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Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Six. Masters of Discretion

Patrick, all protest smothered by Rebecca’s enthusiastic kiss as he was propelled backwards into his room, caught a brief glimpse of the sneer on a guard’s face before Rebecca kicked the door closed behind them.     She released him from her embrace with a severe look.   “You could put a bit more effort into it.”

“You took me by surprise!”  Patrick protested nervously.

“Oh, stop looking at me like that!  I’m not going to jump you.  What’s your bed like?”  She re-tied her bathrobe, throwing herself back onto the mattress, emitting a loud:   “Ooooh, you BEAST!”  Observing Patrick’s dumbfounded expression, she added quietly:  “That’s for the audience.  We don’t want to raise suspicions, do we?”  And when he shook his head in mystification, she laughed at him, saying in a stage whisper:  “Right, mate, how do we get out of here?”

“Get out of here?”  He foolishly repeated her words.  “What do you mean?”

“Dodge the goons.  There’s two in the corridor and one downstairs, it shouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“Wait a second!.  Last I heard, the story’s dead and those guys are taking charge?  We’re being escorted back to London, aren’t we?”

“I’m sorry!   I thought you wanted to rescue this Karen bird.  Was I wrong?”

“Of course not, but…”

“Faint of heart, Patrick, faint of heart.  That expression I used downstairs; remember?  ‘Two shakes of a lamb’s tail’?  A bit of code, that was.  Tarq understands ‘two shakes’ means two hours, and a ‘lamb’s tail’ is a motor – a car.   Right now, Purvy and Tarq are down in the bar with a few bevvies having a natter about the good old days, and Tarq’s beginning to look a little bit tanked up – all for Beefy’s benefit – that’s the big guard, Beefy, you like that, yeah?  Come the hour, Tarq needs some air and weaves his way out to the car park, watched by Beefy.  That’s when Purv collapses with his heart attack (or a fit, he sometimes does fits) to tax Beefy’s brains a bit.  We get a diversion going up here so he’s split three ways.  While he’s distracted Tarq nips off down the car park, nicks a car, and we all get out of here!  Good?”

“Optimistic!”  Was Patrick’s opinion. “Our friends don’t look like the type to be easily hoodwinked.  Is your editor going to pull this story or not?”

“Probably.  I don’t know.   I didn’t ‘phone him, I ‘phoned our researcher, Amy.  She’s got the address where they’re storing Edgar.”

Rebecca bounced hard on the bed, three, four, five times; each bounce accompanied by a loud “Yes!”  Then she stopped, grinned broadly at him and moaned:   “Yeah Patrick, yeah Patrick!  Ooooh, Patsy!”  After a pause, sotto voce:  “I’m good, aren’t I?  Okay, here’s how it runs.  I go back to my room. On the hour, you call reception, sound panicky.  Tell them there’s a young woman being harassed up here by two drunks, and someone should call the police.

“I chuck some clothes on – not too many, a little bit disarranged, a coupla  minutes – and then I scream and I keep screamin’.  Our goons come runnin’.  Doors open.  Hotel security’s jumpin’ about, guests start kickin’ up, our big chimps have to act civilized.  We run.   Time it right and they may even meet the local constabulary in the foyer!  We do more running, they have to stop and do explaining.”

Patrick bit his lip.   “It might work…”

“What d’you mean ‘might’?  It’s a perfect plan!  Can’t fail.  Remember, call the desk straight away.  We’ve got to give the local plods time to arrive.

“Right; sorry, Pat darling, it’s been wonderful and you’re fantastic but I have to go back to my room now.  How’s this for the ‘well seen to’ look?   God, I’m such a whore!  Come on, come over to the door – you’ve got to kiss me goodnight.  Nice and quiet and discreet, mind.  We’re supposed to be satisfied and ready for sleep!”

So it was that under their nearest guard’s disapproving stare Rebecca slipped out of Patrick’s door.  After it had closed behind her, she spoke to him, quietly and sweetly.   “Thanks, mate.  goodnight, now,” and retreated to her room.

#

A traumatized Jacinta reached for the glass that had become a constant companion, only to have her apoplectic husband snatch the decanter from her hand and hurl it at a Chinese vase in the corner of the living room.  Both exploded in a dreadful cataclysm of splintered ceramic and glass.

“How the hell could you let your bloody sister in on this?  For God’s sake, woman; if there was anyone in the world less discreet…”

“Oh, there speaks the master of discretion!”  Jacinta flared.  “There speaks the monster who kept his insane brother incarcerated in a cellar for years – right beneath my bloody feet!   I didn’t know!  No-one knew!”

“And why did I keep that little item from you?  Because the moment I tell you, you go running to your f***ing sister, and within twenty-four hours the world knows!”

“Not the world!  That isn’t fair!  Not the world, Staffy!  And what am I supposed to do, with the press attacking me openly on the public road – while you skulk around the lobbies like f***ing Bill Sykes, instead of being here, when I need you?”  Jacinta took a deep breath, “See here, Stafford, I will not be painted the villain in this.  When all’s said and done he was just one mucky little reporter from a mucky little newspaper, which I’m sure you can suppress.  All he has is rumour, darling – all he has is rumour.”

“Ah!  Rumour.  All he has?  Which is why three ‘mucky little reporters’ are searching Yorkshire as we speak, and one of those reporters is Rebecca Shelley?   They will find Edgar, in spite of anything I can do to stop them now, and when they find him, Marmaduke Peverel’s people won’t be far behind!”

Jacinta shook her head, bewildered.  “The Earl of Peverel?  What the hell has that old fool to do with anything?”

“Oh, for god’s sake!”  Stafford punched the air in his frustration, “Did you somehow imagine that just because you whispered a few sweet nothings in Ted Heath’s ear the Secretary of State job would drop into my lap?  It may surprise you, my dear, but I am not everyone’s choice for high office – Peverel, for example, would infinitely prefer to see Guy the Gorilla in the post.  Fortunately or otherwise, he has someone rather better in mind, and possibly more formidable:  Tamsyn Honeyday.”

“Tamsyn?   She’s an utter darling!   She wouldn’t…”

“Wouldn’t she?   She’s been after a seat on the front bench for years, and although he doesn’t like it to be acknowledged publicly, Peverel is very much her patron.  Somehow, Peverel has heard that Edgar exists, is fully aware of the scandal his exposure would cause and, furthermore, seems to know more or less where he is.  I would imagine his close friendship with Landseer, the owner of the ‘Record’, might have something to do with that, or a few judicious uses of a wiretap.  Whatever the reason, there are a lot of people far too close to discovering my brother, and very likely to substantiate your ‘rumour’ within hours!”

