Hallbury Summer – Episode Twenty-Six The Tragedy of the Commons

The Story so Far:   Emma Peterkin has separated from Joe’s best friend Tom, and she has slept with Joe.  Although found out by Tom, Joe is still able to enlist him in a final visit to the Parkins’ home, where they are just in time to see a fire-raiser put it to the torch.  Beating the flames, the pair discover a hidden room laden with pagan artifacts, and the decomposed body of a child.

Meanwhile, Charker Smith has been stirring himself into an alcohol-driven rage against Joe, inspired by the machinations of journalist Jennifer Althorpe, for whom the confrontation will make an excellent story.   Charker has a gun.

“Have you forgotten Charker?”  Tom asked, as the Parkin house blazed behind them..

Joe shrugged, shooting needles of agony through his burnt shoulders.  “I  can’t leave now.”  He said.

“Well, you better be ready for ‘un, ‘cause there he is.”  Tom indicated over his shoulder back along the bridle path that followed the northernmost margin of Wednesday Common.  Three figures, one of whom was entirely appropriate to the path because he was as large as a horse, were discernible in the reflection from the fire, standing some two hundred yards distant.  They too had seen Constable Hallett’s police car.  Joe guessed they would come no closer until Hallett had gone.

Dave Hallett, of course, would not go, not once the tiny wrapping that lay on the lane had been explained to him: and with every minute the villagers were gathering, drawn from their homes by that red flower in the sky.  Their vigil was conducted in awed murmurings and sober looks, a reverential congregation before a burning altar.  How many knew what kind of altar was burning there, Joe wondered?  Was the sinister life of Violet Parkin common knowledge or something shared only by a chosen few?

“This’d explain some things old Jack’s been ranting on about since we locked him up.”  Dave Hallett said, after Tom and Joe had told their tale:  “’The cursed house’ ‘e calls ut.  One thing for sure, we won’t get no more information out of there.”

The Parkin house flared and crashed through its last throes, each new collapse erupting a roman candle into the night sky, as efficient an incinerator as any guilty murderer could wish.  Who was the arsonist, Joe wonderd?  Who knew there was something in that house that must be eradicated completely?  He pressed the folder where he had concealed it beneath his shirt, anxious for the assurance it was still there, because maybe inside it, at last, he had the answers.

Far too late a fire-engine’s siren echoed up the valley.  P.C. Hallett looked beset, trying to control a curious audience of villagers who were drawn particularly towards the small covered mound lying on the lane, while conducting conversations over his radio.  Hallett had covered the child’s body with a sheet, at once disguising it and increasing its mystery.  What was it?  Everyone wanted to know.

Meanwhile, the ever-growing throng kept Joseph secure from harm.  Of Charker and his cronies, there was now no sign.

Joe drew Tom to one side:  “Can we get in the car?”  He asked, pulling a corner of the folder into view.  “I want to look at this.”

Tom nodded.  “I’ll stay here.  Sit in the passenger side, so Dave don’t think you’m tryin’ to drive off.  I’ll tell ‘un it’s alright if he gets panicky.”

So Joe effected a casual stroll towards the car – a pitiful effort at disguise:  his shoulders were hunched with pain, he stared at the ground.

Davy Hallett noticed.  “Joe Palliser!”

“Leave ‘un, Davy.”  Tom said.  “He’s shocked, see?  Needs to sit down for a bit:  be on his own.”

“All same…”  Davy grumbled.  But he made no move to stop Joe.

In Tom’s car, by candle-power from its interior light, Joseph opened the folder which did indeed supply all his answers. Close by, as Jack Parkin’s old home was engulfed, the fire engine engaged its audience anew – police cars were gathering, a van, an ambulance.  Briefly separate from the rapid re-establishment of a crime scene, Joe sat in a daze of disbelief.

Screens were being raised; Hallett was giving his account to a CID officer.  Busy shadows flitted around and Joe knew very soon faces would be turning his way.  His thoughts were in turmoil.  He sat, desperately looking this way and that, trying to make sense of the evidence in his hands.  He needed space –.

