Nowhere Lane – Chapter Nineteen. A worm

The night had been merciful to Patrick.  Ravaged by all the tensions of the day and his imaginings (what danger might Karen be in, or the unthinkable – was it already too late?)  he had wanted to keep going; to keep up his search for her.  Even after he abandoned his vigil in Nowhere Lane his desperation drove him on, standing shaking and soaked to his skin before the night desk at Caleybridge Police Station, where the desk sergeant was made to listen to his account of events before, not unkindly, telling him to go home. Midnight was close before he drew the Daimler to a shuddering halt in the drive of Radley Court and his family were able to step in and advise – no, insist – he rest.

“Bath and bed for you, young man!”  Gwendoline instructed him in a tone she normally reserved for Amanda.

“It makes sense, Patsy dear,” Gabrielle soothed.  “There’s nothing to be achieved now, and you wouldn’t be a lot of use to Karen in this state.  Get some sleep.”

“You’re making a fool of yourself, boy,”  Jackson told him; though his tone was less censorious than before.  As he watched his son labouring up the big stairway there were etch-lines of concern on his normally placid features.

So Patrick acquiesced, and of course sleep came, the moment he laid his head on the pillow.  Sleep; dreamless, deep, and long.  It was near ten the next morning when he woke.

“Let me get this straight.”  The detective constable looked up from his report pad.  “You’re trying to tell me this Miss Eversley has been abducted – is that what you’re saying?”

Patrick nodded emphatically.  He had waited at the police station for nearly an hour to gain an interview with a member of CID.  He wasn’t about to see it wasted.  “How many times do I have to repeat myself?  She was following up an investigation.  The investigation took her to the old ruins at Boulter’s Green.  I followed her there.  She walked from her car to the ruins, and she did not walk back.  I waited for hours but she didn’t return.”

“You’re certain of this, are you?  Did you see anyone – anyone at all – during the time you spent there; any other persons acting suspiciously, any activity of any kind?”

“No, I didn’t.  I stayed until long after dark.”  Patrick paused, “No, wait – that isn’t quite true.  When I was down by the river there was someone, a woman, looking out of one of the windows of the Driscombe place.  Anyone in that house would have a clear view of Boulter’s Green, wouldn’t they?  Couldn’t we ask them?”

The detective frowned.  “I’m afraid we won’t be disturbing Lord Driscombe unless we have a lot more to go on, young man.  He is a Peer of the Realm, I’d advise you not to forget that.  Now, this was yesterday afternoon, after your father reported the theft of a vehicle.  You found that vehicle, didn’t you?”

“Yes; yes I did.”  Patrick felt that his concerns were being somehow turned against him.  “But yesterday morning we told your officer – my Dad told him – Karen had been abducted.  It wasn’t a theft.”

“’Karen’ would be Miss Eversley, yes?   You recovered your father’s car from outside her apartment.  Let me see, what were your words last night?”  The policeman studied the report in front of him.  “Ah, yes.  ‘She was being chased.  He was after her’.  Any idea who was after her?”

“No, I don’t know his name.  But he was large enough and strong enough to frighten her.  I had to defend her from him once; I reported it, and he’s been stalking her ever since, so I know the threat was real.”

“You certainly made a report, Mr Hallcroft.  We investigated that.  We found no evidence of an assault having taken place, or any witnesses who could describe this person.  A tall man with long hair and a leather overcoat – isn’t that your description?  A little theatrical, don’t you think?”

“Don’t believe me, if you choose not to. My sister and her boyfriend had to deal with him, they’ll tell you.  Karen also reported to you she was being followed, after he assaulted her.”

“True, true.  You might say in the few days of your acquaintanceship with Miss Eversley the pair of you drew quite a bit of police attention.”

“That’s so unfair!  I’ve known Karen longer than ‘a few days’.”  Patrick wished he had brought his mother to this interview.  “Look, it’s obvious Karen had no intention of stealing anything: my father’s car was parked on the street.  She’d left it there and swapped to her own car, once she’d got away.”

“Got away?  So she wasn’t abducted, was she?  In fact, there’s no evidence she didn’t simply ‘borrow’ your father’s vehicle to get back to town.   You see, Mr. er..”  The detective constable glanced up at Patrick with pedagogic disdain:  “Mr Woodcroft, Miss Eversley wasn’t exactly short of enemies, was she?  In her line of work, it’s entirely possible a disgruntled client might threaten violence against her, but they wouldn’t be interested in abducting her. If someone broke into your house, as appears to be the case and they were chasing her, she certainly got away; as to where she went after that, well, following your reasoning, somewhere out of reach, don’t you think?”

Patrick firmly refuted the policeman’s explanation.  “No constable, I’m reporting her missing.  I believe she may be in danger.  I’m asking you to follow that up.”

“You’re sure she’s not at home, or her place of business?”

“Certain.  I checked both.  Why?”

The constable studied his pad for a moment or two.  He pursed his lips.  “Well, we might as well get this out of the way.  You see, Mr Hallcroft, I’m having a little bit of trouble with this story of yours.”

Patrick stared.  “Why?”

