To a Friend

It was a yard, a concrete yard, nine years, ten years ago.  The people, the back-paw walkers, they will tell you my memory is not that long, but I remember.  High walls, a shelter against the rain and Ben, my companion.

We shared so many dreams, Ben and I – of the wild things whose scent we could test as it floated past us in the wind, but never see.  We talked of how we might chase them together one day, and what sort of world it could be, on the Great Outside.

The back-paws came to us with food, sometimes spoke or petted us, but mostly we were alone and afraid.  We had each other.  We were friends.

I remember the day the stranger came, and how he talked to us as back-paws will, and how I could not fear him, even when he put me in the metal  Box-That-Roared.  I saw the panic in Ben’s eyes as I was taken away, and I cried out for him, somehow knowing I would never see him again.

And then it was there!  The Box-That-Roared showed me what the Great Outside was like – flashed through it, scene after scene before I had time to smell its secrets.  I was alone and so frightened, with no idea what was happening to me, but then the Box-That-Roared brought me here.

All that was long, long ago, when I was young.  I live in the Great Outside now, and it is much as we imagined, Ben and I: my mistress, the female back-paws takes me daily to update my favourite scents, and for that generosity I guard her.  I have concrete to lie on when I am hot, although most of the time I favour the back-paws’ big shelter with its thick walls, warm places, and my allowance of three soft beds! My master, who is older and unsure, looks after me with food, some scratching when I need it, as well as giving his voice to break my silence.   For those services, I must guard him, too.

Let me warn you, guarding two back-paws is complicated because they will not behave properly, like a pack!  They are virtually helpless; they have no sense of smell and precious little hearing, yet they keep separating!  Sometimes my master takes the Box-That-Roars away for hours to places I can only learn about when it returns by sniffing the fat rubber rings on its feet.   Now and then my master and mistress both go away to those places and leave ME behind!  I fret because I cannot protect them then, or persuade them of the peril they are in.   All I can do is pull the kitchen towel off its rail.  I believe they understand. 

When they are here in our shelter I do my best to keep them safe. Guarding them both, making sure I constantly position myself so I can rush to the aid of either of them, is a full-time task and a very stressful one, but I think I manage, by and large.

And there it is – my life!   I am old now and less inclined to run and be foolish, but now and again when the silence threatens I remember my friend Ben, and I think of all the tales I might tell him of riding in the Box-That-Roars to wild places, and the new scents I discovered there.  Sometimes when the air is like crystal I imagine I hear him calling me, whether from that yard we shared or, as I hope, some better place.

My name is Honey.   There is much I wished for, but never found.  All-in-all, I think I am happy.

Hallbury Summer – Episode Ten Interrupted Steps

 

The story so far:

 On the morning after encountering the deceased Rodney Smith’s vengeful brother, Joe Palliser receives a mysterious letter.  A mission for his aunt gives him cause to explore more deeply into his memories of the village, and while preoccupied with this he renews his acquaintance with mother and daughter of the wealthy Forbes-Pattinson family.

Tom Peterkin, best friend of his young years invites him out for an evening, during which he learns that the murdered Violet Parkin was daughter to Ben Wortsall, locally reputed to be a witch.  Returning that evening, Tom’s parks his car on Wednesday Common, where Joe at last admits to his friend that Marian, the woman he had claimed to be his wife, is dead. 

A last rattle of breeze through the bracken fluttered and died, and as it seemed to Joe the tiny creatures and floating things caught in the headlights’ beam were synthesizing to some unwritten music; the flotsam of life joined in solemn, courtly dance – a pavane for Marian.

“You better tell me the rest, boy,” Tom said quietly.

So Joseph did.

“Sometimes we went on sales trips together, but mostly Marian worked from her London office through the week, and stayed in our flat in Earls Court.  On weekends, she went home to Sussex.  Before we met, she used to take the Friday night train; but as we got to know each other better she stayed over on the Friday more often than not, and went home on the Saturday morning instead.

“Friday became her night to unwind.  We’d have a few drinks, I’d get in some stuff and we’d try a bit of this; bit of that.  It started with the odd pill, you know, to get things more lively?  Then there was coke, and maybe acid, but never too much – never too heavy.

