Flotsam

A re-post from 2015…

“If it’s not a mine…”  Laura says;  “what is it?”

Toby shakes his head.   “Dunno.  It sort of looks like a mine, though.  Dad was saying about the war and that.  Maybe we should report it, or something?”

“Oh, yes, it looks like a mine!”  Laura mocks.  “Like you’d know what a mine looks like!  I think it’s just a box.”

“Yes I do so know what a mine looks like!  I’ve got pictures!

“Where?”

“At home.”

The ‘mine’ sits before them in the sand, deposited by the high tide the night before.  Whatever it is, its dull metal body will not tell.   The children have been watching it for a half hour, waiting for someone else to walk along the beach, but so early on this rainy morning no-one comes.

“I’m going to find out!”  Toby decides.

Laura protests.  “Noooo!  Toby, DON’T!”   All the same, she follows her brother as he approaches the object.   “What if it goes off?”

“Then we’ll be blown to bits!”  At nine years old Toby has little comprehension of all that means.  He stoops over the object.  “It’s got spikes like a mine, but there’s only four.”

Laura casts frightened eyes about her, wishing someone, anyone would appear.  She doesn’t want to be blown to bits – she needs help.  “Let’s report it, Toby!  I’ll run back and tell Dad!”  

“He won’t be up yet, and he’ll get mad at us.   See this…”  Her brother reaches for a prominence on the object at the root of one of the spikes.  “It turns, I think.”

“Oh no!”

“Yeah!   See?”

Making the prominence turn requires effort because it is rusted or seized by some other means.  Toby has to sit down on the wet sand and place his foot against the object to gain leverage.   Laura punctuates his every move with another groan of foreboding.  

A determined wrench plucks the thing from its sandy bed.   Toby falls backward.  Laura screams.  The prominence frees itself suddenly and turns, splitting the object wide open with an angry hiss.  Both children are petrified, struck dumb in their horror, waiting for the end.   

Nothing happens.

For several seconds neither child can move:  they sit where they fell, staring at the object, which has opened like a book.

Evetually Laura says.  “It was just air escaping. It’s all silvery inside!  Look:  it’s all silvery!”

“What’s all that stuff?”Toby says.  “It’s got stuff in it.”

Some of the ‘stuff’ has spilled out and lies scattered on the sand.

Emboldened by the box’s apparent incapacity to harm, the children recover themselves and edge up to it once more.  Together they begin picking over the detritus that has spewed from its interior.   “Its all, like, electrical bits.  Do you think it’s an old radio, or something?”  Laura says.  “Oh, and look there’s a little packet here with something inside.”

Toby stands over the box, staring down at it, a frown of concentration on his wind-tanned face.  “I tell you what it is!”  He cries, inspired.  “It’s an old navigation buoy!   You know, like the one at the headland Dad uses to guide his boat back in the fog?  This…”  He pulls a large, gold-colored disc from a slot in the top;  “this is the thing that makes the bell sound – see?”   He flicks a finger at the disc, which responds with a dull metal ring.

Laura has torn the little packet with her teeth and is examining the little piece of metal inside.  “Ouch!  That’s sharp!”  She sucks a drop of blood from her finger and throws the offending object back into the interior of the opened box.  “We’ll get into trouble, won’t we?  We shouldn’t have touched it!”

Toby’s frown deepens.  His sister is invariably right in matters of parental censure.  Dad will be annoyed.  “I tell you what, we’ll bury it.”

“Where?  In the sand?  The sea’ll just wash it up again.”

“Not if we bury it in the North Dunes.  They’ve been getting bigger every year since Dad can remember.  No-one will ever find it there.  It’ll be entombed forever.”  Toby breathes the long word proudly, making a dramatic arch shape with his hands.

“Alright.  Let’s do it quickly, before someone comes.”

With some effort the two children drag the object away along the beach, and the tide rolls in behind them, washing over their tracks.  It will be an hour or more before they have completed the object’s interment among the grasses of the North Dunes, and scuffed and smoothed the sand back into place.

“Time for breakfast.”  Toby says.  Then he spots the gold-colored disc in his sister’s hand.  “Oh, Laura!”