“Last night you came in here unloading all this and you seemed, if the night-duty officer’s account is anything to go by, a little bit off-balance.  Nevertheless, we did send a car out to this lane you spoke of, and our constable investigated it thoroughly.  He walked the route you described to the ruins and he looked around as well as he could by torchlight.  He saw nothing unusual.”

“No, nor did I; that’s the point!  But her car is parked there…”

“That’s the thing Mr Hallcroft.  It isn’t.”

“What?”

“There was no sign of a car.  Nothing.”

Patrick regarded the detective constable blankly.  “It was there, and it was locked.  I don’t believe you.”

“To be honest, it’s immaterial whether you believe me or not.  We haven’t found the vehicle.  So as far as we’re concerned, if Miss Eversley is missing at all, the most likely explanation is that she has simply gone away for a few days.  She is an adult, and no-one from her family has reported her missing.  We might pursue her for theft and any part she played in the damage to your father’s property, but otherwise the police can’t be involved.  I’m sorry.”

 

Ah, we are only human, are we not?  Patrick’s conviction was total:  Karen already held an unassailable place in his heart.  She was his chosen; the one he would spend a lifetime beside if he could.  And only those who have loved and lost could ever understand his agony of fear for her.  Yet it would be wrong to assume that other counsels could not plant a tiny worm where such pure flowers grew.  Driving through the town after his visit to Caleybridge Police Station the detective’s explanation of the previous day’s events picked at the locks of his devotion.  He was not a fool.  In his imagination, he extrapolated upon their interview.

“Tell me, sir, how long have you known Miss Eversley?”

“A few weeks.”

“Really?  As long as that.  Were you intimate with her?”

“Well, yes.”

“Well yes.  And what do you know about Miss Eversley’s past?”

“She had a sister.”

Slowly, as if writing this down:  “She – had – a – sister.  What was her sister’s name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where did Miss Eversley go to school?”

“I don’t know.”

“Has she any close friends?”

“I don’t know.”

 I don’t know.  I don’t know.

Now, when it counted, he was discovering how little he did know about the woman who had entered his life.  He had to believe what the policeman had told him.  The car had been removed.  After he left could Karen have returned in the night and driven away from that muddied lane?  If so, where?  Where would Karen, feeling afraid, seek shelter?  And if she had found refuge, why had she not called to tell him she was safe?  There was, of course, an alternative answer he did not want to contemplate; that she had winged her little car up the A38, so by now she could be with Tim Birchinall in London.  Birchinall, his rival!  He baulked at the thought, not really believing she could do that to him so coldly, but knowing she was in fear of her big, aggressive Mr Nasty, and that might be enough to make a renewed relationship with a rugby playing policeman a temptation she couldn’t resist.

Only Karen’s mother was at home when he pressed the doorbell that afternoon.  A matronly figure whose apron was wrapped about her by her personality, she greeted him effusively.

“So you’d be the young man our Karen’s been seeing?  Come in, dearie, come in!  You’ll catch your death out there!”

If Patrick had sought to raise concern in Bridget Eversley, though, he was to be disappointed.  She sympathized with his agony, but not the reasons for his concern.  When he told her how worried he was for her daughter, Bridget thought he was over-reacting.

“A dark man?  No, she hasn’t told me about any dark men, dearie.  You shouldn’t worry about Karen, you know, she’s strong-willed and she’s wily, that one; gets it from her sister Suzanne.  She knows how to look after herself.  She’s probably gone off on one of those Spiritualist retreats – she does, from time to time.”

Patrick was puzzled.  “Spiritualist?”

“Oh yes, dearie, she’s very much took up with that.  You didn’t know?  There’s monthly meetings she goes to; some woman at the Gaiety, can’t think of her name.  She took her dad last time.  Kept him quiet for a few days after, I can tell you.  Then again, if business has been a bit slow lately she might have gone to one of her friends, I suppose.  She does that sometimes, too.”

Patrick pressed her; did she know where he might find any of Karen’s friends?

“There’s one, Bea I think her name is, but I can’t say where she lives. I met her once, it was at the County Show.  Nice girl; dark, sort of flashy, but nice.”

When they put their heads together, Patrick and Bridget, they discovered their knowledge of Karen’s life and habits amounted to surprisingly little.  “She’s an independent minx.  If she’s lit off for a while, I shouldn’t be surprised, nor should you.  She’ll be back when she’s missing her Sunday dinner.”

#

The circumstances were not ideal for a first meeting with one of Karen’s parents, Patrick told himself, but at least he had learned something more about their enigmatic daughter,   Spiritualism!   He found the very thought of Karen attending a spiritualist meeting disturbing; it was inconsistent with the image he had built of her: it did not fit.  Nor would her mother’s description of Karen – ‘She’s strong-willed and she’s wily, that one’ – comply with his; the woman in his heart was gently loyal, grounded and dependable, the woman in his head was subtly altered now.  He could not avoid thinking about that.

Exhausted by small doubts Patrick was glad enough to break from his search for a brief while, and Jacqui, still abed at the hospital, was at least as glad of his visit.  She smiled delightedly when he walked in.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes!”  She crowed.  “Where did you go yesterday?””

