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Hallbury Summer – Episode Twelve         A Very Private Gathering

The Story so far:

Joe Palliser has taken a letter from Marian Brubaeker’s legal representatives to his old employer, local solicitor Alistair Carnaby.  By this means he learns that he is the principal benefactor in his deceased lover’s will.  However, Marian’s husband is challenging the will and demanding an enquiry into the manner of his wife’s death, to which end he has requested her body be exhumed for autopsy.

In the King’s Head pub that night Joe catches up with the landlord and questions him concerning Violet Parkin’s murder.  At the bar, Aaron Pace lets slip that Violet was a member of a local coven of villagers he believes to be witches.

After his evening at the King’s Head, with Ned Barker’s beer and his interrogation of Aaron Pace to regale him, Joseph Palliser should have had plenty to dream about when he retired for the night.  But other influences of the day, the conversation with Mr Carnaby and the dreaded word ‘autopsy’, proved too heavy a weight.  When he closed his eyes he found Marian waiting and he knew he would be forced to replay his memories of their final night together.

#

“I’d like you to find somewhere else to live.”  Marian had her back to him.  “I’ll give you money for a decent deposit.  You’d better start looking right away.”

That was what he had heard: that was what he thought she had said.  “I don’t understand!”  He protested. “Is it something I’ve done?”

She rounded on him, eyes set in a hard, professional stare:  “Look, Joe, don’t make this difficult.   I told you at the beginning this wasn’t going to be forever – remember?”

But that was then.  That was before he had learned to love her.

“Have you found somebody else?”  Joe tried to keep his tone calm, matter-of-fact, but he could not suppress the break in his voice.  “Is there someone else?”

“What if there were?  You have no claim on me.  I told you, Joe!”

“Yes, you told me.  A long time ago, you told me.”

Then he had lied to her, taken the money she gave him as a bond for a new apartment, told her he had found himself somewhere in North London.  “Finchley, as a matter of fact.”  The money languished in his account.  He could not bear to contemplate moving anywhere new.   Instead, he had struggled on, trying to please her, hoping to recover all he was about to lose.  He tried different things, new things:  as a lover she had always been experimental – willing to explore, ready to learn; but in bed now she was withdrawn, her look was somewhere far off.  Try though he might, he could not find a way back to her.  In her mind she was already elsewhere.

Then came that morning when, for whatever reason, he dared believe he might have a chance.

She had gone to work as normal.  She had not mentioned his departure for some days and he was going through the agony of wondering if she had changed her mind, so when she returned to their flat briefly, at lunchtime, he dared to hope.

Marian’s dark eyes were red, as though she had been crying.  How often had he seen her like this?  Work was frequently painful for her, the process of success was not something she enjoyed.  They were talking, just making small talk.  He wanted to make her laugh like he used to, he was trying – so very hard.  She suddenly grabbed him, turned him into her arms and kissed him with a depth of passion they had not shared for some time.

“Joey darling, stop torturing yourself.  Get on with your life, my love.  Move on!”

She was close, so close for a moment.  She pressed a small parcel into his hand.   “Get us some dope, and put these on before I get home, sweetie, will you?  Promise?”

Around four-thirty he returned from a meeting with a friend whose gear he trusted in  Fulham Market, and prepared dinner in their small kitchen:  Chicken Marengo, a Caesar salad; things he knew she liked.  Then he opened the parcel, and with a quiet chuckle to himself went into the bedroom to slip on the dark red posing pants he had found inside.  He donned a pair of blue slacks over the top and went back to his preparation of the meal.

This night she was early.  She came in at around six, looking pale and tired.

“Give me the stuff, Joe.”  She said.

“Do you want to eat first?”

“No.  I want the stuff,”  suddenly angry.  “Give me the fucking stuff!”

He gave it to her, watched her go into the bathroom to inject.  Minutes later she was back.

“You too.”  She said.

Half an hour, it took.  He was in the kitchen putting food onto plates, she was in the lounge.  The first he knew of her presence was the touch of her hand on his back.

Joseph faced her, seeing her wearing a long silk robe she favoured in her more passionate moods, a blue robe embroidered with red Chinese dragons.

“Don’t want me yet, Joe.  Not yet!”

The robe slithered from her shoulders: she came closer, teasing him, giggling girlishly; he was her pet, her dog.  If he reached out for her she stepped away, allowing him to see what she would not have him touch, wagging her finger in reproof.  “Mustn’t.  Bad boy! Naughty!”

With steely determination he tried to obey, to be the dispassionate spectator to her little game.  But this night was too special.  It promised their first act of love for so long, and he needed its reassurance too much.  His hands rebelled, clasping her shoulders, snatching her to him, and her expression altered instantly to one of fury.  Her eyes blazed.

“My neck, Joe Palliser!  My neck!”

So it was, on the night when everything changed.

#

Tom Peterkin turned up early in his Cortina car to drive Joe to Wilton Bishop, where a dealer who traded in the name of Maybury eked out a tenuous existence.  They flew through the lanes, the car’s wing brushing at the overgrown hedges, its wheels scrabbling for grip on the tight corners.

“Came up ‘ere the other day;”  Tom said.  “Met a Fergie pullin’ a wain.  Bugger did I ‘ave to stop!”

Joe found himself praying their path would be free of hay wains.  More than once they came face to face with other cars, Tom diving into the hedge like a bolting rabbit, somehow always emerging unscathed on the other side, leaving a shocked motorist staring back at them as they receded into the distance.  There were no tractors, however, and Tom’s beloved machine remained intact as they plummeted down the hill into Wilton Bishop.

Beneath Wilton Crown, a high ridge lined with conifers that loomed over the Turlbury road ‘Maybury’s Car Mart’ was a dejected line of ageing merchandise looking undeniably shady: Mr Maybury slid up to them, shadier still.  “Joe old lad!”  He had kept the Wolsey ‘out the back’, he said.  “Super little motor!”

They followed Maybury’s wobbling bottom through his oil-slick workshop to some rough ground where he ‘reserved’ cars for his special clients.  A grey Wolsey stood by the far fence.

“Beautiful, isn’t she?”  Enthused Maybury.  “Jowett designed they were, you  know?    Lovely leathers – come and see!”

They came and saw.  The old car glowered at them silently as they probed and prodded its more private parts.   They started it, they revved the engine, they put Maybury’s price through the mangle, and Joe bought it.