Jacinta was pale.  “Well, isn’t it obvious?  They mustn’t find him.  You must move him again.  Immediately!”

“It isn’t exactly easy to move Edgar around, my darling.  Finding the right accommodation takes time I don’t have.  No, he is in the right place, or at least somewhere I can still exercise a modicum of control over the situation.  I’m afraid the obvious answer is one that, in honour of his father’s memory, I have striven to avoid.  My dear brother, together with that ghastly woman of his, must be put beyond anyone’s reach, once and for all.”

A cold spark of fire kindled in Jacinta’s eyes.  They followed her husband as he went to the telephone, lifted the receiver, dialled.   “Mortimer?  Sorry to disturb, old chap.  Stafford Driscombe.  Do you recall our conversation the other evening?  Yes, that’s right, it turns out your services will be needed – tonight, if possible.  Does Hortsea Beach sound conducive?  Say three hours – no, four, for safety?  Two packages, old boy; I’ll see they don’t give you any trouble.”

“Oh, Staffy!”  Jacinta’s mouth moistened with hunger, “Oh my darling, are you going to kill them?  Staffy, oh, Staffy!  Will you do it yourself?”

#

She was tender, the woman, drawing coarse bedcovers over Edgar whilst he looked up at her adoringly. “Why are you so good to me, Poppy?  I’m really very naughty, you know.  Stafford wanted to take you away, did I tell you that?  Whatever would I do without you?”

She patted his cheek, reassuring him in a voice slightly slurred by a split in her lip. “Well, baby, you won’t ever have to do without me.  I’m always here for you, you know that.”

The one the woman called ‘Oddjob’ stared as her bloodied figure emerged, almost naked, from Edgar’s room.  He may have been experienced in ‘Professional Security’, but he was a novice at this.  Her eyes covered the hallway in the licking glance of a snake.  “Where’s his nurse?  He should be here.”

Oddjob frowned.  His colleague  Barbut, who was responsible for administering Edgar’s injections had gone to meet a couple of heavies they knew, hadn’t he, good lads who would manage Edgar’s ‘moods’ in their own way, but he wasn’t going to tell the woman that.  “He hasn’t come back yet.  I’ll send him up to you as soon as he arrives.”

“Oh, not for me, this is nothing:  no, it’s for Edgar; his sedative.  You’ll have to do it.  You have about ten minutes before he starts stressing.  Get forty mils into him and see if you can really knock him out this time, will you?”  She began climbing the stairs, adding, over her shoulder, “You’ll need to turn his mattress and change his bedding.”

Oddjob blinked.  “I can’t inject him!  I don’t know how.”

“Then start learning, or in a very little while you’ll have a ravening ape on your hands.  And no, before you ask, I’m not doing it.  He won’t let me near him with a needle.”

In her room, the woman washed thoroughly.  As she sponged away the makeup with which she had painted herself and dabbed at the dried blood on her face she paused, just long enough to think of Edgar, and how he was feeling now.   She had deceived him and in her own desensitized way, she regretted it.  Not that surrendering to full sex with him would have made any difference; she had learned the rules long ago.  Complete the business, satisfy him, and get out, because those pangs of betrayal and remorse which, being Edgar, would inevitably ensue must soon find expression in violence.  His illness rendered him incapable of proportion at such times, instead sending him to extremes when he could maim or possibly even kill.  She had acquired this knowledge the hard way, and barely lived to correct her mistake.

Seven, eight minutes passed.   She listened for the opening and closing of Edgar’s door, his groan of acceptance before the needle offered relief.  Nothing.  There was no sound.  She alone knew how much the move from his familiar surroundings had upset Edgar – she could read it in his body language, because brutality was a language where Edgar was concerned.   A new nurse, new rooms, colder climate – none of these things would have escaped him.  He felt lonely now, and not a little afraid.

At the foot of the stairs, the telephone rang.

She spoke aloud, as though Oddjob could hear her.  “Don’t answer that!  Give him his injection now, quickly!”  She rose to her feet, making for the door.  Then she overheard his half of the conversation, and she paused.

“Where?  That’s near Scarborough, isn’t it?

“No, I’ve got some help coming; we’ll be able to see to both of them.  What?  Of course they’re reliable. The nutter and the woman? Sedatives?  Yes, fair enough.  We can use those, can’t we?”

A brief pause.  The woman found herself rooted to the spot.  What was he doing, the stupid man?  Edgar’s treatment was imperative!

“Tonight?   F**k!  Alright, I’ll get it rolling.  Give me the name of that beach again?  Yeah – yeah – yeah, got that.  Gotta go, his Lordship’s getting edgy.  I might as well give him the big fix.  What?   Go on!   Tell me?”

Her heart was beating audibly.  Why hadn’t he hung up?  In her mind’s eye she could see Edgar, sketch the twisting motions of his mouth, the contortions of his fingers and hands.   He would be boiling now.  She wanted to scream aloud,  “Hang up!  Hang up!”  But the words stuck in her throat. What had Oddjob said – sedatives?  ‘The nutter’ must mean Edgar, and she, ‘the woman’.  What was meant by ‘the big fix’?

Instantly, the woman’s thoughts turned to her own defence.   Her window had been nailed shut – no escape from there.  The bed was heavy.  She pushed it against her door; stacked the chair on top, then – then what?  She sat trembling on the bed, and waited.  The telephone conversation below her had stopped.  The air was laden with silence – a cold, expectant silence.

Edgar could move without sound.  He was as agile and stealthy as a fox, which was why, when Oddjob at last replaced the telephone receiver and turned, Edgar was right there, in the doorway, facing him.   One glance at his eyes should be enough –   forget that his body was misshapen by the knotted steel of his muscles, that his mouth bubbled with spit, that his fingers were curled into talons; just one glance at those eyes…

Oddjob stepped back, remembered his training just in time, so as Edgar bore down upon him he twisted aside, a matador instantly ready to deliver the coup-de-grace, hands set for a double spear throat strike, and that should have worked, but for all his aggression, Edgar was wilier than any bull.   He went for the aide’s own windpipe, fingers grasping as though he would rip it out; heaven knew, he was strong enough.  Choking, Oddjob could not unbalance him – Edgar’s sense of centre was instinctive, like the animal he was – like the striking cat that goes for the neck – for one fatal bite undeterred by anything so simple as a karate riposte.   Martial arts were for people, and in this mood Edgar was not human.

Upstairs, the woman heard a crash as the security man was thrown across the hall, the splintering of wood as he collided with the stairs.  The thud of a body on the floor that shook everything in the house.

She heard the staccato crack of a pistol, too.