Despite the turban of bandages around Jacqui’s head and the brace that kept her from moving her neck, her facial features had regained their refinement, so her obvious pleasure at seeing Pat made her look radiant.

“Doesn’t anyone else visit you?”  He asked.

Jacqui pouted.  “I told you once, but you probably didn’t listen properly.  My mum and dad live in Australia now, and when they went they took my brother Ade with them.  Not that Ade would have been a dutiful relative when it came to things like visiting.  He used to have trouble remembering where the door was, most of the time.  Still, our loss of a drug addict is Australia’s gain.  Aunt Vi came to see me this morning.  She thinks I’m too thin.  Do you think I’m too thin?”

Patrick said he thought she was just perfect, and they chatted on happily for a while; touching upon subjects like hospital food, beds, and matrons.

“The night matron on this ward’s a killer!  I swear she creeps around the beds in the early hours administering lethal doses to anyone who dares demand a bedpan.  They clear out the bodies in the morning.  Anyway, you haven’t told me yet.”

“Told you what?”

“Where you went yesterday.  How’s your little Miss Marlowe?”

So Patrick told her – about the large man who had been stalking Karen, about the connection between two dilapidated buildings on a regional map and a case she had been working on, and about her disappearance.

“My god, Pat, this is horrible!  Poor Karen!  Where can she have gone, I wonder?”

“I’m worried out of my wits.  I wonder if she might have gone back to Tim, you know?  London’s a good distance away, and he’s a copper, after all.”

Jacqui placed a comforting hand on Patrick’s arm.  “Scared you might lose her?  What, gone back to the rugby-playing lump, after having tasted you?  Don’t be silly!  I met – what was his name – Tim, once.  Dull as ditchwater, darling!  No contest!  You think they’re after you, too, don’t you?”

“I was warned off,”  Patrick said.  “Maybe I should have taken notice, and you wouldn’t be in here.”

“Really now?  You think my attacker mistook me for you?  Pat – do you?”

“Maybe: just maybe.”

“Wonderful!”  Jacqui groaned.  “Dear old Jacqui, getting in the line of fire, as usual.”

“Don’t say that.  I had no idea…”

“I know, Pat, I know.  Let me see, if she’s gone to ground somewhere, where could that be?  You’ve tried everything – parents, friends…?”

“That’s the thing.  She seems to have had only one best friend.  Someone called Bea?  I have to trace her.”

“Bea Ferguson?  Oh, I might be able to help you there.  See if you can find me a piece of paper and a pen and I’ll write the address down for you.  She had loads of friends, though, Pat:  loads!”

The rain had ceased before Patrick left the hospital, prompting him to lower the top on his car and driver faster than he should, relishing the fresh wind in his face as if it might blow any trace of mistrust from his heart.  It was no distance to Caleforth, the village where the young Fergusons had made their home.  Theirs was a small red door in a street of little cottages clustered together in terraced solidarity.

“Who are you looking for, dear?”  The next door was white and open.  An elderly head was peeping through it.  “They’re both at work.  They’ll be back about six o’clock, I expect.  Shall I tell them you called?”

#

At first, she had thought the colours flashing through her head would never clear, the pain of the blow would never ease:  which was why, perhaps, she kept her eyes closed against the world.  That was why?  No, fear was why.

Behind closed eyes she was safe:  the tall man would be unsure of her condition, giving her some time to assess.  She had no clue where she was, other than the detail of her immediate surroundings, a bare white room with the bed she lay upon, an upright chair and a stout wooden door.  There were no windows: the only illumination came from a strip light on the stale white ceiling.  All this she had seen before the big man’s hand sent her back into her nightmare.

He had gone, she was fairly certain.  Her screaming seemed to concern him; had he been afraid someone would hear?  She believed she was alone and the door was closed.  If she could be sure, absolutely sure of that, she might chance opening her eyes, but lacked the courage to put it to the test.  Better to feign unconsciousness or sleep.

She had slept, at some time.  She was stretched out upon the bed, and before she was hit she had been sitting up.  Gabrielle’s marl sweater and Lee Cooper jeans had been stripped from her body: In their stead, she seemed to be dressed in some form of shift.  Someone – she could only assume it to have been that tall grey vulture of a man – had undressed her, and this induced a shudder of loathing she could not suppress.

“You’re awake then.”  The voice was dull, toneless.  Not the voice of the grey man.

Reluctantly, because her head was still buzzing, she blinked her eyes open.  He was sitting on the upright chair, watching her.  She remembered.  “You’re Joshua.”  She said.  Her jaw was bruised, her mouth difficult to move.

“You can call me that if you like.  It’s of no consequence.”

She attempted an embittered smile as she recollected the phrase.  “Was it you put me in these clothes?”

“Yes.  It’s how he wants.  Oh, and don’t worry yourself.  I left your underclothes alone – and I’m a nurse, by the way.  I’m qualified.”

“Should that console me?  I seem to remember you pretending embarrassment at the sight of my legs, not long ago.  But here you are, in the end, just another dirty little pervert.”

Joshua grinned.  “Ah’m a good actor, aren’t I, lass?”

Her mouth wouldn’t cooperate because her lips were swollen.  She was drooling, and the drool was blood.  “And who is ‘he’?  The lunatic who hit me – who’s that, Joshua?  Are you his keeper?  He belongs in a zoo, doesn’t he?”