“I couldn’t help it!  I don’t want to bury it!  It’s so nice!”

“Give it to me!”

“No!  I want it!”

“You can’t keep it!  You’ll give everything away!”

“I can hide it!”

“Give it to me!”  Angry, Toby wrestles his sister to the ground and snatches the disc from her hand; then he strides away towards the rocky shore where the waves break, at the foot of the North Headland.  Realizing his intention, Laura runs after him in a tragedy of tears.

“Toby, no, don’t break it!   Don’t, please!”

But Toby is determined.  He smashes the disc against the sharp rock where the limpets cling, making an edge.   Nevertheless the disc resists him, and it requires several blows, with Laura weeping at his arm, before it suddenly splits into five pieces.   He hurls each piece, one by one, into the rising tide.

“Now!  We’re going back for breakfast!”

Still crying, Laura manages to intercept the final sliver of disc, though her dream of possessing it is shattered.  As she turns it over in her hands she makes a discovery.  “Toby – what’s this?”

Toby glances disparagingly at the black marks his sister had found.  “Nothing.”  He says.

“No?  I think it’s a speak-mark.”

“Don’t be stupid.  You’re just stupid!  You can’t speak a mark like that!”

“Just ‘cos you can’t!”

“And you can’t, neither.  Come on!”

But his sister lingers.  She tries to copy the symbols she has found, scratching them in sand that is still wet between the tides.   In the end, though, she has to admit defeat.  They mean nothing.  Reluctantly she follows her brother back towards their beach-side home, throwing the last shard of disc into the sea and leaving her sand writing to be obliterated by the waves.  For a while though, for a few precious minutes, the symbols she has inscribed remain, staring up at the waking of the twin suns.

Their message is imparted so the sky alone may read – one word:

VOYAGER

© Frederick Anderson 2015.  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 co

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Fourteen. A Cry in the Night

 

 The back door of Radley Court opened onto a cobblestone courtyard that was partly surrounded by the main house on two-and-a-half sides.  Opposite Karen and Gabrielle as they emerged from the kitchen stood a shortened two-storey wing, its smaller four-paned sash windows conveying none of the hauteur of their counterparts on the front of the house, but twice the mystery.  To the right of this stub of building and divided from it by a path, a fenced paddock was tenanted by a single, depressed-looking Shetland pony.

“Her name’s Bella,”  Gabrielle explained.  “She has problems, poor sweet.”

She led the way beside the kitchen wing, past a tack room to the final single storey portion of the wing, which consisted of loose boxes.   Here, against a muted background of culinary industry emanating from the kitchen, she allowed her enthusiasm to bubble over.  She was certainly passionate about her horses – all four of them, though she unashamedly favoured a bay with a white blaze.

“This is the absolutely best horse in the world!”  She planted a kiss on the horse’s nose.  “He’s called Chuffy and he’s utterly fab, aren’t you, darling?”

Chuffy reciprocated by tossing his head and showing off outrageously.

“Then this is Shiner,”  Shiner, a strawberry roan, surveyed his two visitors stoically for a moment, before sidling forward to be greeted.  “You’re Mummy’s horse, yes, sweetie?  You don’t do anything unless there’s a treat at the end, do you?  ‘What’s in it for me’, that’s Shiner’s philosophy.”

The last box was occupied by Percy, the Suffolk, huge and amiable.

“Mums bought him on a whim because nobody wanted him, and now we know why.  He has his breakfast delivered on a lorry!”

Karen, who had never ridden, learned more about horses in an hour that evening than she could possibly want to have learned, while her friendship with Gabby deepened to the most personal and conspiratorial level.

“Patsy gets awfully serious sometimes.  I expect you’ve noticed?  Oh, and have you caught him doing that thing with his tackle?  He seems to get dreadfully muddled up down there, bless him!  Gosh, I shouldn’t have asked that, should I?”

Within a space of a few precious hours Karen had discovered new friends, each of whom had some special quality she found endearing.  Gabby’s enthusiasm, Paul’s gentle, ambling sincerity, Jackson Hallcroft’s mesmeric charm, and Gwendoline, who disguised an incisive intelligence with the overt appearance of a hopelessly disorganized human being.  Patrick acquainted Karen with the truth.

