Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twelve. Under Sentence.

Several glasses of wine passed Karen’s lips before she quitted the twilight of Harper’s Restaurant that Monday lunchtime.  They were the price to be paid for courage to face the brighter world of the street.   This was the cynical Karen, the less talented sister, the wench from a peasant family who had let herself taste euphoria for a brief while, only to have it slip through her fingers.  The last few weeks had been unreal, a fantasy.  What else should she have expected?

Out on the street it did not seem that anyone shared her grief.  The passers-by did just what passers-by do:  they passed by.

Karen wandered for a while, wanting to return to Albert Park where the old bandstand could offer refuge from threatened rain.  There she might spend time refreshing her memories of Suzanne, reminding herself again of her sister’s warnings about the immutable divisions of class and the duplicitousness of men, and there she might have gone, had not memories of her stalker deterred her.  Believing he would be out there, somewhere, she felt the lack of Patrick’s protection, so she mingled with the shoppers in the town, oblivious to the rain, meandering from shop window to shop window until her shoulders became wet and her hair began to drip.  Since sooner or later she would have to do her mooching indoors, Debenham’s Department Store seemed a likely refuge; which was where she met Gina – Gina, from the old days of Tim’s rugby club travels, someone who had once been a friend.

On an afternoon when the last thing Karen wanted was to meet anybody, Gina would have been lower on her wish list than many.

She emerged from the main doors as Karen was entering.  They almost collided.

“Hello, Karen!  Long time no see, darlin’, how are you?  Feeling chirpy, yeah?”

“Bright as a button!”  Karen lied, trying to match Gina’s ever-ebullient mood and signally failing.  Then:  “Why, especially – the chirpy thing, I mean?”

“Well, the engagement?”  Karen’s hand had been concealed by her bag: now she revealed her fingers, causing Gina to blurt out:  “You’re not wearin’ it, then?  The ring?”

“What ring?”  Karen asked, mystified.

Gina’s face betrayed her mental anguish as the low gears of her understanding meshed.  “Nothin’ – no, nothin’,”  She mumbled.  “Stupid old Gina, puttin’ her foot in it again.”

“Gina, explain – what ring?”

“Oh, Lord, babe,  I just assumed you’d accept him, that’s all!  When Mike told me Tim was goin’ to propose on Saturday I thought ‘about time’ – I didn’t dream…”

“No,”  said Karen.  There was a leaden pause.

Karen had to rush, she said, apologizing; she was getting wet.  Adding the obligatory ‘meet up sometime’ promise, she bolted for the shelter of the store.

Only in late afternoon did she pull herself together sufficiently to visit Gasser Gates’ other alleged ‘friend’.

Perry Roberts lived in a terrace house, one among an identical row of red brick dwellings on the sort of road that repeated itself again and again in Caleybridge.  Karen had the kind of luck the goddess owed her by this time because no sooner had the Roberts’s doorbell been answered, by Perry’s mother, than a blue Ariel motorbike rolled up beside the kerb.

 

“There you are then!”  Mrs Roberts said cheerfully.  “Perfect timing.  He’s just back from work.”  And as Perry was removing his helmet she called over:  “Perry.  This nice young lady’s come to see you, dear!”

If Karen had hoped to question Perry before he learned of her conversation with Mark Potts that morning, it was a false hope:  her one advantage, however, was Perry’s mother.  Mrs Roberts remained doggedly beside her son throughout their interview.

“It’s that Potts boy, he’s always in some sort of trouble, that one.  Now, dear; sugar?  Milk?”

Karen accepted tea. She addressed Perry, “Saturday night, four weeks ago.  You were returning from the Mecca Bowl in Baronchester.  Who was driving, Perry?”

Perry said:  “What are you talking about?”  But his eyes said something else.

“I know you got to the bowl, I called the manager.  You’re regulars – he remembers you.  He said there were four of you in your group and you’d had a few drinks – a good time.  You all left together, quite late.    You, Mark, and Gasser in the car – and one other.  There was someone else in the car, too, wasn’t there? ”

“There wasn’t no-one else there…I don’t know what you’re trying to say, Miss, but there wasn’t nothing.  Nothing!”

“You tell the lady!”  Mrs Roberts snapped.  “Perry, tell the truth, will you?”

“MUM!”

“He’s been moody for a month now,” Mrs. Roberts told Karen. “I thought something was wrong.”

Karen repeated her question, “Well, Perry – Who was driving?”

Perry sat for a moment saying nothing, his mouth opening and closing as though he wanted to speak, but couldn’t.  At last, he said:  “Mark; he was driving.  It’s his car, he always does.”

“So?”  Karen took a sip of Mrs Roberts’s tea.  “Mark drove you all home and he was drunk.  Did you crash?”

“No!  But we might have done if Gasser had his way.  What you don’t see, Miss, is what Gasser’s like.  He’s mad, is Gasser!” Perry had obviously taken a decision to tell all.  “Look, Gasser can’t hold his beer, right?  Now I don’t want to explain too much about that except to say it’s takin’ a long time to get home because we’re stopping every ten minutes for Gasser to…you know.  Anyway, he’s still drinking bottled beer in the car and Mark’s getting tired of stopping so he tells Gasser the next time he needs to stop he has to use a bottle.  Well, Gasser gets mad.  He’s sitting behind Mark and he wraps his legs around Mark’s neck – while he’s driving, see?  We nearly do crash, this time.  We has to stop, anyway.  Skidded, and all.”

“All right, so you’d stopped – then what?”

“Mark loses his rag.  He grabs Gasser and throws him out of the car.  He’s hitting him.  He punches him until he falls down, then he starts puttin’ his boot in.  We dragged him off, otherwise he’d have killed him, yeah?.   Yeah, that was it.”

Perry lapsed into miserable silence, wringing his hands together between his knees and staring at the carpet.  Mrs Roberts’s eyes were wide and staring.  “Oh my good gawd you did.  You killed him!”

“No, Mum!  No we didn’t!   Honestly we didn’t!  Alright, Mark duffed him up, but he had it coming.  We just left him there, that’s all.  We drove off and left him there.”

Karen set her lips.  “He was alive when you left him?”

“Yes.  He was moaning, and that, but he wasn’t dead! He was sittin’ up, for fuck’s sake.”

“Language, Perry!”

“Bloody hell!”  Perry muttered.

“Where did this happen?”  Karen asked.

“It was on the Pegram road.  Another few minutes, we’d have been home.”