“Six weeks is it now?  Friday.  It seems like yesterday, Tom, believe me.  I got some gear from a guy I used on Fulham Market. Marian liked sex.  I think we were good together.  She was…well, she was inventive, she liked to play, and the night started out that way; but then she went wild, absolutely wild – fierce, almost savage.   I can’t explain – I’d never known her like that – no boundaries, no taboos; nothing barred.   She was so controlled, you see, normally; but not that night.  She was really angry, shouting at me, coming at me with her fists.  It was like she was desperate, forcing me to give her what she needed and doing everything she could to make it hurt.  All she wanted was to give me pain.  If I tried to get away; just go to bed and shut the door on her she wouldn’t let me go.  I couldn’t even turn my back without her clawing me, hitting at me…”

Joe drew breath; needing the break.  The microbial dance lit by the headlights had ceased, its participants hanging suspended as if the orchestra had finished playing.  The song was over.  Beside him, Tom offered nothing:  no encouragement, no support.  At length, Joe continued.

“Well, sometime it must have stopped.  I can’t remember, you see?  The first thing I know it’s morning; I’m in bed and it’s late:  the clock says eleven-thirty.  Marian should have caught the nine o’clock train; but there she is, still lying beside me.

“I was that stupid I just thought she was tired, she’d slept in – not surprising, after all that happened the night before.  I brought coffee back to bed, then I tried to wake her.  She wouldn’t wake up!  I tried and tried, Tom!”

Joe and his genie were face to face now, with the black tidal wave of its power straining against the glass of its bottle, ready to burst forth and drown him with merciful insensibility.  But the glass remained intact.  He was unsteady, he was dizzy, but he did not blank.

“I knew it really.  I knew she’d gone.  There was some of the stuff beside her on the pillow, like she’d tried to score again, or something.  I don’t know, because I can’t remember what happened.  I can’t remember anything except how scared I was.  I have no recollection of going to bed, I don’t remember her joining me.”

After a long pause, Tom asked: “You think you killed her?  Is that what you’re saying?”

“No.”  Joe’s tongue wrapped itself around that negative.  He dredged deep.  “Yes?  I have no bloody idea!  What made her behave like that – bad gear?  I took it too.  She was – there was some bruising on her body.  I can’t explain that, either.  Did I do it?  Did she?”

“So you could have killed her.”

“I panicked, Tom.  I told you she had a separate flat upstairs.  She only slept there if her husband was visiting.  I carried her up.  No-one saw, no-one heard me, but oh-my-god it was a struggle, she was so cold and stiff…I laid her in her bed like she’d simply gone to sleep, cleared up all the gear and dumped it in the food waste bin at the back of a restaurant we used to go to on Coulter Street.

“I wiped or washed anything in our flat that might connect to me, put all the bed-linen in a bag and took it to the Laundromat – left it there in one of the machines.  I just went.  It was Saturday evening by then and other than personal clothing there wasn’t much to carry really.  Everything in our lives was hers.”

It was a long time before Tom said anything.  “The filth, what about they?  Did they find yer?”

“Not so far.  I went to my brother’s place and just laid low, waiting to be found, basically.  I wasn’t.” Joe recollected the Detective Sergeant’s visit and his dark looks; “At least, I don’t think so. I heard nothing more, until yesterday.  Yesterday I got a letter from Marian’s solicitors asking me to contact them.  ”

“You’d be easy enough to trace, I’d ha’ thought.  Her people at work, they knew about you:  you weren’t invisible.  No, I’d say if the cops haven’t caught up with you by now they aren’t looking.  They probably think you left afore she died, or sommat.”  Tom shook his head gravely:  “So that’s why yer not yerself, ah?”  he mused.  “Think I understand, boy.  But I don’t see you got anything to worry about.  You did pretty well, ‘sfar as I can see.”

He cranked his car into life, backing out onto the road.  It seemed Joe had done pretty well.  He had opened up to Tom and his mind had stayed with him.  As his friend dropped him off he cautioned:  “Tom, this mustn’t go further than us, yeah?”

Tom reassured him; of course it would not.  “’Tis sommat to think on, though, ah? There was I thinkin’ you was quiet for quite a diff’rent reason tonight, Joe.  See ‘ow wrong I can be?”

From the look in his eyes, from the timbre of that rich shire voice, Joe saw that Tom had connected some of the dots – he knew.

“You’ll do the right thing, boy.  I’m certain o’ tha’.”   And he drove away.

In his sleep that night, Joe hung suspended somewhere between dream and memory, and it was no longer Sarah’s face that watched him in the darkness, but that of his best friend’s wife.

