Page 15 of 16

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirteen. Radley Court

The Day Room in Caleybridge Hospital was a twilight affair of clinical leather and faded colours, which Karen, still shaken after her most recent encounter with the malevolent dark man, would scarcely notice.  She had allowed herself to be driven here by Paul Wheeler, whose girlfriend Gabrielle, Patrick’s sister, had explained the events of the morning.  Now, when the ward door opened and Patrick entered the room she had to restrain an urge to rush into his arms and beg forgiveness for all her negative thoughts.  He limped towards her gamely, the very image of walking wounded; his head bandaged and his left cheek yellowed by a developing bruise.

“Why the limp.  Have they amputated?”  She asked him kindly, feeling so glad to see him she wanted to laugh her delight.

“Oh, twisted it slightly, apparently.  It’s nothing – not important.  I’m sorry I couldn’t make our lunch date – they wouldn’t let me out, and the ‘phones in here are hopeless.  Do you hate me?”

“Only a little.  I thought you’d ditched me. Gabby told me someone else was hurt; is she…”

“Jacqui; she’s a colleague.  It’s quite serious, I’m afraid.  Fractured skull – they had to operate straight away to relieve pressure on her brain.  I’ve just been up to try to see her, but she hasn’t regained consciousness yet.  Whoever they were, they were aiming for me, not her.  I’m the one who normally enters the Conference Room first.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“Why?  It isn’t your fault.  Paul and Gabby came in to see me – nearest relatives, and stuff – so I asked them to tell you what happened.   And now you’ve come, so that’s one better!”

“They brought me – actually, they rescued me.  They’re waiting downstairs in the lobby.  Gabby seems to think we need a conference:  are you up to it?”

“Up to it?  Foolish woman, of course I’m up to it.  What do you mean, ‘rescued you’?”

As they walked – in Patrick’s case quite gingerly – to join Gabby and Paul, Karen related her adventure of the previous hour.  Patrick was grave.  “You were lucky, the way things turned out.  If those two had been ten minutes later…”

“I would have had to deal with him myself!”  Karen told him brightly.  “He’s only a sad old perv, you know!”

“Yeah,”  Patrick acknowledged.  “I’ve met him, remember?  Old pervs seem to be quite large and lively these days. Paul and I were talking about things this afternoon.  You have to think of something to discuss in visiting hours, or the silence can become deafening.”

They had negotiated an elevator and reached the end of a corridor which opened out into the hospital lobby where, true to their word, Paul and Gabrielle were waiting.

“Talking about what, Pat?”  Karen asked.  “Explain?”

“You haven’t told her yet!”  Gabrielle accused.

“I was about to.  Karen, it’s time you met our parents.  We want you to come and stay with us for a few days.”

Even the thought filled Karen with alarm.  “No, Pat!  Your parents don’t know me!  I’ve got nothing..”

Pat grinned.  “Nothing to wear?  Yes, Karen, you’re coming.   Gabby’s already cleared it with the olds and they agree.  Come as you are.  You look a damned sight better than I do at the moment, anyway.”

“That isn’t the point!  Don’t I have a say in this?  What if I choose not to turn my back on my entire case load…”

“Look, love, whoever’s after you, they mean business.  It’s dangerous for you here!  You must see that – especially after today’s attacks.”

“Attacks?  Are you connecting my stalker with what happened to you?  Why?”

“He won’t tell you,” Paul cut in,  “But you need to know.  He was warned to stay away from you.”

“Thanks a bunch, Paul!” Patrick said heavily.  “I wasn’t going to tell her that.” He explained to Karen,  “Someone left a note on my car the night you dropped me off at the office car park?”

“The night of the storm – the night Mr. Nasty attacked me.  You think the note was his?”

Patrick grinned, a lopsided grin that refused to spread to his bruised cheek.  “Is that what we’re calling him now?  He was around, I suppose,”  He glanced significantly at Paul.  “But we think there’s more than one person involved in this.”

Karen was distraught:  “Oh, Pat, if I accept your invitation he – or they – might come after me. I can’t put your family in danger!”

Patrick shook his head.  “You’ll be out of town and there’s no reason anyone should find out where you’ve gone.  You’ll have us around you, and we’ll have space to get this sorted out.  I mentioned Mum was a solicitor, didn’t I?  Well, she wants to get her teeth into this, and she’s longing to meet you. Accept it, love, it’s a fait accompli, really it is.  We leave here, we get my car, we drive.”

To say Karen harbored doubts would be complete understatement.  Apart from her natural tendency to rebel when anybody tried to organize her life, she was genuinely more afraid, at that point, of encountering Pat’s mother and father than of anything the sinister leather-clad man might do to her.  Now, though, she had Pat’s safety to consider as well as her own. It would be nice, at least, to find a place where she could sleep peacefully, and Pat was clearly disinclined to accept no for an answer. “Are you supposed to drive, after what you’ve been through?”  She asked, lamely.  “No concussion, no after-effects?”

“I’m fine.”

“They wanted him to stay in overnight,” Gabrielle confided.  “He’s colossally stubborn.”

“I’m fine!  This place is full of mods and rockers – seems like it was a fine weekend for a punch-up in Harterport. ”

“I’ll have to go back to the apartment, get a few things.”

“I don’t believe that would be wise.”

“Seriously?  Pat…”

“Karen, I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life.  We should get you out of town, and it needs to be now.  Gabby’ll stump up with anything you lack.  Her resources are endless.”

“Absolutely!”  Gabrielle agreed.  “Bulgy wardrobes-full of stuff!”

 

#

The right turn from the Halminster Road led into a lane lined by tall trees; parkland beeches, oak and plane interspersed with the occasional heraldic spear of larch, all garbed in their bright, optimistic green of burgeoning summer and stirred regally by a light westerly breeze.  There was still a month before maturity would add the first blues to the palette; a month more of darker glory before September winds breathed among those aldermanic boughs, inducing them to creak in conversation among themselves, hold a council and decide upon the onset of winter.

For now, though, the evening sun was warm and the air in Karen’s face was a blessing.  Patrick’s hand, playing dangerously with her leg, kept her from too obvious a display of nerves if only because he needed constant reminders to pay attention to his driving.  Without these distractions she would have resembled a jelly, for this was the encounter she dreaded:  she was visiting the Hallcrofts at home.

The Hallcroft-Smythes.  She couldn’t erase the hyphen from her mind.  Or the ‘y’.

Each time she glanced across at Patrick her head filled afresh with those nagging doubts: somehow he had slipped into her not-so-well-ordered life with quiet ease; and comfortable as she might allow herself to be, dreaming along in such style, she had to prove to herself that she could face Pat’s perceived danger alone, that for all there was something very  compelling in the way he was taking charge of her, she could not become his cipher.  Whatever the risk, she must be ready to face it, and if necessary, face it alone.

