Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twenty-Nine. Home Affairs

One foggy winter evening early in the year 1970, a few weeks before Patrick Hallcroft and Jacqui Greenway were due to marry, the smoky intimacy of a private room at ‘Ricco’s’, a gentlemen’s club in London’s Mayfair hosted an informal gathering of three men: Sir Robert Burford, a senior member of the Conservative Party Executive, Marmaduke, Earl of Peverel, an active member of the House of Lords, and Peter Lederhulme, a political elder of many decades’ experience, one of a select few who might, in more recent times, be considered a ‘grandee’. These honorable gentlemen, so seemingly relaxed in the dark red leather of their wing chairs, could speak with quiet confidence upon matters of substance, knowing their words would be absorbed in subdued light and the stalwart oak paneling of the room, their only witness an eland’s head adorning the wall above their heads and so dead as to be unlikely to repeat their words.   The subject that had brought these party elders out into the rigours of a dark February night was the impending General Election.  They were only three:  but between them they exercised most, if not all, the authority to confer status in the corridors of power.  Those whose names were mooted unofficially here would become Ministers of State if their party prevailed.  They would form the new Government.

One by one, they discussed the bearers of those names and their suitability for inclusion in a new Conservative Cabinet.  Beginning with minor roles they examined the credentials of each, agreed or disagreed as to their potential, and made decisions – a lengthy, hard-fought and painstaking business; so they were well into the brandy and cigars before they lit upon the vexed question of the Offices of State.

“Home Secretary?”  Burford said, adding his exhalation to the haze.  “Settled, I presume?”

Lederhulme nodded.  “I had rather hoped Reggy would be among us tonight, but he declined.  Wisely, I suppose.  Any thoughts, Peverel?”

The Earl shook his head.  “No, no, there is only one candidate, I think.  Home Affairs, now…”

Lederhulme raised an eyebrow.  “Driscombe, surely?”

Marmaduke looked doubtful.  “Aren’t there others in the frame?  I’m sure the Associations are more keen on Honeyday.  I think I would prefer her myself, if you want the truth.”

“Doubtful, doubtful, doubtful.”  Burford murmured from behind smoke.  “Given the TUC position, I would prefer to see a stronger pair of hands.“

“Do I detect a whiff of misogyny?”  Marmaduke raised a mildly critical eyebrow.  “Not like you, Robert.  I was inclined to think of you as bearing the standard for equality, and all that.  What’s changed?”

“Nothing, dear chap; nothing at all; Home Affairs needs a low profile approach in the current climate.  A female Secretary of State is inevitably going to draw attention, and Honeyday is a progressive.  The trades unions will shake her like dogs with a rag.  I see Stafford Driscombe as an ideal choice – he has that quality of pragmatic stubbornness about him.”

“Pragmatic stubbornness!”  Chuckled Lederhulme.  “Now there’s a quality to conjure with!  But if you mean he digs his toes in, I’d agree with that.  And he’s a time server, isn’t he?  All the experience is there, especially with the unions.”

“They certainly dislike him,” Marmaduke said.

“Exactly!  All the more reason to pick him, say I.  Unadventurous, and stubborn.  And – and I never met a man so oblivious to questioning.  His PM on Land Registry reform last April was one of the worst argued pieces I ever heard, but he stuck to it rigorously.”  Robert sipped at his glass.  “No, the ideal Home Affairs choice, Stafford.  I back him, anyway.  You do Peter, I take it?”

The Earl of Peverel shook a doubtful head.  “I can’t agree with you, I fear.  He’s a ghastly chap.”

“Oh dear!”  Lederhulme’s smile remained fixed, although the humour had left it.  “That doesn’t disqualify him as a Minister of State, does it?  Rather chimes in his favour, I suggest.  Don’t spare us, Peverel – what dissuades you?”

“A number of things.  His arguments border on the obtuse, his speeches on the stultifying, but on both those issues I take your point:  he is immovable, in fact I doubt he ever realizes he is being pushed.  No, it’s in the more personal aspects I have concerns.  The man’s a bounder:  he docks it wherever safe harbour is offered, and we have had to cover up for him on a few occasions.  Do any of you remember Lucy Bedington-Carey?”

Burford nodded.  “I believe so.  Lady Calpepper as was, lives with some artist chappy in France now – man twice her age.”

“Yes.”  Nodded the Earl.  “Well, Driscombe put down his marker there first, and he did not stop to seek permission.  Her family threatened the most frightful row.  I remember it distinctly – I had the task of organizing the corrective surgery.  Just one misjudgment of many.  Then there’s that rather droll wife of his…”

“Jacintha?  Bit of a stunner, isn’t she?”  Burford commented.  “Always an asset, an attractive wife.”

