or win at anything. She remained the lesser child, existing in shoes she could not fill.
Green shoes; Suzanne’s favourite pair. The shoes she bought in Bulmouth when they shopped there together, years ago.
It might have been those shoes, or something other: a chance remark by her father, perhaps – he was always ready with the tart comment, the clumsy put-down – that had driven her to make the change. One workday Monday, while a dozen trivial clerical problems from the clutter of her desk were buzzing in her head, she had turned a corner into a street on the north side of the town, and paused for a while outside a jaded shop front with empty windows and a large ‘To Let’ sign on the door.
“You’re bloody mad!” Jack Eversley’s anger was unconstrained. “You! – A what-do-you-call-it? A Private Investigator? You? You’re just a kid.”
“I’m nearly twenty-five, dad. I’ve got to do something with my life!”
“Find a nice fella. Settle down. That’s the best you can do with your life, lass.”
And so ‘Eversley Investigations’ had started. With a shop-fronted office Karen redecorated herself, a cheap car she bought on the ‘never-never’, no clients and very little money. In a profession that was frowned upon by almost everybody, not least the local police force, and a role which was generally considered ‘inappropriate’ for a woman.
“I don’t understand: why do you want to be a gumshoe?” Bea asked. Bea was Karen’s best friend. They were lunching together. Bea was paying.
“It must be something hereditary.” Karen had wondered herself. Was it a way of hiding behind her sister’s shadow? “Anyway, it might not work.”
“Or be really dangerous.”
“Do you think so? I did wonder.”
They were hard, the early days, and bestrewn with problems that somehow got missed in Phillip Marlowe novels, but not dangerous. She quickly learned that her prospective clients disliked sitting and talking to her before the large display window of her rented ‘office’, although blinds were fitted, so she painted over the glass. And because even that was not enough to entice the shyest customers, she had her telephone number added in large figures to her sign above the door, after which hoax calls came thick and fast. There were other calls too, less savoury in character, from less savoury characters. She learned when it was best to cut off the line, and when not…
Patrick picked Karen up for their drive to Baronchester with her weekday image in his mind and she surprised him, emerging from her parents’ house in a denim mini-skirt and jacket, with a cap on her head closely resembling one of his father’s.
Karen spied Patrick’s outfit: “Oh, no!”
“It’s alright,” Patrick assured her, wishing he had gone for something more formal than his own denim jacket and jeans. “They’ll just think we’re twins, or something.”
“Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum! I could change, but…”
“But we’d be late. Stop worrying!” Patrick threw his own cap into the back of his car.
“It’s the Beatles, isn’t it?” Karen said. “They make you want to dress down, don’t they? Nice wheels – now I wish I’d worn my pearls!” She snuggled into soft leather.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with clothes.” He told her, trying to keep his eyes levelled on hers and ignore her long legs, which graced his car’s foot-well as if they belonged there. “And if this is dressing down I want to be around when you dress up.”
“That sounds slightly pervy, I think. Is it your dad’s motor?”
“No, mine.” Then Patrick added, wanting to be absolutely truthful: “My parents gave it to me for a twenty-first.”
He still took adolescent pride in his Daimler sports car; hubris he had exorcised that afternoon by manic buffing which ensured that his date would be transported in a silver bullet of impeccable radiance, even at the expense of polish-scented fingers. He loved the machine, and he was already entering a hazard zone of besottedness with Karen Eversley.
If Patrick’s news that the Daimler was a birthday present inhibited Karen’s free-and-easy camaraderie for a while it did not last long. She was soon asking him more about his relationship with Bob Stawkley.
“Everybody knows Bob.” He told her. “He’s a good old soul, and I guess he must be near retirement soon. He has a few less kind nicknames, though, I’m afraid.”
“The way he walks – you know, that kind of bouncing gait? ‘Roo’, they call him in School Meals. Oh, and sometimes he’s ‘The Gerbil’. But that’s not the most unkind…”
“Oh, go on!”
“I’m not sure I should, but blabbermouth that I am, I will. ‘Scrotty’: around our department, he’s known as ‘Scrotty’.”
Karen caught on immediately. “Because of his wrinkles? Oh, fab!”