“I’m stronger than I look, Pat.”  She shouted above the wind.

“Yes, Karen, you are.  What brought that on?”

“I need to prove it, I think.  How’s that head?”

“Still attached.  Am I going to pass out while I’m driving, do you mean?  No.  Do you want to drive?”

“Drive your pride and joy – your other woman?  Heavens no!  I do kind of like you in a bandage.  You look very buccaneering.”

“I lack both eye-patch and parrot, I’m afraid.”

And then she saw it: Radley Court.  Only a glimpse at first, of grey-green stone among trees: “Oh, Patrick.  That isn’t it!  Please tell me that isn’t it?”

The Daimler’s nose swung between banks of flossy rhododendron bushes and through a pair of high wrought iron gates.  Acres of manicured lawn spread itself before her; amid which sprawled a two-storey Georgian pile, its high windows frowning down upon her beneath their pediments as if intrusion from riff-raff such as herself was unforgiveable.  Wheels crunched on pea beach gravel luxurious as a carpet; a carpet for cars, she thought, beginning to wish she had worn jewellery.  The engine echoed back to her from those walls, the porticoed entrance doors loomed like some dark temptation of the Bunyan mind.

“I can’t go in there!”

“Why not?”

“I’m in jeans!  I should have worn something more suitable.  What on earth are they going to think of me?”

“’They’ will think you look perfect in jeans!”  Patrick squeezed her hand.  “Come on, darling, Mum and Dad aren’t that terrifying, honestly!”

As if something within the soul of the old house had heard Karen’s cries, the sombre mood was shattered by a fusillade of excited yelping.  A large Golden Labrador dog came bursting from the front doors like a badly-aimed torpedo and flew across the driveway towards them.

“Oh hell!”  Patrick exclaimed.  “I hope you like dogs!”

She just had time to say “You know I do” before this dog launched herself at the car and, in a feat she had clearly practiced often, landed with fuss and noise upon the tonneau cover.  Thereafter speech was almost impossible, because a very long tongue was enthusiastically washing Karen’s face.

“She answers to Petra – sometimes.”  Patrick said, by way of introduction.

Scarcely had Patrick driven the car into a parking position before Paul and Gabrielle, in Paul’s car, crunched onto the forecourt behind them.   A tall, greying man in a frayed maroon pullover and ancient cord trousers appeared atop the flight of steps that led up to those grand front doors, his face broken by a broad smile.

“That’s Dad.  He’s been gardening.”

Karen cast an eye over the wide expanse of manicured lawn, the elegantly planted flowerbeds.  “He’s been busy.”

“Oh, we have gardeners.  Dad just likes to mess around.”

Karen suppressed  another inner groan.  She was beginning to feel quite light-headed.

Petra had changed allegiances with a single bound and now sat at Gabrielle’s side as if she had always been there.  “Karen, darling!  You look awfully pale.  Are you ailing, or has Patrick’s driving finally cracked your nerve?”

The tall man descended the steps in slow, steady strides.  “Hello.  You must be Karen.  I’ve heard a lot about you, lately, young lady.”

“Dad, Karen.  Karen, my Dad.”  Patrick said over his shoulder as he ferreted for his briefcase in the back of his car.  “It’s alright, Karen, you can ignore him if you like.”

Mild blue lagoons of eyes met Karen’s embarrassed look and drew her deep.  Perhaps her impression of this man, drawn so far from Patrick’s affectionately disparaging description, had led her to expect a super-salesman;  a smooth talker who had risen in his chosen industry by his gift of the gab – a success pedlar; a showman.  The real Jackson Hallcroft was as far from that.  Behind the hypnosis of those eyes was several fathoms of intellect, a warm sea of wisdom that flowed gently to its shore – never intrusive, never loud, yet utterly absorbing.  She saw in the father all she adored in the son, and her legs went from under her.  She fumbled.  “Hello Mr. Hallcroft;” She blurted hopelessly; “I hope you  don’t mind my staying here..I mean, because Patrick’s very special to me, and I…that is, thank you for taking me in.”

What made her say that?  All too aware of Gabrielle’s stifled giggle, she rushed to cover herself:  “Patrick didn’t tell me you were American.”

Patrick was behind  her.  “He isn’t.  He’s Canadian.  Didn’t I say?  I should have.”

But Jackson Hallcroft merely smiled:  “You’re welcome, Karen.  I sincerely hope you’re going to take this young man off our hands.  I was beginning to despair.”

“We all were!”  Gabrielle chipped in.  “Come on inside, you two.  Paul wants to challenge Patsy on the Scalextric.”

Your mother’s anchored to a queen’s pudding in the kitchen.”  Jackson said informatively.  “Gabby, maybe you and Karen here might attempt a rescue?”

“Oh super, yes!”  Gabrielle took her cue, “ You simply must be introduced, sweetie.”  She squeezed Karen’s arm and added, in a much lower voice:  “And you can tell me about your wedding plans.”

Mortified, Karen shielded a scarlet blush behind her hands.  “Whatever have I said? ”

“Nothing!  You’ve been through a lot, you’re exhausted.  The rest is something Daddy does, darling.  It’s a gift – he does it to everyone, so don’t worry!  Anyway,” Gabby grinned; “it was rather sweet!  I should warn you, though; I think Patsy heard.”

Within the double main doors,  Radley Court’s baronial hall asserted its cool authority, a long central chamber richly carpeted in green which ran from the front to the rear of the house.  Oak panelled walls lined either side, drawing Karen’s eyes to a wide staircase which dominated the further end.  Lit by tall stained glass windows, this ascended to a mezzanine at first floor level.  Above, if she could crane her neck so far without falling over, a severe, ornately plastered ceiling presided.

For all its initial impression of austerity and patronage – so oppressive it brought a whimper to Karen’s throat – Radley Court had a character which made it very much a home.  Petra’s toys:  a rubber ring, a squiggly thing of interlaced rubber, a bright yellow plastic bone and other miscellaneous pieces of flotsam were scattered about an expensive green carpet, which also hosted a black loop of Scalextric track at which Paul already knelt in an attitude of prayer.

He waved informally.  “Excuse my rudeness, I was just getting the hang of this thing before Patsy got himself bludgeoned!  No!  No, Petra!”

Anxious to join in, Petra had neatly plucked Paul’s slot car from a speedy corner and brought it helpfully, tail wagging, to Karen.  Paul grinned apologetically.  “Come on, Pat, I’ll take advantage of your condition and thrash you this time.  Sorry Karen – going to borrow him for a minute.  Oh, and please Miss, can I have my car back?”