“I’ll have it ready for you in a few days,” Maybury assured them.

On the journey back, Tom said.  “You’re a tough bugger to deal with these days!  I remember when you wouldn’t say boo to a bloody goose, boy!”

Joe nodded.  Times had changed, he said.

#

The telephone rang for a long time before Caroline answered.

“Ian isn’t here.” She informed Joe icily.  As Ian’s wife, she was accustomed to defending him from Joe’s constant sallies.

“When’s he coming back?”

“For you to talk to?  Never.”

“Oh, come on, Caroline!  You can’t do that, he’s my brother for god’s sake!  Tell him to call me, will you?”

“He’s not your brother by any law that has to do with God!”  She clipped.  “Very well, I’ll tell him.”  And she replaced the receiver.

Joseph cooked himself a lunch, waited an hour.  When he was convinced that Ian wasn’t going to call back that afternoon, he slipped quietly out of the door so as not to excite Julia’s curiosity, and wandered up Church Lane in the direction of Charlie Lamb’s house with a vague idea in his head that he might make some enquiries concerning Charlie’s plans to sell.  In the event he did not need to do this, because a large ‘For Sale’ sign flapped before it in the breeze.  He fumbled in his pockets for a pen.

“Are you interested?”

The girl had come upon him quietly; so quietly he had not heard her. She was tall, almost as tall as he. A cascade of ash-blonde hair dropped to her shoulders, through which the sun danced, casting the clear flesh of her cheeks into deep shade so Joe could barely see how her eyes looked at him, or the pert perfection of her nose, or the delicate pout of her lips.  She wore a loose blouse over a long skirt of cream straw cloth, that draped over soft curves to small, elegant ankles and slippered feet.  She spoke confidently in a cultured yet not unmelodic tone and he should have recognised her at once.

“In the house?  I only ask, you see, because were you to purchase this property we would be neighbours.”  She waved airily towards the summit of the hill.  “Sophie Forbes-Pattinson.  How do you do?”

Joe realised immediately.  Of course!  He had met Sophie Forbes Pattinson just twice.  The first time that hair was tucked beneath a riding helmet; the second, he would have to admit, he had not been concentrating on her face.

“Joe Palliser,” He responded evenly.  “How do you do, Sophie?”

“There!  You see, Joe, we’re on first name terms already.  How neighbourly can one get?”  Sophie Forbes-Pattinson walked around him, keeping a small distance between them as she looked him up and down.  Joe imagined that if she were carrying her riding crop by now it would be tucking up under his chin.  “You look awfully frightened to me, Joe Palliser.  Why would that be?”

Joe smiled.  Now she was facing the sun he could see her face.  She had eyes of pale blue that squinted against the light.  Her mouth was on the small side, but a natural pout to her lips made them full enough to be inviting;  though if he had to describe her then, ‘inviting’ would not be a term he would use.  “I prefer ‘wary’,”  He said.  “Would you like to examine my teeth?”

Sophie scowled. “Are you trying to make fun of me, Joe?”

Joe didn’t answer.  She stood watching him for a moment, shifting lightly from foot to foot, a finger raised to her little chin and a thoughtful look in her eyes.

“Well, I must go now.  No doubt we shall meet again, if you do decide to buy this house.  I hope you will come and visit us.  We hold a garden party for the villagers every year.”

Joseph watched her as she walked away.  She drifted, as though she were not carried by human feet at all, but washed along by some invisible current.  When she was almost at the top of the road, she turned to look back at him and raised a dainty hand in a wave.

‘Very good!’  Joseph thought to himself.  ‘You knew I’d still be watching you.’  His next thought was less complimentary.

Sunday dawned hot and sultry.  At ten-thirty the telephone finally rang.

“What do you want, Joe?”  Ian’s voice carried that undertone of barely restrained impatience he specially reserved for his brother.

“How are you, Ian?  Caroline wasn’t exactly forthcoming.”

“Get on with it.”

“Did you know that Violet Parkin had died?”

There was a pause.  Eventually Ian said:  “How on earth would I know that?  It hasn’t made the ‘nationals’ as far as I’m aware.  Anyway, I hardly remember the woman.  Is that all you called me for?”

“I’m sorry, Ian – I’m sure you must be very busy.”

“I have a church service to attend in twenty minutes, so is that all?”

“She was murdered, Ian.”

“Really?  So?”

“I didn’t know it but apparently she was a witch – at least, what they would call a witch around these parts – do you remember when Michael was into witchcraft and mysticism?”

Ian’s voice had calmed.  “Mikey was into a lot of things, as I recall.  Once he believed root vegetables were a means of communicating with a subterranean race.  Some of them lived under the house, he told me.  I spent hours in the garden with him while he tried to get an intelligent answer from a parsnip.  Why are you so interested, Joe?”

“Connections – I’m pretty certain Violet was ritually killed.  I wondered if Mikey ever tried to get into her circle – her coven, so to speak?  I thought you’d be the one to know; he was closest to you, after all.”

“No, nothing here, I’m afraid.”  Ian’s tone was resuming its peremptory edge:  “Try asking around the village.”

“I am, but they are closing up like clams.”

“I imagine they would.  Look, Joe….”

“Yes, I know, you’re busy.  Keep well, Ian.”

That morning, for the first time in many years, Joseph emulated his brother and went to church.

Summoned by a single steeple-bell, a trickle of humanity converged upon St. Andrews, the little sandstone church which was symbolic of God to all who came to Hallbury.  They brought, fermenting beneath the sheaths of their ‘Sunday Best’, all the prejudices, quirks and crimes they kept within their breasts, clotted into alliances, woven and spun into family groups.  At the lych-gate they dispersed in solemn file, passing by ones and twos along the margin of the graveyard where their sins lay buried and into the cool embrace of the West Door.

They were all there; Tom and Emma, Emma avoiding Joe’s gaze, Tom smiling awkwardly, sweating into a shirt collar around which he wore his tie like a noose.   Emily and Sophie Forbes-Pattinson, mother and daughter in their Sunday dresses in the company of a harassed-looking man Joe took to be Emily’s husband.  The Forbes-Pattinsons were fulfilling their role as feudal chiefs; despite, Joseph thought with amusement, Emily’s obviously more egalitarian nature.  She was not, by instinct, a baroness.  Others were equally ungainly – Dot Barker, Hettie Locke and Ben, Janice Regan and her son, Mary and Paul Gayle with their two children, Margaret and Patrick Farrier, the Pardins; the list went on.  Aaron Pace, limping up the road in a suit that had seen better decades.