“Didn’t I say?  Before she married Dad she was a solicitor.  She could have had quite a career, apparently. Don’t play chess with our mother, she’ll wipe the floor with you.  Oh, and she loves horses as much as Gabs, unfortunately.”

Dinner was augmented by lively conversation and a friendly interrogative process to which Karen submitted willingly enough, because it was right that the Hallcrofts should know all they wanted about her and she found herself actually wanting to tell them.

With night came rain, which stimulated a bustle of activities; Patrick braving the elements to cover his car before joining Gabrielle in her routine around the stables, Paul assisting Jackson in stowing away garden tools.

Karen joined Pat’s mother in the kitchen to ‘clear away’, a feeble contrivance which lost credibility the moment they switched on the lights because the working surfaces, cupboards and shelves were pristine and the washing up, left in the hands of Mrs Beatty, already done.  That good lady was in the process of finishing her day as they entered, donning her coat from a hook by the outside door.

“I’ve left the breakfast stuff in the fridge, tonight, Mrs Hallcroft.  Mrs B will sort that out in the morning.  Good night to you.  And to you, young lady.”   She gave Karen a smile that was uncomfortably close to a smirk.

Karen was taken aback and perhaps did not disguise it.  When she came to herself she realized Gwendoline was watching her.  “There’s another Mrs B?”  She asked, by way of a diversionary tactic.

“Mrs Buxham, she does mornings.  You have to be on your mettle, though.  She has a way of making your bed while you’re still in it.  Do you like espresso coffee, Karen?  I’m afraid I can’t get the machine to work.  Would you care to try?”

An espresso coffee maker glowered defiantly from one of the kitchen’s less cluttered corners.  Karen admired it.

“I have this aversion,” Gwendoline explained while Karen tinkered, “to kitchen machinery.  It utterly defeats me, I’m afraid.  You mustn’t mind Mrs Beatty.  She can be very – how shall I say – direct?”

Karen weighed her words carefully. “Thoughts once harboured are better expressed.”  She said.  “Where’s the coffee?”

“Third from the right, bottom shelf.  One might hesitate, sometimes, for fear of causing offence, don’t you think?”

“I think I’m not easily offended.”  The filter in the machine looked as if it had been there since it left the factory, so Karen scraped it into a bin.  “Have you any more of these, Mrs Hallcroft?”

“Gwendoline, please – or Gwen.  Do you know I’ve no idea?  Try the shelf above the plate rack.  Although when the subject is one’s own son, I suppose it might be necessary.”

Karen tracked down the filters in a lower cupboard.  “It should work!”  She said brightly.

“What do you think?  I ask, because I find this a peculiar reversal.  Isn’t it usually the father who seeks assurances from his daughter’s suitor?  And here I am…should it be making that gurgling noise?”

“It’s heating the water.”

“Ah!  That’s obviously where I have been going wrong.  We’re very fond of him, you know.”

“Of course you are.  And so am I.”  Karen replied, adding:  “In spite of myself.  Cups?”

“Oh, yes – I’ll get some.  That looks awfully interesting.  Is it working?”

“Absolutely!”  Karen exclaimed, borrowing Gabby’s favourite word.  “We simply have to intercept the outcome…”

The cups arrived just in time, and in the slightly panic-driven process of producing the miraculous beverage, the main thread of conversation was lost.  It would not remain buried, however.  As they sat at the table, tasting their success, Gwendoline said:  “In spite of yourself?”

“I think I anticipated this conversation.”

“And…”

“And I wasn’t sure how I would answer the charge.”

“He is very young, you see.”

“Yes.”  Karen acknowledged.  “I’m the older woman – not by much, but still enough to be frowned upon, especially where our differences in fortune are concerned.”

“Do you know, this coffee is quite delicious?  Well done, Karen!  He is very gullible at times.  He can be easily led.”

“I’m not the one who is leading, in that sense.”

“You’ve slept with him, of course.”

“Oh, now!”