The woman breathed fast, limbs trembling.  Another shot.  Two more – four gunshots.  No!  Oddjob had been scared enough of Edgar to shoot him, He had killed Edgar!  He would come for her soon – and all she could do was wait.  Listen, and wait.

Time was passing – how long? Clasping at an empty hole in her stomach, the woman wept; what would she do, now Edgar was gone?  Who would defend her from – from whom?  Oddjob? The security man could have retreated, horrified by his crime:  he could be running somewhere out there on the moor because he had killed poor Edgar and he was a murderer now.  She could be waiting here for no reason; maybe all she had to do was pull the bed away, open the door and go down those stairs, go to the place where her poor, mad captor and lover had at last found rest, an end to his pain.  But maybe Oddjob was still there, and his friends would be coming soon…so she waited.  She had no plan, no expectation, she had only fear – fatal thoughts for herself.  Edgar was dead.  She would be next.  She must be next.

The bed moved.   Was it her imagination?

It moved again.

The chair beside her swayed, threatening to topple over.

She leapt from the bed, pushing with her shoulder against the door, thinking with her added weight, thin and frail though she was she might stop it opening.  This shouldn’t be necessary, she reassured herself:  the lock would hold – must hold.

The bed moved again.

It was a shock this time, as if a minor quake beneath the floor had shaken it.

Now a louder noise, wood protesting under strain.

In frozen fear, the woman watched the door bulge before force little short of superhuman. The lock burst with a rifle crack and suddenly her bed was grinding back across the floor and the chair was falling and…

“Oh Poppy,”  Edgar poked his head into the room.   “I’ve been very, very naughty!”

#

Patrick was pleased with the theatrical note of his call to the desk, and how he convinced the clerk that drunken hulks were terrorizing a young woman on his floor.  Rebecca could certainly scream; and, as she promised, she could keep screaming.  He heard his guard curse, then pound off down the corridor.  Swinging his door open, he witnessed a very distressed looking Rebecca, her blouse torn, half-slumped against her door jamb, arms waving ineffectually as she kicked out at the guard at her end of the passage.  Doors began opening; a very red-faced young man in a porter’s outfit appeared.   The second guard pitched in, trying to restrain an increasingly hysterical Rebecca, who screeched repeatedly:  “Get them off me!  Get them off me!” as they desperately tried to manoeuvre her back into her room.

By a stroke of fortune the guests in the room opposite Rebecca’s were obviously newly acquainted, even more fortunate that the male half of that pairing was at least six feet tall and as fleshy as a gnarled tree trunk, all the way up.  Valiant as they were, neither the fresh-faced young porter nor his elderly co-worker who immediately joined him might have tackled these professional thugs on their own, but a rampant male anxious to prove his manhood to his admiring consort tipped the scales in favour of Rebecca, who managed to wriggle free.  Patrick was already there and engaged, adding his own weight to the fray until she tapped him on the arm, gently reminding him that they should be somewhere else.

The pair dashed for the stairs.  Behind them, they could hear as the confusion of voices found direction, serving notice that their two watchers were regaining control.   If they had inclination, they might have turned to see the rampant young male being pinned face down on the floor with his arm in a hammerlock by the blue-jacketed guard, who in turn was suffering severe facial damage from the fingernails of his captive’s companion.  Sweater and jeans was locking the hotel staff into Rebecca’s room.

They did not turn.  They ran.

The commotion above stairs diverted an interested gaggle of businessmen and women from the hotel bar to such an extent that for a while no-one noticed Purvis writhing in apparent agony on the lobby carpet, or the anxious hulk of Beefy crouched over him.  The sight of a man with a half-dressed young woman sprinting towards the foyer added sauce.  A pretty girl in distress will always find friends, and when two large men came rushing down the stairs in pursuit it was easy to identify a cause.  Not all did, of course; most pretended they had something else to do and stood by the walls, but a sufficient few lent their added weight to thwart those giving chase to Rebecca and Patrick.

Rebecca gained the open air of the forecourt first and caught sight of Tarquin’s frantic wave.

“Over here!”

Grabbing Patrick’s arm she yanked him in Tarquin’s direction.  With the sound of a police siren gathering in volume in the background, her colleague was waiting by the open doors of a blue Toyota.  The car’s engine was running.

“Get in!”

Tarquin was already halfway into the driving seat and the wheels turning when Patrick lifted his trailing foot from the tarmac of the carpark, slamming his door to the squeal of tires.

“That was quick!”  Patrick complimented him.

“Silly sod left his keys in.  There’s always one.”

Rebecca snapped:  “Drive normal, Tarq!”   A police car, its blue light flashing, was descending the ramp to the hotel.  It’s driver passed them by without a second glance.

“Which way?”  Tarquin asked.

“North.”  Replied Rebecca, helpfully.

“Which way’s that?”

 

© 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

 

 

 

A Place that was Ours. Chapter Seven – Entertaining Maberley

Once upon a very long time ago when names like Stanley Matthews and Billy Wright reigned supreme in the English League, Casterley Town was a successful football club.  An upwardly mobile board and legendary manager Joe Burness took ‘Town’ to third in its division and, with promotion a certainty, decided to invest in a stadium larger than the couple of open stands that housed their (at an optimistic count) two thousand faithful supporters.

The stadium they built was a monument to those glory years – years long gone and, to most, long forgotten.  Legend had it that ten thousand fans could be crammed within its high concrete walls, although no-one knew if the legend was true, because that ten thousand, like the promised promotion, never arrived.   Joe Burness was poached by a club in a higher division, the mortgage on Casterley’s Grand Palace of Football starved the club of cash, and lichen grew where supportive feet failed to tread.  A team that once threatened to climb into the Second Division, as it was known in those early days, now teetered on the brink of ignominy and demotion from the Football League, surviving only upon the generosity of sponsors and the pity of its small kernel of fans, who still believed in it enough to chip in for a season ticket.

The space beneath the north stand to the side of the players’ tunnel did sport a manager’s office, though its function had long since altered to a storeroom.  The changing rooms and separate facilities, however basic, still existed there for the Casterley players and visitors at home games.   Jack Masters guided me into the visitors’ dressing room.

“Park yourself, lad.  I want to talk to you.”  He threw his crutch down onto the wooden bench that ran the length of the dressing room wall.  “Sit!”

When Jack said ‘sit’ you sat.  Like an obedient dog, I perched on the edge of the unpadded timber. “What’s wrong, Mr Masters?”  Although curious to see it, I had never been inside this space before.  As attendees to Jack’s ‘practices’ it was strictly off limits.   As a changing room it was unimpressive.  My eye was caught, for some reason, by a plastic carrier bag in the far corner.