“So you saw the fire, Mr. Peterkin,” The young detective was briskly efficient.     “You entered the house to see if anyone was inside.  Did you find anyone?”

“No.  Only that.”

“Ah, the body.”  The detective cast about him.  “The PC first on the scene – is he here?”

Dave Hallett acknowledged the call.  The detective addressed Tom:  “This is an unexplained death so we need a full account of what happened here.  I’m going to ask you to stay nearby for the moment.  Constable, is everything as you found it when you arrived?”

“Yes Sarge.  Mr. Peterkin and Mr. Palliser were stood there, in the lane, with the remains on the ground.  I didn’t let nobody disturb nothing.”

“And where is Mr. Palliser now?”  The detective asked.

Dave Hallett glanced towards Tom’s car.  It was empty. He glared at Tom.  “Dunno Sarge.  I had my hands full, see, keeping the scene clear?”

“Mr. Peterkin?”

Tom glanced towards his car.  “Don’t see ‘im nowhere.”  He answered, truthfully.

“Constable;” Said the detective in a glacial tone; “Would you kindly find Mr. Palliser for me?  Now?”

In the intense activity surrounding the fire Joseph’s escape had gone unnoticed: by the time his absence had been discovered he was the better part of a hundred yards away, bent double as he ran like a dog through the bracken.  And Jennifer Althorpe was running after him.

Jennifer’s evening had been spent on licensed premises in Abbots Friscombe.  Here was the best place, since she had set a fuse in her interview with Mary Harkus, to keep tabs on Charker Smith, he whom she suspected would provide the spark.  Tonight she had watched with almost open-mouthed amazement as Charker and his peers consumed a prodigious volume of beer.  It was apparent the powder keg was about to blow, for Charker was declaring loudly that “Palliser’s number was up”  and he would “deal with ‘un tonight.”  When he left with two companions to fetch his gun, Jennifer followed them.  When they set off for Hallbury, she was not far behind.

The scene which greeted Charker as he spotted Joe Palliser at the Parkin House, greeted Jennifer too.  Although Charker then made himself scarce, she decided the place to be was with Joe Palliser and steered clear of the crowd, focussed upon Joe.  He would not disappoint her.  Cloaked by darkness, she saw him scramble out of Tom’s car.  She could see he clasped something in his hand, and she was close enough to follow.

Of course, watching Charker Smith’s prowess in a public house meant that she, Jennifer, had also been obliged to consume a quantity of alcohol, an area in which she lacked a journalist’s expertise.  Now, bent double in her pursuit of Joe at his rather faster pace, she was, euphemistically speaking, very uncomfortable.  Fortunately the pursuit was brief – unfortunately, its conclusion was other than she expected.

Joe planned to hide the folder and its epic message.  The police, he reasoned, would want a lot more from Tom and himself.  They were likely to be searched – Tom’s car was likely to be searched.  A nearby clump of fern seemed large enough to offer safe hiding for the folder until he was free to retrieve it the following morning.

He heard Jennifer’s clumsy progress at around the same time he discovered his chosen clump of undergrowth was larger than he had supposed: sufficient, in fact, to conceal the person of Charker Smith.  Although his two sidekicks had fled at the very thought of police, Charker’s greater resolve had induced him to remain, hidden at a distance, hoping to get his chance at Palliser.  Even so, he could hardly have wished for a better result, for if he had not risen to his feet Joe Palliser would have tripped over him!

For Joe the jarring impact was as though he were stopped by a wall.  He hit Charker in the belly, head-first.  Charker did not even exhale.

“Now then, Palliser!”   Joe felt himself lifted like a puppy by the grip of one vice-like hand on his collar – small and delicate Charker’s hands might have been, but they packed all the power of the arms that bore them.

“Charker!  Not now!”

“Oh, aye.  Now will do, boy.  You had this ‘ere comin’ a long time, didn’t you?”