“Which is where Mark Potts claims he saw Gasser on the Sunday afternoon.”

“Yeah, well.  We agreed to tell the police that.  Like he saw him after and he was alright, y’know, give ‘em the idea he was pissed and slept it off in the hedge or sommat.  We didn’t want them accusing us of GBH, or nothing.  Wasn’t Mark’s fault.”

“What, you beat him up and it wasn’t your fault?”

“Not me! I never touched him.  But it was due.  He’s always actin’ above hisself, and he ’s a right prick.  Nobody likes him.”

“You do.”  Karen reminded him.  “You go bowling with him, regularly.”

“Only when he wants.  When he wants we has to go with him.”

“Why, Perry?”

“I ain’t sayin’ no more.”

“Does he have some kind of hold on you?  Does he force his friendship on you?”

Perry did his best to look offended.  “No!  No, it isn’t nothin’ like that.  I ain’t sayin’nothin’ more.”

“And this all happened on the Pegram road?”

“Yeah.  We was takin’ Gasser home, wasn’t we?  We was goin’ to drop him off at his house.”

“No, you weren’t.  Gasser hasn’t lived there for two years.  Why were you on the Pegram road?”

“We thought he lived there.  He always says he does.  I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ more.”  Perry Roberts stared fixedly at his hands.

“The fourth person in the car.  Where did you drop him off?”

“I told you there weren’t no fourth person.  I ‘m sayin’ nothin’ more.”

Thanking Perry’s mother for the tea, Karen left her to complete the interrogation.  She had all she needed, or at least all she could achieve.

Driving home, Karen tried afresh to justify the character of Gavin Woodgate, or, as she had now come to know him, Gasser Gates, in her mind.  What demonic touch had formed someone so socially unacceptable, so morally corrupt that he could only achieve a kind of friendship through blackmail or threats?  What was he – and what, given opportunity, was he capable of becoming?

Her apartment would be empty, and though she had tidied it that morning her bed would still be the bed where Pat had slept beside her.  The prospect of the intimate space she had so loved when she first moved in there, not a year since, now seemed cavernous and full of remorseful echoes.

Her head rebuked her for her naivety, but no matter how he had deceived her, her heart wailed at her loss of Patrick, and in the privacy of her car she was free, at last, to let the tears flow.

#

Every Monday morning in Beaconshire County Planning Department there was a meeting of the Planning Committee.  It was part of Patrick’s work to prepare the agenda.

Jacqui Greenway was already in his office when he arrived.  “My god, Patrick, what have you been doing with yourself?”

He was evasive.  “I’m a bit tired, I guess.”

“A bit?  Whatever it was, it didn’t involve much sleeping, did it?”

“No, I don’t suppose it did.”  He acknowledged, smiling weakly.

Jacqui’s voice dropped.  “Small post this morning.”  Did he detect a slight change in her inflexion?  “I’ll get some coffees together and see you down there.”

‘Down there’ referred to the Conference Room.  Patrick gave her a brief grin which she would understand as ‘thank you’, because they shared this close non-verbal communication that had evolved over the years they had worked together.  The slight buck of her hips as she walked away was a kind of cheeky ‘you owe me one’.  He understood that, too.

Mail was rarely interesting.  A number of submissions from petitioners wanting permission to develop land or to build upon it;  the occasional confidential memo from the ‘legals’ in the Clerks Department, and once in a while a letter of pleading from a desperate applicant whose scheme had been rejected.

Patrick sloughed through the pitifully turgid sheaves of paper, looking for anything which could refer to that day’s meeting agenda and trying not to think of Karen.  Beyond the partition wall the sounds of Jacqui making those coffees, outside his opened window the song of birds:  across the room on his table a pile of white, pristine agendas on the left, a pile of minutes from the last meeting on the right.  Clinking of cups, a blackbird telling its tale of forgotten winter; Karen’s white nakedness, her cascade of fair hair on the pillow, the voluble hiss of the old office kettle, the shouting of outraged sparrows, the deep wisdom of Karen’s blue, blue eyes…

Jacqui assembling cups on a tray, the click of her heels to the tea room door.  Jacqui, who was undeniably attractive in a serious sort of way.  One last letter.  The carking of wheeling rooks, Karen’s bright smile and still a taste in his mouth of her salt tears.  Jacqui’s heels clipping briskly away down the corridor.

Dear Sirs,

We are writing with regard to your Planning Committee’s decision concerning our proposed opening of a Turf Accountant’s business on…

Jacqui rattling the tray as she opened the big double doors of the Conference Room.  Karen’s warm flesh supple and wanting in his arms…

Jacqui’s scream.

Jacqui’s scream?

Patrick froze for a moment; a powerful, gripping moment that wrenched him from his reverie.  A power that shattered the yoke of shock from his shoulders and sent him racing into the corridor, sprinting down its length past a procession of office doors with a succession of heads emerging: questions, alarmed expressions.  All in headlong rush: no idea, no plan.  The Conference Room doors were open wide.  A brief glimpse beyond of Jacqui on the floor, her body twitching, her blood spreading around her head in a black pool.  A heavy door, thrust with great force to slam against his skull…  then nothing.

#

Out of greyness.  “Mr Hallcroft’s conscious, I think…”

Bob Stawkley.  It was Bob.

“All right, sir.  Get him talking if you can,  Don’t let him move.  I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“Bob?”  Mouth felt like a sawmill floor.

“”Hello, Patrick.  Don’t try to talk, son.  Just keep still.”

“Yeah.”  Stawkley’s crouching figure seemed to fade.  Karen was asking him something:  “That’s not a euphemism, is it?”

“Conference Room.”  He said.  “Maps.  Water?”

Bob Stawkley over him, grey-faced.  “Yes, Patrick.  Conference Room.”  Then, louder, to someone else:  “He’s wandering; will you hurry, please?”

“I’m doing my best, sir.  Keep him talking.  I’ll be right there.”

Another voice.  “You got that one?”

“Yes, we’re alright here.  Can you take care of the lad?”

A new face bending over him.  “Hello, son.  Now whatever happened to you?”

“Bob?  Bob?”

“Still here, Patrick.”

“How’s Jacqui?”

Stawkley’s voice was laden with the sadness of his answer.  “I don’t know, Patrick.  I don’t know.”

“Tell…tell Karen…”

Grey again.  Nothing.