“Call me Jack.  You’re not at school anymore, are you?”  He said crisply. Unsmiling?  Did I ever see Jack smile?

At school, Mr Masters was our physical education teacher.  Here, apparently, he was ‘Jack’.  I didn’t think I would be able to make the adjustment.

He sat down on the basic wooden bench beside me. “You probably won’t have heard of Councillor Robert Taylor, or Stewart March, will you, Chas?”

I shook my head.

“No.  Well, we’ll leave that on one side, then, for the moment.  Now, I’ve a proposition for you, and I want you to think carefully about it.  Casterley Juniors have got a pre-season friendly match coming up.  You probably know that.”

“With Maberley Juniors.  We never win, though.”

I bit my lip upon the indelicacy of my remark.  Jack, as the Juniors’ coach, might hold out some hope.  Realistically, Casterley Juniors only ever considered themselves a training run for the superior and much better financed Maberley team.   Their senior side was in the Second Division.

“It was eight-nil last year.”  Jack acknowledged.  “I don’t suppose you’d like to give me a hand trying to change that?”

“I can’t see how I can…”

“By playing for us, you daft bugger!  Can you be on our bench on Saturday?”

“Can I!”

No, I won’t pretend I had not dreamed, from time to time, of playing for our town’s junior team.  Every boy in our school entertained a similar wish.  I had faith in my ability, but faith was not enough.  I was just sixteen and slightly built for my age.  The average age at which most boys were chosen to play for the Town’s junior arm was eighteen, and they were picked from beefier stock than I would ever make.  I was astounded, amazed, disbelieving, overjoyed in equal measure.  My body language must have given me away.

“I take it that’s a ‘yes’, then?”  Jack said.  “We’ve got training on Wednesday night –  on the recreation ground pitch, at six.  Make sure you’re on time.  Oh, and that..”  He waved his hand at the carrier bag,  “…that’s your kit.  You’ll be wearing number twelve.  Now get out there and do some work.”

I emerged from the players’ tunnel that Saturday afternoon to a brighter daylight than in recent weeks.  A watery August sun had broken through the morning’s sheet of nimbus cloud, so an amber sheen overlaid the darkening turf Tommy Travers (we knew him as ‘Pops’) tended so lovingly.  Tommy had been Casterley’s Groundsman for more years than we had in any of us, the youngsters who scuffed up his precious work on summer weekends.   He would appear from time to time, the more rarely as he got older, to curse us for our careless treatment of his hallowed grass, and we would reciprocate by serving our turn on the roller, or mowing, or raking, but never by painting in the lines.  Only Tommy ever painted the lines.

The action that afternoon was developing at the south end of the ground, where a group of regular attendees were practising – the usual melee that happened before Jack arrived to take control and set up a five-a-side game, or some other diversion.   I sat on the front row step at the north end to put on my boots, a new pair my mother gave me for my birthday, and to stare reverentially into the carrier bag.   A hand gripped my shoulder.   Danny, the older youth who had persuaded Lard to get me some beer on a fateful night not long before, squatted beside me.

“Nice boots.”  He said.  I had been breaking them in but they still looked new.   “So ye’re in the juniors na, are yer Chas?”

“Aye.”  I said.  “How did you know?”

“Ah’m in too, man.  Jack just tell’d me, like.  Is that yer kit?”

“Aye.  Blue and white!”

“Lissen, we kna’ each other’s game, Chas.  Ah’ve somethin’ ah’d like us ter try.  Are yer oop for it, like?”

We stayed away from the others for the whole session, Danny and I, keeping to our end of the ground, and Jack Masters watched us now and then, but did not interrupt.    Jonna though – Jonna was curious.  As soon as he got a chance, as we were shedding our boots for the walk home, he insisted on knowing what was going on, and when I told him I had been picked to play for the Juniors – the moment I told him – I felt the bonds that had linked us together for almost all of our lives tear apart.  Was it envy, jealousy?  I don’t know.  But I always thought a true friend should be glad for you when good fortune smiled, and although he tried to hide it, Jonna clearly was not.  I felt cheated.  I deserved a stroke of luck; Jonna was the one I expected to help me celebrate.  Instead, I found myself watching his deliberate form stamping away from me at Ox Terrace corner, heading for his home with barely a word beyond goodbye.

The news I had most dreaded came in the post the very next Monday morning.  A court date was set for Thursday of the following week.   As if to prove that misfortunes always visited in pairs, Hubert Powell, who marched under the Social Services banner as my ‘care worker’ turned up at our door, conspicuously without any prior notice, and hoping, was my guess, to find my mother absent.  Fortunately, she was not.

“We are informed when any court action is pending, Mrs Haggerty.”  I expected he might show more interest in me, now I was a serious offender, but no; he spoke in the same bored monotone.  “We need to ensure at least one parent will be free to attend.  In the absence of Mr Haggerty I’m afraid that’s you.  I trust you can arrange your work commitments around that date?”

My mother snapped back at him. “I told you, man, I don’t work!”

“Be that as it may…”

When my mother learned that I wanted to get in touch with Nel Kershaw she laughed at me.  “You won’t see ‘er again.  She’ll ‘ave passed you off to one of her juniors, and you’ll be lucky if anyone turns up on your side come Thursday!  I think you’d better wake up, young man.  They’ll not be doing you any favours, them lot – they sit up there, all high and mighty, and they hand you down a sentence before you’ve time to open your mouth.   Solicitor?  Don’t make me laugh!”

“You’ll be on my side, though.  You’ll be there.”

“Oh aye, I’ll be there.  And much good will that do you!”  Her voice was beginning to find the hysterical treble that now punctuated her conversation so frequently I was inclined to agree with her.  I tried not to think how a courtroom would react to one of her excitable outbursts. It was not a pleasant thought.

Despite my mother’s prediction, I managed to get an appointment with Nel for early on the following Monday.   Meanwhile, Danny and I went to Wednesday training, where we met the rest of the Casterley Juniors football team, many of whom, of course, were already known to us.  After some work and a general team brief, Jack Masters took Danny and me to one side to explain how Maberley’s defence was weak on their left, and how a fullback called Dewhurst was indecisive and slow.  Slow, for example, if Danny took the ball deep on the right wing, and I worked around Dewhurst on his left.   I exchanged glances with Danny:  wasn’t that exactly what we had been practising that Saturday afternoon?