Each found their way to time-allotted pews.  They sat in family huddles, islands of consanguinity with empty oaken seas between.

Joe sat with Owen and Julia.  In his childhood, the Pallisers had come to this place infrequently; Owen, who declared himself an agnostic and Michael, Joe’s younger brother were averse to any notion of religion.  Towards his last days in the village, Michael began cursing and ‘speaking in tongues’ whenever he went near St. Andrews, so if Joseph attended church at all, he would wander there in Julia’s and Ian’s company.  Owen remained at home to restrain Michael, who was always ready to address the congregation with sermons of his own.

Ah, but how the years had mellowed the Masefields!  As their own appointments with God drew nearer, so their desire to appease Him increased.  With quiet amusement Joseph watched them while the vicar breezed through his service, joining in the prayers, bellowing out the hymns.  Yet the days when Joe would sneer at such shallow devotion were gone.  Religion was a personal commitment, a private affair.  He would leave it to those who possessed it, even if he did not himself believe.

A strange hour.  Scrooping chairs, wailing children, a cracked old organ beaten into submission by Mrs Higgs’ less than expressive hands.  At one point, mercifully the last hymn, Joe was certain she began to play ‘Knees up Mother Brown’ for a few bars before coming to herself; but the strains were lost beneath another agony of discordant singing. Almost before he knew it, the whole painful ordeal was over.

After the service Joe wandered away on pretence of studying some of the more readable gravestones.  From the churchyard he was free to survey the emerging congregation, and reaped his reward, for although most drifted away there were some who stayed – Dot Barker, Hettie Locke, Janice Regan and Margaret Farrier: it was a strange, very private gathering.  While the Forbes-Pattinsons monopolised attention, this four, like Joseph, stood to one side among the gravestones at the far side of the churchyard; and an earnest conversation was going on.

“There’ll be some wicked spells cast tonight then!”  Tom Peterkin took Joseph by surprise.  “What are you doin’ lurkin’ out here, then, you pervert – spyin.’ on young Sophie, are you?”

Joe smiled,  “I wouldn’t mind the body, Tom, if it supported a different head.  What do you mean, ‘spells’ – are they witches, those four?”

Tom grinned,  “I’d say ‘tis likely.  What do you reckon to our Sophie, then?  D’you think she looks lost without ‘er ‘orse?”

“I met her yesterday.  She has a clear understanding of her place in the world.  How old is she?”

Tom pondered this:  “Must be twenty-three or twenty-four now.”

“She’s grown.”

“Everyone has, Joe.  Trouble bein’ in her case, she’m grown into a snobbish little bitch.  Ah, I’d say so.  But then, she could be fun, playin’ the bit of rough for a while.  Do you fancy a go, then?”

Joe knew whatever response he made would be reported to Emma.  There was an edge of desperation in Tom’s voice:  he was looking for crumbs, anything that might divert the friends from the collision course they were on.

“Perhaps not.” He said carefully. “I think life is complicated enough.”

Tom nodded.  “I must catch Emma up – she’m gone ahead.”

Joe chose to forget the Peterkins lived just three houses away from the Church.  He knew why Emma had ‘gone ahead’.  He, too, was ready to leave, deliberately passing close to the quartet of secretive females as he went.  They stopped talking as he drew near, and their eyes followed him all the way to the lych-gate.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

Photo Credit:  Ovidiu Creaga on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Hallbury Summer –Episode Six                     The Road to Maddock Gate  

The story so far:

 

Joseph has admitted to his relationship with Marian, the wealthy married businesswoman by whose patronage he managed to survive through most of his years in London.  Yet, to his aunt and uncle, his explanation for leaving her seems unconvincing, and too much interrogation sends him on a walk through Wednesday Common, from where he can view the outside of the farm where Violet Parkin was murdered.  He meets his former girlfriend Emma there.  She warns him not to discuss their past relationship with her husband, Tom, once Joe’s best friend.

Joe is helping his uncle at home in his garden when his aunt announces that the police have arrived…

Owen Masefield could hardly have failed to notice his nephew’s reluctance as they joined the uniformed constable who stood in their front room, gazing out through the french windows at Julia’s summer garden.  He was a young man with bright, eager eyes and a narrow, slightly pallid face.  His domed helmet sat on the chaise longue like an obedient pet, waiting for him to sit beside it.  He immediately picked up on Joseph’s misgivings, though Joseph had thought to disguise them.

“Am I keeping you from something, sir?”  Joseph shook his head dumbly.

“Joe hasn’t been well,” Aunt Julia explained.

The constable studied Joseph for a moment before he went on; “We’re asking everyone in the village if they saw or heard something which might help us with our investigation into a suspicious death.  This was on Friday.  About four o’clock in the afternoon it would have been.”

No, Joe’s aunt and uncle declared, they hadn’t.  And the other routine questions the young constable asked received similar negatives.  He jotted down their answers in his notebook.  It seemed, he admitted when he had completed his list, that no-one saw and no-one heard.

“Mrs Parkin must have struggled – she did struggle.  There would have been some noise.”  The constable’s eyes kept returning to Joseph.  “You weren’t here, though, were you sir?   You didn’t get into the village until when?”

“About five o’clock.  I caught the four-forty-five bus from Friscombe.”

“An hour later.  Come down from London?”

“Yes.”

“What train?”

Joseph filled in the details for the constable, who dutifully recorded them all in his notebook.  He thanked everybody for their co-operation, made complimentary remarks about Julia’s garden, and left, wandering down the front path towards the road.  Joseph caught up with him.

“I wonder, officer, can you tell me?  How did she actually die?”

The young man frowned.  “Now why would we want to know that, sir?”

“There are wild rumours.  I had a bit of respect for the old lady, and I know some of her relatives.  It would be better to know the truth.”

The constable subjected Joseph to puzzled scrutiny.  “Well, I can’t tell you everything, but I can say whoever killed her must have really wanted to hurt her.”

“He must have been strong, too.”  Joseph prompted.

“He?  How do you mean?”

“The thing with the pitchforks?  It can’t be easy to drive one of those so deep into wood?  Oh, come on, sergeant, it’s all over the village!  Or is that just embroidery?”

Joseph could not tell whether his deliberate promotion of the policeman’s rank flattered him, or not.  The young man certainly made no effort to correct him.