“His name is Edgar.  I’d worry about Edgar, if I were in your place.  He’s gone to a great deal of trouble to get you, and he’s not likely to waste his opportunities now he’s succeeded.”

She pulled herself erect, sending a thunderflash of pain rocketing through her neck and head.  When the red mist cleared she could look down at herself.  “A white shift.  Very clinical.”

“He likes white, does Edgar.”

Though every move brought a new flush of pain, she could certainly move.  Nothing was wrenched, or broken.  “What does Edgar want with me?”  It was a foolish question really.  The answer, though, was unexpected.

“He’s in love with you.”

What?

“Alright, he’s obsessed with you, if you like.  Whatever you want to call it, he thinks of it as love.  He believes, for the minute, that he loves you.  A bit like a child loves a toy, you know?  Until he gets tired of it and breaks it.”

“Jesus God!”  Ignoring the warning pain in her head Karen leapt to her feet, made the two strides to the door.  She had the advantage of surprise and she used it, throwing the door open, launching herself through it into she knew not what, only hoping there was some magic path leading back to the light.  But beyond the door was a corridor, a bare, dim space, lit by another fluorescent strip screwed to another low ceiling.  There were steps leading upward not more than a few paces away.  She raced for them, only to find they ended in a hatch that was secured by heavy bolts.  When she swung back again Joshua was standing in the middle of the corridor, smiling benignly.

“There’s no way out, I’m afraid.  No way at all.”

 

© 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

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Nine. Outrage

 

No escape.

The man’s big hand clamped to Karen’s mouth reduced her cries to muffled gasping as she fought for breath.  In seconds his arm about her waist had lifted her bodily from behind, carrying her into the shadows beneath the bridge.

Once hidden from the street above, he spun her around.  Her mouth was freed and she tried to scream but her breath had gone.  She kicked out, made a lunge which he countered, throwing her back until she was pinned against the cold stone of the arch.

His maniacal eyes were inches from her own,  his lank hair whipping across her face, his wide mouth bared in a snarl.  A hand tore at her clothes, touching her, and she had a scream in her head but no sound would come.  One heavy knee thrust her legs apart with a power beyond any resistance she could offer, forcing her open to him.  His weight was pressed against her, his hardness seeking, his intentions all too clear.

Then came the blow.

It shuddered through her, the harsh resonance of flexing bone.  At first she thought it was her own head that had cracked and split open.  But then her assailant began to fall backward, and still held by him she was being dragged away from the wall. The man’s mask of wanton fury had been replaced by glazed surprise and pain.  Another body, determined and strong, interposed itself between them, breaking his grip and slamming him against the guardrail at the margin of the river.  The steel met the dark man’s lower spine and before he had a chance to rebound his legs were swept from beneath him, pitching him backwards into the racing current.  As he hit the water, he gave tongue to a canine howl.

“Jesus!”  Patrick said.  “The company you keep!”

Karen struggled for breath.  Her eyes cleared, slowly, took in a lump of rock lying on the path, the bludgeon with which Patrick had administered that telling blow.

“Are you hurt?”  Pat’s concern was readable even in gathering darkness.

Karen’s knees were in severe danger of giving way, and she was not sure whether she had suffered damage or not, but she did her best to smile bravely.  “Only my dignity.”  She assured him, rearranging what she could of her clothes with shaking hands.  “Do you think he can swim?”  There was no sound from the river.

“Right now I don’t really give a s**t.”  Pat replied crudely.  “I expect he can, but the flow under here is a bit quick, so he’ll be a way downriver before he can get out.  All I want to do is get you safe.  Can you walk okay?”  He slipped his jacket from his own shoulders to hers.  “Maybe we shouldn’t hang about too long, just in case your amorous friend comes back for another try.”

Outrage is a strong emotion, one that grabs you somewhere deep and hangs on, not for an hour or two, but a year or two, or a lifetime.  Karen would not forget that first moment of real terror in her life, in spite of all that would happen later – never forget that face in hers, those hard, vice-like hands.  Pat, who read her so well, held her close to him, knowing how strong she would want to be, yet how she needed his support.

A whispered “Thank you,” was all she could do to repay him.

He gently took her hand; then, with his supporting arm around her waist guided her from the gloom beneath the bridge into the last grey light of evening.

“He would have done it to me, you know, if you hadn’t been there?  He would have – I couldn’t stop him.”

“I know.”

“I tried to stop him, Pat!”

“Don’t talk, my love.  I understand.”

#

When Patrick brought coffee to Karen’s bedroom the next morning, she had just woken, her eyes still laden with sleep and her arms, their developing bruises exposed, outside the bed covers.  She managed a smile, had he slept well?  He told her yes, her sofa was every bit as comfortable as he could wish, neglecting to mention how long he had lain awake, waiting for morning and listening for the tall, lank-haired nightmare of last evening to return.  It never did.

“You followed me.”  Karen accused him mildly.  “Last night, from the pub.  Do I have to worry about you?”