“Attractive?  Showy, yes.  A deuced too many relatives in the E1 area, including, I’m told, a sister who works the Whitechapel Road.”

“Oh, my dear fellow!”  Lederhulme protested.  “Can’t we keep a sense of moderation, here?  The man’s been Member for North Beaconshire for nearly twenty years, for goodness sake.  The Driscombe Estates?  His feet are hardly clay, are they?”

Marmaduke, Earl Peverel smiled.  “On the contrary, I have Stafford as steeped in alluvium, and it isn’t just his feet.  Well, well, perhaps I overstate.  But the man is not a Driscombe in his father’s mould, and since dear old St. John died he’s become dangerously extravagant.  I worry we may lay ourselves open to unwanted scandal if we pick this particular name from the hat.  I remember Profumo too well.”

Robert Burford drew on his cigar.  “Well, I must say I don’t agree.  I believe he’s the man for the job.  Peter?”

“For me, too.”  Lederhulme nodded; “Although I take on board all you say, Peverel.  I assume we go to a majority vote on this one?”

“You do.”  The Earl said.  “Burford, m’dear, let’s be sure this chap’s underwear drawer is examined minutely, yes?”

“Of course.”  Burford agreed.  “I’ll think of someone appropriate to deal with it.”

“Toby Caverley-Masterson”  Lederhulme said.  “Everybody’s choice of attack-dog.  Put him on it.”

“I’m deeply uneasy about this choice;” said the Earl.  “Stafford Driscombe is the Daily Mirror’s dream Minister.  We’re in danger of handing the press a gift they simply cannot refuse.”

#

Patrick and Jacqui returned to Radley as newly-weds on the morning of the twentieth of March.  Jet-lagged, they slept late on the twenty-first, so Patrick had only recently dressed when a red Porsche sports car erupted onto the forecourt.  He witnessed its arrival from the breakfast room window and opened the front doors in time to see a whip of a woman in a short leather jacket and tight black jeans ease herself from the driving seat.  She glanced over her shoulder and saw him advancing.  She nodded at the house.

“Nice gaff.”  She said.  Then:  “Remember me, do you, Patrick?”

There was something quite familiar about the woman.  “Sorry, but I can’t recall,”  Patrick replied cautiously;  “You are…?”

“Me?  Rebecca Shelley?  Beaconshire Herald, then.  I’ve bettered meself since, though.”

“Ah, I remember.  You didn’t run my story.”

“Nah, true.  Sorry.  We have to talk.  Can we go inside?  I could murder a cuppa.”

“I’m not sure…”

“Believe me, we do need to talk.  I suppose you’ve heard about the election?”

“Of course.”

“Well, then.  Oh, bless you, I’m not canvassin’ for anyone!  I’m still a journalist, Patrick.  I work for the Daily Standard now – great big national, y’know? So, can we…?”

They sat at the breakfast room table.  Inga served them tea.

“Fabulous!  Darjeeling, yeah?”  Rebecca sipped generously.  “You just got married, didn’t you?  Congrats, Patrick.  Do you keep your good lady on the premises?”

“If you mean do we live here together, then yes.  I take it you got the story of our wedding from the local ‘paper?”

“I did so.  Dear old ‘Herald’!  Mr Penger sends ‘is regards, by the way.  You left an impression on him, you did.”  This comment found only stony ground.  Patrick doubted if the ancient ‘advertising manager of the Beaconshire County Herald remembered him at all.  Rebecca swiftly resumed her narrative.  “Right, not to waste your time, I’ll come straight to the point, yeah?  Stafford Driscombe.  You ever met him?”

“No, I’m afraid not.  I know very little about him.”

“Well, you see.  I do.”  ‘Becca nodded her head vigorously.  “I know a lot about him.  Let me test you – guess who might become Secretary of State for Home Affairs – if Heath gets in?”

“From the drift of this conversation would I be right in suggesting Stafford Driscombe?”

“Great, you catch up fast!  Now, for this next bit you have to trust me, Patrick, because I’ve been workin’ on something for a while and I’ve got six months start on you.  Then I want some answers from you, and then the story really starts!

“When a member of the aristocracy’s son – well, anyone, come to that – is being considered for a ministerial post a lot of checkin’ goes on.”

“Checking?”

“Yep.  Special Branch, MI5, the works.  Our ‘powers that be’ have to know the new boy is kosher, yes?  The Profumo affair put the fear of Jesus into them and these days, believe me, they’re thorough.  Squeaky clean, no cobwebs.  No naughty ladies in mews cottages in Knightsbridge, no close male friends without visible support, that sort of thing.”