“No, it’s not embroidery.  But it would be easier if the pitchforks were specially sharpened, wouldn’t it now?”  The policeman shook his head.  “I think I’ve said enough, if you don’t mind.”

He turned away.  Joseph called after him, without knowing why:  “If I can be any help?”

And the policeman replied, over his shoulder:  “But Mrs Parkin passed away before you arrived, sir – didn’t she?  Anyhow, I’m sure we’ll be in touch.”

The next morning Joseph confirmed his brother Michael’s whereabouts from Julia and announced his intention to pay him a visit.  Michael spent his days in a care home a little less than thirty miles distant, near Maddockgate village, a tiny hamlet on the road to Marsden-on-Sea.  The only drawback was rain, which began soon after Joseph alighted from his local ‘bus in Abbots Friscombe.  With half an hour to kill before the ‘bus to the coast arrived, he sought shelter in a café on the village square.  A short woman in a floral apron and flat shoes shuffled between her five deserted tables.

“What can I get you, dear?  Got some nice tea-cakes.”

Joseph ordered coffee.  The woman shuffled away.

Condensation ran down the window-glass.  Outside, the rain was becoming heavier, inducing shouts of panic from passing perms, the clack of running feet.  Traffic on the square splashed past, black and half-seen through runnels of moisture.  The café door burst open.

“Oh my lord, Bella!  It’s just pissin’ down out there!”

Bella was making Joseph’s coffee.  “Manners now, Mary.  We got comp’ny!”

“Oops, sorry!”  The new arrival, a woman in early middle age, encompassed Joseph in an unseeing glance; then she looked again.  “Good lord!  Joey?  Joey Palliser?  What are you doin’ ‘ere?”

Joseph smiled bleakly:  “Everyone asks me that.”

“It is a surprise, you’ll admit: ‘specially after…”  Setting Bella about the task of brewing a pot of tea, Mary came to his table, resting a suggestive hand on the opposite chair to Joseph.  “Mind?”

“No.  No, of course not.”

“Well, we got to catch up, haven’t we?  Why you come back?  You reckon ‘tis all forgotten now, then?”

“Clearly not,”  Joseph muttered.  Mary Harkus certainly wouldn’t have forgotten.  Tom Peterkin once referred to her, kindly, as ‘The Voice of the Community’.  It was a title she fully justified.  Her small grey eyes fixed steadily on his, rain dripping slowly from her blunt features onto the bare wooden table.  “It’s been more than ten years, Mary.”

Bella brought their drinks.

“Folks don’t forget Joey,”  Mary poured some milk from a small creamer into her cup, topped it up with tea.  “No, they got long memories, dear.”  She spooned three sugars.  “What’s our Charker got to say?  Have you met ‘un yet?”

“I’ve met him.”

“Ah, well….”  This, laden with emphasis:  “He don’t forget his brother.  Often talks ‘bout him, he does.”

Joseph nodded curtly.  “I’m sure he does.”  There was no other recourse than to leave, his coffee untouched.  He paid Bella, ignoring her sotto voce:  “What did you expect?” and resigned himself to the rain.  As he closed the café door, Mary Harkus called after him.

“You watch out for our Charker, mind, Joe Palliser.  You watch out, now!”

 

True to the country tradition, the ‘bus was late and grew later with every mile as it picked its way north to Maddockgate.  It was fairly well filled, in spite of the weather: optimistic trippers with hopeful smiles and determined expressions:

“It’ll clear up later.”

“Just a shower.”

Joseph settled into a corner, watching through the fog of spray and steam as the world went past.  How foolish he had been to even consider returning here!   Of course they would remember – he could never forget, how should they?  And it was this road, and in a minute it would be the precise place…

Rodney Smith – as lean as his brother was fat, as clever as his brother was slow-witted, with a long, hooked nose, and Dickensian pomposity:  imbued with a swift, sarcastic tongue.  The Smith family took pride in his intelligence, his diligence, his certainty of success – but to Joey Rodney Smith was a relentless tormentor.  To Rodney, Joe was a target for humiliation; a hapless, worthless adversary who seemed a little slow, a little shy.

“You, Joe Palliser?  You won’t ever amount to anything!”

Whenever Joseph voiced an ambition that taunt sapped his confidence, drawing spikes of laughter from all about him and snapping shut like an iron maiden on the meagre flesh of his self-esteem.  It followed him through school, this malignancy, and into adulthood.  Wherever Joseph was, whoever he was with, Rodney would always be somewhere near.  Talking with girls:

“Now there’s a surprise!  Are you turning straight, Joey?”

Rodney excelled at sports.  Not just one, but any sport.  He scored goals, he ran like a cheetah, his tennis game was accurate and vicious.  Whenever teams were selected, Rodney was always the first to be picked.  Even then, the barb:  “If I play for you, you have to promise not to pick Joe Palliser.  I want us to win.”

Once, reduced very nearly to tears, Joseph grabbed Rodney’s hard-muscled arm.  “Why do you keep doing this to me?  What did I ever do to you?”

“Do to me?  Whatever makes you think you could do anything to me?  I just don’t like you, Palliser.  You’re a worm.  You belong in the soil where I can tread on you.  I enjoy it!”

Joseph would have succumbed completely, were it not for Sarah.  She nick-named Rodney Smith ‘Achilles’. It irritated him visibly, the more so because Sarah was as widely admired by the girls’ half of the school as he.  Finally, he was driven to ask her:

“Why Achilles?”

“Too much muscle and too much pride – and because you’ve got a heel, mate.  You’ve got a heel.”

Nobody knew what Sarah saw in Joseph Palliser, least of all Joseph himself.  One morning when Rodney, who constantly attempted to add her to his list of trophies, put that question, she smiled at him kindly.

“He’s all the things you’re not, Achilles dear.  One day you’ll find out.”

Sarah had departed for London and her new life long before that day came.  Joseph had begun working for a firm of solicitors in Braunston, with the hope of eventually taking articles.  His employer, an amiable old solicitor called Carnaby, bore his immaturity with resigned patience as he coaxed the best from this spotty-fleshed youth with his large, soft eyes and downcast look.

By then Tom Peterkin was Joseph’s closest friend.  Tom was a mechanic by nature and birth, performing little tasks in his father’s garage from an age when Victorian pauper children would have been too young to climb chimneys, only happy if he was oily fingered and greasy-faced, attacking an obscure nut or a recalcitrant bearing.   So when in the summer of fifty-nine Joseph bought an old Ford Pilot car, he provided a catalyst for them both.