Thursday and Friday passed unbearably slowly.  At loose ends, now I no longer had school to attend, I spent hours in the backyard kicking my football around or in my room, listening to music.  Which is not to say that home life was free of complications; it was not.   The heavy menace of the court hearing hung over my mother and I in different ways, such that it became one of those great unspoken anxieties never mentioned in conversation, although the anticipation of it was clearly upsetting to my mother.  When she was not at work I tried to spend time with her, worried by her behaviour, her rapid mood swings and the almost palpable tensions that were playing tricks with her mind.   Television was her evening habit; with the varied hours her job demanded sometimes a daytime habit too.  Yet she could not relax as she watched from her armchair, but tapped upon the arms of the chair incessantly, drumming out the rhythms that played in her head.  In the simplest conversations her voice was always close to a panic-driven trill so edgy and harsh I found it difficult to stay and listen at times.  The wringing of hands that once betrayed her most fragile moments was a constant presence now.   Even in sleep.  Yes, even in sleep.

Today I remember those things, those precious clues that did not draw my attention as they should have done – those warnings I ignored.   No, not ignored: they disturbed, or more than that, they frightened me, now and then.  Had I been older, wiser, I might have done more – so much more; but oh, the self-absorption, the selfishness of youth!  I was too deep in my own troubles – too deep to see.

Saturday dawned after a sleepless Friday: the sky was grey and filled with autumn rain.  I passed the uneasy hours before it was time to go to the ground thinking about football, and all that the game meant in my life.  You may believe I was attaching too much importance to a mere Juniors game – and a ‘friendly’ at that – but to me; to the snivelling working-class wretch with his alcoholic absent father and his screeching, unpleasant mother it was a validation, a chance to shine.  At whatever level I was representing my town:  I was carrying that loyalty on my shoulders, and I was proud – so, so proud!

The Maberley lads arrived in a modern, yellow bus which, probably coincidentally, matched their football strip.  Most of our team straggled in on foot, wearing our kit rather than change in the mercilessly depressing atmosphere of the home dressing room.  Nevertheless, we had to pause there for long enough to change into our boots, and that was long enough to hear our visitors cheerily pouring derision on the facilities, or their lack.  They were amicable enough; certainly I had no reason to dislike them, but they were adversaries, and they were very confident of their skills, which was enough to make me keep my distance.

Danny and I both started the match watching from the bench.  This was irritating for Danny, who had expected to play the full ninety minutes, but for myself, useful.  Perhaps my expectations were much lower, or perhaps I valued the time to assess the Maberley players.   Dewhurst stood out for me.  He was, as Jack Masters had foretold, not the fastest of backs, but he was big, and he tackled with all of his weight.   When, after our team had conceded three goals in the first twenty minutes, Jack replaced his left half and outside right to put Danny and me on, I was more or less ready.  It took a while, until the half-time interval, for the rest of our team to understand our reasons as we drew the Maberley back line further and further down the pitch.   Then Rob Yarker, our left back, found space to feed Danny a long pass that reached its mark, and I found the back of the net from his cross.  Thereafter it became a very different game.

I want to describe the exhilaration I felt as I became more and more attuned to the game – as I found a rhythm of my own and opportunities to entrap and humiliate poor Dewhurst (his first name, I quickly discovered, was Paul) productively time after time.  In the game’s second half I was robbed of his company, because the Maberley coach replaced him with a slightly more agile equivalent, but by then I felt unstoppable, and I probably was.  Of the six goals which carved out our victory four were mine, one belonged to Danny, and one to Bobby Wells, our centre.

Jubilant, receiving pats and slaps of congratulation, I looked up into the North Stand, really for the first time, because Juniors games did not exactly pack the spectators in.    I saw, as I expected, acres of empty terrace.  I saw Jonna and John Hargreave celebrating wildly, I saw Angela Carey’s bright smile, and I saw Dave Crabtree, Sue’s elder brother, staring down at me with a stony expression.  For the first time, maybe because of the plastic macs worn by the small group of middle-aged men engaged in conversation with Jack Masters, I noticed the rain.

No, Sue’s memory had not faded from my mind.  The game had given me some relief, another focus for my concentration, but now the game was over, Dave’s hostile expression was all I needed to bring our last meeting sharply back.

“I don’t know what he was doing here, mind.”  John Hargreave said.  “He wasn’t enjoying the game.”

“I did!”  Jonna chipped in.  “Bluddy marvellous, that was!”

“Curious,”  John continued.  “He wasn’t there in the first half.  Almost as though someone told him you were playing, and he came when he heard.”

The offices of Wimpole and Goodrich lurked furtively in a block of Victorian terraced townhouses beside a road known as Leadyard Hill on the south side of town, next door to a commercial stationer and uncomfortably close to Webbeth’s Funeral Parlour.  There was little within its doors to uplift my already depressed spirits; a receptionist who doubled as a keyboard operator directed me along a dingy passage to some naked stairs.

“Up there.  Hers is the door on the left.  I’ll tell her you’re coming.”

Nel Kershaw was waiting on the first-floor landing to lead me into a small office as chaotic as my bedroom at home and marginally less well decorated.  Light was provided by a large sash window which overlooked the street, odour was lent by a propensity of paper old and new, loose and in files, one of which I had to assume was mine.

She cleared a chair of a small stack of files.   “Have a seat, Charles.”

The contours of a desk were vaguely distinguishable among the stacks of files, and Nel wormed her way through to sit on her own chair, which lay somewhere beyond it.  She was dressed in a grey skirt and white blouse, a few buttons of which were left open – just enough to be distracting.   She flipped the cover of my file and glanced quickly over the first page.   “You may have wondered why this has taken so long.”

“Not long enough.”  I think I said.

“Well, it is long.  The lists are fairly clear at the moment, and your case has been passed over twice.  I can’t see any reason, other than somebody at Town Hall juggling the schedule.   It is almost as if…”  She paused to reflect on her own words; “…as if someone wanted you to come up before these particular magistrates.  There’s nothing untoward in that, I suppose, unless that someone wanted to influence your case by ensuring you appeared before them for some reason.   Have you heard of Robert Taylor, or Stewart March at all, Charles?”

My mind immediately jumped back to my conversation with Jack Masters.  “Councillor Robert Taylor?  My football coach might have mentioned them.”  I told her.

“Really?  That’s curious.  You don’t know them personally – they’re not uncles or anything?”

“No.  Are they the magistrates I’m going to get, then?”

“So it seems, it’s certainly their turn on the list.  Pity, I rather hoped you had a connection – I’m a little disturbed, I don’t mind telling you.  I think we should go over your version of events thoroughly, now, to be sure you give clear and concise evidence.  Are you up for that?”

Nel Kershaw’s green-eyed invitation drew me in.  Yes, I was surely up for that.

It was mid-morning before I left the office on Leadyard Hill to make my way back home.   As I closed our front door behind me, my mother shouted from the kitchen.

“The paper’s on the table.  I thought you might like a read!”