With no time even to catch his wind, Joe might well have surrendered to his fate, had he not felt his captor’s shoulders tense, and become aware that Charker was no longer looking at him.

“Hello dearie!”  Charker’s softer voice, on top of so much alcohol, was almost comical.  “Now who the f**k are you?”

“I’m Jenny, Charker.”  Jennifer Althorpe thrashed her way out of the bracken and, discomfited though she was, did her best to sound seductive.  “Remember, in the pub?  You were watching me, weren’t you?  So glad we’ve got to meet at last.”

The big man’s mental capacity was insufficiently flexible to deal with such vicissitudes of fortune.  His simple mission was to throttle Joe (which he was already in the process of doing – to the point where Joe was choking for air) and this added presence was an interference he could not quite take in.

“Well, you met me.”  Charker said, lowering Joe slowly to terra firma.  “Now what?”

“Now?  What now? What do you think?”  Jennifer was advancing, moving in passable imitation of a tigress.  “Now I’ve tracked you down I want to spend some time with you, Charker darling.  Don’t waste your time on Mr Palliser, hmm?  I think he’s holding something we both might need.    I think you have something a girl like me might need too, don’t you?”

If late, her intention to draw the heat off Joe showed some sense of decency – or fear of untimely attention from the police; but she had miscalculated.  Charker in matters of sexual attraction was a breed bull, slow to respond and brief in execution of the act.  As such, he was impervious to flirtation.   In his cups Jennifer, bedraggled by her encounters with nature and her charms blunted by darkness was merely an unwelcome distraction from his single purpose.  Her reference to Joe’s folder was lost upon him: it had no existence for him – all that did exist was Palliser’s neck.

Jennifer, shaking the bracken from her feet, approached within touching distance,

“You stay right there now.”

“Oh, come on, Charker!  You’re a big healthy lad, aren’t you?  I’m sure you are!  Why don’t we have a little fun; just you and I?”  She nodded towards Joe, “Have a little fun with him, if you want?”  Showing utter faith in her abilities, she took the last fateful step.  Charker stood with his left fist clenched on Joe’s neck, his twelve-bore cocked ready for use in his right hand.  Did he see her as a threat, or was he simply confused, addled by drink?  .  The gun discharged upwards into Jennifer’s stomach – a shot she felt much more than she heard.  As fire-arrows shot through her, Jennifer, her breath taken from her, could only utter a rather foolish “Oh!” of surprise.  Then came a deeper blackness.  Far off, at the sound of the gun, the shouting began.

Difficult to know if Charker realised the horror of what he had done – difficult to know if he was cognisant of anything at all.   Away to his right, bodies, torches flickering, pounded through the bracken towards him:

“CHARKER!”  Tom’s voice bellowed.  Tom knew whose gun he had heard.

Charker Smith stood like a colossus, motionless as Jennifer’s body crumpled against him before dropping like a discarded doll onto the heath.  At the clamour of urgent voices he said nothing, did not even move, save to crunch his fingers ever deeper into Joe Palliser’s throat.  Still weak from the smoke of the Parkin fire and pinned by those vengeful eyes, Joe was once more on the cliff edge of a struggle.  Too long it was before the mob could reach them, before shouting, grabbing human forms barged Charker down:  three or four of them, it took.  Big hands trussing him with handcuffs.  Joe, released, falling into capable arms…Tom’s arms.

And then silence…..unearthly silence.

#

At three o’clock in the morning Finsborough Town Hall was normally deserted.  The chairs and tables which rattled and scraped so busily now would be stacked away; the bare board floor a night-time desert across which wayfaring mice might wander fearlessly, with the odd small bug or two for their only company.  Just once in every five years might the lights be burning like this so early in the morning, the floor so heavily burdened by the rush and bustle of a crowd buoyed up on a heady ambrosia of renewed hope – rarely at any time of day or night would the atmosphere be so electric, the hum of expectation so vibrant.