#

“Fancy your chances, do you?”  She arched an eyebrow, bringing his confidence instantly to its knees.  Green eyes – she had almost iridescent green eyes.

“Some.”  He stumbled:  “Maybe.”

“Alright.  I’ll dance with you.”

It was a local hall, a local band.  They jived awkwardly, because he was far too nervous to lead.

She wore a cream blouse, a flared skirt which whirled about her as she spun.  She moved with natural grace, as though she were born to dance.

They shouted to each other above the music.  “What are you doing out without your mate?  Everybody thinks you and Tom Peterkin are queer for each other!”

“We’re not! (He was so sensitive to those little jibes, back then!)  Dunno what he’s doing tonight.”

When the music finished; “Buy me a drink, then?”

Emma Blanchland was no stranger.  Even though they had gone to different schools, they had met from time to time; shy smiles, muttered ‘hello’s’.  She had just been one of the local girls until that night.

Why had he decided to go to the dance in Fettsham on his own?  Maybe because a member of the band was Ian’s friend; maybe just because he was tired of being alone, wanting to torture himself with more rejection.  He didn’t know.  But Emma was there, and the girl was no longer simply someone walking by – she was a young, vibrant woman with an expressive face, a slim waist and long legs which revealed a tempting glimpse of stocking-top when she danced.

He bought her drinks; they learned to laugh with each other.  After the ordeal of meeting, the evening passed pleasantly to a point where even Joe’s dancing improved.  They smooched through the final number.  In the car park he copied a smart-Alec remark of Tom’s, glancing meaningfully down at her skirt.  “What colour are they, then?”

“Cheeky sod!  They’re red.  And if you think I’m going to prove it for you, you’ve got another think coming!”

“Some other time, then?”

She glared.  “I should change the subject, if I were you.  Now, are you going to take me home?”

He drove her in the Pilot.  He did not drive fast.  At her door, they kissed – just a quick peck, just once.

Three days later Joe was walking on a shopping street in Braunston when he met Emma almost head-on.  At first, he was unsure if the girl in a dark brown coat walking arm-in-arm with a broad-shouldered young man actually was Emma; but as they drew closer there was no mistaking those green eyes.  They met his, and she curled inside at the sadness she saw.

That evening Joseph sat in his room packing another set of wasted fantasies into the bulging closet of his self-esteem.  Love, he had decided, was an illusion, something he always aspired to but was destined never to reach. There was something in his psyche that was tuned to disappointment, something unlovable about him that had consigned him to a life of loneliness.

These and other such maudlin thoughts were rudely interrupted by his Uncle Owen, who bellowed up the stairs:

“Joseph!  There’s someone at the door for you!”

He stumbled downstairs and there she was, jeans and a white sweater, a little half-smile that opened a minuscule window to the woman inside:  Emma, who blurted:  “Look, before you say anything, I don’t usually do this kind of stuff, right?  I don’t, Joe.”

He replied with a crestfallen shrug – a gesture which had become so much his.  “You’re with someone else – it’s alright.  It’s allowed.  I’ve no right to you, I don’t…I don’t have any claim on you.”

Emma shifted from one foot to the other, looking about her with an air of desperation. “Come with me!  Come on!”  She reached out, grabbed his hand, dragged him from doorway to lane, marched ahead of him, ignoring his protests – which, to do him justice, were neither persistent nor loud.

At the bend by the poplars she turned onto Wednesday Common and there, in the secret shadow of a beech hedge she took both his hands, so she could look into his eyes.

“He….see, Joey, he is my boyfriend, yeah?  But…Okay, you talk about ‘owning’.  He doesn’t ‘own’ me.  I enjoyed the other night, with you.  I really did, and I’d like us – if you want – to go on seeing each other, yeah?  I’d like that, very much – if you want?”

And Joe smiled so broadly he almost cried because, yes, he did want.  And she was leaning back against the hedge and looking up into his grey eyes with that incredible green of her own and she was waiting:

“Emma, can I kiss you?”

“If you don’t I’ll break your bloody neck!”

That was their first real kiss.  But it was something much, much more.

There comes an interlude in the stressful process of growing that some will call a rite of passage,  when the child learns that balance of nature which must exist between male and female, the initiatives each has to take, those areas of self each must surrender.  Their kiss engendered the ‘spark’ – that unreasoned and unreasonable connection between boy and girl; the outrageous influence of fate upon choice, the indefinable glue that is ‘attraction’.