“So they’re delving into Stafford’s cupboards?”

“Did I say you caught up fast?  Absolutely.  Why am I interested?  Because…let’s just say because.”

“Because maybe things aren’t quite right?”

‘Becca’s eyes flicked onto Patrick’s face like the shutters of twin cameras.  “I might be puttin’ it a little bit differently, but let me ask you again.  What do you know about the Driscombes?”

“Stafford and – what’s her name – Jacintha, I believe.  They are very private people – their estate is locked up like Fort Knox.  To get to meet them you have to make an appointment through their London Offices.  They never agree to meet anyone at home.”

“Exactly.  Now, those kinds of limits might work for, say, business appointments, but you don’t put restrictions like that on MI5.  It isn’t done.”

“In Stafford’s case it was done?”

“So we’ve heard.  Nothin’ official, of course; we don’t get this sort of stuff through conventional channels; ‘reliable sources’ are what we call them.”

‘Becca pulled a notebook from the small brown handbag she carried and flicked it open.  “February fifteenth, Driscombe gets the ‘call’; a casual chat with Heath, soundin’ him out about the job.  As far as we know, Heath got an unequivocal ‘yes’.  February eighteenth, Special Branch arrives at the Driscombe Estate to do a preliminary investigation.  Access is refused.  Well, Special Branch don’t like bein’ refused, so an amicable meetin’ quickly turns ugly.  They have to go back to Heath’s people and through ‘channels’ to gain admission to the Estate.   Heath wouldn’t have known about this – it’s all a little bit off the record, you see, because he hasn’t been elected yet.  Had he heard, he might have scotched the whole ministerial appointment thing right then, but he didn’t hear, so he didn’t scotch.”

“And you did – hear about it,”  Patrick said.

“We hear everythin’, Patrick.  It actually takes a week – in other words until February twenty-fifth, for Special Branch to gain access to that place.  All unofficial, you see – they can’t arrest anyone – but accordin’ to my source it required a lot of legal paper to get past Driscombe’s security.  As my source put it, ‘like opening a baked bean tin’.

“What was Stafford’s explanation?”

“None given, as far as we know.  Apparently his office claimed the Estate was run by his father’s holding company, not him.”

“Not his concern.  Don’t you believe that?”

“Oh, we do!  Just one little niggle; his father died three years ago.  They really meant to say the Estate was run by his father’s side of the company.  But it still leaves the question ‘why’ and makes me wonder what the Driscombe’s needed to tidy up.”

“But they have tidied it up.”

“There haven’t been any adverse comments, so I could hazard a guess the place is as clean as a Mother Superior’s conscience.”

Patrick sighed, and sat back to sip at his tea.  “I don’t see how I can help your story; or even that you’ve got a story,” he said, “unless there’s something else you haven’t told me.”

‘Becca leaned towards him, elbows on the table.  “Two words, Patrick.  A name.  Karen Eversley.”

Her two words struck Patrick as heavily as a physical blow.  He asked, drily:  “What has this to do with Karen?”

Rebecca Shelley’s voice softened:  “Still hurts, then?”

“It’s in the past.  It’s a closed book.”

“Which you re-open every day?  Never found her body.  You must wonder?”

“Look, I don’t see where this is going, but..”

“I said to trust me, didn’t I?  I told you I’ve been working on this for six months now, and I’ve got a lot of what I want, but I need to hear your story.  Not to rehash a dead news item, but maybe begin a new one.  I’m like you, Patrick.  I want to know what happened to her.”

At some time in the course of ‘Becca’s explanation, Jacqui had entered the breakfast room unnoticed.  Now she moved into ‘Becca’s view, putting her hands on Patrick’s shoulders.  “Darling, do you want to do this?”

“Hi.”  ‘Becca said.  “You must be the new bride.  Congratulations!”

“I’m Patrick’s wife, yes.”

“Jacqueline.”

“Yes.”

“Stay with us, Jacqueline.  Help Patrick.  Tell me the story.”

A number of negative options must have flashed through Jacqui’s thoughts at that time.  She could urge Patrick to say nothing, ask this waspish little woman to leave, even call Jackson to join them.  She did none of those things because she could see that by just the utterance of Karen’s name, her cause was lost.  That extra person was already back in the room, and there was nothing she could do.

“I really didn’t know her that well.  My husband will be able to fill in any details I shared.”  Jacqui said quietly.  “I’ll be in the snug if you need me.”  And she left the room.