In the brief time Karen knew him, she would learn to like Paul Wheeler immensely.  He was perhaps a year or so older than Gabrielle and taller too with a head that seemed so large and heavy it gave him a stoop.  When he was seated he would often support that head, as though his neck was not up to the task unaided.  She would remember the firm clasp of his handshake, the earnest intensity in those searching grey eyes and the curious femininity of his long, curled eyelashes.  He spoke with a regional drawl that lilted pleasingly.  It was easy to see how Gabrielle might love him, and it was very evident that she did.

“This is going to end in tears.”  Gabrielle commented, as Pat grabbed a hand control and stiffly joined Paul in sitting on the floor.  “Come and meet Mum.”

At the right-hand corner of the hall, shaded by the stairs, was an imposing oak door.  “Kitchen.”  Gabrielle said informatively, grabbing the brass handle and swinging the door back.

The room thus revealed was, of course, roughly the size of Karen’s entire apartment.  She had expected no less.  Neither was she surprised by the large centre table, the long reaches of beech worktop or the imposing Aga range in a cavernous fireplace at the further end.  She was confronted by walls painted raging red, and mildly taken aback at the chaos: scattered plates, scattered food, spilt flour, errant pools of liquid, a faint but unmistakable burnt smell, the hapless waving of an open Aga door.  The one absent ingredient was Gabrielle’s mother, who, in Karen’s opinion, had justifiably abandoned ship.  Not so.

“Oh f***!  Bloody f***ing f*** and bugger!  Gabs, is that you?”  The voice, in a falsetto of panic, came from behind the table.

“Yes, Mumsy.”

“Thank christ!  Come and help me, would you?”  The figure of a woman, disarranged in every way, rose into view.  Wild-eyes took in Karen, and said profoundly:  “Oh, bollocks.  Is this…?”

“Mother dear, this is Karen.”  Gabrielle gave Karen’s arm a quick squeeze, then rushed to her mother’s aid.  “Oh, Mumsy, I told you not to attempt it!”

In a moment of some poignancy, mother and daughter stood side by side, staring down.  Mother smiled bravely.  “I could slide something underneath, don’t you think?”

She came to greet Karen, wiping hands rich in ingredients.  “Hello, Karen.  How nice to meet you!  You must forgive my language, but as you see, I’m cooking.”

Gwendoline Hallcroft, Karen would quickly learn, was the sort of woman who threw herself body and soul into every undertaking.   Brown hair, just on the edge of auburn, flecked with flour and possibly several specks of egg yolk, fell in disorder to her shoulders.  Framing a facethat was probably beautiful, with awestruck eyes set beneath thin, arching eyebrows so fine they seemed almost white.  A refined nose twitched with her smile; the big, all-consuming smile of a mouth that was wide and sensual.  Her pinafore, which in better days had advertised Paignton Zoo, disguised a combination of green sweater and jeans.  She was large, inelegant in stature, a big boned woman; but she exuded honesty and Karen took to her at once.

“Christ, what must you think of me?  I cuss like a bloody sailor, I’m afraid.  Do make yourself at home, Karen dear, while I prepare dinner.  Gabs, take Karen to see the horses.”

“Well, there.  You’ve experienced all of us now, Karen.”  Gabrielle said as she led the way out of the back door of the kitchen on their way to the stables.  “Except Sprog, of course.”

“Sprog?”

“Yes.  Didn’t Patsy tell you?  Sprog – our little sister Amanda – is pajama-partying with a school friend.”  Gabrielle wrinkled her nose in mock distaste.  “She won’t be missed.”

“Shouldn’t I help out in the kitchen?  Your mum seemed a little…”

Gabrielle laughed.  “Overwhelmed?  Yes, she is, totally.  It’s alright, though.  Mrs. Beatty will be in soon.”

“Mrs. Beatty?”

“Of course.  You didn’t think we looked after this ghastly heap all by ourselves, did you?  We have the two ‘B’s.  Mrs. Beatty and Mrs. Buxham keep us in order – and sane.  Mrs. Beatty does the cooking.  She’ll clear all that up and have a meal ready within the hour.  Marvellous woman – I don’t know how she does it!  Oh lord, do you realise I only met you three hours ago?  I feel as though I’ve known you all my life!  I do hope we’ll be friends, Karen, I really do!”

 

© 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 Fifteen – Clouds across a Mirror

 

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“Mack and Martin, they go way back.”

I had discovered my father eating breakfast in the lounge bar of ‘The Black Horse’.  He leaned over the table toward me, confidentially.  “It’s a business relationship no-one talks about, son.  Not out loud, anyways.  Best ter keep it that way.”

I didn’t pursue the subject further because I construed my father’s words to mean both men had their toes dipped in the subterranean rivers of petty corruption that dominated politics in any northern town.  As a councillor, Mackenzie Crabtree would have been party to the mutual back-slapping culture that determined how the plummiest council contracts were awarded.  Martin Berry, a substantial employer in the area might have sheltered from the financial rain under a council umbrella from time to time, too.  It was more than possible Mack was one of those holding the umbrella.

My father nodded down towards my leg.  “Did yer go ter t’ ‘ospital, son?”

“No,”  I told him.  The wound inflicted by the slashing iron bar wasn’t serious.   “It’ll take care of itself.  Did you hear any more?”

“Nah.  Likely we won’t; an alibi would do no harm, though.  So I were at your’s las’ night, and I comed straight back ‘ere.”

“Aye, you did.  And the weather were that bad we stayed in, all evening.”  I watched him making steady work of a generous slice of black pudding.  “Da’, are you going to look in on Mam before you go back?”

“Nah.”  His answer was stifled by a mouthful.  “Ah don’t hate Mary no more, but I’ve nothin’ ter say to ‘er, man. Ah’m well away.  Ah’ve no wish ter open old wounds.”

“Tell me what happened to you two, Da’?  I never understood, y, kna?”

My father glanced around him.  “Why would you?  You was just a kid, like.  There’s too many ears around ‘ere.  Lerrus finish this off and wor’ll tak’ a walk, awreet?”

And we did, but once out of doors I saw how quickly the cold got to him, so we went back to my apartment together, where I made him coffee and stirred the fire back to life.  Then he told me his story.

“Mary, she were always the showy one, y’kna, when we was at school together?  Mack and me, we both fancied her, like, but it were me who won her, an’ I thought she were a real honey, in them days.  I was so young!