He knew that was only half-way to a joke.  “Am I a dangerous obsessive, you mean?  Perhaps, where you’re concerned.  Mostly, though, I was worried for you.  I didn’t want to think of you walking home alone.”

“You were right.  You saved me, didn’t you?”

“You needed help.  Any dangerous obsessive would have done the same, seeing another dangerous obsessive trying to muscle in on his obsession, I mean.”

“Don’t become too obsessed, Pat,”  Karen said seriously.

“Too late.”  He confessed.  “I can be serious too, Karen.  You need protection.”

“We’ll have to report it – what happened, I mean.”

“I already have.  I used your ‘phone.  I hope you don’t mind.”

“What did they say?  Will they start dragging the river, or something?”  The smile vaporized.  “Oh, Pat!  What if we’ve killed him?”

Patrick did his best to offer her the same reassurance he had spent a sleepless night practising on himself.  “You mustn’t worry!  To be honest, the police didn’t seem too concerned. They’ll take a look down there, but the guy I spoke to made the point that apart from where it runs under the bridge, the river’s never more than waist deep.  He said they’d send someone round to see us ‘in due course’, whatever that means.”

Karen reached out for him – a hand stroking his – a gesture that sent little waves of sensitivity chasing around his body; because he was surrounded by the warm scent of her bedroom and he had spent too many hours imagining.

“You did the right thing,”  Karen said.

”I have to keep you safe.”  He stumbled over his words.  Her eyes were two deep lakes of mystery looking into his, her lips were parted in invitation.  Her uninjured hand caressed his arm as softly as ripples on a foreshore.  He wanted her.  He wanted to say how much he wanted her, but the timing was wrong and the words wouldn’t come.

“I was stupid last night, taking the river walk when I should have stayed on the street.  If I’m careful, I’ll be fine.  Oh, Pat, I’m so lucky to know you!”  She raised herself from her bed and the covers fell away.  The little blue nightshirt that hung so loosely about her breasts invited him to take it from her.  Her breath in the inches of space between their mouths was hot and needing.

Karen’s eyes filled with alarm.  “Oh my god, what time is it?”

“About ten, I think.  Don’t panic – no work today; it’s Saturday.  Le weekend!”

She scrabbled for the edge of the bed.  “Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You were in shock.  You needed sleep.  Whatever is the matter?”

“Pat, get out!   Go away!  Go home, or wherever it is you go on a Saturday.  Go and play your game of polo, or something.”

“Polo!?” 

And, as he hesitated:  “I have to dress, Pat.  Now, please?”

“Ah!”  He caught on.  “My presence might be difficult to explain, mightn’t it?  Okay, I’m leaving.  Can I just write him a note?”

“No!”

He was tidying Karen’s sofa and still trying to collect himself as she rushed past him on her way to the bathroom, gathering her dressing gown about her as she ran.  He wrote his home telephone number to remind her, on the corner of a magazine that was lying on her table and left.  She did not say goodbye.

Not five minutes later, Karen’s buzzer sounded.

“Tim!  Hello!”  She was still in her dressing gown.  Framed in her apartment doorway, Tim Birchinall looked bigger than ever.

“Hello sweetheart.  Am I too early?”

“Early?  God no.  I overslept.”  Had he put on weight?  Auburn hair, cut to police regulation, eyes of solemn brown she once told him were appropriate for a policeman, those same strong features that could start a girl dreaming without effort.  He had called her ‘sweetheart’ – that word would have meant so much to her once.

Her expected kiss of greeting must have been lacking because his eyes darkened momentarily.

“I’m still not…you know…”  Why did she feel the need to excuse herself?

“Conscious?  Listen, I’ll come back…”

“No!  I mean, no, that’s silly.  I’ll just…look, you just wait here; read or something.  I’ll throw some clothes on.”

Tim grinned impishly:  “Can I help?”

“Not this early in the morning, Tim dear, no.”  She chided him, suppressing an inner jolt.  It was his first expression of anything like a sexual interest in her for a very long time.  “Make us a coffee and cool down.  I’ll be quick, I promise.”

She called from her bedroom as she dressed – jeans, a sweater against the colder morning that would hide her arms.  How was his journey?  Was his car behaving?  What had he been doing with himself?

“Training, and more training.  I’ve joined the rugby team, though I doubt if I’ll get a chance to play.  The competition for places is really stiff.”

Tim had a question of his own. Did she still insist upon a career as an investigator?  As she emerged, fully dressed, from her bedroom, he had coffee waiting and she was just beginning to tell the story of her two missing persons, stressing their apparent connection to Boulter’s Green.  Had he ever heard of the place? Her words fell into a still pool of silence.  She only became aware Tim was staring at her when she met that stare, looking up at him for his answer.  His expression was almost one of anger.  “Tim?”

He collected himself.

“There’s a tiny tale to tell about that place.”  He said slowly.

“Anything is welcome?”

“About four years ago we pulled in a heroin user who had a real atmosphere about him, if you know what I mean.  He was wandering about town in the early hours and we thought he was a vagrant, new to the area.  Turned out he was more disorientated than anything because he gave his address as Boulter’s Green.  We checked it out on the map.  There’s nothing there.”

“’We?’  Who’s ‘we’?”

“Ray Flynn and I.  We worked together, remember?”