Patrick watched her go before he asked:  “Are you saying there’s a connection?”

“Between Karen’s disappearance and the Driscombes?  I’m not sayin’ anythin’ yet.  Tell me the story.”

The re-telling of Karen’s tale was against Patrick’s instincts, yet he agreed and took Rebecca Shelley through the sequence of events that led to her disappearance.  As he did so, memories refreshed themselves in the telling, and Kare’s image stood before him renewed, so he almost felt she could be somewhere in the house again, that he had only to open the right door or call her name, and she would come.  Albeit admitted only to himself, guilt washed over him, so he felt tired and world-weary, disappointed that the tide of fortune might play with him as easily as it liked.

‘Becca was a good listener.  She only spoke when she felt there was a detail omitted or a reasoning process unexplained, and when he concluded, at the point of his last visit to Boulter’s Green, she waited silently, as if expecting more.  But they had reached Patrick’s sunder point.  He had nothing left to tell.

“Okay,” she said at last;  “You lost track of Karen after she left this clairvoyant woman’s house, and the last evidence you had of her was her car, parked in a ruined boathouse.”

“I swear it was her car.  There was an old red Pathfinder in there, too, and four bikes, but when I went back later they’d gone.”

“Strange, isn’t it?  But you didn’t see her, in person, after you left her here that mornin’?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“See, Patrick, people don’t just vanish into thin air, do they?  It just doesn’t happen.  So she either came back to the car and drove it away, after or maybe because you saw it, or someone who abducted her did the same.  Are you all right with that?”

Patrick sighed.  “I suppose so, but twice?  From Nowhere Lane and then from the boathouse?  I’ve gone back over this time after time.  Either way, it gets us no further.”

“You seem a decisive sort of bloke, Patrick.   Did you keep on lookin’ for her?”

“Of course I did, up to a point at which my family was being threatened.  The barn here was burned down with my father’s car collection inside.  You wrote that story up, didn’t you? And I just ran out of places to look.  Her letter, together with the removal of her furniture from the apartment, meant the police wouldn’t help.  Her parents seemed convinced she had moved away.  I couldn’t find the firm who made the removal, so there was no way of discovering where or why her things were taken.”

“Her parents are less certain now.  They’ve heard nothin’.  No more letters, though she promised she would be in touch.  They’re a bit grief-stricken, thinkin’ they’ve lost their second daughter.  Oh, and the removal firm came from London.  They took a bit of findin’, but they have the record.  Karen paid for the removal, or at least the payment was debited to her account, after the proceeds of the sale were deducted.  Her stuff was auctioned, all of it.”

Patrick arched an eyebrow.  “You have been busy!”

“Told you, I’ve had six months on this.”  Rebecca slipped her notebook back into her handbag. “I’d like to have a look at this Boulter’s place, maybe tomorrow, and I’d like you to come with me.  Would you do that?”

“I’ve been back there.  There’s nothing to find.”

“And it seems hopeless, don’t it?  On the map, though, it looks awful close to Boult Wells, and I’m a new pair of eyes, you see?”

“If you think…”

“I don’t think. I check.  I follow up everythin’, every tiny little thing, Patrick.  Are you in or not?”

“I’ll come.  Tomorrow.  And we’ll use my Range Rover if we’re going to drive that lane.  It’ll murder your car.”

“Well done!”  The young reporter grinned.  “Eleven thirty, then.  I’ll bring sandwiches.  Pick me up at the Huntsman, yeah?”

“The Huntsman!”

“I’m staying there.  It used to be your regular, didn’t it?  I’m makin’ the acquaintance of the locals.”

After Rebecca Shelly had left, Patrick discovered Jacqui in the snug as she had promised, pondering over a ‘Country Life’ magazine.  She glanced up when he entered, then returned to her reading.

“Come on, Jacks; you know you hate that magazine!”  Taking it gently from her hands, he ignored her mild protest, sitting beside her and putting his arm around her shoulders.  “I’ve been asked to go back to Boulter’s Green.”  He told her.

Jacqui sighed, dropping her head onto his arm.  “We’ll never be free of her, will we?  I mean, really free.”

“I won’t go if you don’t want me to.”

“No, you go.  Who knows, maybe this woman will provide some answers at last.  Maybe that’ll give you peace, I don’t know.”

“I have peace;” Patrick told her.  “I have you.”

They settled back into the cushions, shutting their minds to the lie.