“Anyways, I got a good job at Pinder’s Castings, up on the old Carrow Road Estate, and Mack, he went to college for his trades.  We was good friends, I thought.  Us used to go out drinking together, go to each other’s parents’ homes, everything.  And when I was twenty I married Mary,”  My father laughed.  “Mack were my best man.”

“Shelley, she were there all the time.  Us knew ‘er from school too, and she were a nice girl, but Mack had never seemed interested, y’kna?   Then Shelley’s Ma’ and Da’ were killed in that motor crash on the West Wood road and he got canny interested then!  They left her a hunderd thousan’ pound!  I remember ‘im sayin’:  ‘I’m havin’ that!’ and he did.  He married ‘er that Autumn.  From then on, ever’thing changed.”

“So he married Shelley just for her money…”

“I’d say so, aye.  And her family house, ‘cause that had belonged to her parents’ too.  Within a year, Mack’s got ‘e’s own business goin’ and the money’s flowin’ in, but I’m not envious ‘cause he’s Mack and he’s my friend, y’see?  And I’ve got a good job at Pinders’, wi’ promotions an’ that.  It were like that for about five-six years.  You would h’a been about five, I s’pose.  Then I went into work at Pinders’ on a Friday an’ the union rep. met us at the gate.  He told us we’d all been fired – Pinders’ was in receivership.”

“That must have been quite a blow.”

“It were.  Then there were another blow – because I had nowt to do that morning but go back ‘ome an’ when I did I found Mack in bed wi’ Mary.

“Jesus, Da’, what did you do?”

“Nowt, lad; what could I do?  I’m unemployed; we’ve got you, and Mary’s braying me telling me it’s my fault.  She won’t give up Mack, Mack won’t give up Shelley; what’s to do?  Well, in the end, like, when things calmed down, we did nowt for a couple o’ year.  It were on’y when Mack started pushin’ hisself to get on the council an’ he thought his opponents might make capital out of him for ‘e’s extra-maritals wi’ Mary  that he dropped her like a red hot brick.

“Oh, man, we was poor then!  I were workin’ ower in Maberley, but I were drinkin’ and I’d got hooked on the odd bet – the hosses, y’kna?  I know it weren’t right,but it were the strain, keepin’ up pretences with that woman.”

“Da!  Why didn’t you make Mack pay? I mean, he ruined your marriage and bloody nearly ruined you!  Don’t you think he owed us something?”

My father stared into his coffee.  “Blackmail, yer mean?  No, son, I couldn’t do that.  Ah’m not made for that.  Anyways, Mary wouldn’t have let me.   I could sting Mack for a bit o’ cash now and then, least for a while, ‘til he got fed up and reckoned he’d put enough distance between us.  Us even managed to remain friends, of a sort.  I think he felt guilty, y’kna?  Aye, I kna’ he felt that.  Mary, she had her own answers, didn’t she?  Turns out while I were away she were ‘entertaining’.  It were on’y now and again at first, then I started finding clues. Give ‘er credit, she’s very good at it, ‘pparently.  It were the last straw for me, that.

I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing.  “So the only ones left out of the loop were Shelley and me?”

“Aye.  Shelley didn’t find out; at least not then.  She must have done, eventual, I think.”  My father nodded, half to himself.  “Aye, she must ha’ found out.  And now you know.”

I was raised in a love triangle!  It made sense, now I thought back on the scraps of evidence I had collected for myself in those growing years.  “We were quite poor.  I remember Christmases when you couldn’t afford to get me presents.  Ma got me a bike, but she had to borrow off the Provvy.”

“Nah, it weren’t the Provvy.  I don’t know where she got that money from.  I was past askin’.”  My Da’ sighed.  “I couldn’t stay in the house and off the sauce, son.  My fault, that.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t blame yourself – I was wrong to blame you.  If I’d known…”  I left the sentence incomplete.  “I don’t understand why you didn’t leave much sooner:  I think I would have!”

“Yer don’t, though.  Yer want to bring up yer kid an’ yer want a home, so yer hang in there, an’ just hope it gets better, y’kna?”

“But still, you’ve found your way, now.”  I said.

“And I must be getting’ back to it.  So, it’s been grand, like – t’see yer again.  You’ve growed.  You’ve growed a lot.”

We hugged before we said goodbye, something I never thought I would do with my father.  As I watched him out of the door, looking old and ill, I thought of the hugs I’d missed, the times apart when we could have – should have – been together.  And it hurt.   Although he is long gone now, it still hurts.

I remember I had one more important thing to do that day, and if the wind had already stirred my sails for a new adventure, the spinnaker of my father’s story drove me into it with even greater determination.  In my case, though, the quest was on land and my fated voyage involved a trip to Bedeport on the ‘bus.  It meant I was departing from my bus stop at the end of The Avenue at about the same time my Da’ would have been boarding his train at Casterley Station, and because the main road and the railway line each kept company with the river as they made their way down the valley, I was able at one point to look out from the bus window and see the train as it ran alongside me.

It was late afternoon when I returned to Casterley.  An apologetic sun was creeping down to rest behind Burdlehope Hill at the end of an ineffectual day, pursued, in a desultory fashion, by evening cloud.    On Saturday our home match with Abberton conflicted with the Aintree Grand National, that infamous steeplechase which, unless the unseasonable weather released its hold, would reduce our crowd to practically zero.  I hated playing in front of sparse, disinterested spectators who loitered on the empty terraces where their only cure for boredom was violence, and their only motive for attendance was alcohol.  This had been a decade of bad crowd problems and pitch invasions in our beautiful game.  I had little doubt there would be trouble.

On the fifteenth of this month at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium ninety-six fans would be crushed to death and hundreds injured, caught between too much crowd pressure from the main gates on one side and a perimeter fence on the other.  It would lead to removal of the dangerous ‘crowd control’ fences and change a lot of thinking about traditional terraces, which ultimately I suppose was good for the game because it induced most well-supported clubs to install seating in their stands, as well as persuading the powers that be to call time on crowd hooliganism.

At times such as these in years to come I would be looking forward to a break – with maybe two or three matches left in the season I would be not so much tired as stale.  Casterley, however, approached their remaining games with affected boredom; scarcely bothering to train, arriving late for sessions, and leaving holiday brochures scattered about the dressing room.  To me this was ludicrous – we were within arms’ reach of promotion to a higher division – but I came to the conclusion I was the only one motivated towards that target.  Everyone else was predisposed to lose because to them promotion would mean their jobs – many of them were approaching retirement – were likely to be forfeit, replaced by younger blood.