Hitherto, love for Joseph had meant worship:  but whereas Sarah was a goddess on a pedestal, an alabaster idol demanding adoration, Emma was real; she was a laughing, entrancing equal who could turn him this way and that, should she want.  Yet she would tread softly with such adolescent devices because in Joe she saw a lifetime ahead:  the children she wanted to be hers, a home like her parents’ home, the sleepy contentment of age.  In Joe she saw the boy who would become the man who would become the partner.  She saw a pattern for her life.

They became not lovers at first – they became friends: fast friends, bonded so closely both thought the ties might never break, no matter how far they were to be apart.

They did not hurry into love.  For if Emma was so certain of her feelings, Joseph was less easily convinced of his.  Emma knew about Sarah of course; she had met her with Joe several times when they were together, and she was quick to realise that her new friend still measured her against his former love.  Emma was patient, happy to be a kissing friend while their affinity to one another grew.  She was content to be real while Sarah was a dream, but she would not commit entirely to Joe until she saw, not the reflection of Sarah in his eyes, but her own.

Then, one rainy morning in Spring, everything changed.  Both were working in Braunston in those days, he for Mr Carnaby, the solicitor; she for a department store on Bridge Street. To cheat the rain Joseph decided he would take his car to work, so, thinking that Emma might go with him, he called at her door.  There was no answer.  Rollo, the family dog, a large, clumsy Alsatian, was silent.  Emma’s father was away so Joe knew her mother, who also worked, would normally have woken her daughter before she left.  He banged the door more loudly, then, when there was still no response, he tried the latch.  It opened.  Reasoning that further clamour might draw the attention of the whole village, he thought it sensible to go inside.

He called up the stairs:  “Emma?”

“Joe?  Oh, Joe, is that you?”   The faint reply, not from above stairs but from beyond the house, led him out by the kitchen door into Rob Blanchland’s small, tidy garden.  There he found Emma in her nightdress crouched on her heels, her dressing gown thrown over her shoulders, staring at a space between geometrically precise rows of cabbages and beans.

“Oh, Joe.  I’m glad you’ve come.  I didn’t know what to do.”  Her voice trembled with emotion.  “I loved him so!”

Joe drew closer.  The space in the vegetation resolved itself into the inert form of Rollo, who lay with his teeth bared and open eyes, lifeless on the wet soil.  The dog’s back was arched as though frozen in mid-stride, mud plastered on his brown fur.  Joe reached down to touch his cheek:  it was already cold.

“He’s gone, Emm.”

Emma nodded.  “I let him out just as usual.  You know what he’s like, flyin’ out the door like a big soppy grey-hound?  He’s half-way down the garden, and he just leapt in the air, and …..”  Her face creased.  “He’s too heavy for me, and I can’t just leave him there.  Joe, can you…?

He went to her, took her by the shoulders to raise her up.  “It was probably a heart attack or a stroke: I shouldn’t think he felt anything. Come inside, you’ll freeze out here.”

Emma submitted mutely, shaking with the chill as she allowed Joe to pull her dressing gown around her and cradle her back to the warmth of the kitchen.  He put a kettle on the range, then taking the old dog’s favourite blanket from his basket he returned to the garden, where he wrapped it around Rollo and carried him to the tool-shed, leaving him to lie in state on the dry wooden floor.  Rollo was an amiable companion.  He would be missed.

By the time Joe returned, Emma seemed to have recovered somewhat, though her shoulders still shook.  Joe kissed her forehead, then instructed her firmly to take a hot bath and dress in some dry clothes.  With a rueful smile, she directed his eyes to her feet. reminding him she had been barefoot in the garden – her feet, like her hands, with which she had tried to stir Rollo into life, were covered in grey mud.  So Joe carried her upstairs,  and stood her in the bath while he washed her feet, inducing some reluctant laughter because she was ticklish between her toes.   Running fresh water so she might bathe, he left her then.

“I’ll make some tea.  Come down when you’re ready.”

Minutes passed:  five – ten……

Emma called out:  “Joe!”.

Joseph rushed to reply, afraid lest…lest what?  “Yes, what is it Emm?”

“Can you bring me my tea?”

So he did.