#

Her mind empty of all but regret, Karen parked her car in her home street.  Time hung heavily, the evening stretched, empty, before her.  So later she might ‘phone one of her friends, maybe suggest drinks with Bea, or try to winkle out some entertainment from the listlessness of Monday in her tiny town.

Maybe.

She switched off the engine, spent time with her radio hearing out a classic song that suited her mood:  ‘When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes’…

He was in her car, her nemesis:  before she had time to think, or to react, or even cry out,  the door was flung wide, and his tall, solid form had plunged into the seat beside her!  The sight of his pale sun-deprived flesh in its frame of unkempt hair shocked through her in a lurid stab of voltage.  His rank odour of decay brought a gorge rising to her throat.

Gasping to regain the breath that had left her body, Karen instinctively reached for the handle to her own door.  A big hand snatched her arm as something metallic jabbed into her ribs.

“Try to leave and I will kill you.”  The voice was colder than the words it spoke.

She did not struggle, although the nerves were there, rising from her stomach in a butterfly host – rather, she stamped them down.  It was happening.  This was something that had been inevitable since her first encounter with this creature.  What had been her sister’s wisdom;  ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself’?  Well, she would face him.  She would not show fear.

Suppressing that inward shudder, Karen forced herself to match his stare.  No hate burned in those eyes this time, no expression at all, yet they left no room for doubt.  She felt the cold blade of fate on her neck.  The executioner was measuring his stroke.  This creature was the axe, a keenly honed blade of utter intensity ready to carry out a sentence.  He would not be distracted, he could not be contained.  She measured her words.  “What do you want from me?”

It might have been a laugh or the sound of a stone across a steel blade;  “My dear, you know that, don’t you?  You’ve been expecting me.  You are mine, Karen.  I’ve come for you.”

She responded evenly.  “Flattered as I am, I must politely decline.  I don’t belong to anyone.”

“Well there we must disagree,”  He exhibited a calmness that seemed unnatural, as though not blood but shards of ice were coursing through his veins.  “Everyone belongs to someone, and you belong to me.  That is a fact, Karen, but it is a conversation for another time.  I require that you drive us away from here.  Now.”

Her retort, “I’m not driving anywhere with you!”  earned her a second jab in her ribs from what she assumed must be a gun, although her captor kept the object itself covered:  she was just beginning to weigh up the odds of it being a bluff when all responsibility was lifted, very dramatically, from her shoulders.   A red car that had turned into the road from its higher end and seemingly destined to exit at the bottom suddenly swerved in front of Karen’s car, braking violently and almost making contact.  No sooner had it stopped than both occupants leapt from it and the driver, whose confident stride clearly defied argument, rapped on the window beside the dark man.

“OUT!”

Almost simultaneously the car’s passenger, a tall brunette in blue striped sweater and jeans, pulled Karen’s door open.  “Come on, sweetie, you come this way.”

Was it a gun?  Would her assailant use it now, even if it were?   The dark man answered that question for her.  “My dear, it seems our little jaunt must be postponed.  See you soon, very soon.”

He opened his door, coolly, drawing himself up to face the driver from the other car, who did not back off.  Karen slipped quickly from her seat.  “Careful, he may have a gun.”

Her new companion warned:  “Careful Paul!”

The one who was Paul grinned evilly, pushing his face forward so it was inches from the dark man.  “What, in front of two witnesses?  Guns on the street?  Not your style, is it, you creepy bastard?  Just leave quietly, now.  Right now.”

Without a word, the shadow that hung over Karen’s life stepped past Paul and walked away up the road.  At the top he turned and looked back, head cocked to one side like a bird watching a worm, hair hanging about his face.  Then he rounded the corner and was gone.

The girl breathed a sigh of relief.  “Well, that’s over.  Super!  Oh, god, I hope you are Karen, are you?  We haven’t broken up a perfectly harmless domestic, or anything?”

Karen managed a shaky smile.  “No, I’m Karen.”

“Absolutely!  We knew the moment we saw you!  Say what you like about Patsy, his descriptions ace it every time.   Now, the frightfully macho one over there is Paul, my boyfriend, and I’m Gabrielle Hallcroft-Smythe, though I hope you’ll call me Gabby, everyone else seems to.  Hop in, sweetie, my ghastly brother is desperate to see you – although what you see in him is quite beyond 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

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Eight.  The Woodgate Enigma

 

 

“Oh, do come in dear!  I’ve just made some tea.”

There was about Pamela Woodgate a demeanour which didn’t quite gel with the image of middle-aged respectability she was putting out.  The tight, greying hair was just a little too neat, maybe, or the lips around her wide mouth too tight and thin.  “There’s been this other thing, you see?”  Mrs Woodgate said.

“Sorry.  What other thing?”

“Oh my dear we were burgled – last night!”   Karen remarked how calm the woman seemed.  The hand that poured tea was as steady as a brain surgeon’s.  “They took everything – absolutely everything!  One lump, or two?”

“One, thank you.  I’m so, so sorry!  Am I in the way?  I could always come back another time?”

“Oh, no, no, no.  It’s all dealt with.  But it does mean I have very little to offer you.”

“Why?  What’s happened?”

“They took it all. Photographs, school books, his gramophone records, everything.  It’s almost as if they were robbing Gavin, not us.  Oh, some of my husband’s papers have been taken as well, of course, and our family photographs are all gone.  It really is most odd!”

Karen agreed.  It was odd.  “They took all Gavin’s stamp albums?”

Pamela looked at her blankly for a moment.  “Yes, all of them.”

“Could you show me his room?”

“Certainly.  I must warn you, though, it’s completely bare.”

Bare it was, yet it was the anonymity of Gavin’s room that puzzled Karen.  Pamela had guided her up deeply carpeted stairs and along a plush, warm corridor to the bedroom, but across the threshold of the plain blue door everything changed.  The room she was shown was completely out of character with the rest of Pamela Woodgate’s world.  This room could have been anybody’s – any member of the Gideon Society, any passing traveller who had stayed for a night.  Plain camel-coloured curtains at the beige-painted window, a brown carpet, a bed with a tartan blanket and two neatly-plumped white pillows – the only furniture a chest of drawers, a mirror, and a bedside table.

“I tidied up a little.  The burglars left a mess.”  Pamela explained as if there were nothing extraordinary about the scene.

“Doesn’t he have – I don’t know – any posters for the wall, records, drawings?  A book or two?”

