Nowhere Lane – Chapter Seven. A Gathering Storm

 

The rain was gaining in strength as Karen Eversley drove away from the carpark where she had reunited Patrick with his car.  He would never know how much she had ached to issue the invitation that would mean, for her, there was no turning back.  It would have been so easy to take Patrick into her apartment, into her bed, into her life.  But no, the gulf that separated their backgrounds and the closeness of Tim’s impending visit prevented her.  She admonished herself even for thinking of it.  Class was the arbiter of all things, was it not?  Had her sister Suzanne not warned her?  The upper classes got their wealth by using people.  No matter how great your achievements, no matter how high you might fly, you would never be more than a servant in their eyes.  They would use you and move on.  Karen was resolved; her heart would not be used.

To the west a black horizon flickered dangerously, muttering to itself as it marshalled up its forces for a night of pillage and pain.  At this hour, the roads were already fairly clear of traffic, so Karen drove briskly but not extravagantly, which made the blue flashing lights in her mirror the more surprising.  With trepidation she told herself she had no reason to feel, she pulled over.

The policeman was young and in no mood to extend their interview.  Standing outside Karen’s lowered window, he was getting wet.

“See your licence, please?”

Karen ferreted – handbag, dashboard:  it was behind her sun visor.  “What’s this about, officer?”

“Licence.”

She waited while he scanned the document.  “Is this your name and current address?”

Karen was often forced to accept that her chosen profession incensed certain members of ‘the finest’.  This would not be the first time she was pulled over, or, she could be reasonably sure, the last;  yet something was nagging at the back of her mind, some little voice deep within her which answered in an undertone: ‘You know it is.’

“What’s this about?”

“Insurance?”

“Oh, come on!  Why have you pulled me over?”  Karen snatched her insurance certificate from her bag and thrust it at him.

“Are you aware your offside brake light isn’t working?”

“No, I’m not.  It was working this morning – I’m careful about these things.”

“Do you have a spare bulb?”

“No.  No, I don’t think I do.”  Her Dad had warned her: ‘Get yourself a little pack of spare bulbs, Karen.  They do break, you know’.

“Not careful enough, then.  Please park your car in the side road on your left and lock it securely.  Remove any valuables.  You can instruct your garage to replace the bulb in the morning.”

“What?”  Rain was clattering against the road.  As if on cue, a cannonade of thunder loosed into the heavens, almost overhead.  “How am I going to get home?”

“Not my concern, Miss Eversley. In these conditions, it’s unsafe for you to drive without proper lighting.  I’ll remain behind you until you’ve parked up.  Don’t attempt to drive the car again before a repair has been affected.  This is your ticket for the current offence – you’ll be summoned in due course.”

There was nothing else for it.  Biting back tears of fury, Karen quitted her car under the watchful eye of the constable, taking her camera with her as she stalked away.  She knew of a telephone box by the park gates where she might call a taxi.  It had been vandalized, the box jimmied open, the receiver cut from its cord. Left without that final hope, Karen resigned herself to walk the mile that would take her home – a mile she was usually glad to walk, passing as it did through Albert Park and along a path by the river – but today the river was in spate, running close to its retaining wall, foaming angrily.  Rain pummeled her, soaking through her clothing to her skin.  Above, Thor’s hammer struck with furious repetition.  Lightning leapt across the heavens in a manic dance.

Umbrellas ran past, hurrying home, scurrying to clear the rain-washed paths, leaving desertion and silence in their wake.  Soon the only sounds were those of rain bombing tarmac and the Caley’s roar as it savaged the confinement of its banks.  Karen should have been alone; a solitary walker in the park.  Yet for all the noise that might have drowned them, another’s steps beat through the rain’s rhythm clearly, steadily, heavily, distant at first but coming closer – closer with every second.  Someone was behind her, and they were walking fast.  She could not see them without turning, dared not turn, but they were catching up! The sky was black now, enforcing night until lightning tore it open; a jagged stab of vivid blue, a bang of impact.  Near – very near.

No clinging wetness could still the crawling ants of nerves on Karen’s skin.  Cold terror crept up her backbone.  They were close to her, those feet, no more than a dozen yards behind.  And now they slowed their pace, so mimicking her own step that they struck the pavement in unison, the clack of her heels in time with the deep thud of heavy boots.  Her heart was beating wildly, her lips dry despite the rain.