Hours later, warm and dry in her bed, Emma opened sleepy eyes to smile at the face on the pillow beside her.

“Let’s start this day again;” She said. “Good day to you, Joe.”

And those words, in a way, were spoken with sadness.  But there, in the first blush of Rollo’s tragic morning, came affirmation – something profound was begun.

Photo Credit:  Matthew Miles on Unsplash

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

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twenty-Six The Vale

“Ciggy?”  Bea Ferguson waved an open pack of Rothmans towards Patrick.  “Oh, you don’t, do you?  Do you mind if I do?  I’m absolutely gasping.”

Bea had once pronounced herself deeply impressed with Patrick Hallcroft.  When her best friend Karen Eversley had told her she was dating him, she might even have felt a little jealous (had she been unmarried, of course).  Patrick Hallcroft?  He had to be the most eligible male in Caleybridge, no joking!  But now?

Seeing him slumped in his chair she even wondered if he was on her side anymore?  He seemed to her defeated, lessened, weary.  His eyes lacked that infectious energy that had warmed her the first time they met and talked.  Now, the morning life of the Trocadero coffee bar jostled about him unheeded – one or two of the lads, one or two of the girls who circulated dropped a word of greeting to him but he gave them little sign of recognition in return.  Around the tables there were those who, throwing covert glances in his direction talked behind their hands, and they clearly troubled him.

“You saw the Sunday ‘Paper?”  He asked.

“Everyone has, darling.  At least you got demoted to an inside page.”

“’Heir to Carpet Baron’s Millions Jilted’?  It’s hardly going to help us find Karen, is it?”

Bea shrugged.  “It’s the Sunday Record, what did you expect?  That grotty little Leathers man’s stuff is always like that.  I’m surprised the story got in at all, considering.  The editor must have had a nice holiday in Beaconshire, or something.  ‘Harterport Riots’ and a jilted millionaire all in one issue?  It’s better than the ‘Herald’.”

“Anything’s better than the ‘Herald’ – though they didn’t run our story at all.”

“At least you tried.  Come on then, you promised to update me and you’re also buying me lunch.  Technically that means you’re dating a married woman, Patrick.  So the least you can do…”

“Would a timeline help?”

“Timelines are always good.”

“Right; Saturday morning.  I already told you I was there when the Harterport fight kicked off, and what I saw on the way back to pick up Amanda.”

“Your ‘Sprog’, as you call the poor mite. Just nourish my poor little brain for a minute.  Why didn’t you follow those three cars?  Karen would have.”

“Oh yes.  And I can imagine the thoughts that would have been going through Amanda’s mind as she waited at the school gates, watching three large black cars go past, with her brother’s car tanking after them!”  Patrick rejoined.  “Although,” he admitted to himself, “I did think about it.”

“But you didn’t.  You collected your Sprog, then you took her back to that boathouse thingy. You looked inside, and you thought you saw Karen’s car…”

“No ‘thought’ about it!  At least give me a hearing!”

“Where next?”

“I didn’t want to go to the police.  All I would get from them would be a warning about wasting police time or something and anyway.  I wanted someone to believe me when I told them what I saw.”  Patrick thought for a second.  “No, wait.  That isn’t what I wanted.  I needed my father, specifically my father, to believe what I saw.”

“Why?  Does he have his doubts?  More to the point, do you?  My god, Patrick!”

“Yes, he’s been wary of the kidnapping story from the start.  And Dad, he’s kind of the voice of logic in my life, you know?  I needed him to believe in me, so I went directly to him.  I didn’t even take Sprog home first, because his office is nearer – he works Saturdays, of course.  It was a struggle, but I got him to return with me to see the boathouse for himself.  Dad had a job to get out, some kind of contract up north.  It wasn’t much of a delay though.  We were there by one-thirty.”

“No car?”

“How did you know that?”

“I didn’t.  I guessed.  By the time you got your Dad to look into the boathouse Karen’s car was gone.  It seems to be the way your luck is running, Patrick.  Bad karma!”

“Not only Karen’s car; there was an old Riley in there and the four motorbikes I saw on the Harterport Esplanade – all gone!  The double doors of the place were open like they hadn’t been closed in years, and – I don’t know – it looked like the floor had been swept, or something.  A neglected Pathfinder wouldn’t be that easy to move, they must have trailed it, so someone had been very busy.  Anyway, that was when the recriminations started.”