 

© 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

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twenty-Seven Altered Fortunes

Those who knew Jacintha Driscombe would have been surprised if they learned of her hatred for London.  Although she never openly expressed it, she endured the round of Kensington and Knightsbridge parties that formed so much of Stafford’s political life with gritted teeth and icy propriety, conceding to her husband’s wilder excesses only because they instilled sufficient guilt in him to ensure his loyalty to her.  When he returned from an evening of raucous indulgence she would be waiting to tell him how much damage he had done to his image, and how fortunate he was that the gossip columnists had given his particular soiree a miss.

Stafford would affect unconcern, dismissing her as a scold, and never really accepting his wife’s reminders that sobriety was a precondition for someone intent upon high office.   His conscience would be pricked, however, and he would remind himself to be more cautious next time he found himself tempted by an ample bosom.  He was always prey to temptation, was Stafford, and he was far too socially obtuse to recognize the true cause of his wife’s discomfiture.   Once, after all, she had loved London – why didn’t she now?  Jacintha would never tell him: she would never confess to the threatening train of events that haunted her dreams, if one day his behaviour should awaken the instincts of a newshound eager to expose the darker corners of her very ordinary past.  This town was full of relatives and past show-business associates all of whom would be ready to tear her, and therefore his prospects, apart.

The night of July fourteenth, nineteen sixty-four was particularly vital.  The party of itself not excessively so, only in its choice of guests, one of whom was  President of the Board of Trade, a man considered to be an invincible force in Stafford’s political party, and almost certainly destined to become its leader.  In stature Edward Heath was not particularly prepossessing, but the shake of his hand, especially if accompanied by a short exchange of views, was an ambition within Stafford’s compass, and Jacintha was coolly focused upon seeing it achieved.

Heath was not particularly susceptible to the charms of the female sex; Jacintha knew this, but for once her own frail history played to her advantage, because Heath also suffered from inglorious antecedents, being, exceptionally for a high ranking Conservative, the son of a builder and a maid.  She would never refer to this commonality in conversation, of course, but it engendered a certain ease of communication which gave her the chance to corner the great man and engage him for some time.

Despite an ancestral line founded among the Stuart kings and a mountain of family wealth (the Driscombes owned the mining rights to several mountains, most of which were full of gold), Stafford Driscombe was a very moderate politician.  It had taken Jacintha’s perspicuity, together with an unfortunate experience while shopping one Saturday in Caleybridge, to set him upon a crusade which allowed his horizons to broaden.  There was no doubt the abolition of National Service and liberal enlightenment that would soon transform a generation into what has become known as the ‘Swinging Sixties’, had created an unhealthy youth culture prone to violent displays – a general revolt against the Conservatives’ precious status quo.  Upon Jacintha’s suggestion, and with not a little cajoling which, like most of her invocations, started in the bedroom, Stafford had stepped forward as the standard bearer of those who wished to discipline the rebel ‘Mods and Rockers’ and, to use Stafford’s own words;  “Bring law and order back to the streets of Britain.”

As catch-phrases go, it was hardly ‘catchy’.  As problems went, the new-found freedoms of youth would take on many other more challenging aspects, but it afforded Stafford an opportunity to exercise his true skills, those of covert plotting and devious dealing.  In his long occupation of his parliamentary seat he had cultivated a number of friendships in the more conspiratorial depths of Home Office, and it was these, as much as any other modicum of success, that began to attract notice from The Party, notice sufficient to allow Jacintha to touch Edward Heath gently on his arm and utter words that would become fateful in their time:

“Ted, I wonder if I could introduce you to my husband?”

#

It was not sight that first informed Patrick in his awakening but touch – the soft brush of a kiss upon his forehead; so that when he raised his eyelids for a confused look at the returning world the view in the mist was of Jacqui Greenway looking embarrassed and ecstatic at the same time.  She withdrew quickly, her eyes shining and a laugh that was half a sob caught in her throat.

“You’re awake!”  She said, pointlessly.

He murmured something he would never remember.  Then he went back to sleep.

Recovery was to take months.  There were internal injuries as well as bones to heal, all of which involved intense discomfort and chronic pain.  Only a first fortnight of this time was spent in a hospital bed, the remainder at his home, Radley Court.  Gwendoline, his mother, was watchful, his sister Gabrielle attentive, Jackson, his father, for the most part absent, working as hard as ever.  Spring of the year following Karen Eversley’s disappearance was spent in long hours on the lawns with Petra, now fully healed and back to her usual obstreperous self, bouncing at Patrick in her enthusiasm, impervious to his disability and in danger of adding to it.

