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Hallbury Summer – Episode Sixteen.   The Cuckoo’s Child

The story so far:

Joe’s experience at the hands of the ‘witches’ and the vandalism of the village church convince him that his brother Michael is involved.  When he tries to see Michael he is told he has been removed from Maddockgate hospital.  His aunt and uncle admit that Ian, his eldest brother, has been financing Michael’s care.

Emma visits Joe and it is clear that she is tormented by her feelings for him.  It shocks her to learn how openly he has been questioning the village matrons and she urges him once more to move away from Hallbury. 

After Emma’s departure Joe could not drive her from his thoughts.  He saw her face, heard her voice, even imagined he still held  the hand that had taken his.  It needed the telephone’s blare to bring him into focus.

“Joseph?”  His brother Ian’s voice was formal, “I need to talk to you.”

“And I to you.”  Joe said. “So who goes first?”

“Neither of us, right now.  Pay attention.  I’m staying at The Bull in Braunston.   There’s a car coming for you in half an hour.  Be ready.”

The receiver was replaced before Joe could protest.

Precisely thirty minutes later a black Bentley drew up to the Masefield’s’ front gate.  Alfred, Ian’s personal chauffeur, greeted Joe amiably and held the door for him to climb into the back, then wheezed himself into the driving seat.  As the limousine glided into silent motion, Joe treated neighbour Bess Andrews to a regal wave.    She made no attempt to disguise her curiosity.

“Is this supposed to be low profile, by any chance?”  He asked Alf; “Because if it is, it’s failing dismally.”

Watching the miles slip by, Joe recounted to himself all he knew of Ian’s meteoric rise to prominence, concerning which there were many unanswered questions.  How, for example, did Ian the graduate become successful in so short a time – little more than five years after leaving Oxford he was managing director of his own importing company, with a six-figure turnover and connections in the City.  Ian maintained a story which left certain very fundamental details out.  There were always questions about him, only ever answers to a select few.  Of all the things Joe had learned about London he knew the City did not like ‘upstarts’; it was inherently suspicious of anyone who rose quickly in the system.  Why was Ian so readily accepted?  Yes, he had the gift; everything about him made you want to trust him, to invest in him, to buy from him:  but Joe knew better.  The Ian he had grown up with was far from trustworthy, and he could not believe that those whose perspicuity had brought them wealth would have the wool pulled so easily over their eyes.

One aspect of Ian’s nature could not be questioned – especially now Joseph had learned how generously he financed Michael’s care.  Ian was supportive that night when Joe, suitcases in hand and with the memory of Marian’s dead body in his arms, had knocked upon his regal Hampstead door.

Caroline had answered.  “Joseph.  What do you want?”  (As if that was not obvious).

Caroline was tall – a reed of womanhood who had come to Ian’s bed by a process of very careful selection.  She was of good Home Counties stock, intelligent, and with the sort of fragile looks that transcend any social finesse.  She was also as hard as nails, and, when she chose, devastatingly rude.  That night, dressed carelessly in jeans and sloppy sweater, she still contrived to appear as though she had just completed a fashion shoot.  She looked disparagingly at Joe’s suitcases.

“I suppose you had better bring those inside.”

Ian’s house was a nineteen twenty’s villa in the ‘Deco’ style, its central hallway surrounded by doors to living and dining rooms, a study, games room and kitchen.  Stairs wound up to a mezzanine and bedrooms, then a further flight to a solarium, gymnasium, and roof.

Joe stood on the polished parquet, wondering if he was visibly shaking.   “I’m sorry, I know I’m not observing the proprieties….”

Caroline cut him short. “Joseph, where proprieties are concerned, I don’t think you have a clue.”  She opened the door of the study:  “Ian, that disgusting brother of yours is here.  What do you want to do with him?”

Ian had emerged, dark hair tightly brushed and looking as he always did – irritated.  He saw the suitcases.  “No.”  He said abruptly.

“Ian, I wouldn’t ask, but…”

“You’ve been evicted again.  Joe, I can’t just keep putting you up at a moment’s notice whenever you decide to stop paying your rent.”