“Your old man didn’t believe you?  No, wait – brains, Bea!  He must have done – Amanda saw the car too, yeah?”

“Our little snake!  Oh, it was my fault, I suppose.  When I initially broke the boathouse window to see inside she was demanding to be lifted so she could also see, but I was scared we’d be caught.  I didn’t want to put her at risk, so I didn’t actually help her see for herself.  ‘I didn’t see any cars’ was the exact phrasing the little bigot used, and she stuck to it, too.  All the way home she was delicately suggesting I was under stress and I might need medical attention.” Patrick sighed heavily, “Maybe she’s right; that’s what Dad thinks.”

His hand was resting on the table.  Bea squeezed it consolingly.  “No, mate, she isn’t right.  Go on, fill in the rest.”

“My mother lived up to her promise.  She tried to get me an appointment with Sir Clive Webster, the Lord Lieutenant?  She knows him, of course. Who doesn’t she know?”

“Isn’t he supposed to be ill?  It was on the local news.  He had a heart attack or something.”

“He’s had about five, as far as I can gather.  You’re right, though.  His secretary fixed me up to see his deputy, Norman Wilson.   That was yesterday, and it was why I ‘phoned you.  Because I hoped I’d have some news for us this morning.”

“And..”

“And I saw him.”  Patrick was studying his hands, avoiding Bea’s eyes.  “I wanted you to keep some faith in me.  I haven’t been kicking my heels all this time, I’ve been back to Nowhere Lane again this weekend, and ‘phoning anyone who might know something, like the farmer who owns the land next to Boulter’s Green, and the Driscombes; I tried them. Not with any success, but I tried.”

Bea took a firmer grip on Patrick’s hand.  “Pat!  Avoiding the question, yeah?  What happened with Wilson?”

“He’s a strange guy.  Enigmatic, I think that’s the word.  Has a big house just outside Upcote, he dresses a bit like my Dad when he’s home;  corduroys, sandals, t-shirt, that sort of thing.  I didn’t have to tell him who I was or why I’d come, he already knew.  Much more than my mother told him.  He already knew.”

“Well, what did he say?  Can he do anything?”

“It wasn’t that kind of an interview, Bea.”

#

The Wilson residence exuded an atmosphere of quiet, unassuming wealth.   Red brick for a first storey, hung tiles for a second, its small sashed windows allowed no glimpse of the home they concealed.  The long façade had about it the fade of sanguinity, the blush of years; the cars parked in its courtyard, a Lanchester and a Bentley, reflected a required perfection that never needed to consider pennies counted, or pounds earned.

All the more surprising, then, when Patrick met its shuffling owner.  Karen, who had met with Wilson, had little prepared him with her description because she had paid scant attention to it, dismissing him as a nervous man of no great age, and under-confident.  The man who opened his front door to Patrick was someone much older than this description, and altogether more self-assured.

“Hallcroft, isn’t it?  Come in, young man.”

There were further surprises to come.  Patrick was shown into a warmly panelled room with old leather-covered furniture and many shelves of books, all professionally bound and uniformly severe.  A pair of green chesterfields dominated the centre of the room, seated upon one of which was as large and overstuffed a man as Patrick had ever seen.

“This is Chief Constable Vincent Carmody, Hallcroft.”  And Wilson added, pointedly,  “Who is, as I’m sure you know, Superintendent of Police in Beaconshire.”  Patrick moved forward to extend his hand, but Carmody neither moved nor spoke.   “Now, why did you want to see me?  Your mother was most insistent.”

Patrick instantly identified the intent to intimidate him but was nonetheless taken aback by it. Was Carmody present by chance or design?  He had to clear his throat before he responded.   “I wanted to see you concerning the disappearance of Karen Eversley.  I believe you met her.”

Wilson raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

“Well, she was working on a case you presented to her.  A missing persons enquiry, into someone called Gasser – I’m sorry – Gavin Woodgate.  Miss Eversley recounted your meeting in some detail, Mr Wilson.  I am sure you remember.”

Wilson and Carmody exchanged glances.  “And if I assure you I don’t remember?”

“Then I would have to ask you why your memory is so selective?”

Carmody’s voice was like the rumble of distant thunder.  “Impudent whelp, aren’t you?  Why are you here, boy?”

“To find Karen,”  Patrick retorted.  “I was hoping to enlist Mr Wilson’s help. but since you are here, sir, to ask why the police under your command seem so uncooperative in securing her return.  They’ve done precisely nothing, and they seem intent upon impeding me!”