Now and then Jacqui’s car would venture up the driveway to Radley Court.  Patrick found himself anticipating her visits more and more eagerly because her companionship was always pleasurable and her controlled sympathy for his reduced state a balm his family somehow failed to administer.  When Jacqui visited Gwendoline would watch from a distance, reading the young woman’s heart with the same acuity she once demonstrated to Karen.  The difference was in Patrick’s reaction, which she could interpret equally well.  Nevertheless, Jacqui and her son spent hours together, sitting side by side on the grass on warm days, in the snug when it was cold or if it rained.  And the conversation was empty, while the meanings crammed within it left no room for more.

As Spring turned to Summer Patrick’s and Jacqui’s friendship deepened; but there was another – and Jacqui always understood this – who held onto his heart.

“Everybody tells me she’s dead; that she’s in a ditch somewhere, cold and returning to the earth.  I can’t see that.  I can’t accept it.  I may never find her again, yet I know she’s alive.  I can’t explain why; I just know.”

Such is the illusion that grips many who mourn the lost, that no matter how unimpeachable the evidence they will still hold fast to a belief that in some way their loved one has survived.  Nevertheless, Patrick seemed content with wishing.  Somehow he contrived to close the book on his relationship with Karen, in a way that mystified Gabrielle, who of all his family was the most persistent and the most loyal.  She had barely time to strike a friendship with Karen, yet it was she who kept searching, quietly asking questions, seeking answers.  Patrick?  Gabrielle excused her brother for doubting; maybe he just couldn’t accept that Karen’s love for him had been as deep as she herself believed.  Maybe he had succumbed to the police-inspired argument: Karen had simply left him and moved on.

There existed another reason for Patrick’s demeanour, however; one he never divulged.   Mrs Buxham, Radley Court’s ‘Morning Lady’ was so seriously overworked she could sometimes be guilty of shoddy cleaning practices; a crime for which she was never blamed because everyone except Jackson recognized the enormity of keeping a small mansion in order.  Mrs Buxham was becoming elderly: Mrs Buxham needed help.   So Patrick was less put out of temper than he should have been when, returning from hospital and still deeply ill, he was visited in his bedroom by the considerable personage of Mrs Buxham, in apologetic mode.

“I’m so sorry, Mr Patrick.  I was cleaning the room Miss Karen stayed in t’other day.  This were in the bedside drawer.  I must have missed it last time.”

She thrust a small envelope into Patrick’s hand, then retreated hastily before Patrick worked out the implication she had only entered the room twice to clean it in the last ten months.  The envelope was addressed simply:  ‘Pat’.  The slip of notepaper from within it said:

My Darling Pat,

Our time together is almost over. 

Be happy, only spare a moment now and then to remember me with fondness? 

You taught me love.  You taught me so much.

Your devoted Karen.

#

In July Paul and Gabrielle announced they would be married, and the house rattled and banged and rushed and bustled with renewed vitality.  That was the month Jacqui remembered for the first time she saw a smile reach as far as Patrick’s eyes.

“I want you in the business.”  Jackson Hallcroft told Patrick.  “You know I’ve always wanted that.  I need your help, son.  And you need mine.”

“What makes you think I could do it?”

“You’re a Hallcroft, aren’t you?  You’ve a head on those shoulders.  The market’s changing and our industry could use a few clear heads right now.”

Patrick’s view of the proposition was fatalistic.  He might as well do that as anything else, and idleness had become irksome.  Whether boredom or the prospect of a new set of company wheels enticed him, the following Monday Patrick limped through the doors of his father’s mill.  It was the first time in a lot of years he had been further than Jackson’s office to stand among those great machines which produced carpets branded with his family’s name; the immensity, the noise and the smell of dyes entered his blood and he was smitten.

Jackson Hallcroft was no easy taskmaster.  He insisted Patrick learned every aspect of the trade:  In the years which followed he was grounded by learning the milling process, acquiring the expertise needed to mind the machines, teaching himself how they worked and their capabilities.  Inch by inch he improved, seeing how his father was blinded by his own success and adding his voice to those on the factory floor who predicted the need for change.  If the history of Hallcroft Carpets were ever to be finally written, it would be said that Jackson built the business, but his son took on the new markets and won.

So time passed: the months grew into years, and the years since Karen’s disappearance multiplied.  Although she held a place she had requested in Patrick’s heart, he no longer expected to meet her around every corner, or read her name in a newspaper, or hear her voice in a crowded room.  You should not doubt his faith:  in a few days in a forgotten time, he had found love, only to have it taken from him.  Had he the means or the knowledge to find Karen he would have done so, but she was gone – vanished.  The Old Father worked a healing magic, a spell he needed if he was to live his life, and Karen became a memory consigned to an archive of that life.