“No, Ian, I haven’t been evicted.  But there are reasons I’ve nowhere to stay tonight…”

Ian glared.  “Oh, all right.”  Caroline gasped as if wounded.  “You can sleep in the solarium.  But tomorrow….”

“I’ll look for somewhere else.  I promise.” Joe said.

He had stayed for a month.

When his brother revealed he had reserved a room in The Bull, Joseph had been mildly surprised.  The Mansion House Hotel was Braunston’s finest, and he might have expected the status-conscious Ian to have put up there.  The Bull was a little old-fashioned, advertised as ‘homely and unpretentious’.  Caroline would have been more scathing.

Alf conducted him directly to Ian’s room on the second floor.

In sampling from the Palliser gene pool Ian, it was often said, had taken more than his fair share of his mother’s genes and very few of his father’s.  In looks, in manners, even in intellect, he was arguably superior to either of his siblings.  This is not to say that he was perfect, far from it; he was prone to petty dishonesty, was certainly inclined towards arrogance, and from the age of thirteen had done all he could to disassociate himself from what he perceived to be the dysfunctional Palliser clan.

The Ian Joe expected to greet him was the Ian whose hospitality he had abused just a few weeks before, but there were subtle differences.  He was as irascible as ever, yes – Ian had always been, in Joseph’s recollection, short-tempered; but he was tired, too; fractious, rather than strident.

“Drink?”  He was seated at a desk overloaded with documents.  He waved perfunctorily at the mini-bar.

“Yes, please.  Scotch would be good.”

“Help yourself,”  Ian grunted.  He slapped his pen down onto the desk – he had been writing something as Joseph entered the room, “This is for you, Joe.”

He spun a cheque-book across the room so that as Joe sat on the edge of the bed it almost landed in his lap.  Joe caught it before it fell to the floor.  “Throwing your money around, Ian?  That’s not like you.”

“Open and read.”

Joe did.  The freshly-written scrawl stared up at him from the page:  ‘Pay to the Order of Joseph Palliser the sum of Five Thousand Pounds’:  “What’s this?”

“It is part of a package.  A fairly minor part, actually:  other elements include a first-class ticket on Brittany Ferries to France, a little villa near Dinan (you’ll like it there), and a hire car for as long as you want.”

Had Joe’s jaw dropped open?  “My god, Ian, I know I deserve a holiday, but…..”

Ian gave a passable imitation of a smile:  “Brittany in summer: very beautiful, I assure you.”

“And the catch is…?”

“No catch.  Just remain silent.  Telephone no-one; write to no-one for a couple of months.   Then you can spill your heart out and you can come home, though I’d much prefer if you stayed away from London, for Caroline’s sake.”

In truth the penny had dropped two conversational exchanges ago, but Joe had wanted to run with it, see where it led.  He got to his feet, crossing to a window which overlooked the hotel courtyard, which was just busying up for the evening trade.

This made Ian edgy:  “Could you keep back from the window?”

“Someone’s onto you, aren’t they?  Found out about those depraved orgies in Pimlico?  You want me out of the way until the election is over.”

His brother sighed indulgently.  “There are no orgies, Joe; of course you know that, don’t you?  You always like to provoke me.  But you are right in one respect: I do want you somewhere you can’t readily be found.”

“Why, what have I done?”

“What you always do, Joe.  You stir up trouble:  you are trouble!  I seem to spend an inordinate proportion of my life covering your mistakes; first London and that nymphomaniac sugar-mummy of yours, and now a crusade to obstruct investigations around a murder at home.  I don’t need a Poirot in the family right now, or a gigolo.”

Joseph winced at having this sobriquet attributed to him a second time.  “Or a madman?”  He suggested.

“Yes, well:  I assume you refer to Michael, and that’s another issue.”

“It’s the issue I wanted to talk to you about.  I take it you’ve spirited him away for similar reasons?  We’re just closet skeletons to you, aren’t we?”  He had stopped beside the desk, standing over his brother.

Ian chose his words.  “If you hear from Michael, you’re to let me know as soon as you can.  Okay?”

“So he’s not completely incommunicado, then?  He can smuggle messages out through the bars?”