Gavin’s mother treated Karen to a patronising smile.  “No, nothing like that.  You see, Gavin is a very studious boy.  His workbooks, everything like that, was all taken.”

“Mrs Woodgate, how would you describe your relationship with your son?”  Karen asked.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I entirely understand you.”

“Are you close?”  There wasn’t so much as an alarm clock in the room.  Why would thieves want an alarm clock?  And if the walls had been stripped, where were the light areas the posters had occupied, the signs of pulled drawing pins, or sellotape ripped away?

“Well of course we are.  He is our boy, isn’t he?”

“Do you mind if I just check around, quickly?”  Karen said.  “Sometimes the most experienced thieves miss out on something.”

“No, dear, I don’t mind.”  Mrs Woodgate murmured in a tone which implied she was confident there was nothing to find.  “I’ll wait for you downstairs, if you like.  Come down when you’re satisfied, hmm?  We’ll have a chat over tea.”  She floated almost noiselessly away, elegantly slippered feet padding along her luxuriant passage carpet.

Karen didn’t bother taking the bedding apart; that was too obvious.  She did check under the mattress, though, and behind the bedhead.  She rolled the carpet edges back, probed for loose floorboards or spaces behind the skirting – anywhere that might provide a hiding place.  The chest of drawers contained a few clothes:  the only sign that this room had ever been occupied; three T-shirts, a pair of grey shorts, a couple of ties and a rather larger stack of underpants.  She had to get to the exterior of the bottom drawer before she found the small plastic wallet that was stapled to its back.  She tore it loose quickly, feeling almost guilty as she slipped it beneath her jumper. And that was all.

The ‘chat’ with the worried mother yielded nothing of worth.  Karen departed with a promise she would ‘do her best’ to find Gavin, leaving his blandly smiling parent nursing her professed ‘agony’ of anxiety for her son.  At her door Pamela watched Karen until she had driven all the way out of High Pegram, discouraging her, rightly or wrongly, from doing any neighbourhood enquiries that day.

Next, she would need to talk to Mark Potts, the man who had been last to see Gavin. She was sure she would learn nothing new – though maybe pinning down a precise time for the sighting would be important.  Meanwhile she had an appointment to keep, one which had occupied her mind ever since the evening it was made; and no matter how she tried to explain it to herself, the very thought of meeting Patrick brought a flush to her cheek and an extra beat to her heart. 

He was sitting at the window bay table in ‘The Hunters’ – the one she had picked the last time they met there. He stood up to greet her.  “God, Karen, you’re beautiful.”

He spoke with such open admiration Karen almost believed him.  “Thank you, Pat.  Plainly deluded, but thank you.”

“No really.  You’ve got a glow about you, I don’t know how you do it!”

Karen had a feeling the ‘glow’ was about to give her away by trickling down her face.  She had left her car at home and walked.  This was a warm evening for a cool blonde.

“What happened to your hand?”

“I fell.” Well, that had to be at least partly true, didn’t it?  “It’s nothing.”

He was watching her eyes.  “Let me see.”

“I told you, it’s nothing.  A scratch.”

“All right, let me see your scratch.”

“What, unwrap the bandage and everything?  No, Pat!”  She didn’t want to re-open their conversation about the dark man and she didn’t want to spend their time together being ‘protected’.  So instead she told him about her adventure with the traffic police.

“My god, I bet you were pleased!”

“I was ecstatic.  I got soaked to the skin.  And when I fell I broke my camera.  I don’t even know if I can rescue the film.”

“I’ll get some drinks in, then I’ll regale you with my epic tale about a greengrocer who wants planning permission to open a Hobbits theme park.”

The evening drifted from then, or maybe Karen drifted – she didn’t know.  Whenever she was with Pat, a relaxed, cosseted, cloud-borne feeling allowed the time to slip past.  For a long while – at least three vodkas – the conversation was so airy and inconsequential she did not drop any names.  As soon as she did, the whole timbre of the evening changed.

“I know Gavin Woodgate.”

Karen’s eyebrows reached for her hairline.  “You do?  Oh, Pat!  I had to go on believing somebody, somewhere knew him, but I never imagined it could be you!”

“Why not?”  Pat asked, quite reasonably.

“Well, he’s such a shy, retiring kid isn’t he?  I can’t find any friends or connections for him anywhere.”

Pat made a face. “Shy, retiring?  Oh sure.”

“Both those!  Stamp collector, train-spotter; a bit of an anorak, and very intelligent, too.”  Karen paused, reading Pat’s expression.  “And you’re going to tell me he’s not, aren’t you?”

“Karen, you’ve been looking for the wrong bloke.  Ask about Gasser Gates, that’s what our Gav calls himself now; you’ll find all sorts of people who know him.  Stamp collecting?  Perish the thought!  Not unless he found a way of screwing some money from it; and friends?  No, not Gasser; there’s a couple of lads tolerate him, though, I think.  He’s seen around with them sometimes – in fact, about the only normal thing Gasser does is go bowling in Baronchester with them once a week – most weeks.  I ran across them up there one Saturday night.  So he’s gone missing, has he?  I can’t say I’m surprised.  Probably someone’s finally murdered him.”

“Pat; Pat, stop!  Nobody’s that bad!  All right, so tell me about him, will you?  How did he get to be called Gasser, and how do you know we’re talking about the same lad?”

“I don’t want to spend our time together talking about someone like Gasser.  It’ll ruin the evening!”

“You’ll ruin the evening now if you don’t! Come on, Pat, give!”

Frowning, Pat seemed suddenly absorbed by Karen’s fingers.  He stared at them.  “You’ve got really long fingers, haven’t you?”

“Pat!  Come on, spill!”

“Alright, all right, here goes:  How did he come to be called Gasser?  Well, he did it.  He deliberately altered his name to get rid of Gavin Woodgate.  Why?  Because Gavin Woodgate growing up was an unpleasant little pervert with a yen for dating under-aged girls.”

“Oh.”

“And when I say underaged I’m talking nine, ten, eleven years old.  And ‘dating’ is a euphemism.”

“Oh crikey!”

“I told you it would ruin the evening, didn’t I?”

“But why isn’t he in jail?”

“Partly because at the time he was a juvenile, but mostly because his father is a member of the committee that runs the County police force.  Because Daddy has tendrils of influence everywhere, including the courts.  There was a bad case.  The police had to become involved, but his dad had enough pull to get him off an interview with the magistrates.”