“You were partners.  What happened?”

“I’m not sure I can recollect.  The narco kept insisting he lived at this Boulter’s Green place and he didn’t want to go back.  Anyway, he was really thin; undernourished, you know?  And high as a kite.  So we took him in.  The story, and it may be nothing at all, concerns what happened to him.  We followed the usual procedure; banged him up downstairs for the night to straighten out, and left the Station Officer to sort out Social.  Trouble was, he disappeared!”

“What?  Who disappeared; the Station Officer?”

“Well, I suppose you could say both.  When we went back to the Station at the end of shift to tie up paperwork, his cell was empty.  I asked, but there was a different officer, someone we didn’t know, on duty.  The Station Officer who admitted him had gone home sick.  The officer on duty claimed he had no knowledge of a detention.  It was all a bit weird.”

“Didn’t your report prove…”

“There was no trace of it.  It had been ‘lost’, apparently.  He hadn’t been booked in, either.”

“Any idea…?”

Tim took Karen’s hand.  “No, darling, none.  Quite a lot of things get ‘lost’ around the Beaconshire force and a wise little constable learns to accept it and refrain from questioning.  Certain wise little PIs might adopt the same policy.”

“I want to know who he was, this H addict.”  Karen insisted.  “I want a name.  Would Ray Flynn remember?”

“Ray?”  Tim laughed. “He’d forgotten it by the next day.  No, you won’t find out.  It’s a long time ago.  Seriously, love, I should leave the Boulter’s Green thing alone.  Be very careful.”

“Is that a warning?”

“I know you.  If I tried to warn you off, it would just make you more determined.  But I do advise caution; I really do.  Now, can we find something else to talk about?”

Karen sighed.  “Okay – what?”

“Us.  Let’s talk about us. I should have walked in on you,”  He said earnestly,  “Just now – I should have taken you to bed.  I could have done, couldn’t I”

“I wouldn’t have appreciated it, and it wouldn’t have been like you – what’s the matter, Tim?”

“Then I wouldn’t have found out, you see?”

“No, I don’t see.  What are you talking about?”

“If I was a more passionate bloke…  I miss you, very much.  I still want you.”  His voice was unsteady.  “But I decided to respect your privacy and make us some drinks instead.  I went to the kitchen for cups.  The cups were dirty …”

“Yeah?  I’m sorry – I must have forgotten to wash them up last night.”

“Two cups, both warm…”

Karen’s heart skipped a beat.  “Ah.”

“Somebody drinks black coffee, you drink white.  Somebody prepared a breakfast tray…”

“I often make my breakfast on a tray..”

“And somebody wrote their ‘phone number, here,” Tim picked up a magazine from her table.  “This is not your writing, Karen, is it?”

“It could be a client’s.  I forget.”  She walked past him to the window where her view of the town would distract her from his stare.  “Bea was here last night.  She stayed late, so she slept over.”  Why was she lying when she had no need to lie?

“Where was Bopper?”

“I don’t know!  She ‘phoned him – to say she wouldn’t be home.”

“Or,”  Tim said.  “Someone else was here before me today, before you were dressed; someone you didn’t want me to know about.  You had breakfast from a tray together, where – in your bedroom?  They left not long before I arrived and they were in a hurry, which is why they dashed their number down on a magazine cover.  Alright, it could be just a girlfriend, but I’m quite good at this police stuff, and I’d stake my money on that being a man’s handwriting.  You see how it looks?  I just want an answer, darling.  I’m entitled to that, aren’t I?”

Below Karen’s window the town was already wide awake; roads and streets of houses, no one of which would be free of lies.  She said carefully, “Okay, yes.  Someone was here, but we didn’t…that is, he…he slept there, on the sofa.”

“Karen, what’s happening?  What’s wrong between us?”

Karen was tired, and her defences were down.  “If you’re so good at ‘police stuff’ you should be aware of the need to check your facts.  Nothing happened here.  I’ve nothing to be guilty of; but yes, there is something that needs to be said.”  She took a breath.  “This doesn’t feel right.  We don’t feel right anymore.  That’s not because of anyone else, it’s simply between us.”

“Is it something I’ve done?”

“It doesn’t have to be anything anyone has done.  You went away, which didn’t help.  Now and again you just reappear, and it feels like I’m greeting a stranger.  Nobody else has been in my bed, Tim.  That’s in spite of the fact that we’ve met five times since you went to London last year – how many times have we slept together since then?”

“I don’t count, Karen…”

“Nor do I, but this is easy.  Start with ‘one’; and it wasn’t exactly great, was it?”

“Okay.  Okay mea culpa.  With the new job and everything, I just haven’t – well, it hasn’t felt…”

“Right?”  With a sigh, she turned to him, placing her hand on his chest.  It was a chest she liked to touch when she wanted to actually feel his heartbeat, sense the gentle rise and fall of his breathing.  “Exactly!  Tim, darling, I’m not greedy, but what about my needs?  I have to rest content with being the little woman, accepting whatever you’re prepared to give?”

He grasped her shoulders, his eyes betraying his desperation:  “We could rectify that right now, if that’s what you want.”