For all the years of their marriage Ian and Caroline Palliser had maintained a single-minded dedication to The Party.  They had been challenging years.  Tonight, they would remain close to one another, and occasionally the girl from the Shires who had reached for the highest apple might sneak a hand into her husband’s; a reassuring squeeze, a hint of encouragement.  And Ian might respond, a little; though mostly these days it seemed he did not see her, or feel her touch at all.  She had reconciled herself to this.  The frantic round of engagements, political discussions – high-minded theory, low-minded cunning – had left them both so exhausted that she had very few moments to stop, to ask herself where her future was going, whether or not she would have taken this road?  Only here, tonight, dutifully beside her husband in her entirely empty role as a prospective candidate’s wife, had she time to properly contemplate that future.  Did she like the things she saw?  In marriage, she had been told, once the years of passion were gone, the years of deepening friendship were there to look forward to.  Had there ever really been passion?  Was Ian her friend?  Was she anything at all to him, other than the right wife to have, from the right family, the proper background?  So maybe those little gestures of reassurance were necessary indeed.  Not for Ian, but for herself.

Ian was deep in conversation with Laurence Montague-Hearst, his agent.  The clerk touched his shoulder.

“They’re almost ready, Mr. Palliser. It would be best to make your way to the stage now.”  The clerk, in trying to maintain a pretence of confidentiality amid noisy cheering from certain sections of the throng, managed to achieve something best described as a subdued shout.  “After the Presiding Officer has announced the result, you make your acceptance speech, sir.  Can you keep it to five minutes, if you would?”

Ian raised a hand to show he had heard, though he did not move to follow the shorter, stumpy figure of the clerk as it made its way through the crowd.  No, he would take his time, be sure he was last, or nearly last, to join the gaggle of hopefuls who shifted nervously and noisily around those boards.  His political hackles were up; his nostrils filled with a scent of plot.  By midnight the trend in the count had been blatantly clear: it was Palliser by almost a landslide – so why was Trimby Harris, his principle opposition, looking so buoyant?  When their eyes had met, as occasionally they must in so small a space on so long a night, there had been an odd twinkle there, not the disposition of a man who expected to come second.

He gave the Clerk another couple of minutes, then moved purposefully towards Harris with an extended hand.  The old man responded instantly; his strong clasp at once a gesture of friendship and confidence.

“Looks like you’ve won the count, dear fellow!  Shall we face the music?”

‘Won the count’?  Why not just ‘won’?  Mind buzzing, Ian accepted the big, guiding hand on his shoulder as it steered him towards the dais.

So……

At what point did he realise?  When did he see the two men – those two odd, misfit figures in their cheap clothes standing between him and the stage, between him and that symbolic climb?  Did he notice the small push by which Harris compelled him forward?

“You are Mr. Ian Palliser?”  The taller of the two addressed him deferentially.  “I’m Detective Inspector Royston, sir.  I wonder if we might have a word with you?”

 

© 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-Four Waste Ground

Rebecca Shelley rested her head against the blue wing-cushion of her first class seat, letting the train rhythms flow through her body as she prepared for sleep.  Beyond smoke-smeared carriage windows Beaconshire’s browns and greens of Spring flitted by, lit by the first rays of a very watery and apologetic sun.  As always, her rebellious eyes defied her; tired though she was, they would not close.

Opposite her, Patrick’s head was already rested, his eyes already contentedly shut.  She found herself openly appraising him, his thick, unruly hair, large, expressive features, soft, full mouth. In the last twelve hours her body had pressed for warmth against every inch of his, causing her to think she knew him as well as she had known any man.  Even in the bone-chilling cold of that dreadful struggle beneath the stones she had discovered nothing to disappoint her.  His was not a competitor’s body.  He would be an unlikely sportsman, a very uncomfortable athlete; his courage was not exemplary, but it was enough.   He was intelligent rather than clever, sensitive rather than slick – sensitive enough to cry.  She had always thought she could love a man who cried.