Tom’s grin split from ear to ear.  “Now then!”  He said ecstatically:  “What can’t we do with that?”

Thereafter, car modification filled their weekends:  Tom’s Sunbeam in one corner of his father’s workshop, Joe’s Pilot in the other.  Tom wanted a ‘rod’, a highly modified, brightly painted street car, while Joseph, typically for him, craved anonymity and disguise.  As Tom’s car gradually mutated into a squat, barrel-tyred, garishly painted speed machine, Joseph’s underwent far more subtle changes.  Under the senior Peterkin’s tutelage Joe transformed his Pilot’s eight cylinders, subtly widened its road wheels and replaced its suspension, all without any obvious alteration.  He revelled in secret pleasure, enjoying the efficiency of the machine he created:  an inward smirk, maybe – or another aspect of the tightly introverted person he had become?

All that changed one Saturday morning in February nineteen-sixty, when Joseph drove into the garage, to find Tom standing triumphantly amid a stack of boxes.

“All the way from America!”  He proclaimed proudly.  “Absolutely the fashion, this.  We got Nitro, boy!”

Nitrous oxide; laughing gas:  the dentists’ companion and the street racer’s fuel of choice.  A sleeping giant, in the disguise of one small cylinder, a few fittings and valves, all concealed from general view.  At the turn of a tap, a monstrous surge of raw power, which might turn the exhaust pipe into a cannon, overheat and destroy an engine in seconds if used unwisely – but what seconds!  Joseph was not immune to a boy’s addiction to speed.  Before a week had passed, his dignified old conveyance had developed a more sinister aspect.

Joseph was proud of his driving skills and his car was admired by the local girls, not for its undiscovered pace – it retained its innocent outward appearance – but for the sheer shiny care he lavished upon it.  He enjoyed their attention.  It was not for him to acknowledge that his popularity was for all the wrong reasons: he was, in so many ways, a child still.  But he was no longer an outsider.

This did not escape the notice of Rodney Smith, whose new stamping ground was Braunston.  Rodney was bound for Cambridge that autumn, so why he could not simply put the Palliser boy behind him and move on, no-one could understand: yet Joseph remained the object of his jibes, a butt for much of his humour.  Palliser’s emergence, his seeds of success seemed to gall Rodney particularly; especially when one of his girlfriends enthused about the gleaming black Ford Pilot.

The ‘bus slowed down, dropping a grating gear for the winding descent towards Maddock’s Teirny.  A bend to the left…..no, not here:  not this one.  Very near, now though…

Joe had been alone, driving his favourite route into the hills.  He was so relaxed he did not see the sleek MG convertible that swept up the road behind him:  with a blare of twin air-horns it thrashed past, a brief snapshot of Rodney’s grinning face and an obscene gesture as he cut in viciously, sending Joe’s Ford careering out of control into the verge.

For a few seconds Joseph’s precious machine teetered at the brink of a ditch which would surely have sent it to its grave before he managed to stabilise it.   Receding into distance, Rodney Smith drove with his left arm resting across the top of his passenger seat, chuckling as his mirrors revealed the drama behind him.

Rodney drove fast, laughing as he rotated the joke in his head.  That stupid Palliser!  So pretentious, so impertinently neglectful of his station!   The boy was working class, and utterly naive.  It may have passed muster with the village tarts, but he, Rodney, was not convinced by a cheap old banger larded with polish.

At length the event ceased to amuse Rodney.  He began planning his first date with  Josephine, who he had promised to pick up from her Marsden home by half-past-ten.  There was a champagne picnic – a new concept even for him – in the car boot.  It promised to be a very special weekend indeed.

A raucous shout from a car-horn gave him a moment of alarm, which redoubled when he glanced in his mirror and saw the low bull nose of the Ford Pilot right behind him.  Through its windscreen he could pick out Joseph Palliser’s face, set in a grim smile.

So he wanted to compete, did he?  Good god, hadn’t the repeated humiliations, the thrashings at every game he played, the constant ridicule been enough?  Very well then!  With a calculated skill which typified everything he did, Rodney dropped a gear, put his foot to the floor.  The MG answered him willingly, and he allowed himself a leer of triumph as the old Ford fell back.  A right-hand bend at speed, a little tail-end drift, neatly controlled while the wind rushed through his chestnut hair – why didn’t he do this more often?

The Ford was still there.  Now it was drawing closer, its headlights set on full beam, its horn repeating that demanding yell.  All right, then, Joey Palliser – a bit more; is that what you want?  Again, Rodney decked the pedal: pounding along the straight towards the summit of Tierney Hill, watching Joe’s car drop back.  Then, a crackle like distant gunfire and all at once it became larger; very much larger.  There was a hard-edged whine from the pursuing car’s engine, a throaty bellow from its exhaust.

No-one would know at what precise point Rodney’s perception of Joseph Palliser changed from one of sneering contempt to acknowledgement of imminent threat.  Later, Joseph explained to the police how Rodney succeeded in negotiating the first three bends of the hill before the MG’s front tyres lost their grip.

“He was just going too fast – much too fast.  The speed when he overtook me…well!  Coming down the hill, I knew I was going to find he’d left the road somewhere…”

The bus slowed significantly now, sought out yet another gear.  This was it – this next bend.  Joseph could not resist scrubbing at his cloudy window as the bus heeled sharply left.  Still there, the gap in the hedge, after all these years, closed by chestnut hurdles.  Beyond it the field which dropped sharply away into the valley:  the field where Rodney Smith’s glittering future ended.

Joseph could not wipe away those memories.  Although there was nothing he could do, it was a high price to pay and the first time he had ever seen someone die.

The police did not even investigate Joe’s car.  After all, as he explained, he was well away from the accident when it happened.  There was no reason to believe he was anything other than a witness.  The Ford looked like quite an ordinary vehicle, so they never sought out the cylinder of nitro in the boot, or checked it to find it was nearly empty.

Joseph was free from suspicion.  He took care to remove all trace of gas injection from his car the same afternoon, replacing the old parts in the carburettors.  But rumours began to spread in Abbots Friscombe, tales of how Joey Palliser had forced young Rodney Smith into a duel, and by some devious trick or another Rodney had lost.  Some alleged Joe Palliser had run the innocent Rodney from the road; people who would have treated that suggestion with incredulity a week before, but such is the way of rumour:  it makes heroes or villains wherever its appetite takes it.