Karen had to restrain a laugh, a bitter laugh which would have been cruel. “You have no idea how unattractive that offer sounds to me, especially this morning.  Have you listened to a word I’ve been saying?”  She paused for breath, trying to keep her thoughts level.  “We live in different worlds now.  We used to be together all the time, now we’re never together, and when we are we’ve nothing to share.  Just accept it, my love.  Go back to London; live your new life, yes?”

There were words of contrition she could have said, even then.  They were churning inside her:  a part of her longed to retract everything and fall into Tim’s arms because it would be so easy, it would feel so…so comforting.  No.  She had taken the step she had dreaded.  She had crossed the line.  There would be no reparation and there would be no tears – not, at least, until after; when he had gone.

“Let me get you out of this godforsaken backwater.  Come with me – come to London!  We’d be together all the time there.  We could start again!”

Karen made no answer.  She turned her head away to stare miserably through the window.  The glass was speckled with first splashes of rain.

Tim sighed.  “I guess that’s a ‘no’ then.”  He said at last.  “Look, this’ll change, I know it will.  I’m staying at the County Hotel.  If…”

“The County!  That’s a big splash!”  Karen tried to smile.

“Well, I had a special night planned.  I’ve booked dinner, so if you change your mind – about anything – call me?  Will you?”

Her heart couldn’t sink any lower; she had no more she could say.  She just nodded, trying to avoid the tears she knew were filling his eyes too.  One quick squeeze of his hand:  no turning back.  Tim Birchinall walked out of her apartment, and out of her life.

#

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear – Karen knew this because she was awake.  She had been awake for most of that night, striving with her conscience, fighting off visions of strange, angry men who wanted to hurt her for reasons she could not understand, though she spent all of the dark hours trying.  Like a tiger caged she prowled her apartment, waiting for the buzzer to sound, or the thud of a heavy shoulder on her door.

She lasted until nine-thirty, through mouthfuls of toast, cups of coffee and magazine reading, before picking up the telephone.  A   woman’s voice answered.  Wealth and privilege oozed through every vowel.

“Hello.  Did you want to speak to Patrick?”  A mental image of hundred-brushed flaxen hair was inescapable.  “Are you perfectly certain you have the correct number?  Patrick Hallcroft-Smythe?  Oh, my god, has he got a girlfriend at last?  We simply must meet – I’m Gabrielle, his sister?  He should have mentioned me but I don’t expect he did.  Do hold on to that receiver thingy and I’ll see if I can find him.  Super to speak to you, Karen!”  Gabrielle’s retreating voice was still audible.  “Patrick’s found himself a girlfriend!  Oh, my God!”

Karen waited.  She held on for what seemed to be minutes, waiting for that rustle telephone receivers make as they nestle into your ear.  “Hello – Karen?”

“I threw you out yesterday.  I was rude.  We didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“Absolutely no need.  I trust everything went well?  Listen, can I apologize for my sister?  She’s quite impossible, I’m afraid.”

“I didn’t think so.”  Karen paused, summoning her courage.  “Pat, I hope you won’t judge me for being forward, or anything, but would you mind coming with me this afternoon?  I’d like to have a look at this Boulter’s Green place and I’d value your thoughts.”

“It’s a fine day.  Why not?  I’ll pick you up at – what – two?”

“We’ll take my car.  Make that two-thirty.  And from my parents’ house – where you picked me up the night we went to the Stones concert?  I believe I might invite myself to family lunch!”

 

© 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

 

It’s no use calling, Pandora – they won’t come back

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Inappropriate Touching? And who da kid in da Tree?

It was at Sunday School that someone told me either Adam or Eve (I don’t remember which) invented Original Sin, which I eventually understood to mean anything involving two bodies getting within touching distance of one another; especially if a certain kind of touching was involved. Superficially, I took in old, cracked oil paintings of unclothed Eve chastely holding hands with unclothed Adam, or of the chilly pair an olive tree’s width apart, their dignity preserved by gravity-defying fig leaves.  I didn’t really absorb the lessons of those early days, so I did not question them – only later, when things were beginning to happen to my own body, did I pause to wonder why my school lessons in Religious Instruction slipped deftly past the ‘virgin birth’ – ‘Jesus Bar Joseph’? – and wonder why an elderly Jewish carpenter would give his only son a Greek name?  Original Sin.   Ah, yes, of course!

I came late to my sex education, partly because I was shy as a child and did not share in some of my less inhibited friends’ experiments, and partly because my angelic pipes were insufficiently tuneful to place me in the church choir, so I never got to wear one of those convenient cassocks wherewith Father Flannigan demonstrated his personal immunity to Sin.  Weekday school playground was rich in anecdotes of choristers, both boys and girls, who learned to hit the especially high notes with the good Father’s able help, while those with artistic flair illustrated his endeavours on the school toilet walls. I had to make do with hearsay.

This is not to suggest I missed out on that essential ingredient of childhood in any way.  I had my share of experiences with ‘kiddy fiddlers’, from the sad, bent little man in the public toilets to the frustrated, lonely mother of one of my friends in my teenage years.  I will not elaborate too much, other than to say I was exposed to minor encounters in which neither birds nor bees played any poetic part, long before I became ‘of age’; and I gained from those experiences, rather than anything I was taught in a classroom.