Her friends sometimes teased her with the prospect of a relationship, to counter which she would reply to the effect that she had never had one, or wanted one.  That was untrue, of course – wasn’t it?  She had often speculated idly, when she met attractive opposites in the course of her job, or on the street.  She was speculating in just such a fashion now:  he was interesting, this Hallcroft man, yet would that interest stand the test of a month, or even a week in her company?  The idea was ridiculous!  He ran a business, a successful one, from a small mansion in the sticks.  She was a professional journalist with a small, very untidy apartment in Fulham. He had a wife.  Well no – he was married, but she could see, as everyone else around Jacqui could see, that the couple were an unequal fit.  Jacqui loved him, he respected her.  When he had agreed to come to London they had rowed – in another room, but Rebecca overheard.  Jacqui mistrusted him.  So she could see it, too.

Focus beginning to drift, thoughts clouding, Rebecca’s eyes submitted to impending slumber.  She missed the moment when Patrick’s eyes blinked open, and she was unaware of how, for the miles until the train’s first stop at Baronchester, and with equal freedom, he studied her.

The travelling companions, despite exhaustion in the aftermath of their ordeal, were intent upon reaching London, because the evidence was mounting that Edgar, the Driscombe heir was to be pursued from there.  For Rebecca, the spur of a breaking story offered motivation enough: for Patrick less so.  His presence had no other function than to offer a firm identification if a woman, seen with someone they supposed to be Edgar boarding a van in East London, should prove to be Karen Eversley.  And of course he was anxious but did he want that?  Yes, he supposed.  Nevertheless, he had seen the effect this revival of the Eversley affair had upon his new wife, as well as himself: there were feelings buried beneath the turf of his conscious mind, and he might have wished they remain so.

Karen; the old flame – the flame that would not go out, whatever the nobility of his efforts to extinguish it, but crept close behind him, leaving a little trail of ashen memories in its wake.

To meet the train Jackson Hallcroft, Patrick’s father, had driven his son, Rebecca, and Joshua Turnbull, their saviour at ‘The Green’ from Radley Court into Caleybridge.  Jackson, who had refused to leave Turnbull alone at Radley Court with only his daughter-in-law and Inga for company, was yet unwilling to expose him to the mercies of Stafford Driscombe’s ‘people’,  Everyone owed Turnbull a debt of gratitude so, given that the local police could not be trusted, they provided Turnbull with dry clothes and dropped him off at a street near to the bus depot, leaving him, with as much cash as the family could muster for a fare, to ‘make up his own mind’ as to his destination.   They took this decision fully aware that Turnbull might spend the money on his next ‘fix’ and return to just those people he claimed to fear most, but their options were limited.  Their last sight of this shrunken man, standing despondently on Bridge Street’s rain-washed pavement, was immortalised in the flare of Rebecca’s camera.

At ‘The Huntsman’, while Rebecca was changing into her own clothes and packing, Patrick made a telephone call.  Jackson settled up with an extremely sleepy and irritable clerk before they embarked on a race for Caleybridge station.  There, Patrick and Rebecca caught the early morning express, bound for London.

#

The white van was leaving.  The woman watched it through a rain-spattered casement with vague fascination, her gaze fixed on its lights as it cut a path through the darkness, a lonely feature receding into a black landscape.

A windows.

Her curious hands explored the wooden frame with probing fingers to find every tiny weakness in the putty, every small draught.

Her window.

She was confused.  She had no idea where she was, only that the van journey to get here had been long and arduous.  The rear of the van, though fitted with seats, provided a ride both cold and rough, with no other facility for comfort.  Rain had beaten down on the thin roof, a constant tattoo of noise which mingled discordantly with a radio’s unceasing blast of contemporary music.  One of the cheap speakers that relayed the sound had lost its attachment to the rear corner of the van, and swung by its wire for the whole afternoon, knocking against the van’s metal doors.  That was over now.  What was next?

She tore herself away from the glass, looked around her.  A basic, functional room:  all she could, or did, expect.  Bare, white walls (she could ask for posters perhaps if she was to stay here), a bed made up with a green blanket that looked fairly comfortable, a brown oak wardrobe and an extra garment rail, already crammed with her garments.  Next to the only door a dressing table with all her pots of make-up and other cosmetics brimming from it.  They had lost no time, the big lounge-suited men who took care of her – who were patrolling somewhere out there, in the dark.