Karen shook her head.  She was trying to make those errant pieces come together, and they didn’t want to, not yet.  “So how does that explain his bedroom? It’s like a monk’s cell in there.  And his mother – she may be a real ice-maiden, but I think she wants him found.”

“I imagine everyone would want to know where he is.  You went to the Woodgate house and they showed you his bedroom?  Karen, he hasn’t lived there for two years or more.  And that is not his mother, it’s his stepmother.  Gasser was Gerald Woodgate’s first wife’s son.”

“But she told me…”  Karen stopped herself.  Exactly what had Pamela Woodgate told her?

“If she told you Gavin was living there or even stayed there, she was lying.  After the last assault case his family threw him out and everybody hoped he would just move away, but he didn’t.  He stayed around, invented the Gasser nickname for himself and hid behind that.  He’s Gasser Gates.  As far as his father is concerned, he no longer exists.  I’m surprised they even knew he was missing.”

“They do, though.”  Karen mused.  “And they seem very keen to find him.  Why?”

“My guess is because he’s a loose cannon.  Keeping track of a habitual sex offender without involving the police must be a major headache, and I can’t imagine Gerald Woodgate would want to have any more scandals besmirching the family name.  But then, you see, he wouldn’t dirty his hands with it himself.  He has fixers to do that for him.”

“You make him sound more like a gangster than a member of a police watch committee!”

“In this County?  You mean the similarities haven’t struck you before?  Don’t you think your little confrontation with the traffic officer might have something to do with all this?”

Karen nodded.  “Yes, it has occurred to me.”

“One thing perplexes me,”  Pat said.  “You’ve been flashing a picture of our Gavin at everybody, and they still didn’t recognize him?  Can I have a look?”

Karen took the photograph from her bag. Pat stared into it, meeting the soulless eyes of the sallow face that stared back. “Why?”  He murmured.

“Why what?”  Karen scowled.

“Never mind – nothing.  Now you’re looking for the right name I’m sure you’ll get all you want.”

“Pat, you haven’t told me how you know Gavin Woodgate by his proper name?”

“No, I haven’t, have I?  Any more than you’ve told me how you injured your hand.”

“Are you kinky about cuts, or something?  Stop going on about my hand!”

“I will when you tell me the truth.  Or at least when you show me the damage.  It would be quickest just to tell me what really happened.”

“You are way too perceptive, my boy.  Very well…”  Karen related the events that occurred on her night-time walk in the previous night’s rain.  And Pat listened gravely, without a word.  When she had finished, he said:  “You must have been very frightened.”

“I was.  Right, your turn.  How do you know Gavin Woodgate?”

“I know what this is going to do to us.” Pat stared into his drink.  “For two years I was at school with the little bastard.  At Rainham.”

“Oh my god!”

“Have I shocked you?”

“Yes, profoundly.  You went to Rainham??!”

Rainham Academy was a public school, all of eighty miles away and expensive, avowed by many to be a viable alternative to |Eton or Rugby.  The impact of that information upon Karen was undeniable – it confirmed all her doubts about a relationship with Pat.  He was watching her, and his voice acknowledged the changes he saw.  “You have a thing about class and money, don’t you?  Karen, I can’t do anything about my background.  That’s the accident of birth, isn’t it?”

“It reminds me of my place,”  She said, sadly. “You and I, Patrick?  Your friends and my friends – your parents and mine?  I mean, come on!”

“Will you forgive me if I don’t accept you have a ‘place’?  And if I’m a member of the privileged classes, I’m a total failure at it.  I’m an under-achiever.”  He added, “If that helps?  “I didn’t go to Uni.  I should have, my parents tell me, but I didn’t.”

No, he went to County Planning instead.  At least, Karen thought, that explained how someone Patrick’s age had risen so quickly to a senior position at the Council.  With an educational background like his, they probably kidnapped him.

“Cartography fascinates me,” Pat was explaining, “and I’ve enough education to do what I want to do.”

She couldn’t avoid the cliché in her thoughts; Pat’s friends would use it even if he did not – by dating her he was slumming – slumming with a downtown girl.  Rainham!  At least, she told herself, she had found out in time  – she could consign this relationship to the ‘failed’ folder in her heart without too much pain.  Pat had been right in one respect:  the evening was ruined.

“I have to go.”  She said.

Pat looked genuinely surprised.  “But I thought we could have dinner…”

“No.  No, I told you.  I can’t be late back tonight.  I’ve got a busy weekend ahead of me.”

“So it’s true; the long-term relationship thing.  You can’t…I mean, you don’t want to extricate yourself.”

“Pat…look, what I have with Tim; it’s safe, you know?”

“It’s alright, Karen.  I don’t have any claim on you, do I?  Maybe if you change your mind, sometime, I’m here.  I’d like to see you again.”

Karen knew in that instant she had to put space between Pat and herself.  When he offered to walk her home she was polite, but firm.  She wasn’t going to leave a door open.  She left him with a quick kiss goodbye and felt his eyes follow her as she walked away.

She descended the narrow, walled road that led down Trellis Hill towards the town neither feeling her feet on the pavement nor the fresh air of evening in her lungs. Her head was full of melancholy, resigned thoughts; tomorrow she would see Tim again and she would fall back into the dire routine of her life.  It was the only sensible thing to do:  Pat, fresh breeze though he was, cooled a slope too steep for her to climb.

Even supposing his feelings for her were genuine, there was an ocean of difference between them, a stormy, furious sea, kept churning by that awful British institution – class.

So, let Pat believe what was probably the truth, anyway:  that she was destined to be a Metropolitan Policeman’s wife, because even slow old Tim would be sure to propose one day, and then she would have little choice, if she did not want to face small town spinsterhood and a future with her pathetic little sideshow of a business.

“Can’t you see further than that?”  Suzanne’s ghost demanded.  “There are other ways to find your identity than through a man, Sis.”

“Yes, I know!”  Karen sighed, smiling at her dead sister’s shade as they walked together.  “I’m just depressed, I guess.  I’ll find myself sooner or later, won’t I?  This class thing.  Did you ever beat it?”

“No, not really.  I had ability, so I was of use.  But I was always aware of my station.  Those parties!  I was constantly getting buttonholed for my legal opinions or propositioned like a scullery maid.  I was working class and I was a woman, and I was never allowed to forget it.”

“Maybe one day things will change.”  Karen murmured, attracting the curious attention of a passer-by.  She must have appeared to be talking to herself.