After I returned from Bedeport I suggested to Angie we should eat out.  We booked a table (needlessly, the place was less than crowded) at the ‘Old Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant’.  ‘Old Hong Kong’ held a middle ranking in the local newspaper’s guide to Casterley eateries, which was a short guide.  Few people ate out in Casterley, even fewer on a Tuesday night when the sky threatened fresh snow.  I remember Angie’s elegant silver-grey dress and her black leggings, which, as she put it, stopped her knees from knocking.  I remember how she could make the waves of her long blonde hair flow over her shoulder like surf, and the slow sadness of her smile.  And I hated that love and doubt had begun to become a torture for her.  I wanted the sun to shine through the dark clouds.  I wanted to see those ice-blue eyes light up, hear the deep chuckle her throat emitted when she was knowing, and happy.

We ate plates of moderate Chinese food to a background of quarrelsome Mandarin, hissing pans and banging freezer lids.  Angie pointed out a cat making its way up the near-deserted pavement outside, remarking how it seemed to quicken its pace as it passed the restaurant.

“I reckon the standards will be better than this in Carlton.”  I said.

Angie reached across the table to place her hand on mine.  “Don’t!”  She rebuked me.  But I persisted.

“Angie, I know you don’t belong to me.  I can’t make you come to Carlton.”

“You can’t own someone.”

“I know that, darling.”

“It’s a big decision for me – oh, I don’t know – I’m scared, I s’pose.  Sad, frykened little Angie!”

“So what do I do? I love you too much to leave you behind.  It’s just tragic!  Look, this is only an idea, yeah, but if you love me and you think you might be able to stay with me…”  I reached into my pocket, produced the little box I had bought in Bedeport and slid it gently across the table to her.

Angie stared at it.  “Oh, you bastard!  That’s so unfair!”

“Angie darling, we’ll still do all the things kids should do.  I promise you won’t miss out on life.  I know we’d be starting early but there are so many good things waiting for us, and I’d love if we could do them together!  Angie, please will you marry me?”

Angie snatched at her serviette.  “Sod you, Chas, you’ve made me cry again!   Now I’m going to have to fix me face.”  She rose from her chair, hurrying away across the restaurant.

I called after her.  “Will you?”

She answered over her shoulder.  “Yes, of course I bloody will!”

Alright, judge me.  I’ll defend myself by saying I had marriage on my mind long before I heard my father’s story and I’ll tell you why; I’ll say to you I proposed because everything in my life at that time was about Angie, and making her happy. If the security of a ring could act as compensation for my reclusive nature, and assuage her fears, that was okay: if you can’t place your trust in me, trust the ring.  Then you’ll come with me, Angie; then you need not be afraid.

But you might see into my state of mind and reach a different conclusion.  You might see someone cast adrift, or at least dragging my anchors, in the wake of my father’s revelations.  You might even think of me as floundering, panicked by the threat of utter solitude, and if you do think of me that way, you will also see my proposal as more a plea for support than a declaration of love.

Yes, I admit my heart was driven by no small measure of desperation.  The reputation of my family throughout my childhood had prevented me from forming deep bonds of friendship with all but a very few of my age, and those I had befriended were either gone or distanced by my success.  I will not agree to the word ‘loneliness’ because that implies a destitution I did not feel, but Angie came to me ready to confront that success at a time when my aloneness was weighing heavily upon me, and hers quickly became the deepest friendship I had ever known.  The thought of losing Angie caused a great empty chasm of sadness to open beneath my feet.  Wasn’t that love?

Were my struggles no more or less than those of any very young man who has to confront a captivating young woman with such a profoundly serious choice?  I do not know.  I am Chas Haggerty, and I cannot see myself as you will see me.  You must decide.

I can now tell you my time in Bedeport that day was not entirely consumed by the purchase of a ring.  There is more to relate, but it must be deferred until another time.

After the unseasonably cold spring it was a peculiar summer that year, with my switch between clubs and the imperative of having to find a new place to live in a new town.  Given that little added assurance of a ring, ‘Team Angie’ instantly gelled, if you know what I mean.  We were a unit, we coordinated everything; learned to drive in the summer, the two of us; because for one reason or another we were constantly shuttling back and forth between Casterley and Carlton.  For me, that meant introduction to my new club, and all it entailed. I wasn’t played until the three last friendlies of the summer, but there were promotions, medicals, training sessions.  Angie found us a new place, an apartment near Carlton Park’s stadium, and performed her home-making miracles upon it so successfully that she was occupying it by the end of June, while I was still commuting between there and Casterley.  Her office transferred her to their branch in Carlton, where she began reaping the kudos that came with being engaged to a footballer!

For all the hoops we had to jump through, for all the dashes from one base to another, there were still times when Angie and I could relax.  We took to walking, taking ourselves away from town and away from roads, come to that.   We hiked the moors when the weather was rough, loving the rain’s lash and the scourge of raw wind on our faces.   Calmer days inspired calmer walks: to the south-west of Casterley there was a small deciduous wood that clothed a steep bank beside a stream.  A long rustic staircase cut into the bank to make climbing among the trees easier inspired its simple name: ‘The Step Wood’, and we loved it there.  Angie declared it first on her list of enchanted places, and certainly, dappled by sun on a hot June day, it was inspiring.  There were many magic moments, such as woods inhabited by faeries are almost obliged to provide, but one – just a very elemental little thing – remained with us.

Angie found it.  “Oh, Chas, look!”

In the mosaic of sunlight that filtered through leaves of birch and oak, lying atop a brown carpet of loam, was a little bouquet of woodland flowers.  They were tied together with a wild onion leaf, and quite fresh, as if they had been placed there no more than a week since.  Yet they were sort of timeless, a gift of someone who had loved the wood and left them as a memento until they returned.

While my fiancée was diving wholeheartedly into her new Carlton life, I was caught betwixt the old and the new for unexpected reasons.  A journalist, Michael Norris, who was initially commissioned by Carlton Park to do a two-page spread for their fanzine, had his eye set on higher things. I was one of six changes ‘Park’s’ new manager, Hamish Merchison was making to his side, and the least experienced: why had he picked me?

“I’m putting together a video, and for your part of it I need to tie up your connection between Casterley Town and ‘Park’.  Who are you, and what the transition means to you, and so on.”

“Fine.”  I said.

“The problem is nobody seems to have bothered filming Casterley Town’s matches.  There’s a little area TV stuff…” He gave me a conspiratorial frown, “VERY expensive; and not much else.  So, I thought, get you down to the Casterley ground, film you doing a bit of showboating, maybe bring a few of your former colleagues in – why the wry smile?”

“Good luck!”  I said.