Sighing, the woman sank down upon the bed, allowing her eyes to rest.  She remained prone for maybe half-an-hour, listening to the silence, though she knew her day was not yet ended.  When, from somewhere else in the house, she heard a cry like a hound giving tongue, a continuous siren of sound rising to a furious crescendo, she was prepared.  She was ready.  She rose to her feet and crossed to the dressing table.

“Coming, Edgar,”  She murmured, as though the face in her mirror was his.

#

A hand nudged Patrick’s shoulder.  Rebecca grinned down at him.   “Restaurant Car’s open.  Come on sleepy-head, let’s get some breakfast.”

The dining car was quiet.  There were some customers, though, to set the galley rattling and bring the parlance of cooks to life.    A clutch of owlish commuters with thick British Railways coffee squinted at big City broadsheets – Telegraph, Times and pink Financial Times –  leaving printers’ ink fingermarks on their cups.

“How can you eat that?”  Rebecca reproved Patrick for his choice of a full English breakfast feast – double egg, sausage, bacon, fried bread, tomato…”

“I’m hungry. I need building up.  How do you stay alive on a pastry boomerang?”

“This is not a boomerang, it is a croissant.  Furthermore, it is a British Railways croissant, and as such it is as filling as any three-course meal (and as chewy).”

“Not surprising.  It looks as if it suffered an abusive childhood in the Loire Valley.”

“Honestly, mature though it is I imagine this train is as close to France as this croissant will ever get.  Why the Loire?”

“I just like the name. Region Pays de la Loire; do they eat croissant there, do you think? So what happens at Paddington?”

“No idea, I hope someone will meet us and tell us.  They’re working on tracing the van after it left our contact’s yard.  We’ve also got someone watching Stafford Driscombe.”

“He wasn’t with the group who hired the van?”

“Nah.  They would just be goons.  But the fact they transferred from a car to this van implies they had something to hide, and maybe they had a journey in mind.  I reckon they’ve left London. If Edgar Forbes what’s-his-face is with them, they’ll need to be going somewhere secure and private.”

“Could just be a nursing home,”  Patrick suggested.

“Could be.  I don’t think so. Too risky.  See, our Stafford’s in an awkward spot.  There’s nothing wrong with having a brother who’s not quite the full shilling, but to suddenly reveal him after thirty-odd years might not seem an ideal cabinet minister-type decision.  And then, of course, there’s all the murders.  Sorry, I know that’s a sensitive point; I’ll shut up now.

“We’re due into Paddington at eight-fifteen, right in the middle of the bleedin’ rush hour, so this next bit’s promising to frustrate.”

Their express rolled under Paddington Station’s Victorian canopy in the company of three or four local commuter trains that disgorged their stressed human stampede almost simultaneously.  Borne along by the suited host Patrick and Rebecca were submerged for a while until the forced Venturi of a ticket barrier spat them out onto the concourse.

“Bloody ‘ell, they’ve sent Purvis!”  Rebecca exclaimed as they carved through crowds towards a taxi rank.  “What are you doing here Purv – you can’t drive, can yer?”

A substantial man with significant yellow teeth like a beaver was holding up a white card which read:  ‘SHELLEY’ in scrawled felt-tip.  “Nah, George is driving.”  He spoke like a rising bubble.  “We’re meeting Tarq at King’s Cross.”

“Why – train north?”

“Think so.  Tarq should have it confirmed by now.  Hope he has, anyway.”

The car had forced itself into the rank of taxis amidst loud argument.  Rebecca and Patrick slid into the back seat, whilst Purvis leapt into the front.  George grunted a welcome, then began the business of levering the car out of the taxi queue – more argument, a lot of creative language and a liberal quantity of motor horn.