“I don’t think so.  British society has a fundamental flaw:  all the money is at one end of the social spectrum, and all the intelligence is at the other.  We make the machine grind on, Sis.  It’ll always be that way.”

Karen expelled Suzanne from her mind, as she unfailingly did, when her worst ghostly opinions confirmed her own.

At its lower end, Trellis Hill joined Dolphin Street, which led alongside Albert Park.  Karen could have stayed on the street and followed its pavement, with County Hall on her right, to Bridge Street and the little complex of back roads leading to her apartment.  On this gentle evening, though, so different to the turmoil of the previous night, the park better suited her mood, so she deliberately challenged her fear of the twilight and memories of the dark, long-haired man, by taking the path known as Riverside Walk towards the bridge where the river passed beneath the High Street, scene of her assault the previous night. Could she find some clue to the man monster’s identity there, carelessly dropped in his anxiety to get her?  Besides, she must not permit the park to become so threatening to her she would feel unable to walk there.  She was rational, and she was courageous.  Fears had to be outfaced.

A few pedestrians shared her path, enjoying some evening sun; a trio of children running home, a couple in their twenties strolling aimlessly by the river as it began to assume the deeper hues of approaching darkness.  A mélange of water birds clucked and chirruped towards their night-time nests in the shallows, while soft breeze rattled amid the weeping willows, whispering through the reeds.  But they were the only sounds.  No tread of malevolent feet, no flapping leather coat.   Karen laughed at herself, mocking her own tingling nerves. Why should there be?

Ahead of her, the path plunged into shade beneath High Street Bridge.  The old stone arch assured her she need not fear its deeper shadows – and the way home was much shorter if she stayed beside the river as it passed beneath the street.  Karen busied herself scanning for some clue left by her adventure the night before, yet she could not deny the faster beat of her heart.

So sudden, the descent into silence, the path bereft of people.   So sharp the chill she felt, as her foolishness was laid before her.

Brave, or stupid?

Too late she saw a black shadow pressed back against the stonework of the arch.  She tried to turn but slipped.  Her ankle, twisting, sent her stumbling to her knees.

Instantly a hand clamped over her mouth so she could not cry out – a leather-clad arm lifted her bodily, pulling her back into the shadows of the bridge. Desperately, she tried to find leverage, to drop forward, but her feet were not even in touch with the ground.  He was too tall, too strong, the dark man – she was a toy in his hands.

This time there could be no escape…

 

© 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 Six. A Minor Tapestry

There was a rising bubble of panic in Karen’s chest.  Not fear – it could not be fear of the tall stalker who had followed her from the park – she knew herself, didn’t she?  She was tougher, much tougher than that!  Excitement then?  She was almost running through the twos and threes of shoppers on the street, casting about her for something, anything she might use to her advantage.  The next turning led into the street where she had her office; she did not want him to follow her there.  But what could she do?  He was close, too close!

Then, across the street, she spotted the familiar bobbing gait and beetling eyebrows of Bob Stawkley, Patrick’s superior at the Planning Department.  Karen didn’t know him well, but she could at least be justified in engaging him in conversation.  She launched herself through the traffic without a thought of injury, gaining safety on the further side amid squealing brakes and outraged car horns.

“Mr Stawkley!”

Bob Stawkley’s bushy eyebrows were raised in horror.  “Good God, woman, you’ll get yourself killed like that!  Whatever is the matter?”

“Oh, nothing; clumsy me!  I just wanted to talk to you, that’s all.  Have you got a moment?”

“It must be pretty serious if it’s worth risking your life for.  I suppose I have, then, haven’t I?”

“Bob.  Do you know a lad called Gavin Woodgate?”  It was a bizarre, haphazard way to begin a conversation.  It didn’t fool the old department chief for a moment.

“Are you in some sort of trouble?”

“No, of course…”  Karen saw her attempted nonchalance was failing.  Honesty prevailed.  “Well, yes.  I’m being followed.  A tall man with long hair and a leather coat.  Can you see him?”  She didn’t want to look for herself, to risk engaging with those fierce eyes a second time.

Stawkley’s luxuriant eyebrows lowered as he cast a glance up and down the road.  “No.  There’s no-one fitting that description.  Miss Eversley – Karen – are you all right?  You look badly shaken.”

She felt able to turn now, disbelieving:  for the large man to have vanished so rapidly seemed impossible.  There were no side alleys or even shop doors immediately available, yet he was nowhere to be seen.

She inhaled deeply.  “Oh yes.  Thank you.  I’m so sorry, Bob.”

“Your office is just up here, isn’t it?”  Stawkley was solicitous.  “Do you mind if I accompany you?”

“There’s no need…”

“Nonsense.  I think there is.  If nothing else I can ensure you get across the road in one piece.”

He insisted, taking Karen’s arm in his.  She did not resist: after all, they were not exactly strangers.  Bob Stawkley was her sister Suzanne’s contact, one of many to whom Karen owed her business’s survival in the early days.  Stawkley saw her safely back to her office.  She offered coffee, he declined.

“I really must be on my way.  You’ll be fine now, Karen, there are no tall men out there.  Incidentally, no, I have no recollection of anybody called Gavin Woodgate.”

So she thanked Bob and let him go.  As soon as he had loped from view she locked the doors, made coffee anyway, then sank into her chair to celebrate her escape.  Purton’s plain brown envelope was lying as she had left it on her desk.  It was a moment which could be delayed no longer.

Two files slid out when she tipped the envelope.  The first, a wedge of papers, prefaced by a photograph of a pallid, clean-shaven youth with Brylcreemed brown hair and ill-concealed acne, was made up of letters in scrawly handwriting, a few old family snaps and copies of various examination certificates.  There was also a tidily composed precis of the information she had learned in person over their memorable lunch.  Gavin Woodgate was last seen by his friend, Mark Potts who drove past him as he was walking on the High Pegram road at around three on a Sunday afternoon.  The weather was fine.  Did Gavin have other friends?  Apparently not.  Gavin’s hobbies were stamp collecting and train spotting.  Maybe that explained a lot of things… a quiet boy, a loner most at home in his own company.  Not the socializing type.

The second file was slim:  a photograph of Anna Parkinson depicted a grim-looking girl no older than her teens with straight, lifeless hair and defiant eyes.  The image had been lifted from a police record, Karen was sure – everything about her picture trumpeted disillusionment and rebellion.  There was not much more:  Anna had no known connections except for a Caleybridge landlady who was owed rent.  She was last seen on 21st January on the High Pegram Road, at two o’clock in the morning.