“There is no better way to lead a man, is there, Karen?  Men think with their balls, dear.  Don’t tell me you are unaware of that.  In your bed they’ll promise you anything…”

“Please stop?”  Karen begged.  “You’re beginning to make me sound like a fortune-seeking harlot and I’m not.  Believe me I’m not!  You’re laying out all the reasons I’ve given myself for ending our relationship, not my scheme for tying him down.  The truth I face is that I’m very fond of Pat.  I wanted to walk away, I really did – still do, perhaps.  But…”

“It’s happening very fast, Karen!”

“I know; I know.  And I keep trying to hold back, but everything just seems to conspire to keep us together.  I don’t mind about money – if you cut him off and we had to live in a garret it would be alright.  It would be heaven.  Oh, god, what am I saying?  I thought it was uniquely your husband’s gift to inspire fits of verbal irresponsibility, but you’ve got it too…”

“Have I?”  Gwendoline laughed.  “I wonder though if we always find the truth.  How shall I phrase it – have you ‘found something special’ with Patrick?”

With all her self-erected barriers tumbling before her, Karen suddenly found she needed to admit it.  “Yes,” she murmured. “I believe I have.”

“And this has nothing to do with his protecting you, or shared danger, or good old-fashioned lust?”

“It may.  But it’s real, nonetheless.”

“Well then, we’ve finished our coffee, haven’t we?  Perhaps we should go and find out what your boyfriend is doing, and sort out some night things for you.”

Karen could barely hide her incredulity:  “Is that it?”

Gwendoline studied her fingers.  “A long time ago, when I was a junior in chambers, a large, very attractive man with a legal issue caught my attention.  We were married within a month of meeting one another.   That was twenty-six years and three children ago, and we’re still together.  Love?  Yes, I love him.  But love is always a frantic, emotionally turbulent thing to begin – it’s what is left when the embers start to cool that matters: whether friendship is there, after all the fury.  You have to wait at least ten years to find that out.

“So, what can I do as a mother?  If what you have is a week or two of passion, I will see it flare out.  If you are ‘meant’ to be together, I don’t want to be the one to stand in your way, either of you.  All I ask is if you have to break his heart, be gentle, will you?”

#

Neither parent was present when their children accompanied two bottles of wine to a small room at one corner of the house that they referred to as the den.

“Mother retires early with her books and Dad goes to his study in the evenings,”  Patrick explained.  “He’s working.  He’s always working.”

Either by neglect or intent, the den had no electric light.  Its rich, sand-coloured walls danced with candle shadows, choreographed by standing candelabra as old as the house itself.  In winter the room would be induced to warmth by the flickering of a small wood fire, but tonight the hearth only promised, its fire-basket of logs waiting to be lit.  Patrick lounged upon an old overstuffed couch against the window wall with Karen at his side.  Paul and Gabrielle sat on a similar couch across the room, leaving space between them on the seat which was quickly claimed by Petra.

“Pat.”  Karen decided to broach the subject that troubled her most.  “You believe you were attacked because you ignored that note…”

Pat blinked at her, owlish in the subdued light.  “Yeah, this note.”  He sat up,  foraging in his pocket and producing the piece of paper he had found on his car windscreen.  “It’s a bit smudged but you can read what it says.”  He passed it to Karen.  “I kept it specially.”

“Mr Nasty put this on your windscreen sometime in the afternoon of the stakeout?”

“Maybe.  It was wet when I found it,  Look.”

“So it would have been Mr Nasty who was responsible for what happened to you this morning.”

“It seems logical.  I can’t think of anyone else who would hate Jacqui or me that much. But I don’t think he did it himself.”

“It could have been him.”

“Possibly; I didn’t see anyone.  Here’s the thing, though.  Whoever attacked us had detailed inside knowledge:  no-one outside the offices would be familiar with our routine – we don’t exactly publicise it.”

“So who would know?  Who could know?”