Rebecca leaned towards Patrick and told him confidentially, “No matter what you might be led to believe in the next twenty minutes George has never killed anyone.  Brief me, Purv: you’ve been watching Mrs Driscombe, haven’t you?  Anythin’ interesting?”

“Loads, ‘Becca, me love.  Loads!”  The beaver teeth flashed in Patrick’s direction; “I’m watching Jacinta’s apartment, aren’t I?  Well, nothing until yesterday afternoon: this woman in a mini collects her and they drive off somewhere – so I calls it in to Tarq and he says if she comes back, spook her.  Get down there, lots of close-ups, ask her about her husband, that sort of thing; see what she comes up with.  He says, ask her where her husband’s brother is! Good one, right?

“Sure enough, a couple of hours, she’s back, and she’s cracking up – I mean, really.  Get this, when I ask her where Stafford’s brother is, she goes white as a bleedin’ sheet.  And there’s more.  The totty in the mini, the one she’s out with.  It’s her SISTER, baby!  Her own blood and flesh!  Shitty-mouthed little cow, as well – you should have heard her!  Anyway, she’s screaming out at me to leave her sis alone, and Lady Muck can’t find her key, so I says:  ‘Where’s Stafford’s brother now?’ She doesn’t answer. There’s no heavies around, so I get between her and the door and I keep asking; same question.  She keeps schtum, doesn’t she?  Sis though, she’s goin’ mad.  The two of them start shouting at each other and Sis is trying to get her back in the car, and she’s on at me all the time, questioning my ancestry and that, and I keep pushing with the question, and at last – get this – Sis is shouting: ‘No-where near here.  Nowhere you can find him’.”

Rebecca cheered.  “Yeah!  Well done Purv!”

“Wait, that’s not all.  I take a stab, don’t I?  I have a go.  I say:  ‘Yeah, long way to Yorkshire.’ And Lady Muck glares at me, and her mouth drops, and she says:  ‘how d’you know that, you bastard’?”

“Yorkshire?”

“Yep.  If yer lookin’ for Lady Muck’s brother-in-law, Becca luv, start with Yorkshire.  That’s why Tarq’s booked us all on the nine o’clock out of King’s Cross.  It stops at York.”

‘George’ had left the run of one-way systems and never-ending traffic queues as soon as he found a rabbit hole down which to plunge, and there followed a bewildering succession of narrow streets overloaded with parked cars, tight corners taken too fast, cyclists terrorized, pedestrians narrowly avoided.  Patrick quickly lost all sense of direction and contented himself with clinging to his seat while he prayed.

“Wouldn’t the tube have been quicker?”  He ventured when he could find breath.

“Nah, not this time of day.”  Rebecca replied; “Be bleedin’ lucky to get on it, and worse luck if it gets stuck.  Don’t worry, George knows his stuff.  He’ll get us there.”

“Ex-police Class One driver,”  George said cheerfully over his shoulder.  “Used to do this for a living.”

“Still does,”  Purvis commented.  “Look at that stupid berk!  Get off the bleedin’ road, Charlie!”

#

The woman was waiting for the knock at her door, unsurprised when it came.  The voice through the panels was harsh.  “He wants you.”

It was a new man.  A man she did not know or like.  He seemed unwilling.  Who could blame him:  could she?  She opened her door to him and he stared.

“Alright.  Put a dressing gown on.  I don’t want to see your artwork.”

In the torment of the move she had almost forgotten what it was like, being ashamed of her painted nakedness, so the big man’s remark stung her, a little.  She threw a bathrobe over her shoulders.

“How the f**k can you go around like that!”  His voice reeked of disgust.

She answered simply:  “He likes it.”

The man led the way along a short passage to stairs, then down into the hallway of the house.  He waved a hand at a door.  “He’s in there.  He’s pissed.”

The woman nodded, expressionless.  She did not fail to notice extra bolts that were obviously recent additions to the door’s oak sturdiness. Its handle was stiff.  The man followed her inside.