She would have been cold.  It was probably snowing then, or at least there would have been lying snow.  Karen imagined Anna wearing thin, cheaply alluring clothing, abandoned to fend for herself on a country road in the early hours,  watching as her client for the evening’s car retreated into the distance. Maybe she explored this middle-aged (Karen assumed he was middle-aged, though she didn’t know why) pervert’s favouritism to its limits, and maybe his actions were tweaking his conscience now; or was he simply covering himself for the time when her body surfaced in a ditch somewhere?

Thin as this minor tapestry of information seemed, it was riddled with obvious flaws.  Gavin:  train-spotter and philatelist; a boy who worked in a large County department yet who, if this picture was to be believed, had only one friend.  Anna, beloved in the eyes of someone high in the County establishment, should be a call girl of some sophistication, surely, to attract such elevated prey?  She should not be what her picture so clearly depicted – a streetwalker, a common pro from the sad little rank that hung around the bridge on Railway Street each night.  No, she was looking at two photographs, both of which were lies.  Who was she really looking for?  Who were the real people behind those two bland images?

Then there was that thin thread of coincidence surrounding three non-descript and forgotten ruins in some barely accessible field.  Why were two people whose disappearances were months apart, last seen on that same country road, and why did Purton and his colleague infer that their disappearance had something – some connection – with those ruins?  Might there be some link to the Turnbull letter?

Karen remained in her office, clinging, despite herself, to the false security of a locked door.  Yes, she had work, but nothing that could not be deferred until the immediate recollection of that darkly evil man had faded for a few more hours. Come evening though, she must stake out a man accused of an affair with his secretary.  Life had to go on.

By mid-afternoon she had run out of excuses; she must eat.  She would go home, snatch a quick sandwich before the stakeout. Nevertheless, she was still fluttering inside as she scanned the street, but of the lank-haired, black-coated man there was no sign. Encouraged, she ventured out.  Two hundred steps to the alley where her car was parked – she had counted them many times.  In a hurry, it was one hundred and eighty-two.  Karen hurried.

#

County Hall’s switchboard put the call through.  The instant Patrick heard Karen’s voice he knew she was in trouble.

“I’ll come right over.”

“Your work…”

“What are juniors for?  I’ll be there in ten minutes.  Karen…”

“Yes?”

“Don’t be afraid, OK?”

#

Karen was waiting for his buzz on the street door:  “Has anyone followed you?”

The road was empty.  “Not as far as I know,”  Patrick said.

He saw her pale, anxious face as she leant over the balustrade at the top of the stairs;.  She had obviously been crying.  As soon as he got to her he took her in his arms and for a moment he thought she would resist, but no; she clasped him to her as if she might drown and he felt so grateful she had called him – that he was the one she had turned to when she needed help.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”  He gently stroked the hair from her eyes.

“Come inside.” She said.

She shut the door behind them, locking it with unsteady fingers.  “I wish I had a bolt on this.”  She said.  “I should have a bolt; it would be safer.”

“Karen, has someone tried to get in here?” Taking her hand, he asked; “What’s the matter, darling?”  using the word inadvertently; allowing it to slip out in the onrush of his feelings for her.  It did not go unnoticed.  She squeezed his hand.  “I’m not normally like this.  I’m sorry. Thank you for coming so promptly, I must have sounded awful on the ‘phone.”

“I was happy to hear your voice – awful or not.”

“Someone followed me, a man – this morning, in the park.  I thought I’d lost him; but when I came home and pulled up outside, he was there again; the same man.  He was, standing at the end of the road, just staring at me!”  Karen’s eyes began widening with panic.  “Pat, he knows where I live!

“Well, he isn’t there now.  The road’s deserted.”  Patrick assured her. “Describe him to me?”

Karen gave him the man’s description.  She was talking fast, as a frightened person will, and Patrick was worried about her. “Listen, I’m here now.  Whoever he was, he’s gone.”

She nodded dumbly.

“Are you alright?  Do you want me to stay around for a while?”

“You must have left work early or something.  You’ll get into trouble.”  She was biting her lip furiously.  “No!  No, I don’t want you to go!”  She hit herself on the forehead with the butt of her hand.  “Oh, God, what do I want?  Look, you’d better get back to work….”

“If you don’t want me to leave, I’m here.  Don’t worry about work!”  He put a hand on her arm:  “Let’s make some coffee, and we’ll decide what to do next.”

Karen made no reply but gave the same unspeaking nod as before, her chin tucked in and eyes downcast.  Patrick followed her to her kitchen, intent upon helping her until he saw how she kept her back to him, and the tension in her shoulders told him she was crying.  He withdrew to the main room of her apartment, a warm space just sufficiently furnished – cream carpet, blue fabric couch, an overstuffed armchair – to be comfortable.  Her window looked out over a panorama of Caleybridge; its old streets, the river, the offices where he had been working half an hour since:  it looked so vital and alive; the greens of the park fizzing with soda freshness in Spring sunshine.  It drew him, that window:  Karen had set up her table so the vista was beside her when she ate, and  Patrick found himself migrating towards it, perching upon one of four bentwood dining chairs like an eager crow, impatient to fly down upon the spoils beneath.

There were sounds of paper towelled nose-blowing from the kitchen before his red-eyed hostess finally appeared, two mugs in her hands.

“This is a nice room!”

“I’m so, so sorry! I’m being stupid!.”  She put the mugs on the table, drawing up the opposite chair.  “It’s just so…”

“Have you seen this guy before – have you any idea what he might want?”  Pat asked her.

“Until today, no.  No, never.”  She stared into her coffee as if there were answers to be discovered there.  “I expect he’s going to turn out to be someone I owe money to, or something.  That would be sensible, wouldn’t it?”

Patrick grinned.  “I don’t know.  How many people do you owe money to?”

“Not too many.  Pat, I can’t explain.  There was something about him; something not quite…human.  His eyes!  Oh, God, his eyes!”  She raised a hand, shielding her face so he should not see evidence of resurgent tears.  “This is such nonsense.  I have work to do this evening; I have to go out again.”

“Then you don’t go out alone.”  He said.

He held her case for her as she locked her door.  She was shaking so much she could barely locate the key so he reached out to steady her hand again, which made her smile for a moment because she saw the humour of her situation.  “Karen Eversley, investigator.  Isn’t this ridiculous?”