No more than thirty paces away Riverside Walk entered a passage where it passed beside the river, underneath Caleybridge High Street.  Karen knew she could not outdistance this menacing presence before they both entered the disguise of that deeper darkness; she should draw on her training and make a guard.  She decided.  Screwing up all her courage, she stopped in mid-stride, made the half-crouch that would keep her centre of gravity low, and she turned.

They were face to face.  He was dark and angry, the man.  The long coat he wore hung open, exposing pale flesh, naked to the waist.  His long hair fell about features made noble and shining by the rain.  His feet stormed the ground, clawing into the earth they walked upon and he did not cease his tread but continued to advance upon her.  She saw the brooding fury in his eyes, sensed the cold depths of his soul.  All training forgotten, she froze in those eyes, felt rather than heard the little cry that escaped her lips.

“No!  Oh no!”

And then he was upon her.  His hands were snatching at hers; his breathing was a hot gale in her face.  Long fingernails clawed into her skin, powerful arms drew at her.  His eyes, now hidden, must have shown his hatred if only she could have seen – but she did not have to see.  She knew his stare was frozen death and she smashed at it.  She swung her camera like a whip, heard it crack and crumple into his head, hitting she knew not what, or where.  And in the moment when he cried – the moment when he released his grip to clutch at his pain she screamed, and she ran.

She ran, not through the dark passage, but into the cascade of the storm, up wet, slipping steps to the black gleam of the High Street, the bright displays of the shop windows, the sanctuary of those few, who like her, were still abroad in the pounding rain.  A small group of forlorn teenagers watched her morosely as she splashed by, still clutching her camera’s shattered remains, whimpering to herself like a terrified dog.  An elderly couple reflected her horror.  A police car drove past the end of the street.  And she ran, and ran until she could run no more.  Only then did she dare to look back.  No-one was following her.  She had met with the Angel of Death and somehow she had been spared.  Outraged tears mingled with the rain on her cheeks.  A trickle of blood ran down her fingers.

“Lord above what’s happened to you, lassie?”  Karen’s mother was scandalized, most probably because Karen was dripping on her hall carpet.  “What have you done to your hand?”

“I slipped,”  Karen said, knowing better than to elaborate.  “It’s not too bad, just needs a bandage.  The worst of it is I broke my camera.  I was going to go back to my place, but you were nearer.”  She told her mother about the incident with the policeman, extracting her father’s first and only contribution to her welcome, shouted from the lounge where he was watching television.

“I told yer to get some bulbs!”

A full half-hour of explanations had elapsed before she was able to throw off her sodden clothes, dress the claw marks on her wounded hand and lie back in a warm bath.  That was when anger – cold anger – replaced the fear.  An obdurate young constable with his unsympathetic attitude had put her in harm’s way and she was not prepared to forgive:  she was ready to burst with the injustice she felt.

This mood was not improved by a telephone conversation with her garage the following day.  “There’s nothing wrong with your brake-lights; I’ve been up to have a look at them this morning – they’re working perfectly.”

“Really?  Look, Fergus, can you give me that in writing?  And an extra copy of your bill, if you would?”

Karen was made to wait ten minutes before the desk sergeant, a red-faced giant with a nose applied to his visage like a lump of pumice, acknowledged her presence.  “Yes, Miss, can I help you?”

“Yes, you can.  My name is Eversley – one of your officers deprived me of my right to drive my car last night?  He forced me to walk home in a thunderstorm.  You’ll have a record, of course?”

“I suppose we will.  Will you give me a moment to check up?”

“No.  I’ve given you enough moments.  I’ll make sure you get a letter from my garage verifying that the brake lights on my car were not faulty, as he suggested.  You’ll also get my garage bill, a bill from my cleaners, and personal billing for my time.  Oh, and I will be consulting solicitors, given the mental distress involved.  Your officer placed me in harm’s way.  I was assaulted and I was hurt.  See that any charges are dropped, will you?”

“I don’t know we can guarantee anything.  Your vehicle might have been subject to an intermittent fault.”

“It wasn’t.  If it was, prove it.”

“Miss Eversley!”  The desk sergeant’s voice was suddenly harsh.  “You’re a private dick, aren’t you?”

Karen glared at him.  “So?”

“Things can get rough, in your job, can’t they?” The sergeant leered.  “I mean, if you’re like most of your sort you’ll be the first to come running to us when there’s a bit of trouble.  If you take my advice…”

“Are you going to give me advice next?  Look, save it.  Right now I can’t summon up enough hypocrisy to even pretend I’m listening to you.”