Tom Peterkin gave him the warning:  “The Smiths are after you, boy.  Charker’s sworn to get even.  I’d lie low if I was you.”

Tom, of course, knew more than anyone.  But he was a true ally:  he kept his peace.

But where, you might ask, did Joseph’s brother Ian feature in all this?  How often was he called upon to leap to Joseph’s defence through those lonely, harassed years?  Well, the answer is nowhere.  Ian, you see, counted himself one of Rodney Smith’s best friends.

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Seven Poppy’s Courage

The woman was concerned.  “You’re hurt.”   Where Edgar’s hand clutched his side, there was blood.  Blood seeped between his big fingers.  She tried to clarify her thoughts; Edgar was here, which implied that he had won his confrontation with Oddjob, although she could not be sure.

“Edgar, where’s the big man?”

“Where I left him, Poppy.  He’s asleep.”

She had known Edgar use the word ‘asleep’ before.  It was a euphemism.  Oddjob was dead.  That would explain why Edgar was calm, his violence having found focus and spent itself upon Oddjob, leaving him feeling guilty and ashamed.  It was not a phase that could be relied upon to last, What was more, Barbut, Oddjob’s colleague would soon return, an encounter they must avoid.  Hiding was impractical, so the only answer was escape – to pass through the door to the outside, a place without walls.  Outside was darkness, outside was cold; early rain now turned to snow.   Edgar’s shivering form needed to be clothed.

“Come on, we must get that bandaged and find you something to wear.”  The woman rose to her feet, grabbing a selection of clothes from her box; capable, in command.   Edgar, by contrast, was in submissive mood, following her lead meekly from her room, along the landing of the old house and down its creaking stairs.  The floor of the hallway was covered by a threadbare runner of carpet.  She swallowed her revulsion because it was also covered, liberally, in blood.   There was no sign of Oddjob.

“Where is he, Edgar?”

Edgar nodded at the under-stairs cupboard.  “I put him in there.  He’s upside down.”

She stared.  “Why?”

“It’s just the way he went in, Poppy.  Shall I turn him round?”  Edgar offered, moving towards the cupboard door.

“No!  No, Edgar, it’s alright.  We’ll just – leave him like that.  Come now, let’s get you tidied up.”

“Anything for you, Poppy.  Anything, my dear.”

Edgar sat obediently on the edge of his bed as the woman investigated the gunshot wound in his side and adjudged it not to be serious.  She improvised a bandage before seeking out the clothes he had worn for their journey to this place.   Only then did she dress herself, surprised by the difficulties that donning a sweater, jeans and canvas shoes represented.  Someone’s coat had been thrown around her for the journey here: she had not worn outdoor clothing at all within her memory.  For his part Edgar dressed quickly and proficiently, reminding her that, although her treatment of him as a child suited them both, he was a sentient adult with a quick, incisive mind.

She folded up the blood-soaked rug, carried it at arm’s length into the kitchen, throwing behind the scullery door. “What did you do with the gun, Edgar?”

“I took it from him, Poppy.”

“I know that.  What did you do with it?”

“I shot him with it.  Three times.  In the head.  Pop, pop, pop.  Why did he want to hurt me?”

“He didn’t understand you, Edgar.  Where is the gun now?”

“Because I was bad to him?”

“Yes.  You know how bad you can be.” Much as the woman had disliked Oddjob, she pitied him for his last terrified moments.  She had been close to a similar precipice many times.  Oddjob had made a mistake.  He had paid.

She gave up on the gun.  Edgar clearly did not want her to know where it was.  She imagined he had jammed it into Oddjob’s throat, or somewhere worse.

Meanwhile, the pendulum of Edgar’s mood was swinging.  “Chin up, old girl.  This is no place for a chap of discrimination and taste, is it?  Let’s break camp before the cavalry arrives.”

He was right, it was time to run.  Nevertheless, at the front door of the house the woman wavered.  Out there, in the darkness, snow was falling:  the blowing white mist of the high moors draping every inch of cover.  Out there, there were no walls.  Space, immensity without limit.  Panic welled up inside her so swiftly it took her breath.  She was tottering, her head swimming.   Edgar’s arm supported her waist.   “Courage, Poppy!  One step at a time, eh?”

And he guided her into the night.

#

As the car headed north, Patrick asked:  “What will happen to Mr Purvis?”

Rebecca grinned at him over her shoulder:  “A nice comfortable night in the Accident Department, I hope.  He’ll get lots of free tests.  That’s what usually happens.”

“He does this sort of thing frequently?”

“Not frequently, exactly…Is there a map in this thing?”  She asked, rummaging through the glove compartment.

Patrick had already retrieved a road atlas from the pocket on the back of Rebecca’s seat.  He passed it forward.  “What do we want to find?”

“Amy gave me an address, but it’s so remote she had to use an Ordnance Survey map to find it.  It sounds ideal – fits what we’re looking for.”  Rebecca discovered a navigation light and flicked through the pages of the tattered atlas.  “But it won’t be in this, will it?  Look Tarq, this town – can you see?”  She held the atlas up to the light.  “Martlock?  Amy said there’s a road, or a track or something around about here on the B1724, at least, that’s what I think she said.  It’s only ten miles, yeah?   It goes straight up onto the moor, so it’s going to be quite hairy.   Pity you couldn’t pinch a Land Rover, genius!”

Tarquin slipped the Toyota into a higher gear.  “You’re the philosopher here, Patrick,” He said.  “Can you explain why it always rains when you are trying to drive an unfamiliar road in the middle of the night?  I’d really like to know.”

“Nothing personal;” Patrick assured him.  “It’s all to do with the juxtaposition of the spheres.  What sort of place is it, ‘Becca?”

“An old farmhouse, Amy thinks. I didn’t manage to get much info., with Beefy breathing on my neck.  Can’t you do anything with these wipers, Tarq?  I’m seeing double.”

“At least you’re seeing something,”   Tarquin muttered.