“He’s gone.”

“What?”

Ian shifted uncomfortably.  “I made arrangements for him to transfer to a very nice, comfortable home in South Wales where he could be, shall we say, closely supervised?  He never arrived.”

“Oh, my Lord!”  Joe unwittingly borrowed Emma’s favourite exclamation.  “Whatever will you do now, Ian?  An election imminent and an insane brother on the loose, ready to tell all!  I should say I’m the least of your troubles!”

Ian sighed.  “I knew this wouldn’t be pleasant.  See here, Joe; all I want is an easy ride into Parliament.  This country is about to get itself a new leader, I think a great leader, and he’s specially requesting that I be by his side.  He wants me for a very important job, Joe, and I want to do it!

“Now, Michael is something I will take care of:  please, just take that cheque – your tickets are waiting at the ferry port, Alfred will give you an envelope with the other details on the way home.  The boat sails tomorrow at ten.”

“Twenty-four hours, huh?”

“More like eighteen.  Go home.  Pack.”

Joe stared at the cheque.  It was tempting: he could leave the torture of Emma, the suspicions of the village, and the dread result of that autopsy behind for a while.  He could renew acquaintance with his beloved France.  But was he simply running away again; failing to confront his problems?  What would happen to Jack Parkin, if no-one was there to champion his cause?

A knock at the door of Ian’s room interrupted his thoughts.

“Mr Chapman?”  Enquired a voice from outside; “There’s a message for you, sir. from your London office.”

Ian hustled to the door, opening it a crack, and the porter passed an envelope through.  Ian glanced briefly at the note it contained.

“I must get back.”  He said.  Joe was regarding him with some amusement.  “What is it, Joe?”

“Mr Chapman?”

“Yes, an assumed name; something I often do.  What of it?”

“Five thousand pounds!  So much money, just to put your brother out of the way for a few weeks!”  Joe tossed the cheque book back onto the desk.  “No.”

Ian’s shoulders slumped. He sat down on the edge of his bed with a world-weary sigh:  “Why ever not?”

“Because I’m your brother, Ian.  Oh, I’m feeling guilty because you’ve been kind to me:  you gave me shelter – if a little grudgingly – and I’m unable to repay you.  But there’s a higher moral lesson here, because although you might be able to buy your way out of all kinds of problems, you should never try to buy off your own family!  Sorry.”

Joe slumped too.  He had just turned down a small fortune, something he did not know he was capable of doing.

Ian nodded, said at last:  “Very well.  I see that.  I’ll get Alfred to drive you home.”

Perplexed, Joe said, “A couple of days?  Let me think about it?”

“Afraid not.  It has to be now, or…”  Ian shrugged fatalistically.  “All right, the truth.  You’ll have to know, anyway.  You were correct; someone is ‘onto me’.  So far, the damage is limited to one reporter for one tabloid newspaper; unfortunately the one with the biggest circulation.  Head office is very good at detecting this kind of thing, and to a limited extent they can deal with any problems, but Michael?  I had to move him very quickly somewhere he couldn’t be found; otherwise who knows what he might have come up with?  He’s still as mad as a hatter, isn’t he?”

“He’s unwell,” Joe had to agree.  “And me?”  He asked.

“You.”  Ian got up, moving to the window, concealing himself by means of the curtain.  “Apparently, Joe, the same newshound has been chasing you all over London.”

“So that’s why I’m a problem?”

“I should say so.  Abysmal failure to make your own living, other than as a gi…”

“Don’t use that word again!”

“Alright, but how else do I describe someone who has spent the last several years being kept by a rich married woman?  A woman who dies, incidentally, in what her husband is claiming are suspicious circumstances. In other words, he thinks you murdered her.  You didn’t tell me about that, Joe, when you came asking for shelter that night.”

“I was desperate, Ian.  If I had you wouldn’t have let me in.  This reporter; why hasn’t he found me yet?  It isn’t as if I’ve been hiding.”