She left before she could allow her tongue to deliver the tirade that was boiling within, remembering in time that the desk sergeant was right.  In her work she needed the cooperation, or at least the forbearance of the police, no matter how little she respected the attitude and conduct of the lower ranks.  Vincent Carmody, Chief Constable of the County, was on record as advocating ‘low profile police presence’, which Karen had always assumed to mean laziness.  Suzanne had briefed her concerning Carmody in the past.  “He gets most of his policy from the bottom of a whisky glass.  The rest comes from his handshake.”

Karen understood her sister’s meaning completely.  The handshake was a means of recognition between Freemasons.  Almost anyone above the rank of Sergeant in the County Police knew that handshake.  It was a prerequisite for promotion.

The post greeted her in an untidy, soggy heap on the office mat.  In heavy rain the door leaked, leaving a small pool for her fresh paperwork to mop up in the morning.  She had to get a letterbox fitted, she told herself for the umpteenth time.

There were no surprises that day:  an update on an insurance scam from a local company, a price enquiry for a domestic matter and a wedge of leaflets from a local food mart.  Nothing entertaining, but the kind of activity which kept the wolf from the door and her mind off tall long-haired men.  Fergus brought her car keys and paperwork promptly at eleven.

“Those bulbs should last twice that long.  Nothing wrong with them, nothing at all.”

The rain had cleared overnight, Karen’s hand was smarting and she needed diversion, so she locked the office and headed out with two photographs in her hand – one of Gavin Woodgate and one of Anna Parkinson.

Whatever else Karen was to learn in the next forty-eight hours, she would discover that in a small town where everybody knew everybody else, absolutely no-one knew either of her missing persons.  Neither the owner of the Numismatists’ and Stamp Collectors’ shop on High North Street nor the secretary of Caleybridge Train-Spotters’ Club (yes, there was one!) had heard of Gavin Woodgate.

“No, never seen him.  Not on Caleybridge Station, anyways.”  Cedric Melkin frowned.  “Mind you, he could have gone to Baronchester West.  A lot of them do go there.”

Trading her heels for flat, comfortable walking shoes Karen trod the pavements for an entire afternoon, touring the coffee bars, the Trocadero, a haunt on Fernley Street known as Jimmy’s, and a few others in the lower town.  Wherever she went, her questions were met by blank stares, a sprinkling of the usual come-ons, or emphatic denials.  As night clouds gathered she took her car and kerb-crawled the pavement on Lower Bridge Street.

“Hello babe, my name’s Kathy, fancy a bit of action, do yer?”  Karen heard a hand try the car door but she’d covered that one.  The door was locked and she kept her finger on the button, so the girl rested a skinny arm on her door-sill.  She was no more than a wasted sixteen, in a plunge-necked blue mini-dress, she scarcely filled.  “You should let me in, darlin’.  I can do yer real nice, yeah?  We’d be good together, you an’ me.”  Her breath stank of cheap tobacco and her hair was dark auburn; either because she had dyed it that way, or because it hadn’t been washed in a week.  Her two friends leant against the bridge wall behind her as if their thin flamingo legs wouldn’t support them anymore, giggling knowingly.

“I want your help.”  Karen tried.  “You can all help me.  Did any of you know Anna?  Anna Parkinson?”

Kathy’s eyes narrowed:  “Might do.”  She said.  “Lookin’ for a special, are yer luv?  I can do it for yer.”

“No.  Just information.”

“Oh.”  Kathy nodded, grimaced.  “Just information, yeah?  Worth money, information.”

“Knowledge is power.”  Her friend added helpfully.

“Okay.”  Karen was tired.  She wanted to go home.  “How much?”

“How much yer got?”

“I’ve been this road before,”  Karen told her.  “If you know Anna, you can describe her for me.”  She hadn’t shown the girl the photograph, yet, and now she wasn’t about to.

A hand was thrust in the window, palm outstretched.  The bare arm behind it was dotted with puncture scars.  “Give us twenty and I’ll describe ‘er for yer.”

“Look, I want to help her.”

“Yeah, bollocks.  What are you, the filth?  Fuck off, darlin’.  You’re interferin’ with trade.”

Karen knew better than to pursue it further.  Glad she had decided to remain in gear, she drove away quickly, letting Kathy deal with her intrusive arm and fast enough to avoid the coke can thrown by her friend.  She couldn’t resist glancing back in her mirror to see Kathy standing, legs astride and arms akimbo, like a spider whose fly had just escaped its web – mouthing words at Karen’s departing car she was sure she would not care to hear.