Wilson cut back in, allaying or delaying an explosion from Carmody;  “I gave no such instructions, Hallcroft.  If Miss Eversley was asked to pursue an enquiry it was extremely confidential in nature.  It seems that she chose to betray our confidence, doesn’t it, in sharing details with you and with others.”

“If she did it was only to defend herself against heavy-handed tactics from your friend Frank Purton.  Now you’re trying the same heavy-handedness on me – for what reason, I wonder?  Somebody has Karen Eversley, Mr Wilson.  I will find out who.”

“Whilst I am sympathetic to your emotional involvement, young man, I assure you that you are mistaken.  Certain persons – I shan’t say name them – and I are very disappointed in Miss Eversley’s behaviour.  She is not ‘missing’, she has simply gone.  She betrayed our confidence, dropped our case into the mess she had made, then moved away, possibly to the Continent, to escape the repercussions.  She sent a letter to that effect to her parents.  I take it you have read that?  After all, she dropped you too, did she not?”

Carmody’s eruption happened.  “I won’t stand for any more of this!  See here, Hallcroft:  the woman’s made a bolt for it; there’s no better explanation.  Nor is there any evidence to the contrary, so I’m giving you a warning.  My force is facing a lot of challenges at the moment, not least of which is greater intervention from a larger, regional authority.  The last thing we need is a public nuisance and we will have you off the streets if you try to create one.  Is that understood?  Is that final enough for you?”

“Public nuisance?”

“You’re persistently wasting police time, calling the integrity of my officers into question, and harassing innocent citizens.  Your activities have entailed a number of petty crimes, of which threatening behaviour is one.  If my officers hear one more peep out of you, if they get one more complaint, you’ll be up before the Magistrates so fast those clumsy feet of yours will barely touch the ground.  For heaven’s sake show him out, Norman.  I‘m sick of the sight of him!”

#

“Unbelievable!”  Bea shook a troubled head.  “And that was it?”

“Not quite.”  As he – what would you say – showed me out?  Chucked me out? – Wilson said I should ‘think of my career’.  A police record wouldn’t go down well with the local authority; not his exact words, but close enough.”

“It’s not good, yeah?”  Bea murmured, and if Patrick had observed his companion more closely, he would have noticed how close she was to tears.  “Poor Karen.”

“They’re very sure of themselves, aren’t they?”  Patrick said, tight-lipped,  “Very professional.  They recognised me, or my car, when they passed me on Quays Lane and within an hour, probably, they’d cleaned that boathouse out; just like they cleared Karen’s apartment, just like they got to her mother and frightened her off.   And then, finally, last night…”  He broke off, alarming Bea, who could see the colour draining from his face.  For a moment she feared that he, not she, would break down.  But he took a breath, gathered himself, and resumed.

“I dropped into the Council offices because in the end I do have to go back to work, and I needed a little encouragement, I guess.  A few of us went on to The Hunters for a drink or two, then a meal, so it was quite late before I headed home.  I saw the red glow against the sky.  Oh, Bea, you’ve no idea what that’s like, the nagging fear that gets more certain with every turn in the road!    From telling yourself it can’t be, to the inescapable conclusion that it is – then the commotion in the drive, the blue flashing lights.”  Patrick took a deep breath; “Then seeing my Dad broken, his shoulders slumped and his expression, oh God his face!  Everything that inspired love in him was in that barn, his precious cars, tools, even his bloody lawnmower!  All gone.   I’ve never seen a fire that fierce before.  I never want to see its like again.”

“You think?”

“Of course I think!  I was warned, wasn’t I?  Stay away from Karen Eversley; I was warned. Do you know what will always stick in my memory?   There were three fire engines there, and there were three crews doing their bloody damnedest to protect the house (because that could have gone up too), to rescue something from the wreckage.  One police car turned up – one!  A panda car with two coppers in it who spent their time leaning against their car bonnet looking at me and sniggering like frigging school kids!  I doubt if they’ll even bother to file a report!”

Patrick drew himself up.  “Anyway, nobody slept last night.  It was sunrise before they got the fire out.  It’s early days yet, but the fire guys found remains of a device with a timer.  It was placed under the fuel tank Dad kept in there, so they think that started the fire.  Heaven knows when it was planted; yesterday, probably, maybe before.