In more adult years I would all too briefly brush with actors and actresses, an altogether more sensitized and tactile world of shared art and shared misfortune.  There is a phrase from the conclusion of Arthur Wing Pinero’s play ‘Trelawney of the Wells’ when Rose Trelawney realizes that, as an actor, her lifestyle sets her apart:   she describes her Company as “Splendid gipsies.”  Despite the play’s undeniable vintage, that description remains steadfastly true.   Joining a community of artists, as I was privileged to do, is gaining membership of a society with limitless generosity and untrammelled freedom of expression.  It also possesses an extremely healthy Bush Telegraph impregnated with a wealth of tales.  You could not pass a single beer-sodden Green Room evening without learning who was ‘a bit strange’ and who was not; whom to love, whom to indulge for their eccentricities, and whom to avoid.   The director who was ‘a bit affectionate, but an absolute darling to work with’, or the famous and immensely talented female singer with a very aggressive sexuality:  ‘don’t get caught backstage with her, sweetie’.  (A warning to other females, not males, BTW).

There were no victims in those Green Room discussions.  A fairly balanced distribution of ages and members of both sexes, yes, and true, there was always alcohol and usually an element of fatigue, but if you were seeking an ingénue, you were in the wrong place.  All were professionals, and I would say all knew exactly how far they would be prepared to go to secure a prestigious role.   I recall particularly an aspiring actress’s assessment of a director with whom she was due to audition:  “Darling, the job’s absolutely mine.  I can play him like a fish!”  (which proved to be right).

For myself, I emerged from those days with a palette rich in colour and a wealth of education about human diversity and resilience.   Experience, that which the academically imbued choose to rather patronizingly label ‘The School of Life’, taught me tolerance of others, their personal tragedies, their insecurities, often, and their perpetual alone-ness.  I learned to be at home with their differences, and where there were lines, personal lines, I needed to draw.  My real qualifications for life were gained in that Green Room, or from Father Flannigan’s choir practice, in that bar, or on that street.

I guess my education was no different from those of others, so I wonder at the apparent epidemic of outraged innocence that pervades everything media at this time concerning ‘inappropriate touching’ or minor assault.  We do not arrive at the essential signposts in our lives without having first learned how to read a map.  So ‘the rules have changed’.  No.  ‘Rules’, if we insist upon calling them such, must at least be written down; otherwise they are not rules, they are fashion.  Similarly, offences, if they are to be called such, must be proven.  Otherwise they are hearsay, otherwise they are gossip, otherwise they are anger, or envy, or greed.  If someone’s entire life is to be ruined, their career ended, their achievements set at nought, the very least requirement should be proof.  It should not depend upon an etiquette of constantly-evolving signals that are too easily misunderstood.

The truth?  Most of us, male or female, are touched inappropriately, spoken to suggestively, or affronted clumsily in some way, several times in our lives.  That does not make us victims.  That does not make us lose sleep at nights, throw ourselves into lives of addiction or quake every time a member of the opposite sex comes near us.   If it does, that says more about our own mental stability than anything else and yes, there will be the odd few to whom this will happen.  But most us could – should – simply smile, write it down to experience, and move on.

I used to be an advocate of the world-wide-web.  I gladly espoused its freedoms, joyfully joined in its crusades against corruption and falsehood.  I still do, but my mind is beginning to change.  I see how the distribution of power is beginning to be reversed; how easily those in positions of responsibility can become prey.  In the absence of a moral code, this medium, and its instigator, the gutter press, must exercise restraint or be restrained.   If moral democracy cannot survive, moral dictatorship will take its place.

The corollary to this is, of course, to say that there are a number of genuine cases of assault which are serious in nature, proven and should face a court of law, especially where the offence involves a child.  Whether names should be released before a trial is another issue, but there is a danger that these cases can suffer if a welter of copycat accusations follow each one.

Now, I will conclude with a slightly sideways shift – I ask you to please consider this.

A few years ago the town of Middlesbrough, here in England, was visited by a doctor claiming to have evolved an entirely new way (known as the ‘anal dilation method’ – need I elaborate?) for proving child abuse.   Within a couple of weeks, during which children under scrutiny were hauled about like chickens, two hundred – yes, two hundred – children were adjudged to have been subjected to severe abuse.   Two hundred parents (mostly fathers) were placed under investigation, public hysteria spread and court lists began mounting up, before somebody had the presence of mind to stand back and question this sudden epidemic.  The cases were reviewed and the doctor concerned was ‘moved away’ to a practice where she was not directly involved with children’s backsides.

Shortly afterwards, social services in Scotland tried to prove that an entire Scottish island was a nest of paedophiles.  This was unfounded, too, but not before the island’s people were exposed to the attentions of the media pack.

It does seem to me that quite intelligent people can be subject to zeitgeist in such a way that they lose all sense of proportion; maybe in a hunt for publicity, or reward?  I don’t know.  But that might be food for educators who are ever more intent upon narrowing and focusing the business of learning.  Maybe the fetters of specialisation are not a good thing.  Maybe we should distance ourselves from rampant progress and just take our time.