“Someone studying us pretty closely – spy, rather than spymaster.  Get the facts, report them to someone, get paid, maybe…”

Karen winced.  “I’m beginning to feel completely paranoid!  When I think of it, the man knew I would be walking home, the night of the storm – which route I would take, what time I would be at the bridge…it would have to be that policeman told him that.  The police couldn’t be behind it all, surely?  I know they don’t like me, but…”

“No.  In on it, yes, instigating it, no.  Who first set you off on the Boulter’s Green goose chase?”

“Frank Purton, I suppose.  Oh and Wilson, who said Gasser was last seen near there.”

“We were talking about this, this afternoon in visiting hours, and remember that was before your last contretemps with your hide-bound friend.  It’s even more certain now, to me, at least.”

Paul said:  “Karen, I asked my olds about Boulter’s Green and it has quite a reputation among local psychics.  There have been, reputedly – nothing certain, never is with these things – ‘events’ associated with the place; visions of a ‘dark angel’, things that disappeared, and so on?  You seem to have stumbled on Ghost Metropolis.    Oh, and incidentally, the ruins aren’t cottages, they never were.”

“No?  So the address on the Turnbull letter…”

“A complete fabrication.  Originally, the meadow the ruins stand in was ‘Boulter’s Field’.  In mediaeval times it was part of the Driscombe estate, and there was one building upon it, their family chapel…”

“A church?”

Paul nodded.  “A small one, yes. Matthias Boulter A mining prospector,  bought the meadow from the Driscombes.   He must have given them a good price because they redefined their estate borders at the river and built a new chapel, which still stands at the North end of the house.  Boulter never mined the land – lead prices dipped, maybe, or it proved to be a false hope.  Anyway, the second ruin is the remains of an office or a shed for tools.  Now, am I good, or what?”

“Brilliant!”  Karen enthused  “The fact it was a chapel could explain those graves.  But we still haven’t made a connection with my stalker.”

“You’re supposed to be the detective.”  Patrick reminded her.

“I know, but I never said I was a good detective.  Indulge me.”

“Could it be that your Mr Nasty is being employed by these people to hurt you, or wreak revenge for something…?”

“…Or kill me, you mean.”

“Yes, alright.  I was trying not to say that.”  Patrick grimaced.  “Could you have done something to offend some high-up in the town – or could you maybe have information that might do damage if it got out?”

“Not that I know of.  But kill me?  Bad as they are, the police could never be implicated in something like that.”

“Rub you out, darling,” Gabby contributed. “They do that all the time.  I’ve seen it in the movies.”

“Thanks, Gabby!”

“Don’t mench.”

“Shut up, Gabby!”  Patrick growled.  “Unlikely as it seems…listen, Karen love, we think this whole Gasser thing is designed to push you in the direction of Boulter’s Green.  Not because it’s connected to anyone’s disappearance (Gasser’s probably just lying low somewhere, maybe even being paid to) but because it’s somewhere nice and quiet where their nefarious designs are unlikely to be disturbed.”

“Which, in the case of Mr Nasty…”  Karen shuddered.  “I can’t think of what he would do to me.  Oh, Pat?”

“I know, love.  We won’t let anything happen to you, honestly!”

“He’s not a hitman in the Charles Bronson mode, though, is he, my dark angel?  He’s no ghost, either.  He seems a tiny bit mad.”

“A contract in a small town?  Not likely to attract Bugsy Seigel,  is it?  I know you think I disbelieved you at Boulter’s Green when you told me about the skinny old man; I actually suspect he was there to help get you.  You were in the right place.  If I hadn’t reappeared things might have been very different.”

“He vanished, Pat.  I must have dreamed him…”

Pat shook his head somberly.  “I’m not so sure.  I don’t know how he managed it, but I think he was real all the same.  So that’s why you’re here with us, until we sort this out.”

“Sprog will be back tomorrow,”  Gabby, now stretched out with her head on her boyfriend’s lap, changed the subject.  “My grotty little sister,” she reminded Karen.  Paul and Patrick groaned in unison.

Conversation became drowsily relaxed, interspersed with comfortable silences.   Midnight passed, the candles guttered, sufficient wine had flowed.

“And now my head really aches.”  Patrick complained.  “I’ll let Petra out, and then it’s bed for me.”