Martlock crept up on them without their noticing, an apologetic clutch of squat grey dwellings split asunder by a road its Victorian builders had never designed it to accommodate.   A few anaemic streetlights threw reflective glimmers onto the uneven tarmac, a few brave windows cast their dim message of habitation out into relentless rain.  A hardened town, embittered by a climate that could bring snow even in May: a scattering of shops half-starved – a market square, some cobbled alleyways that rose up onto the sheer slopes of the moors, looming behind their cloak of darkness.  Citizens scornful of the storm’s attack emerged shirt-sleeved from the public houses, The Red Lion, The Black Horse, gathering defiantly along the pavements, dodging puddles and glancing only briefly before launching themselves across the road.

It was over almost before it was begun, that town.  Ascending steadily as they drove beyond it, the companions were plunged into inky night once more, and rainfall that had been plagued by doubt finally became snow.  Hedges newly hued in white rushed by, occasional headlights, oncoming, brought hearts to mouths.

“Somebody’ll have reported this thing stolen by now,”  Tarquin said, referring to their transport. “Although why anyone would want it…”

“The turn-off should be here somewhere,” warned Rebecca.  “Just after a sharp right-hand bend.  That’s it!  Look!”

“Alright, alright, I see it!”  snapped Tarquin irritably.  “That?  Are you sure it’s that?”

“Must be.”

“Okay.”

The gap in some dry stone wall on their left provided access, but not to anything that might have been described as a road.  Tarquin sent the car diving into it with a silent prayer.   A sharp descent, a gut-wrenching bang as the car’s suspension bottomed out, then a rise and an airborne moment before the headlights stabilized, shining on a track that was doing its best to impress as a river, with water flooding down it.

“That was a ditch!”

Patrick groaned.  “We’re going to get stuck in this!”  The gradient before them was simply too steep.

“Not if we keep the speed up, m’dear!”  Tarquin yelled.  “This is hardcore.  Look to your teeth!”

His foot applied hard to the accelerator, the comfortable newspaper hack was suddenly rallying a special stage:   “Whoa!  Lots of hill!  Sit tight!”

Wheels spun, Rebecca squealed as the left front wing failed to miss a rock, with a crash which sent the whole chassis sideways.  A headlight was extinguished, the back end of the car slewed, Tarquin wound it back into shape, spinning the wheel left and right like a Finnish Ice Racer.   In second gear for most of the time, he was thrusting the car into the hill at near-suicidal speed.

“Tarquin!”  ‘Becca shouted.  “I don’t want to die, mate, okay?”

“Are you dead yet?”

“No.”

“Then keep quiet.   I’m working!”

Looking back in one of the ascent’s rare, more sober moments, Patrick spied the scattered lights of the little town far below, animated into crazy trampoline leaps by the action of the car.  Beyond the oval provided by their one remaining light he could see nothing in front but the reflections from the blizzard.

Becca shouted out again.   “Slow down, Tarq!”

“Why?”  Tarquin’s grunt was cut off as he nearly bit through his own tongue.

“Some windows – lights.  That’s the house, I think, yeah?  See it?”

In the next brief cessation of the gale, Tarquin did see it.  They each saw it, just as they saw the van parked in front of it..  “Bugger,”  Tarquin said.

“Turn off the light!”  Becca commanded.

“You’re f***ing kidding, aren’t you, darling?  I can hardly see with it on!”

“Then bloody stop!”

“Is there nothing this woman won’t put me through to get her Pulitzer?” Tarquin complained as he switched off the engine.  “I’m not as young as I was, you know!”

“Oh, shut up, Tarq!” Rebecca snapped.  “Whose is it, do you think?”

“My money says that’s the same van that was hired in London.”

Rebecca nodded in the dark.  “Mine too.  How far away are we – a quarter mile?  They must have seen us coming, even if they didn’t hear us.  They must be in the house.”

Patrick could barely disguise his eagerness.  “How many, I wonder?”

“Two, three captors – two hostages.  At least, that was what left London.”

“So what next?”  Patrick asked.

“Whatever the story is, we aren’t going to find out from here,”  said Rebecca, with decision. “I’m in need of some air – do you young chaps fancy a walk?”

#

No sooner had the woman followed Edgar’s lead and stepped from the house into the whipping blast of the open moor than she saw the beams of the van’s headlights snaking up the side of the hill.  They had made their escape just in time.  Shielded by darkness, Barbut’s return concerned her less now they were out on the moor.  Even the cold was a condition to which she was accustomed.  She had been cold, more or less, for eight years, just as she had been hungry, or hurt, or afraid.  This deprivation counted with her rather less than the emptiness of the void which surrounded her. Of far greater import was agoraphobia, the terror of limitless, unseen space, and Edgar’s mood.  He had been surprisingly complicit thus far, but for how long could she expect that to continue?    Edgar?  She need be in fear of him, not for him.

Probing through darkness, she and Edgar had covered very little distance when the familiar white van’s headlights were snuffed out before the house.  She was able to watch not one, but three heavily-built men emerge from the body of the van to hurry indoors, their jackets pulled over their heads against the elements.  Her thoughts rushed back to Oddjob’s conversation, overheard on the telephone:  sedation, the mention of a beach.  She held no illusions.  If she was to survive this night, if Edgar was to survive, they must get as far beyond the reach of these men as the elements would allow.

The heather and broom carpet was unforgiving, snatching at their ankles, and interlaced by little channels, a thousand of them, filled with frozen rainwater threatening to take their feet from under them.  Unseen sheep snickered in the dark, or gave vent to loud, old-man coughs that might cause many an inexperienced traveller to cower.  In her head, the woman pictured those three big men as they noticed the broken stair rail, registered Edgar’s room with its unsecured door.  Maybe it would be Barbut who would open that cupboard under the stairs…  Suddenly Edgar stopped, scenting the wind almost as a dog might – almost like the wild creature he was, the woman thought.

“We have company, Poppy.”  He said quietly.

The woman paused, listening.  At first all she could hear was the rush of the wind and steady whisper of snow, but as her concentration improved, there were other sounds too – of feet moving softly through the broom, even, she thought, a low undercurrent of urgent, hushed voices.  “How far away?”  She hissed, trusting Edgar’s instincts.

“About fifty yards, Poppy, I do believe.   Over there.”  Edgar pointed grandly into the darkness.   “Might be following us, do y’think?”

The woman had never known Edgar to act in this fashion.   Rational thought was rare for him:  phases of sobriety were usually tantalizingly brief and presaged fits of distress or anger.   She was on edge:  when would the mood break, and when it did, what would follow?   She could not handle a manic spasm out here on the moor – conditions were too severe.  She needed – they both needed – enclosure, something around them; to be inside a room, a box, space with features she knew and could touch. Above all, she must get Edgar out of weather which was beyond her experience.  Her heart was pumping wildly.  She had to take a risk, a chance.