“Oh, he will,”  Ian assured him.  “You moved from London, so you dropped off his radar for a few days.  But he’s got your scent now, apparently.  I’m told he’s in this area.  Tomorrow, or the latest Wednesday, I should think.”  He turned back to his desk.  “He’s tied you to me, of course; hence the interest.”

“Hence twenty-four hours?  Sorry, eighteen.  So I’m escaping!  But did you seriously think a little old ditch like the English Channel would put him off?  Try Brazil!”

Joseph could not help but feel sympathy for his brother.  Ian’s air of resignation was foreign to his nature; a precursor, perhaps, of greater burdens to come.  This was a world-weary figure, tried by circumstances.  There was a haunted – no, a hunted look in his eyes and he, Joseph, was its miscreant cause.

“Let’s get our stories straight…”  He said.

Throughout his homeward journey Joseph had nothing to do but stare at Alf’s massive shoulders and dwell upon the matter of Michael’s whereabouts.   Somewhere out there was Ian’s real loose cannon, someone with the firepower to sink them all. Over these last few days and against his will Joe’s suspicions had been forming.  And the question that must follow was ‘Why?’

The day was not yet over.  One more shot remained to be fired.   At supper with his aunt and uncle he discovered why Dot Barker had not been among those gathered outside the church that morning.  Her husband Ned Barker, landlord of The King’s Head, had died the preceding night.

“How?”  Joe asked.

Owen raised an eyebrow:  “No idea, I’m afraid.  He was getting on a bit, wasn’t he?”

The King’s Head was closed until further notice.  The village’s social hub and the axis of its rumour mill was stilled.  Whatever secret Michael was so insistent Joe should elicit from Ned would go with the old publican to his grave.

On the following morning Joe kept an appointment to view the Lamb house.

He was unprepared for that house. Was it because he never had a roof of his own, but was always the cuckoo’s child, living where fortune next abandoned him, forever at risk from the night and the rain?  As he wandered through those empty rooms he felt as though he were turning handles to unopened doors in his life.  There was gladness, a warmth which reached out to embrace him.  In each bare room he already saw furniture placed as he would have it, carpets, colours of his choosing.  He saw a fire in the hearth and giving his fantasy wings, two people sitting before it.  He saw a bedroom he imagined she would like, a familiar smile of greeting, a dog stretched before the hearth.  It was a tour which might have stopped in the hallway, for in just that short acquaintance Joe knew he was born to be there.  All his reservations, all the petty hostilities and fears were cast aside.

“How much?”  He asked the agent.  The specification sheet quoted a price of four thousand pounds.

“As you see it.  Rather expensive, I’m afraid.  However, it is in a superior state of repair – really just ready to move into and I do believe the owner is looking for a quick sale, so…”

“So I’ll let you have an offer by tomorrow.”

At a ‘bus stand by St. Andrews’ desecrated church, Joe awaited the ‘bus that would take him, by a series of changes, to Wilton Bishop and his recently acquired car.  Aaron Pace was engrossed in the work of repairing the churchyard.

“Mind, I got some work to do ‘ere.”  He called over,  “Tidy this bugger up by tomorrow!  What do ‘ee think o’ that?”

Joe made sympathetic noises:  “Why tomorrow, Aaron?”

“Poor Violet!  We’m puttin’ ‘er under at last.  A’topsy, see?”

Joe wondered how appropriate it would be to lay Violet to rest in a Christian churchyard.  He concluded that Owen was right; that neither she nor her companion witches took their heathenism too seriously.  After all, hadn’t Violet customarily laundered ‘Vicar’s bliddy surplices’?

“Be you lookin’ at the Lamb’s ‘ouse?”  Aaron asked, drawing a cynical smile from Joe.  This village missed mothing.  Aaron stared down at his spade.  “See, you could be a brave man, or you could be a fool.  Not sure which.”

“Nor am I,”  Joe replied.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twenty-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

 

 

 

 

 

A Place that was Ours. Chapter Nine – Moving On.

“I don’t know, Chas, do I?”  Sarah Coldbatch protested. “I’m not Sue’s keeper.  She’s gone, that’s all I know.”

“Said nowt to none of us, man.”  Jonna declared in his girlfriend’s support.  “Joost booggered off, middle of the night, Dave said.”