That evening she screwed up her courage enough to return to her apartment.  She checked the road several times – there was no sign of the man in the leather coat.  One more thing was needed to complete her day.  She called Pamela Woodgate.

“Miss Eversley?  Oh yes, Norman told me he’d asked you to look for Gavin.  How can I help?”

“There’s just one or two questions.  I’d like to meet you personally.  That way I’ll get closer to Gavin?”

She arranged to call at The Woodgates’ house in High Pegram the next afternoon, which would be Friday.  She was meeting Pat at The Huntsman on the evening, and Tim would be on his way from London.  It was shaping up to be a crowded weekend.

Time snapped at Karen ’s heels as she set out for High Pegram on the Friday afternoon.  In a way she found the pressure of a schedule invigorating, and she might have admitted to a frisson of excitement at the prospect of meeting Patrick again, so she drove with quick precision as she navigated the country lane that would lead her to Gavin Woodgate’s home village.  Almost too quickly, in fact, to notice a signpost half-buried in the wilderness of summer flora that brimmed from the hedgerow, its arm pointing into a narrow gap on her left.

Karen had driven almost a further hundred yards before she realized what was written on the sign, so faded were its letters. But as soon as her head had interpreted them she braked hard.  ‘Boulter’s Green’ – of course! This was the road upon which, according to her information, Gavin Woodgate and Anna Parkinson, were last seen!  She reversed and parked, alighting from her car to give the gap a closer inspection.  It was, as Patrick’s map had promised, the beginning of a cart-track, its margins so heavily overgrown as to reduce it to the width of a footpath in places.  Other than its unkempt state, there was little that was distinctive about the track.  There were fields under cultivation to either side of it, and the hedges that bordered it were high, so she could see no further than the point where it breasted the next hill.  Boulter’s Green was obviously a long walk, one which she had not the time to undertake that afternoon.

She was about to turn away when she noticed the white of a peeling wooden sign buried in a tangle of bindweed and briar.  Careful of thorns, she parted the overgrowth, revealing all that was left of a name with which someone, sometime, had tried to label the track.  The sign said:  ‘Nowhere Lane’.

 

© 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

 

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

 

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

“Did you tell them?”

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

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

She did not answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sue, no!”

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

“Sue…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was at home in bed, I expect.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye.  Wasn’t me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know  the address 32 Lampeter Drive?”

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

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

“I said…”

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

“No!  No I didn’t!”

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head.  “I don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But?”

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So your mind’s made up, like?”

“It is.  It was made up for me.”

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

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

“Now then, Spakker!”

“Now, Trev.  You alright, man?”

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

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

“Aye, it does.”

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

“Aye.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

Betrayal

Crow“So, what d’you fink?”  The crow is back on the lamp post outside my window.  It is his third visit this morning, but the air outside is still cold so I have been pretending to ignore him.

“About what?”  I ask, through my grudgingly opened casement.

“This, mate.  This!”

I stare cluelessly at him for a moment while he turns to face me, then away, and finally perches on one leg with his shoulders hunched and his head lowered.  At last I comprehend.  He is posing.   “Very nice!”  I try to sound enthusiastic.

“Nice?  Nice?  Do you know how long this took me?  Look at them fevvers!  Look at that shine!  Sex on wings, mate, that’s me.  Irresistible, in’ I?”

“You look very…”  I grope for a word…”personable.”

“Personable?”  I have ruffled those magnificent feathers.  “No, mate, I ain’t like no person.  Not like a person at all.”

I have neglected to remember the world outside is heavily engaged in the machinations of Spring.  Cherry blossom is on the bough, clouds are white and fluffy, and there is romance in the air.

“So, you’re going courting?”  I say.  “I thought you guys were supposed to be monogamous?”

Crow fixes me with a reproachful eye.  “You ‘ave to do that, don’t yer?”

“Do what?”

“Remind me!  Listen, mate.   One lot of kids – out the way.  They’re gone.  Me, I been workin’ me beak off fetchin’ an’ carryin’, stuffin’ the little buggers wiv’ anything I can find just to keep their crops full.  Now they’re big enough to do their own stuffing, and I got four days – five if I’m lucky – ‘fore it’s all twigs and mud again; know what I mean?”  He refers to the next clutch of eggs, of course.  I nod my understanding.