Looking back, Patrick would not remember much of those early conversations. On reflection, though, perhaps Karen found his use of his father’s membership card to access the car park above the venue where the band was to play intimidating, or even offensive. Nevertheless, he caught the slightly smug expression on her face when they descended together from carpark to foyer, by-passing the queue of hopefuls waiting for tickets outside.
These were the early days of the Beatles. Amplifiers that failed them in the stadia of their first American tour were powerful enough to rock the rafters of Baronchester’s Capstan Hall, and enough to fill Karen with their message. She held Patrick’s hand and bathed in outrageous sound for a long set amongst the screams of the devoted; then, when it was over and the streets were in darkness they climbed Capstan Hill to Rush’s Bar for chicken in a basket while the ringing faded from their ears.
“I’m glad you didn’t book a restaurant;” Karen told him, as they walked back to the car together.
“Is that sarcasm? I’m not really as tight as that.”
“No, I mean it. It would have been too much. Besides…” She let herself relax into Patrick’s side, matching her stride to his. “This is so much nicer. Informal, you know?”
The concert crowd had gone. In the hall they had the lift to themselves: lifts travelled slowly in those days. There was plenty of time to turn to each other and seal something with a brief, gentle kiss. Walking the final few yards to Patrick’s car Karen leant against him, her head on his shoulder.
“Tired?” He asked her, imagining her head and that hair tousled on a white pillow.
“Hmmm? No, just checking.”
“I wanted to see how it felt, that’s all.”
He was so close – so close. The luxuriant floss of her hair between his fingers, her breast nestled against his side and the warmth of her filling him. At the car door, he held her, unwilling even for an instant to put distance between them and certain she must share his feelings. The darkness made darkness itself of her eyes, her fingers traced soft patterns on his cheek. All he need do was allow his lips to find hers and touch, just brush them enough to tantalize, before uniting in another, much deeper kiss.
“Hey.” She murmured quietly, after a while.
“Take me home?”
They were miles covered in silence. Patrick drove with Karen’s head resting against him once more and he drove slowly, drifting in his mind. When he finally pulled up outside her door they kissed again; a familiar, goodbye kiss that held no promise or commitment, but simply said: ‘I know you now’.
“Will I see you again?” He asked.
“What if tonight is too hard to follow?” His face must have reflected his disappointment because she quickly reached for his hand: “Your offices are just down the road from The Hunters, aren’t they? Shall we meet there – maybe Monday after work?”
“I’d like that. You can tell me all about Boulters Green.”
“Ugh! Shop!” She leaned across to peck his cheek a final time. “Thank you for tonight, Pat. It was special.”
Inevitably Patrick and Karen had been seen together. Nothing ever happens in a small, closely interwoven town like Caleybridge that is missed by its purveyors of gossip, and eager demands as to the success of Patrick’s date with Karen greeted him as soon as he entered the office on Monday morning.
“Karen Eversley! Woo-hoo! You’re aiming high, aren’t you, little man?”
Only Jacqui, dear, over-sensitive Jacqui Greenway, who worked in the office next to his and who helped him because she was better at his job than he, detected his serious look. She brought coffee, leant against his office door scrutinizing him with her grey-green eyes as she sipped tea from an old Coronation mug. Jacqui knew Karen – but then, Jacqui knew everyone.
“She’s a nice girl. She should maybe get over her private investigations thing, but she is nice. A little older than you perhaps…”
“Jacqui, stop it!”
“I made you a drink – there’s a price. You do know, don’t you?”
“Oh, Jacqui! I don’t have to know, because you’re going to tell me. Come on, out with it!”
“Patrick, I’m serious. If you aren’t aware of this you should be, before you get too deep. She has a boyfriend, Pat. They’ve been together for years.”
It was a blow: a low punch. It hit Patrick in the midriff so hard he almost lost his breath. “Really?” He said, with a nonchalance he did not feel.
“Yes; Tim, Tim Birchinall. He’s a policeman, works in London with the Met. Plays a lot of rugby. Oh, and Karen, she does Ju-Jitsu. She’s a blue belt, I think.” Jacqui added with a meaningful look. “Honestly, did you think a girl like that would be unattached?”
“That mug…” Patrick affected nonchalance. “George Fifth, isn’t it?”
Nevertheless, a little paper kite of dreams Patrick had been flying took a dip towards land. He hesitated before persuading himself to honour his Monday evening meeting with Karen Eversley, thinking maybe he should step back while there was time? But he didn’t.
© 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