Rather as I anticipated, Norris’s simple shopping list of tasks mired him in a turgid pool of refused permissions, contractual small print and profound reluctance on the part of any of my former team ‘mates’.  Technically, I was out of contract.  Suddenly, Casterley’s football stadium was private property which I was denied permission to enter.  I was no longer entitled to wear the Casterley shirt or display team sponsorships.  At the time I still had three weeks to run on my tenancy of The Avenue apartment, so I settled back to wait while Norris fought his battles.

Norris was a good journalist, and there is nothing a good journalist relishes more than an unexplained refusal.  He won several of my ex-teammates around by the simple argument of free publicity, and, I am told, used much the same tactics to get Mack Crabtree onside:  after all, his perimeter boards would be ‘in shot’ throughout the planned film sequences. But Martin Berry could not be shifted.  If we filmed at the ground we would be trespassing, and we could be sure legal action would follow.

I raised the issue when I visited John Hargreave one Saturday.  “Tell him to catch Berry at his warehouses,”  John advised.  “Especially in the evening.”

“Oh?”  I said, inviting further comment.  Having visited Berry myself in his domain and never caused him any anxiety, I was interested to know what might have changed.

“Yeah; put him under pressure.  Our Marty doesn’t like people hanging around his sheds these days at whatever time, but he’s definitely paranoid about evenings.  I wanted to take some pictures from the hill over there last year – just atmosphere, backcloth, that sort of thing.  I had two bloody great security bozos on my back almost afore I had time to set up the camera.  Biggest blokeys I’d ever seen.  They were like, massive!”

“What did you do?”

“What d’you think?  I left, man!  But Berry’s place was jumpin’, and it’s my guess he has some heavy stuff goin’ on!   Now a nice, persistent journalist paying an evening call might just be given whatever he asks for, because nice persistent journalists are not like me, mate.  They dig.  I don’t think our Marty would like that.  He might just be glad to come up with those permissions you want – to get rid, y’kna?”

“It’s a long shot.”  I thought.

“Aren’t they always the best?”

 

© 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 Fourteen – A fractured Dream.

 

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On the street the temperature was dropping, and clouds from the east were threatening snow.  I hurried home, mindful of my mother’s words and the conversation that was beginning in my head.  Was she right?  Was it possible a girl with whom I once spent twenty minutes of inexpert passion on a river bank could still mean more to me than the one who loved me now and shared my bed?  Could I – would I – betray Angie so callously over nothing more than a fractured dream?

Indoors, I set up a fire and then began to cook, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I turned off the stove.  Five-thirty found me sitting in our bay window, watching a snowflake corps de ballet as it danced before the glass, and the steadier trickle of people coming home from their work.  My eyes picked out Angie as she appeared at the end of the road; head down against the wind, clicking along the wet and whitening pavement on busy feet. I responded to her jazz-hands wave as she ascended the steps to our door.

“Here’s a night!”  She stood in our little lobby, brushing snow from her coat.  “Feel them!”  She reached out for my hand, squeezing my fingers as she passed, heading towards the bathroom, and casually shedding clothes as she went.  Pipes juddered as the shower turned on.   I felt that completeness of Angie wrapping itself around me as it always did when we were together in the primacy of our private lives, and I was immediately rested and content.  No, I told myself, could be no-one else.

Back at the stove, I was throwing stir-fry stuff absently into a wok when she joined me, gently resting her hand on my wrist and sliding the pan aside.  She came close to invite a kiss, then draped herself against me, letting her towelling robe fall carelessly fell open.

“Are you hungry?”  Angie giggled deliciously.  “Why yes, I do believe you are…”

Later, as we sat before the fire, Angie asked:  “Did you see your Mam?”

“Aye.”  I relayed almost everything that had passed between my mother and me.  “She says she’s quite happy with the way things are, but I don’t entirely believe her.  She’s so edgy these days.  I was a bit worried about her.”

Angie nodded sagely.  “It’ll be the ‘H’, man.  It get’s t’you like that.”

I stared.   “’H’?”

“Oh, come on!  Ah thought you’d kna’ about that at least!  Smack; heroin, Chas!  She must ‘a been on it a year or two, I’d reckon.”

“No!  Oh, god, I didn’t know.  I mean, I didn’t see it.”

“Man!  Are you a divvy or what?  I saw it first time I met her!”

“Why didn’t you say?”

“Would that ha’ been polite, like?  You’re too innocent for this world, you!  Mind, it were another little stone wor Terry managed to drop into the conversation the other night when he were tryin’ to run you down.  He reckons they’re all on it, up Bertie’s.  Brasso’ll be keepin’ ‘em hooked up, I ‘spect.”

“Brasso?”

“Brasso Moziadski.   Tall, thin bloke, sharp threads.  Looks like he’s a lawyer, or sommat, but ‘e’s not.  He’s the biggest dealer round here.  Drives a dark blue BMW?  You must ‘a seen ‘im!”

“Aye.”  I acknowledged.  “I might have.”

After administering a new shock, Angie fell silent for a while, just gazing into the fire.  My mind played around with this explanation for my mother’s behavior, which ascribed the tension that gripped every fibre of her being to a simple need for to score.  Meanwhile, Angie seemed to be steeling herself.  And, at last, she spoke.

“I been thinkin’ about it all afternoon: about us, y’kna?  Chas, be honest wi’ us now; do you seriously want me to come with you when you go to Carlton?”

“Yes.” My answer came without hesitation.  “I’ve never been more serious.”

“Only it’s a big thing for me.  I’ve lived here all my life, y’kna?  All my friends and my relations are here.  I’d be leavin’ them all behind, if I did – if I came with you.  Y’see?”

“I do see.”  I told her.  “Can I say something now?”

Her eyes were uncertain.  “I s’pose.  But Chas, I’ve worked all this out…”

“Angie, I love you.  I’m not going to let you down, am I?”

“Mebbees.  Or mebbees I’d be the one to let you down. Promises we make at nineteen aren’t meant to be kept, Chas.  They really aren’t.” She shook her head impatiently.  “I cry too easy around you, y’kna?”

“Am I going to be allowed to make a case, here, like?”  I protested, “Or are you going to walk out on me without eating that bloody stir-fry?”

“Is it still there?  I’d forgotten about that.”  She smiled through her tears.

“It’s a waste of good vegetables.” My pathetic attempt at humour was designed to cover an awkward truth – I was panicking, because a pit of absolute despair had suddenly opened up beneath me, and the reason for it seemed unaccountable unless this was love?  This – something – that was completely new to me?  Love, or need?  Had I grown to need Angie so much I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her?