“See, it’s not jus’ me, is it?  You should see ‘er!  She’s down the playing fields hoppin’ around wiv that chuffin’ chough from Number Three Elm, makin’ out like she’s just two again.  She’s been comin’ home wiv ‘er tail fevvers in a ruck for a week!  It’s disgustin’, that’s what it is!”

This drift in our conversation is making my crow agitated.  He is stamping his feet on the top of his lamp-post perch and pecking the plastic cover repeatedly.  “How do I know whose chicks I’m goin’ to be slavin’ over next month?  Do you know what chough eggs look like?”

I admit that I don’t.  “You’re concerning yourself unnecessarily.  I’m not sure what you’re suggesting is even possible.” I stop myself from chuckling, because my friend is obviously a soul in torment, caught in a very human dilemma.

“Maybe you do need some recreation.”  I say, more to placate him than anything else.  “What will you do with your four days?  Do you have a seduction plan?”

Again I am treated to that askance look.  “If yer mean am I goin’ to pull – too right!   I’m off down Carter’s Farm this very mornin’, I am.  They’re sowin’ the twelve acre, aren’t they?  Twelve acres of hedge to hedge talent, mate – you wouldn’t believe!”

“Mind you don’t get your beak caught in the drill.”  I warn him sardonically.  “Aren’t you getting a little mature for this?”

“Are you talkin’ about my age again?  Here, watch this.”  Crow launches himself from the top of the lamppost, executes a near vertical climb, then an immaculate stall turn, which he recovers with vigorous wing flapping.  Just as suddenly, he turns the ascent into a nose dive, wings near-folded, only to convert into a banked turn a few inches from the ground.  To complete this curious demonstration of corvid aerobatics, he does an upward swoop, landing back on the lamp-post with elegant precision.  “Does that look ‘old’ to yer?  Does it?”   His wing is dragging a little and clearly hurts him.  He stabs it with his beak in annoyance.  “In me prime, mate.  In me prime.”

I give him a twisted smile, with as much of my face as remains unfrozen by that inclement morning breeze.   “You’re not really going to cheat on your wife.”  I tell him.  “You’re dreaming.  Those young birds would laugh at you.”

“Nah.”

“Pardon?”

“Nah.  Alright?  Nah, I’m not goin’ to cheat on ‘er!  She’d peck me ‘ead in, she would.  I’d lose me tree rights.  I’m a territorial, I am!  I got a nest site, I have – and a good one, too!  I’m respected!  See what I mean?”

I do see.  The winter has been mild, leaving a sky full of spring survivors, and only a few of those young birds will be able to breed because there is simply insufficient space.  The older ‘territorial’ birds will monopolise the breeding as they always do.  But there will be squabbling and fights.

“So you intend to seduce some poor young innocent into thinking you’ll settle down and have chicks with her, when all you really want to do is ruffle her feathers?”

The crow pauses to consider my euphemism for a second.   “Fink so, that’s about it.”

“If that isn’t cheating, I don’t know what is.  I’m ashamed of you!”

“Yeah, but….”   He looks at me uneasily.  “What do we do it for, eh?  I mean, what do us males get out of it?”

I am flattered by this inclusion.  I find myself briefly checking to make sure I am displaying no feathers of my own.  “Us?”   I try to answer truthfully.  “What does anybody get out of it?  Nothing, I guess – maybe a kindred spirit to cleave to when the wind blows; maybe another voice in the silence.  Perhaps that isn’t the way to think of it.  We don’t do it for ourselves, do we?  We do it for our children.  It’s what they get out of it that counts.”   Trying a smile, I add:  “And a few precious moments following the seed drill on Carter’s Farm.”

My crow is suddenly still.   “But then yer chicks grow up, don’t they?  And that’s us left chasing dreams.  An’ every summer is a summer less, and suddenly there’s no chicks anymore, and we can’t fly as high as we did, or as fast.  An’ sometime we have to stop, and ask ourselves really, what was it all about?”

I find I cannot answer.  To try to do so would be to confront my own broken dreams, and in my own defence I must close that portal or it will consume me; so, with sadness, I reach up to the window sash, to gently pull it closed.  As I do so, I catch the eye of my crow watching me, sharing my thoughts, exposing my innermost dread.    I might almost imagine his sigh, but of course, that is impossible.  With a graceful shift of balance the bird takes flight, away into the grey morning, and away from me.

In my heart I know I will never see him again.