‘The paper’ was our local daily rag.  At sixteen I never gave a newspaper more than a passing glance, so I had no idea why she should wish me to look at it; but there it was, on our dinner table, its back page – the sports page – uppermost.   And there was a headline; a big headline, the full width of the page,  ‘Casterley Town’s Rising Star’ with a four-columns-wide picture of me – one I could not remember being taken – underneath.  Then a lead paragraph which began: ‘New young striker shines at season’s first junior match.   Juniors today, Town team tomorrow?’

I spent the remainder of that morning reading, and re-reading every word printed about me.  When my mother brought a ham sandwiches for our lunch, we read the article together, and despite her scornful comments and her low opinion of the newspaper, I think she was pleased.

My head was buzzing.  They couldn’t select me to play for the Town, could they?  As soon as I had eaten, I went in search of my friends, over-brimming with pride and desperate to share my good fortune with them.   Now the school holidays were upon us our usual haunt was MacDonalds, where we nibbled at fries and drank Coke or Fanta and swapped tales left over from the rigid discipline (as it seemed to us) of school.  Of course, school was some weeks behind me now, But Jonna and John Hargreave had only lately sampled the joys of final release, so my success had to take its turn.  I didn’t mind.   Jonna seemed to have swallowed his jealousy, and Greavesie was his usual measured self, so we could discuss, and analyse, and plan the remainder of our summer days.

Meanwhile, faces we knew came by, and some stopped to parley for a while. Some had seen the newspaper, some not.  Trevor Bull, now free of his compulsion to make my life miserable, paused in passing.   I told him I was going to court on Thursday.

Trevor nodded.  “Up before the beaks, like.   Does tha’ kna’ who the magistrates are, like?”

I told him the names.

“Fookin’ ‘ell, Chas!  Y’kna who they are, doesn’t tha’?   Bloody hangin’ judges is what!   They sent Dowie Parshire down for six month las’ year, joost for breakin’ a street lamp!  Oh, man, pack yer jammies!  Yer’ll not be comin’ home, I’m tellin’ yer!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Place that was Ours.  Chapter Six – Nel Kershaw.

 

Sue Crabtree stood in the shadow of the bridge with the river at her back, pale in t-shirt and jeans, and when she saw me she brushed her ringlets of hair back from her face, so nothing should hide her solemn expression, her downcast eyes.  She did not smile.   “They know what we did.”  She said, tearful.

“Did you tell them?”

“They just – knew.  They want us to stop seeing each other.”   She spoke so quietly I could barely hear her.

“Your parents.”  I said.  “They can’t stop us, can they?”  Wanting her to say no, she wouldn’t obey them, that I was more important to her than some stupid threat from her father.  “Sue, we can still keep seeing each other.  You can get away, can’t you?  I mean, we can get away – get away from here, you and I, Sue.”

She did not answer.

“What’s wrong?”  I struggled to keep the plea from my voice, fought back the unmanly tears that were trying to make themselves known.   “Are you frightened of your Da’- because I can handle him for you?”

“It’s not just my Da.  Chas, Mam’s been telling me some things…”

“Oh aye, I don’t doubt that!   She was telling me some things too!”

“Don’t be too hard on her.  She’s right, Chas.  I’ve got a lot left I want to do, and I don’t…look, if we keep seeing each other, Da’s going to make it really bad for you.  I know he is!  And us – it’s going to happen again, yeah?  We just got too close, Chas, too close.”

I moved forward, desperate to touch her but she stepped back, almost flinching away from me.  “No, don’t!   Don’t!

“All year it’s been you told me I had to be faithful to you, that you had dreams too.  What happened to them?”

“I was wrong.”  Sue said miserably.  “I was wrong and I’m sorry.  I’m so, so sorry.  Chas, this is really hard for me.  I’d do anything not to hurt you, but I think we should stay away from one another, at least for a while.”  Her eyes met my own and I could see the tears there.  “Just for a while.”

“Sue, no!”

“I had to see you.  I couldn’t just drop out of your life without saying anything.  I couldn’t do that.”

“Sue…”

“This is how it’s got to be, Chas.  It’s for the best.”

She reached out, gave my hand a quick squeeze, then before I could return the grip she was running away from me, up the lane towards the town.

Shaken as I was, sometime would elapse before I, too, made my way up through the dereliction of The Fellings, following that gloomy, winding lane of moss-covered cobbles and dank shadows that even summer’s raw heat could not penetrate.   Walking away from a place of memories I must now wipe from my mind.

If you forgive me I will not share my feelings on that friendless evening, or recount which of the many streets I walked, or how the hours passed.  I will draw a veil over the secret places that I found where I might hide my face from the world.   These were private things which, although I remember them all, are too personal to ever be revealed.

Somehow, the night passed and I did not go down to the bridge, although I thought of it.  Perhaps, if I had known what the next morning would bring I might have succumbed to that temptation,  because at eight o’clock while my mother was still in bed came the hammer on the door, and when I pulled back my curtain there were two police cars in the street.

Here I must pause to explain, for if you are not working class, or you did not live upon those tight urban streets where the houses huddled to one another in rebuttal of the storm, or upon one of those council-built estates whose noble purpose once was the housing of the poor, you would not understand.   The police always adjudged themselves defenders of the middle class, saw it as their duty to seek their offenders among the working class; and class, to the police, was an address, and no more.  If you were middle class, living on the hill and your son or daughter should offend, you did not need to fear; a discreet visit from a uniformed officer would serve to correct what was obviously an error of judgement, a mistake.   There would be a conversation, firm but polite, and the arm of the law would depart, in most cases without charges being made.

If you lived on a street like ours, then you were by default a threat to society.  The uniforms would arrive in force, overrule all argument, and decide upon your guilt according to the set model in their minds that your address dictated.   It is now as it was then – little enough has changed, and the class divisions are as stark as they ever were, but years from those times I understand it now:  I look back and see why four officers pushed me aside and entered my mother’s house that early morning, demanding she rise from her bed.   In their eyes I was guilty of whatever accusation had been levelled; my cause was lost before I even knew there was a cause to lose.

We were bundled to the Police Station without ceremony, thrust into an interview room and seated before a table occupied by two others, a woman and a man.  It was the man who did the talking.

“You’ve been a busy little lad.”   He was wearing the deliberately casual clothes of CID; a tan leather jacket, summer-weight green trousers and a white t-shirt.  For all I know he was wearing the Miami Vice slip-on casual shoes, too –  if I noticed, I can’t remember.   He had a young face, full cheeks, a narrow mouth that muttered to itself even when he wasn’t talking, and eyes; grey eyes that accused.   He flapped the file he was holding up in front of me.  “Says here you’ve been very naughty, Mister Haggerty.  Do you want to tell me about it?”