“Bea, I spoke to my Dad this morning…”

Bea interrupted him,  “You think she’s dead, don’t you?”

“I can’t answer that…”

“You do!  You think this mad bastard took her and used her, and he’s left her in a ditch, somewhere!  And she’ll be cold, and alone, and it could be months, years before they find her, and he gets away with it!  He just huddles up in his spider-hole and waits for the next victim.  This will happen again, Patrick!  Again!”

“I don’t know if she’s dead or alive, Bea.  I’ve kept hoping, I’ve kept believing.  But there’s a family – my family – to consider.  You, too.  I might be putting you in danger just by being with you.”

“I don’t care.  She’s my friend,  she was always my friend.”

“But still; like I said, Dad’s always been the sober voice, you know?  Right from wrong, good from bad, all that?  This morning, though, he was very…I don’t know; humble, I suppose.  I’ve never seen him that way.  In spite of what he believed he stood back when I began this,.  He didn’t – he wouldn’t – hold me back.  This morning he begged me, there’s no other word for it.  He wanted me to admit this thing is too big to fight, and he’s right, it is.  He wanted me to think what might happen if I go on, to Gabby, to Amanda, to mother…”

“So you’re giving up.”

“In my heart, no.  Although to be honest, I’ve nowhere else to go, and no idea where to look, now.  I’ve asked everything of everyone everywhere.”   Patrick sighed.  “I haven’t stopped missing her and her image is as fresh in my head as it ever was.  I wish I knew a way to carry on with the search, Bea, but I don’t.   Not without causing more harm.”

Bea shook her head, her tears undeniable now.  “You are, you’re giving up!  Oh, I don’t blame you, I’d even do the same in your place, probably.  It’s like being so close to the truth and then…I mean, you drew the attention of the Chief Constable, for Pete’s sake!”

“I know,”  Patrick acknowledged miserably.  “I will try to find a way to do more, but not if it means putting someone else in danger.  Half my problem is knowing who to trust.”

“You can trust me, Patrick.  You can trust me.”’

#

There we must leave Patrick for a while, at the end of the most frenetic and tragic few weeks of his life, to try to resume the ordinary components of living, to return to his work, to his family, to his neglected friends.  It does not make a pretty picture for us, but life has so few masterpieces to admire, and no matter how painful it is to leave them, in the end we must pass them by.  Not without regret, however, and not without damage.

Patrick?  He experienced bitter rage at first, angered by the inviolability of the institutions he kicked at, violent at times when the cold draught of authority once more froze the blood in his veins.  All but a few truest friends deserted him; while those whose love he needed stepped back to allow him room to vent his feelings, which he often did, in diatribes against anyone who suggested acceptance.

Only his colleague Jacqui Greenway understood his agony enough to stand by him in these moods and soak up the blows.  It was Jacqui who wept, and not a little, when he announced he could not work for a local authority any more, that he was turning his back on his intended career.  She would miss him, miss working beside him, but that was not the reason for her tears:  it hurt to see someone destroying himself for a love that was no longer real, something that had become instead a vengeful obsession.

Throughout the winter of that year Patrick drank away his evenings at ‘The Huntsman’, always seated if he could at the table he and Karen had made their meeting place, becoming unjustifiably annoyed if it was taken by other customers.  Then, on a night in the icy January of the New Year, he drove home in a fury that had been building over the months.  He drove as a demon might, fast and then faster, with his eyes aflame and a knot of bitter despair in his heart, neither knowing nor caring how his night would end.  His senses re-tuned by drink had forgotten where the corners were on this stricture of a road, yet he somehow timed them all – all but the last.

Patrick’s precious silver Daimler died there in the cold moonlight; and Patrick, thrown clear as it leapt and turned, nearly died too.  Those who traced the string of wreckage to the place where he lay marvelled at the faint breath which still sustained his life – his wretched, unwanted life.  For three days that life hung by a thread, which, had he been conscious and able, Patrick might have finally cut: only coma prevented him.  But fate, in the hands of a team of medics with a mission to heal, somehow brought him back.

It would be easy to tell you that the tale ended there, and in many ways it did.   Yet the mystery of Karen Eversley’s disappearance remained unsolved and long before this story was drawing to its close a new one was beginning, with the curse of the dark man graven deeply in its pages, and there are things, many things, yet to learn.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organizations, 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