“You’ve been badly scared.”

She coloured briefly, as though she wanted to admit to something more than fear.  “You’d better believe it.”

Karen drove them to a small car park which overlooked an office block in the town’s main business area.  The entrance to the building was about sixty yards away.

“Now what?”  Patrick asked.

“Now we wait.”

“What are we waiting for?”

“Who, rather than what,” She corrected him.  “Donald Carrington, who works in there.  We’re waiting for him to finish work and come out.”

“And then?”

“His wife tells me he never gets home before ten.  She thinks he’s with his secretary.  I want to see if she’s right.”

“Gosh, this is a real stakeout!  Although, of course, we can’t see inside.  I mean, secretary – office – nice big desk, where better?”

“Somewhere with cushions!  Anyway, I’ve managed to get pictures of both of them, so if they both leave at ten o’clock…  Could you get my camera out for me; it’s in the dashboard compartment.  And there are a couple of photographs of our culprits in there, too.  You might as well have a look, since you’re here.  Two pairs of eyes are better than one.”

The camera was evident by its sizeable lens.  The photographs took a little more time to discover.  “Wait a minute!”  Patrick said.  “I know him!”

“You don’t, do you?”

“Not really.  I’m teasing.”

They sat in silence for a while, studying sporadic activity across the street.  Patrick assessed the photographs:  a middle-aged, care-worn man; a very ordinary woman looking a little dowdy, a little careless of herself.  She might be five years younger than her alleged lover, or five years older.

Karen said, after a while:  “Look, Pat, I’m being very selfish with your time.  You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“Would you be happier if I didn’t?”  He asked her seriously.  “I can stay or go; you just say the word.”

She smiled a happy, relaxed smile.  “Then I’d really quite like it if you stayed.  If you didn’t mind.”

“Mind?  Spending the evening with you?  Why would I mind?”  Patrick hesitated: “I don’t want to take advantage of you.”

“You’re not.  In fact, a little closeness would be good for me right now.”

“We could call it our cover,” he suggested, putting his arm around her shoulder.  “The courting couple.  It would look more convincing – what do you think?”

Compliant, she snuggled into him.  “Hmmm.  Not too much courting.  We’ve got to keep our eyes on that door.”

“It’s a nice way to stake someone out.”  He said, as a hand somehow found a way to her knee.  “We’ve got at least five hours before ten o’clock.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”  She murmured, distracted.

“Still, it’s a long time.”  He said.

“Well, it would be, if…”

“If what?”

“If that wasn’t my mate Carrington just popping out of his door right now.”

“Damn!”  Patrick blinked at his watch in the dim light.  “Five-fifteen.  That’s just unfair.  I was getting on really good terms with this leg.  I suppose we could pretend we didn’t see him?”

“Shut up and let me do the pictures.”  Karen focused her camera on a departing Mr Carrington.  She took several shots, tracking his progress along the pavement until he disappeared, merging with the crowd.

“So now we wait for the naughty secretary?”  Patrick asked, persisting with Karen’s knee.

“It turns out she isn’t naughty at all. But yes, we wait.  What are you doing with my leg, young man?”

“My interests are purely aesthetic:  it is a beautiful leg.  I’m simply helping you pass the time.  ”

His hand was seeking, experimentally.  She stopped him.  “No, Pat.”

“It’s always safer on higher ground?”

“Not right now, alright?  Please?”  Karen turned so their faces were inches apart, so their breath mingled and the warm scents of each other made the moment impossibly intimate.  “Behave yourself,”  she chided him.  “Let me concentrate!”

It had begun to rain quite heavily.  Carrington’s secretary did not appear until a half-hour later, raising an umbrella and trotting briskly along wet pavements to the bus station.  Karen tracked her in the car, having to park at the roadside as they watched her catch her bus.  “Follow that bus?”  Patrick suggested.  “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

“No need.  That’s the South Monckton bus.  She’s going home.  Whatever my boy is doing, he isn’t doing it with her.”

“So what now?”  Patrick asked.

“Until next week, probably nothing. It’s always the same night, you see.   I’ll put in a progress report to his wife and who knows?  She may resolve the question with a domestic discussion before then.  She might join up the dots for herself. If not, next Wednesday I follow him.  Wall-to-wall excitement, isn’t it?”

“I’m on the edge of my seat.” Patrick felt concerned.  “Karen, are you going to be okay tonight?  Are you going back to your apartment?”

They were easing their way through late rush-hour traffic, a world full of pan-demonic, dashing people chasing buses, aiming for the station and trains.  It was difficult to imagine the loneliness, the vulnerability another couple of hours would bring, as these rain-soaked streets cleared of people and darkness took over.  The hour of Karen’s sinister stalker would have to be encountered, and he did not want her to be alone when it came.

Karen gave him a wry grin that failed to achieve its intended bravado.  “I’ve been such a wimp!  I’m in a tough profession, Pat.  I have to take care of myself.”

“I can’t help this,” He admitted.  “I worry about you.”

She replied seriously.  “I’d rather you didn’t.  That’s a responsibility I could manage without.”

“You’d rather I didn’t care about you?”

“I’m going to take you back to your car,”  Karen said.  “If it’s any consolation, I’ll probably stay at Mum and Dad’s place.  I could use a home-cooked meal, anyway.”

She did as she promised.  The Daimler stood waiting in the council office car park and Patrick thanked providence that he had left the roof up that morning.

He did not want to leave her.  “This is my number at home, so if you have any trouble, call me.  See you on Friday after work.  The Hunters, yes?”

“Yes.”  Karen took the scrap of paper he gave her with a smile that lit her face in a way he had not seen before.

“You deserve a special ‘thank you’,” She leaned across and kissed him tenderly.   “Thank you, Pat, for saving me.”

He clasped her hands in his.  “What are we, Karen?  To each other?”

And she smiled that same smile.  “We’re friends.”  She said.

“Didn’t that kiss mean we’re a little more than friends?”

“We’re kissing friends.”

He watched as she drove away, positioning himself so she would not see, as he had already seen, the folded slip of wet paper pinned beneath his car’s windscreen wiper.  Extracting it carefully, he got into the Dart’s driving seat before he peeled the fold apart.  The ink had run, but its hand-written message was concise and readable.  It said:

‘STAY AWAY FROM KAREN EVERSLEY’.

 

© 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