“No,”  I said.  I was feigning ignorance.  What did he mean?

My mother, seated beside me, was still waking up.   The woman across the table from her was no more than twenty-five years old, thin as a willow twig and dressed smartly in a lilac suit  No-one introduced her to us, although she also had a file with my name printed on the corner.

“All right then,”  Said the Detective Constable,  “let’s start with a question:  Monday morning, really early, say about 12:30am, where were you?”

“I was at home in bed, I expect.”

“He was.”  My mother interjected.  “He was home with me, all night.”

“Really?” The DC smirked unpleasantly.  “I’ve got CCTV footage says you were on Front Street, shouting some things.  Good light on Front Street; helps the camera: it’s clearly you, lad.  And there’s an eyewitness who lives in the flat over the shop; you woke him up with your swearing, so he saw you do it.  Then we’ve been having a chat with a taxi driver says he picked you up from Front Street.  He couldn’t deny it; camera evidence shows his registration plate.  So, will I ask you again?”

“It wasn’t me.  Must have been somebody else.  Mistaken identity, see?”  I hoped I was sounding convincing.  I knew I wasn’t.

“You dragged us all the way down ‘ere, just ‘cause he was drunk and disorderly?”  My mother’s vocal cords were finding their pitch.  “You must be mental, man!”

“I didn’t say he was drunk.  Irrational behaviour, not always drink.  Can be drugs, too.  You put out William Hills’ window, are you still going to try and deny it?”

“Aye.  Wasn’t me.”

“Very well.”  The Detective Constable sighed.  “I’ll put that on your statement, shall I?”

“Why?  Is this going to court?  Just because you think I broke a window?”

“No, lad, not just because you broke a window.   Next question – around about the same time last night, where were you?”

“I was at home, in bed.  What are you accusing me of this time?”

“Believe it or not…”  The Detective Constable produced a photograph from his folder,  “…this is the sort of stuff we have to present as state’s evidence, these days.”  He placed the picture on the table so I could see it.  “Do you recognise this?”

I studied it as carefully as I could, which was not too carefully, because I was shaking, for some reason.  “It’s a stone.”

“That’s right.  A stone.  Not up to much, is it?  But it should give you a clue where this is going, young Haggerty.  Now tell me again; where were you around midnight last night, please, and I want you to think hard about your answer.”

I was suddenly aware that the eyes of the thin woman in lilac were staring straight at me,  They were green eyes, very large and somehow hypnotic.  The detective was asking me another question:

“Do you know  the address 32 Lampeter Drive?”

I came to myself.  The reminder of that particular address was not pleasant.  “Yeah.  Yeah, I do.”

The DC consulted his file again.  “Which is the home address of Mr and Mrs M. Crabtree.  You know it then?”

“I said…”

“Were you there last night, around about midnight?  Did you put this stone, and five others like it, through each of the ground floor windows of 32 Lampeter Drive?”

“No!  No I didn’t!”

“Did you shout out threatening Mr Crabtree?  ‘I’ll slit you, you bastard’ I believe were your exact words?   The same words you were shouting the night before, on Front Street, when you broke the betting shop window.  We have a witness for that, too.”

I was too shocked to respond.  My mind was running through a labyrinth of thoughts and meeting the stern figure of Mackenzie Crabtree at every turn.  Never once could I have imagined he would go so far to separate me from his daughter as to accuse me falsely.  With my mother’s protestations ringing in my ears and no possible arguments to defend myself I was dumbfounded and I was helpless, more helpless than I had felt in all my life.

What happened thereafter was something of a blur.  My mother’s insistent treble, the Detective Constable and his violet-suited companion conferring, the words of the charges against me being read out in the Detective Constable’s bored, dismissive monotone; strong hands hoisting me from my chair.   Finally, a march along a short, bare corridor past featureless brown doors to one door, a door which slammed behind me – leaving me without laces in my shoes or a belt around my waist.  And silence.

Silence.

It may have been hours; after those first terrifying moments I lost all sense of time.  Within that little white-painted cell I had the minimum essentials for existence, a toilet, a bench long enough to function as a bed, a thin mattress.  The steel door that separated me from everything in my world was sturdy, the viewing panel within it closed.  Few sounds penetrated its obdurate substance – occasional distant voices caught in snatches of conversation, instruction or laughter; thin slices of life, growing and fading.  Air heavy with disinfectant caught in my lungs, making it hard to breathe.

The viewing panel in the cell door clicked open to reveal a man’s face, his eyes flicking left and right as he checked the room.  Then the panel snapped shut, the door’s heavy bolt withdrew, and the tall figure of the lilac woman walked in.  On her nod, the hand that had opened the door closed it again.

“Well now,” She said, in a steady, assured voice.  “What are we going to do with you?”

“Who are you?”  I asked.  In the interview room no-one had introduced her.

“I’m Nel Kershaw, Charles, and I’ve been commissioned to act as your counsel.”  She proffered the same file she had been studying in the interview room.  “You don’t have to accept me, of course.  You’re free to appoint your own legal representative if you have anyone in mind?”

I shook my head.  “I don’t.”

“It’s me, then!” Nel Kershaw perched herself on the edge of the shelf that formed a bunk, inviting me to do the same. “How old are you, Charles – fifteen?  Let’s see, what have we got here; two charges of criminal damage, one of breach of the peace, threatening behaviour – that’s quite impressive for a couple of days – oh, and previous for receiving stolen property.   I think we can leave that on one side.  What on earth set you off on this trail of destruction – was it drink?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”  I said sullenly.  “I didn’t do it.”

The violet woman gave me a crooked smile.  “Charles, the Front Street window incident was witnessed, seen clearly on CCTV, and fits perfectly with a statement made by the taxi driver who took you home, so I think we can agree you did it.   The second and third charges rely upon the wording of your uttered threats during the Front Street incident, and the evidence of the owner of 32 Lampeter Drive, Mr Crabtree.  He says he got a clear view of you from his bedroom window with the last of the six stones in your hand just before you threw it ‘viciously’ at his downstairs bathroom window.  Then there is a statement made by his son, David Crabtree, who claims to have seen you running away down the drive of the Crabtree house…”

“NO!”  I shouted at her.  “I didn’t go near his house.   Why is he saying that?  I didn’t break his bloody windows!”

“He asserts that you threatened him, that you intend him and his family harm, and he fears you.  Why should he be afraid of you, Charles?”  Her green eyes were boring deep into mine, soulful and searching, stripping away my ability to deny.