Karen’s room was a large, comfortable space.  Hangings of middle-eastern origin adorned walls of eggshell blue; there was a fireplace that had been lamp-blacked until it shone, a kidney-shaped dressing table draped in chintzy peach with hairbrush and hand-mirror neatly arranged, and a large double bed that grunted amiably when she lay upon it.  Floor length dragon-print curtains added drama, concealing a high casement window which, when she raised its sash, admitted a hint of honeysuckle.

With one of Gabby’s thinnest, lightest nightdresses to clothe her, Karen settled on top of the bedcovers, happy to accept the warm breeze from her window and pleasantly ready for sleep.  In the corridor beyond her door sounds of the household gradually dwindled into silence.  Somewhere out in the darkness a nightingale sang.  Listening to its music, and thinking or dreaming of the day’s events she drifted happily, eyelids heavy, towards slumber.

The clatter was loud and startling:  the language that immediately followed could only be Patrick’s.  Her idyll shattered, Karen leapt from the bed, rushed to the door.  Patrick met her there.

“Pat, what on earth?”  She hissed in an open whisper.  “Are you all right?  What happened?”

“No, I’m not alright!”  Pat let himself into the room.  “And there’s no point in whispering.  I should think the whole house is awake now anyway.”

“What happened?”

“I kicked a bucket, that’s what happened.”  Patrick sat himself down on the edge of her bed, massaging a foot.  “Somebody left a bucket in the middle of the landing.”

“Oh, you poor darling.  Mrs Buxham?”

“You know about Mrs Buxham?  No, not Mrs Buxham; someone much younger, I’m fairly sure; someone with a particularly warped sense of humour.”

Karen caught his drift and, cruelly, began to laugh.  “Oh no, I don’t believe you!  It was probably just carelessness…”

“Yes, probably.  Like the piece of string stretched across the landing tethering it to the bannisters was probably accidental too.  I’ll kill her!”

“Never mind.”  She discovered his bare leg in the darkness and stroked it affectionately.  “It is rather sweet.  Were you coming for me?”

“I always pace the bloody ramparts about this time of night!  What do you think?”

“I think it would be nice if you stayed.  Especially since it seems everyone knows you’re here now.  It’ll help them to find you if they need you in the morning.”

“What about you?”

“Me?  Oh, I need you tonight.”

“My foot’s sore.”

“When I say I need you…”

“I know – you aren’t thinking specifically of my foot.  My head aches as well.”

“Oh, your poor head!  But I wasn’t thinking of your head, either.”

“All the same…”

“I promise I’ll be gentle.”

Later, much later, when their genial conversation with the big old bed had reached a hiatus and they had both dropped into exhausted sleep a vixen’s cry, long and agonized, rose from the outer darkness, wavering and weeping as it departed on the wind.  Its sound dragged Karen from her dreaming so suddenly she jumped and sat up.  And just as suddenly, the air froze about her shoulders as if icy fingers had clutched her heart.  Her dark angel was reaching for her; she heard the sound of Suzanne, her sister’s voice lifted in warning, her sister’s tears.

Patrick stirred, coaxed her back to him.  “Hey!  Don’t be alarmed, you old townie.  Haven’t you heard a fox before?”

“It isn’t the fox,”  She admitted.  “Oh Pat, darling, he’s out there, isn’t he?”

“He?  Mr Nasty, your dark angel?  No, no.  You’re safe from him here – you are, seriously.  He can’t harm you.”

“I can feel him.  I can feel his hands crawling over me!  Wherever I go, whatever I do, he’s going to find me, Pat, I can’t escape him.  He’s going to find me!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

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

 

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

“Did you tell them?”

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

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

She did not answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sue, no!”

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

“Sue…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was at home in bed, I expect.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye.  Wasn’t me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know  the address 32 Lampeter Drive?”

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

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

“I said…”

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

“No!  No I didn’t!”

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head.  “I don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But?”

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So your mind’s made up, like?”

“It is.  It was made up for me.”

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

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

“Now then, Spakker!”

“Now, Trev.  You alright, man?”

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

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

“Aye, it does.”

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

“Aye.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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