It was a small room – not cramped, but modest by comparison with the one Edgar was accustomed to, with walls painted a neutral cream and a single pendant light hanging from a stained white ceiling.  The floor was carpeted – a cheap imitation of Persian weave, and the double bed, confined to one end of the room, though fitted with retaining rails, was equally reduced in extravagance from the silk and leather acre of mattress she was used to sharing with Edgar.

He, Edgar, was seated in a heavy wooden-armed chair facing her.   His legs and arms were strapped to the chair and he was naked, apart from a pair of ludicrous black tights and a small towel, discreetly placed across his lap.

“Poppy darling!  My dearest!”  He welcomed her effusively.  “Come and see what they have done to me!”

She glanced about the room, a professional glance.  “The bed.”  She said in a toneless voice to the man behind her.  “It needs to be moved away from the wall.”

“It stays there.”  The man said.

“No, it moves away from the wall.  I have to be able to get away on both sides, do you understand?  And those bonds won’t hold him.  He can smash that chair if he’s angry enough.  You need something stronger, and a firm anchor point to restrain him.”

“You’ve got what you’ve got.”  The man grunted.

“Shall I prove it now, then?”   She offered, still in the same dead voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I can make him really, really mad at you.  I can, can’t I, Edgar?  If I were you, I should start running.”  Edgar illustrated her point with a helpful snarl.

“All right, all right.” Muttered her guard.  “We’ll see to it.”

“There are two of you then.  The other one, the one in the van – is her coming back?”

“None of your business.”

“I’ll take that as a no.  There should be three of you.  You’d better go now.  I don’t play to an audience.”

The man withdrew, although whether he would continue to witness his floorshow through the keyhole of the door she had no way of knowing.

“Darling Poppy, I’m so glad you’re here.  You have no idea what they have been doing to me.  Look at the state I’m in!”

The woman looked.  Through all the fog of merciful forgetfulness, she retained some strands of memory.  His hair, though still long and straggling was steel grey with age and receding.  If anything his complexion had become more sallow with time, his hawk nose even sharper, his nightmare eyes still blackly shining with a penetration that might find its way through steel.  His body was thin:  it could not gain weight no matter how religiously he was fed, although it had lost not an ounce of its determined strength.

“You look fine.”

“I’m a waste ground; a waste ground, Poppy darling.   And you; how do you look?  Take that rag off.  Let me look at you!”

The woman shrugged the bathrobe from her shoulders so it fell at her feet.  She stepped out of it without thought.

“You’ve done the special one for me, like a princess!”  Edgar cried.  “You know what that does to me.”

“I do.”

Over time; interminable time, her response to this one of Edgar’s many obsessions had honed her body make-up arts to a generous perfection.   She had learned how color could entice or repel, defend her, or portray vulnerability so that, subtly employed, she could induce different shades of mood in Edgar.  Tonight, she had chosen blue.  A light blue powder over her entire form, highlighted to white so the bones of her fingers, her collar bone and her femurs almost shone like silver.  The shadows were dark, as dark as midnight could make them.

“I wanted you.”

“And you called me, as I taught you.  But you don’t want me, you don’t, Edgar.  Not tonight.  You’re tired.”  The strangeness of this statement came upon her so unexpectedly she almost choked.   ‘Tonight’.  It was night, not day. For the first time in her memory, there was an outside, a window.

“I want you.  Come here, my darling Poppy!”

“No, Edgar.  Not now.  Tomorrow.  We’ll play together, one of our special games.  It’ll be twice as good for waiting.”

“I am tired.”

“Of course you are.  It’s been a long day.”

Almost immediately, Edgar began to affect drowsiness, as though he was about to sleep.  “We are going to be married, you know, Poppy darling.  It will be a grand affair!”

“Yes, Edgar.  Soon.”

“Soon.   The Prime Minister will come!”

“I know; I know.”  The woman withdrew, slowly, gathering her bathrobe to her as she did so.

Edgar’s voice followed her:   “You’ll be dressed in black, you’ll be covered in stinking shit!  Stafford will give you away and I’ll wed you with a ring of razor wire to cut off your f***ing finger you bitch!”

 

© 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