It was on a day in early August of 1969.  Gabrielle and Paul now lived in a town in the North, where Paul had a job that promised a partnership later on.  Amanda (Sprog) was compensating for her erratic schooling by exhibiting the first signs of brilliance and a determination to pursue her mother’s profession with all of her mother’s skill.  At fifteen she had grown tall and statuesquely beautiful, while her rampant snobbery had dwindled to a sediment within her speech, so that it was no longer the things she said that were offensive, merely the way she said them.  Gwendoline’s hair had turned to grey.  She had become dangerously thin, inducing Patrick to conclude his mother had some illness, though she would not speak of it.  She still rode, if a little painfully.

Patrick at 29 years old, now a director in his father’s company, telephoned his friend Jacqui to suggest a meeting in Caleybridge at their usual restaurant.  At the end of the call, Jacqui replaced her receiver thoughtfully.  She and Patrick had dated sporadically through the years, although he never called them ‘dates’. They never ended with more than a familiar peck of a kiss, followed by a lonely taxi-ride home.  The pair had no relationship, as such: or fealty to each other.  Each was free to date elsewhere, and did; though with little enthusiasm or success; Patrick, whose heart was stuck in the past, would try to find another Karen when, of course, there was no other to be found, while Jacqui’s quest was more aimless but still, after all, as futile.  There was no alternative Patrick, either.

This day, though, she thought she detected some difference in his voice, which filled her with dread because she knew, deep inside herself, that her infatuation with him must find an end somewhere.  Her hope, the one romantic aspiration which sustained her, was that time would eradicate the scar Karen had left; that in some time to come he would stop re-living the two short weeks when he fell in love, and return to her world.  This had not happened, and she persuaded herself it would not happen.  The platonic years had taken their toll, so now there was a small embittered corner in her heart that almost hated him.

He was already seated at the bar when she walked in.  She had made no effort; sweater and jeans, hair only summarily tamed.  When he turned to see her and smiled his usual welcome some of the palpitations in her chest were eased.  She smiled back.

“I ordered for you.”

“Did you now?”  She said.  “You know I hate that.  I take it we’re eating here, then?”

“I thought…”

“No, that’s okay. I suppose.  I like it here.  What have I got coming; crab, or something?.”

“Oh, look, I’m sorry, Jacks.  I ordered tartare, but I can change it if you want?”

“No!”  Jacqui raised a defensive hand:  “Tartare’s fine, just fine.  I wish you’d leave me the freedom to choose, that’s all.”

There was a corner table they were accustomed to booking, and although the restaurant’s popularity was increasing now, Patrick’s status as a customer normally assured them of their place.

For a while they small-talked: Patrick had been out of town; how was Bea?  Was Bopper settling into his new promotion?  Had she sorted out the lighting she wanted for her apartment yet?  The main course came and went, but the evening had begun on a low note, and Jacqui’s impatience began to show.  “What’s this about, Pats?”

“How d’you mean?”

“Not our usual night is what I mean.  You, nervous as a cornered rabbit, that’s what I mean.  What’s going on?”

Patrick sipped his wine, nodding slowly.  “I didn’t realize I was so transparent.”

“After all these years I shouldn’t know you?  Come on, give!”

“I’m going to talk politics for a minute.”

“Must you?”

“You asked.  It’s like this, Jacks.  You know there’s an election coming up, don’t you?  Everyone thinks Labour is going to win.”

“You don’t?”

“Wilson’s not handling Ireland well, and there’s a lot of disquiet about the strength of the unions which I think will turn the country towards a Tory government.  I’ve been watching the changes very carefully, and I’m fairly convinced.  Not a landslide win, maybe, but almost certainly a new administration, and it’s going to be run by Heath.”

“I guess I agree, although I wish it wasn’t Heath.  The man has no charisma.  He reminds me too much of Douglas-Home.”

“Really?  A blue-blood against a wannabe?  Still, be that as it may, if Heath wins he’ll have us in the Common Market within the year.  I happen to think that’s his big appeal.  It’s a foregone conclusion, and ‘Hallcrofts’ have to be placed to take advantage of it.”

“So?”

“So I’m meeting a small trading mission of European buyers in London next week.  They’re on a busy schedule, and I’ll only have an hour or two with them, but I hope to open the doors to a German marketplace that’s made for us.”

“Surely it’ll be two years before the trade links are available.  And that’s if Heath does win.”

“The avenues are open now, they just aren’t free of tariffs and bureaucratic obstacles; if I’m prepared to finance some initial losses, I’ll have a very big foot in the door when those issues are removed.”