She shouted above the gale:  “Help!   Help us!”

“Holy Crap, what’s that?”   The response was immediate, female, and much nearer than Edgar had led her to believe.   “Tarq!  Over here!”

From the direction of the house the sound of pandemonium breaking out announced a discovery – the blood-soaked rug, possibly, or simply their absence – or maybe someone had opened the under stairs cupboard.  Raised voices, torch beams, running feet.

A figure, small and slender and as inadequately dressed as the woman herself suddenly took shape in the white fog, to be joined almost immediately by a second, more substantial presence who clutched a hat to his head.

“It’s the abominable bloody snowman, Rebecca m’dear.  I do believe we’ve struck oil!”  Tarquin Leathers exclaimed.  “May I be so presumptuous as to inquire your names, my dears?”

Alarmed though she was by Tarquin’s extravagant language, so incongruous in the teeth of a howling blizzard, the woman had to trust these strangers.  It was not a matter of choice.

“I’m Poppy, and this is Edgar,” she raised her voice once more against the wind, “And we need to get out of here.”

If any reinforcement of her argument was needed, the crack of a gun and a snick of a bullet in the heather nearby supplied it.  “Back to the car!”  Rebecca yelled.

A third figure materialized in the haze of snow:  “Wait a minute!  Is this who I think it is?”

Another shot, another bullet, uncomfortably close.  “Have we met, dear boy?”  Edgar asked.

“Yes!  Last time, I pushed you into the river!”  Patrick rounded on Rebecca.  “Leave him here!  A bullet’s too good for him, but it’ll do!”

“You may be right, dear boy,” Tarquin reasoned, “ but if we stay to argue you will find these bullets undiscriminating.  Let’s save the moral discussion for later, shall we?”

“Patsy!”  Rebecca placed frozen hands on Patrick’s shoulders, “We need to get at the truth, yeah?  I know how you feel, but…”  Edgar was becoming agitated.  The woman was ignoring everyone now, as she tried to keep him calm.   Wordless, Patrick broke out of Rebecca’s grip, stamping away in the direction of the car.

“They’re coming!”  Tarquin roared, “I think we should leave – now!”

Barbut and his ‘colleagues’ were splitting up, two advancing across the moor in their direction, the other starting their van: its headlights flared.

Rebecca and Tarquin broke cover to run after Patrick, the woman followed, dragging Edgar behind her.   It was not a great distance, it did not need to be.

“I hate to resort to the bleedin’ obvious,”  Rebecca cried, “But the soddin’ car’s facing the wrong way!”

“I’ll turn it!”  Tarquin replied.

“How?  There’s no room!”  Patrick reasoned.  The van’s bright beams were piercing the snow, throwing light upon their distressed Toyota, already half-buried in the confines of the track.  “And no time.”  He added, with finality.

The van was upon them, the figures from the moor catching up fast.   She who called herself ‘Poppy’ was fussing with the man-monster, stroking his arms and cheeks, trying to placate him.  The next burst of small-arms fire from the two on the moor would not miss.  Rebecca and Tarquin?  They were unarmed, and Patrick hoped fervently the man-monster was not holding a gun.  It was over.

As if to vie with his argument, a chatter of automatic rifles split the night.   Bullet-holes sprayed across the windscreen of the van in a neat line.  It skidded sideways and stopped.  One of their assailants on the moor was thrown backwards in a way that suggested he would not get up again, the other threw himself flat.  Hands that brooked no dissent gripped Patrick’s arms, turning him.  Fresh headlights glared in his eyes as the massy presence of a large long-wheel-based land rover slid to a halt only yards away.

“He’s the one!”  The flint-like figure from the hotel might have been difficult to identify in the snow, but his voice betrayed him.  He was pointing at Edgar.  “Jacket him, now!”

Three men, those whom Rebecca had outsmarted earlier that evening, all now dressed in uniform camouflage and each carrying an automatic rifle, closed around them, forcing them into the Land Rover.  A fourth, who was the driver, produced a straitjacket, which, despite the woman’s protests, he and the one Rebecca had nicknamed ‘Beefy’ used to restrain Edgar, pinning him against the snow-burdened Toyota as they tied him in.   Edgar howled, loudly and long, but he was helpless against the trained force of these men.  Everyone waited then, while the flint-like superior officer with two of the men combed the area immediately around the track and inspected the van.

“One dead, the rest have gone,”  was the flint-like man’s verdict as he climbed into the front passenger seat of the Land Rover.  “Van’s empty.  I expect the driver high-tailed it back to the house.”  He extracted a microphone from an RT on the dashboard and transmitted:  “Hotel Tango Alpha, area secure.”  Then, turning to address his captive audience;  “I’m sorry for the rough handling.  We’ve made special transport arrangements for Lord Driscombe.   The rest of you will have to accompany us, I’m afraid.”

Rebecca’s rueful comment from the darkness:  “Fait accompli?”

The driver of the Land Rover took his place, yet made no move to depart.  The three-man assault force had thrown a coat over Edgar’s shoulders and remained out on the moor, supporting Edgar, kicking wildly, between them.   Their attention was focused upon the western sky, and soon the reason became apparent as sounds of a helicopter filtered through the snow, loud and growing louder.

Among the Spartan seating arrangements inside the vehicle, the woman was placed opposite Patrick, giving him an opportunity to assess her, if not see her (there was no interior light) for the first time.  He was nervous, excited; could she be?   She was concerned for altogether different reasons.

“Edgar?  Where are they taking Edgar?”

“I think it’s alright,” he reassured her, “I think you’re safe now.”

“Edgar!  What will they do to him?  Why aren’t they taking me?”

“I don’t know.”  He replied, carefully.  “Perhaps they feel it’s time you had some freedom?  You’ll have to help me because it has been a long time, and I long ago ceased to believe this was possible, but tell me, are you Karen?  Are you Karen Eversley?”

The woman turned her head towards him, as though something, some nuance in his voice had sparked a memory:  “I’m Poppy.”  She said.  “That’s my name, Poppy.  Why won’t they let me be with Edgar?”

The noise made further speech impossible because outside, a helicopter was landing in the snow.

Author’s note:  Don’t miss next week’s final chapter of ‘Nowhere Lane’!

 

© 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