So I told Nel Kershaw the truth.  I told her about Sue, and as much as was needed about that fateful afternoon when we made love on the riverbank.  I recounted her father’s threats to me, his wife’s visit to our home, and my drunken adventure involving a brick and William Hill’s Betting Shop window.  Nel wrote down the substance of my words, I think, to add to her file, and when my tale was ended she re-read what she had written.

“So, this is what happens.  Because you are under eighteen your case will be heard before magistrates convening as a Youth Court, where you will enter a plea.  If that is guilty you may get a sentencing decision straight away, or they could ask for further reports.  I see you were assigned a care officer after your previous offence…”

“But I didn’t do it!  Alright, I broke the Betting Shop window, I was drunk and I was mad, but none of that other stuff.  He’s lying!”

“What are you suggesting; that he broke his own windows?”

“I don’t know!  I wouldn’t put it past him!”

“Well, I did say the testimony was unreliable for the Threatening Behaviour charge.  Even less so, if this Mr Crabtree is proven to hold a grudge against you.  We can take that line, and we can ask for his wife to account for her visit to your home.  When the alleged offence took place it was dark, he could not be certain to have identified you, and his son only saw your back.  The case against you is weak, and you could defend it, but…”

“But?”

“If Mr. Crabtree is called, he may raise the matter of your relationship with his daughter, and that could open a new can of worms.”  She shuffled her papers together, making preparations to leave.  “Look, I see the court wanting to just hustle this through.  However, if we can get them to hear separate pleas for each offence they might treat you more leniently.  That’s for then; now I’ll see what I can do about your bail.

“What will I get?”   I asked her as she rapped on the cell door.

Nel Kershaw shrugged.  “A fine for the shop window, probably, maybe a community order.  For the other offences you might be in for a stretch in a Young Offenders Institution, anything up to six months.”  She offered a smile.  “Sorry.   I believe in giving my clients the worst scenario first.  The Youth Court is supposed to be sympathetic, so I imagine it may turn out a lot better than that.”

The cell door opened for her to leave.  “That’s it for now.  We’ll get you out of here.”  She paused, turning to fix me with her green-eyed stare.  “Sometimes in my job I meet people who really shouldn’t be in here.  You are one such person, Charles Haggerty.   You are truly worth saving, but in the end it’s up to you; there are two turnings and only you can decide which road you want to take.  Do what they tell you and stay out of trouble, okay?”  She treated me to a quick smile and then the door closed once more, leaving me to my silence.

#

“Been in the dungeons, like?”  Jonna was doing his own version of sympathy.  “Terrible in there, innit?”

“Nah, lovely.”  I told him.  “They’ve got wallpaper on the walls and tellies and the food’s just great, man!  I didn’t want to come out.”

For a moment he believed me.  I could read it in his face.  “Yeah?  Nah, man!”

“It was, I’m telling you!  They’re that nice to you!  I can’t wait to get back in, me!”

“Away, man, give us credit, will yer?  You’re on bail – did they take yer passpoort, like?”

“I haven’t got a passport – which you very well know.  I’ve got to report in every day and be indoors by 9:30.”

“Doesn’t do much for yer nightlife, then.”

“No, it doesn’t.  If they see me on the streets after that I go back in detention, that’s what they told me.  Oh aye, And I’m not allowed within half a mile of Lampeter Drive:  not that I’d want to go near the bastard, mind.”

“Crabtree.  There’s all sorts of stories about ‘im.  Don’t worry, Chas, us’ll batter ‘im for yer.”

“No. No, don’t go near him, any of you.  It’d be just what he wants.  The cart’ll be coming round for him soon enough.”

“Why, he’s crafty enough, that’s the truth.  How’re yer goin’ to get Sue away from him else, though?”

“I’m not.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happened, Jonna, and I won’t try to rescue somebody who doesn’t want to be rescued.  I made a mistake.  I’m not lying, I like Sue, you know I do; but maybe she doesn’t like me quite as much.”

Jonna shook his head, bewildered.  “Ah don’t believe it, man!  You two have knowed each other since you was bairns, we all did!”

“That’s what I thought, too.”  I told him.  “I thought we were good friends.  I was wrong.”

“So your mind’s made up, like?”

“It is.  It was made up for me.”

“Well then, us’d better get down McDonalds an’ exploit your fame a little.  Word’s all around town how it took two copper loads o’ ‘blues and twos’ to nick yer, so there should be a free lunch in it, y’na?”

My reputation for toughness was laid upon the table before me, so that all I had to do was pick it up.  In the weeks before my case was due to be heard I enjoyed a mildly legendary status that extended beyond my school friends, even as far as the mild admiration of Trevor Bull, who warmed to me enough to engage me in his version of a conversation, on the Saturday after my sixteenth birthday, as I was making my way to football practice.

“Now then, Spakker!”

“Now, Trev.  You alright, man?”

“Aye.”  Trevor had a way of standing within inches of me when he talked, looking down on the top of my head.  “Ga’n football?”

“Aye.”  I said.  “It’s Saturday, mind.  Season starts soon.”

“Aye, it does.”

“Yes. Will you be coming to the home games, Trev?”

“Aye.”

“Right then, see you there.”  I said cheerily, ready to move away.   Trevor laid a hand on my shoulder.  “Man, that’s a grip you’ve got there, Trev.  You been going to weight training again?”

“Aye..”  Said Trevor.  “Lissen, Spakker, word is you got a score to settle wi’ Crabtree, like.”

“Nah, not really, Trev.  I’m on my best behaviour, see?”

“’Way aye, good thinkin’.”   Trevor tapped his sizeable nose appreciatively.  “Mussen’ say nothin’ the Chatties might hear, like.   Jus’ sayin’ Spak, if the’ wants a hand or two, Ah’m up for it.  Ah hates that bugger, me!”

I thanked him before I hurried on, making an excuse that I was late.  His offer did not entirely surprise me – it was a bad offer made with a generous heart, and one that had already been made by several others, not least of whom were Jonna, Sarah Coldbatch and John Hargreave.  If I wished, I had a small army pledged to my cause, loyal servants at arms whose loyalty was rather spoken than intended.  In a town like ours, many a fealty pledged beneath the disguise of twilight could be relied upon to return to clay before the dawn.  Yet it was flattering that anyone should see fit to rally behind me with even the slightest degree of sincerity.  I felt somehow honoured by it.

My thoughts were crowded as I entered the football ground, preoccupied with the breaking of old alliances, the making of new.

“Chas.   Come here lad.”  Jack Masters was coming across the pitch to meet me with his peculiar hobbled gait of leg, crippled leg and crutch; and there was an anxious expression on his face I did not recognise.  “I want a word with you!”

 

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