“I see that.  Pats, darling?”

“Hmm?”

“What has this to do with me?”

“I don’t speak fluent German.  You do.  Your French isn’t bad, either – better than mine.  I need an interpreter, and I was hoping…”

Jacqui groaned.  “Sorry.  Count me out.  I’m flattered you should ask, but how do I get away from work?  Pat, I can’t just take time off, not these days.  There’s too much going on.”

“Two days, that’s all I ask.  Two days in London.  I’d love it if you could come, give your moral support and all that.  I wouldn’t ask, but I just know it would work for us both.

Jacqui thought she saw what was in his mind, but it needed to remain unsaid.  Surely not?  After all these wasted years?  That trepidation she had felt when he first telephoned her for this meeting returned threefold.

“Is it what you really want?”

“I think so, yes.”  He grinned.  “I’ve taken long enough about it, haven’t I?”

Her heart answered.  “All right, if you’re sure, Pats.  I’ll work it out somehow.  I’ll come.”

So it was that Patrick and Jacqui met on Platform Two of Caleybridge’s railway station at 6:00 am one weekday morning, the seventh day after their discussion.  As always, Patrick was there first, and when he heard the click of Jacqui’s heels on the stone behind him his mind flew back to a corridor and a Conference Room in a place consigned to memory.  He turned to greet her with the recollection burning in his mind, but then his jaw dropped open and his heart leapt at the sight of the woman he saw walking towards him.  Jacqui had made an effort.

#

“Tarq?”  ‘Becca Shelley’s snappy terrier-voice travelled well.  Tarquin Leathers, three desks away, heard her above the newsroom din.

“Yes, sweet Rebecca?”

“You remember this one from your ‘Record’ days?”  ‘Becca waved a news clipping above her head.  “Six years ago.  Caleybridge.”

“Where?  Oh, home sweet home, darling!  Hang on a minute; I think so.  It was my by-line, wasn’t it?”

“None other, Babe.   ‘Heir to Carpet Baron’s Millions Jilted’.  You could write some crap in those days, yeah?”

“Newshound that I now am, I haven’t lost the gift.  Stale copy, is that what you’re saying?”

“Maybe, maybe not.”    Rebecca’s rapid rise from the dungeon of the Beaconshire County Herald to a national ‘daily’ had not been achieved by freely sharing her secrets. “I think I might take this home, run me head around it a few times.”

“What have you got simmering in that evil little mind of yours?  If I remember rightly the story was still-born.  It’s provincial dead news.”

‘Becca rose half to her feet, so she could see across the newsroom partitions to Tarquin’s desk.  She tapped the side of her nose.  “Just a feelin’, Tarq.”

“Ah, really, just a ‘feelin’?  Bollocks, my dear!  Just a tip-off.  You want to spin anything my way?”

“Nah.  It’s probably nothing, anyhow.  And whatever nothin’ is, it’s all mine.”

 

© 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

 

 

 

 

Just a quick word….

Populism.

Dictionary definition:  ‘Support for the concerns of ordinary people’.

Simple.

When Time Magazine and the Economist attempt to add a political connotation to this word they are forced into three or more pedantic paragraphs.  All political language suffers that distortion – think of ‘Labour’ or the ‘Party System’; but at the moment ‘populism’ is a special case.  Why?  Politicians are like that; if they sense danger in something they seek to discredit it; to lend it a sinister twist, a savour of the dark side.

Oh, yes; and they tend to use it – a lot.   It is lampooned, denounced, aligned with extremism to the political left or right.  It is a synonym for Nazism, Leninism, Marxism, any ism they can think of that will make it seem abhorrent.  While all it really means is ‘Support for the concerns of ordinary people’.

Isn’t that what politicians are elected to do, support the concerns of ordinary people?  Then why is it they feel somehow divorced from the will of the electorate, as though their success at the hustings (which really only amounts to an ability to sound convincing, enhanced by liberal sprinklings of cash) endows them with a patrician superiority, some sort of moral standing that places them above the electorate?

Although Britain still suffers from delusions of Monarchy, the parliamentary system of government is not feudal.  Whether or not they like it, or are aware of it, the elected representatives of the people are mandated to represent ALL of the people, and they should not disregard the openly expressed views upon which they were elected, not least because those views contain an element so tragically absent from their own thinking; namely common sense.  Instead of making an enemy of populism they should espouse it, and listen to its concerns, then act on those concerns.

Otherwise, they risk the rattle of sabres at their doors, against which a pseudo-intellectual bubble is a poor defence.