”No.  No, let’s not do this now.”  I said.  “Wherever you go you’ll find friends, Ange.  I’ll be joining a proper club, you know, and the other guys will have wives and girlfriends, and besides, you’re just – just so – well, people just like you.  They’re drawn to you.  I was.”  I ended rather lamely.

“I suppose.”  Angie rested her head on my shoulder.  “Chas, I love you.  I wish…oh, you don’t know how I wish…”

“I don’t want us to part.”  I said, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.  “And we needn’t.  Let’s see how things turn out, Ange.  Give us that chance, will you?”  Angie was quietly tearful, my own heart was aching and there seemed no solution to our pain, no chance of escape.  The welcome warmth of the fire had become an oppressive heat, such that I was finding it difficult to breathe.  I had to escape.  “Sorry; I’m sorry, really – think about us a bit more, please, because I love you, Ange, and I can’t stand this.  I’m going out.”

The bubble of anger in my heart was not for Angie.  I tore myself away from her not because I felt she had betrayed me, but because I knew I had betrayed myself.   I slammed the door behind me not because I was turning my back on the home she had made, but because there was no home for me, anywhere.  My childhood, my whole miserable life had bred a fear of relationships in me and I knew it was a reserve that showed – that try as I might I could not give her the true and selfless devotion that would let her build her world in me, let her trust me.  She believed I would let her down, and perhaps she was right.

The snow fell fast enough to hide my tears, the cold air offered an alibi for my reddened face, my interrupted breath.  Nevertheless I avoided the town and its still-busy streets, choosing instead to take the alley which led from the far end of The Avenue past the blind ends of a trio of similar culs de sac and on in the direction of the park.  I walked briskly, ignoring the slips and slides of my inadequate shoes on the snow-slick pavement, kicking back at it with furious feet, slamming against walls and fences with aggrieved fists.  So preoccupied was I with my inner noise I was deaf to the lonely darkness and oblivious to the approach of running steps.

The first I felt was a sickening blow to my head, the first I saw was a galaxy of stars.

I was stretched out on the pavement.  A knee pinned my chest.  The thrust of a boot raked into my side with such murderous precision it may have made me scream.

“Too proud fer yer fans kidder, isn’ the’!  The great friggin footy star, yeah?”

Another voice.   “Friggin’ wanker!

Another:  “Mak’ ‘im nice an’ pretty fer ‘e’s girlfriend, like!  Frigging prick!”

The boots were heavy, the kicks vicious and well-aimed, but the surprise was over.  Kicking upward as hard as I could once, twice, three times I found the groin behind the knee, making its owner groan and shrink sufficiently to release me.   I rolled to my feet, counted three of them: balaclava’d heads snapping at me like dogs.

Remember the rules, the street fighting rules: which one looks like the leader?  Pick him out.  Don’t try and counter all three; go for him and him alone.  Don’t let up.  Never let up.

The one that was tallest, noisiest.  “Yer kna wha’ us ganna do ter the’, wanker?  Wor gan ter break yer legs, man!  Tha’s nivver gan ter play footy again, frigger!  Finished, man; finished!”

I sent him the best message of defiance I could muster.  I heard his nose crush.  Then I was straight after him, not letting him draw back, not giving him a second before I got in a perfect groin kick to bend him double.  But they were three, I was one.  Almost too late I saw the iron bar clenched in the smallest one’s hands, and though somehow I rode the first scything swing it scored across my calf, opening flesh.  Hands pinned me so thoroughly I knew I would not avoid the second.  They were intent upon crippling me, these darkly clad men.

“Stand still yer little frigger!  This is a message from one o’ yer fans, like!”

The bar was swinging, my eyes closed against the certainty of pain.  Heaven would have heard my involuntary shout – it was not heaven that answered.   There was a crack like an egg, but of bone.  The iron bar clattered to the ground, the bar wielder’s knees crumpled.  My hands were suddenly free to unleash a haymaker of a punch, the hardest I could muster into the ribs of the noisy one, while behind me my third assailant was being treated with savagery.  The grey shape that had materialized out of the snow had grounded him, subjecting him to a furious sequence of kicks.  Seeing I was out of danger, though, the shape desisted quickly, grabbing my arm.

“Come away, lad.  Ah think I might ‘a killed the stupid bugger!”

Even in my disoriented state (by this time I must have had several blows to my head) I could see the iron bar wielder was not in a good state.  Lying inert in the snow, a dark red halo was growing around his head.

“Police!  We should call the police.”  I managed to drool out.

“Frig it nah!  Ah’m gannin nowhere near the chatties, lad!  Coom on, run!”

I made no argument.  Run – or stagger – I did, supported by my savior’s arm as together we retraced my steps back to the apartment.  I wondered vaguely as we went why the grey shape had a voice I found familiar.

“Footsteps!”  I pointed behind us to our trail in the snow.

“Aye.  But this snow’s going to keep up all night.  Blowin’ a bit, too.  They’re coverin’ already.”

Angie emerged from the kitchen as we burst through the front door.  I could see from her expression I was not a pretty sight.   She moved instantly into caring mode.  “Come away, man, take off those clothes, I’ll get you some towels.  Who’s your friend, like?”

I think I already knew.  Watching as he unwrapped himself, taking his flat cap from his balding head and unwrapping the scarf from his face.  “Dad.”  I said.  “He’s my Da’.”

I was treated to the broad smile of a man at war with his teeth, and for once in my life I felt genuinely glad to see him.  “Recognized me, then. Hello, son.”

“Da’, this is Angie.”

“I kna’ lad,”  My father said,  “and a canny lass she is.  Make sure yer keep yer ‘ands on this one.”

“Pleased to meet you.”  By this time, Angie’s eyes had widened into saucers. “I thought…”

“I kna, Angie, pet, ah’m supposed to be the most absent of absent fathers.  But since ah’m ‘ere, ah’m wonderin’ if you’d mind washin’ this for us?”

From beneath his donkey jacket my father produced a brutish-looking adjustable spanner, its grips encrusted with blood.  Angie stared at it.  “Shouldn’t we get rid o’ that?”  I asked him.

“Nah, lad, no way!  That’s the only one big enough to fit wor bath taps at ‘ome.  It’ll clean up canny!”

Angie took the spanner between thumb and forefinger and nearly dropped it because it was heavier than she expected.  “Do you always carry a spanner when you go out?”

“Aye, lass.  Yer never kna’ when yer gan ter meet someone wi’ a loose bath tap.”

Angie nodded.  “Of course.”  She disappeared into the kitchen.

“I’m lucky you were passing by.”  I said, not really believing it.

“Luck had nowt tae do wi’ it.  Ah’ve been followin’ yer’ for days.  I were keepin’ an eye on they, too.  I kna’d they were workin’ ‘emselves up to have a go, like.  Ah’m stayin’ ower the Black Horse, where they drink, y’na?  The skinny one was lanterin’ about how you was too big fer yer boots an’ as how ‘e wanted ter fix yer, like?  But it were more than that.  They were plannin’ ter get yer anyways, Chas.  Ah follered them tonight ‘stead o’ you – for a change.  It were less damp.”

“It’s good for me that you did,” I said.  “But how did they know I’d be on the street?  I hadn’t planned to go out.”

“Ah don’t think they intended to get yer on the street, son.  Ah think they was comin’ ‘ere”

I had scarcely time to absorb that thought before Angie returned to bandage my leg, demanding we explain.  I described events leading up to my father’s appearance, omitting the reason he was able to intervene so quickly, and hoping she would not spot the fault in the logic.  “I could place one of the voices,” I told her, “It was that troll from Pellosi’s.  I thought he was just a bad accident, but looking back on it now I think he had meant to be there.”

“It’s likely.”  My father nodded.  “They was drinkin’ wi’ a friend o’ there’n, used ter be Town’s best player ‘til you showed ‘em as how it should be done.  Reckon it were him tryin’ to get ‘e’s own back tonight, like.  Guy Harrison – y’ kna’ ‘im?”

“Guy Harrison!  Way aye!  He’s still in the team.”  The more I thought about it, the less this information surprised me.  Guy had already tried to injure me once, in training at the beginning of the season.  Guy would not know of my intention to leave, and if I stayed the club wouldn’t renew his expensive contract; not just to be my understudy.

“We should tell the police,”  Angie said.

“Nah, no police.”  My father was emphatic.  “Me and the chatties round ‘ere, we go back a long way, Angie pet.”

“Don’t leave your bicycle around him.”  I advised Angie.  “He’s canny light-fingered, like.”

“Yeah?  He saved you, that makes him alright by me.  Anyways, I haven’t gorra bike.”

“What brings you back here, Da’?”  I asked.  “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again.”

This brought a sigh from my Da’, and I thought that I saw the effort go right through him, as though his rib cage was a rack of iron he had scarcely strength to lift.  “Ah’m not stayin’, son.  I’ve been hearin’ about yer and yer football an’ yer made me proud, y’kna?  I wanted ter see yer again, an’ tell yer, I suppose.  Then I got ‘ere an’ I’d not the courage to approach yer, like.  Not affer leavin’ yer the way I did.  An’ I’ll be awa’ again, now, likely.  I’ve a good woman waitin’ fer me, where ah’m from.  But I wanted ter warn yer, ‘cause I thought yer might be in trouble, an’ I were right.  Nor about tonight, mind, that were just Harrison, but there’s summat in the wind, ah can smell it.  Watch yerself with Mack Crabtree and Marty Berry, Chas; they’re bad people, y’kna?”

“I think I already know about Mack Crabtree,” I said,  “But Martin Berry?  He seems canny to me.”

“Aye, he’s friend enough to yer face, but keep facin’ ‘im, lad.  Don’t turn yer back, awright?”   He raised himself to his feet.  “Now I’ll be on ma way.  You’ll be awreet now, and I’ve some sleepin’ to do.”

“Stay!”  I said.  “We can make you comfortable here.  There’s so much to be said, Da’.”

“True, there is.  I’m not goin’ back fer a day or so yet, so if tha’ wants some catchin’ up, we’ll do it tomorra, because you’ll not be training wi’ that leg. But meantime this young lass doesn’t kna me, so she’ll not be com’fable wi’ me in ‘er home.  Besides,” My father nudged me knowingly;  “I’ve a feelin’ you’ve got some bridges to mend, son.”

Angie saw him to our door, helped him slip his jacket around his shoulders and watched his back as he hunched against the snow.  Then she turned to me with her face a picture of concern.  “Oh, Chas, man!  Whar’ ever am I going to do wi’ you?  I can’t even trust you to go for a walk on your own, can  I?”

“Then you’ll have to stay with me, won’t you?”  I told her brightly.  “I need looking after.”

It was no night for righteous sleep.  We lay awake together, Angie and I, listening for the wail of sirens, half-expecting a heavy knocking on the door that might announce the presence of my father’s dreaded ‘chatties’.  Neither happened.  Did I wonder if two of my earlier attackers might return?  Honestly no.  I felt that our deterrent effect upon them would be sufficient to keep them busy with the accident and emergency department of Bedeport District Hospital at least until morning, by which time I would have had a meaningful discussion with Guy Harrison.  At the stroke of eight I limped along to the Town ground with exactly such an encounter in mind and was gratified by his pale mask of surprise when he saw me come through the doorway of the home dressing room unassisted by wheels.

If you have never entered a room in which, until the moment you thrust wide the door, you have been the occupants’ sole topic of conversation: if you have never been the object of dislike, maybe even hatred, of each one of those occupants; if you have never experienced a silence in that room of such toxicity the very air seems to be reaching for your throat, then it will be difficult for me to describe it for you.  Suffice it that no-one wanted to see me walk through the door, or had believed that I could; and from that I deduced that the plot to injure me had been shared, in some form or another, with everyone there.  It was a palpable moment, if a brief one.

“Yer late for training!”  Pascoe snapped.

“Injury, Joe.”  I told him.  “Flesh wound, nothing much but I’d better keep off it for a day or so.  I’ll be sorted by Saturday.”

“Sit in, then.  We’re going over tactics for Abberton.”

And that was that; but from it I saw, with refulgent clarity, the true undercurrent of resentment I caused in the first team at Casterley Town. I had offered friendship, without ever, as I can remember, dealing underhandedly with or deliberately offending any member of it, yet they disliked me with an obdurate resolve I would never break. If ever I wanted ratification of my decision to leave, it was given to me then.

In the meantime, I needed to keep Angie from becoming entangled in this thicket of plotting and to avoid further violence.  Where originally I had intended to confront Harrison with a direct threat, now it was simpler to channel my message through Pascoe.  As the other players walked coldly past me from the dressing room, I grabbed his arm.

“Can you tell them not to worry, Joe?  Between you and me, I won’t be here next season.  It’s not official yet, mind.  Can you, sort of, pass it around?”

Pascoe glowered at me.  “Ah don’t care if yer friggin’ leave or not.”

That was a bluntness typical of the man.  I didn’t mind;  I knew the message would get through.

With my mission completed, I returned to the apartment.  Our telephone was ringing.

“Chas?  Hi!  It’s Dave Corker, County Record; I hear you’re up for transfer.  What can you tell me, mate?”

“Unfounded speculation,”  I said.

 

© 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