The scene was MacDonalds on the Friday morning, the day after my case.  It should have been a time for celebration, had I not been told of Sue’s unexpected departure.  The joy of my small victory had dwindled to dust alongside this news, and I was trying to get more information.

“Looka,”   Jonna leaned across the table;  “She were changed, Chas.  Affer you’s had that run in wi’ ‘er Da, she barely spoke to us, nivver!  She coomed to school wi’ Dave, she walked ‘ome wi’ Dave.  She divvent want ter know us, man!”

Sarah nodded.  “It was like she couldn’t wait to get away; from the school, from us, from ever’thing.   I Mean, we were her friends, y’kna?”

Jonna said:  “We didn’t wanna tell yer. Chas man, ‘cause yer were hurtin’ enough already, y’kna?  ‘Cause it wasn’t nuffin’ terr’ble nor nowt.  She was jus’ stand offish, like.”

What were my feelings?  I was worried, I was puzzled; maybe I was a little confused.  I tried to express these conflicting emotions to John Hargreave, when I called at his house later that day.   He was evasive, to begin, and tried to divert the conversation to other matters:  did I feel relieved now the court case was over, what were my plans for the coming football season, how was I going to serve my forty hours of community service?  I gave answers, inasmuch as I knew them, to each of these things.

“Have you seen this?”  We were in his bedroom.  He reached for a magazine that lay open on his desk and thrust it at me.  Photographs of some unattractive black electronics dominated the page.  “That’s the future, man!   Analogue cellular phones, Chas!  No strings, yeah?  You can carry them around with you, make calls from them, get calls on them.   They’re the future!  America’s got them, Japan’s got them, Australia, Israel – we’ll be having them next – think o’ that!”

I remember my scepticism.  I never shared John’s gift for prediction.  To me, the prospect of carrying something around which resembled in appearance and probably weighed the equivalent of a house brick seemed uninspiring.  I said so.

“They’re just the first.  They’ll get smaller, you’ll see!  Give it five years and everyone will have one.”  His tone was suddenly grave.  “She always fancied you, you know?”

“Sue?”

“Aye, daft really, the way it works.  She liked you, right from when we were nay high.  I liked her, she didn’t even notice me.  Seems to me girls decide like that.  No reason in it, none at all.  I’m cleverer than you, I’m better lookin’ than you, and she still  picked you, y’bastard .”

“And now she’s unpicked me. So we’ve both lost, haven’t we?”  I said.

“She must have took her sunglasses off.”  John nodded.  “I miss her.”

“Even without her glasses?”  On reflection, I must have been aware of the candle John held for Sue, but I had taken little account of it until now.  John was, in Sue’s assessment, ‘deep’, and that was undeniably so; his heart was buried deep, a treasure in a labyrinth where only those who had need could find it, but it was a strong heart and loyal, and it served his true friends, be they few, with unswerving faith.

“So you’ll be off with Angela Carey, now then?”  John asked.  “You’ve pulled there, man.  You must have noticed?”

“Aye.  I’m not much in need of a lass right now.”  I said.  “I was hoping to find Sue.”

“Aye.”  My friend burrowed into a sheaf of papers on his desk and extracted a large photograph.  “Seen this?  While you was busy getting’ your end away ah took a train down to Heathrow for the day.  Took that from the observation deck, man!  That is one radical aeroplane, isna?”

“Yes, it is.”  I found myself looking at an extremely good picture of a British Airways Concorde, taken as it approached the terminal buildings from a taxi lane, and I had to remind myself that by entering John’s room I was voluntarily immersing myself in his world of technological enchantment, because that was the essence of him – it was where he found solace when reality proved too painful, as it often did, for John.

“The day after you left school she came back – she’d been on ‘study leave’ or something, at least that’s what was said –  and she hardly spoke to any of us.  She just sat through lessons, answered the questions Chemical Carter asked, stayed in the classroom for breaks, sat at a separate table wi’ Dave for dinners; all that.  She came to school with Dave, she walked home with Dave.  It was like he was her bodyguard, or summat; and he wouldn’t say anything, neither.  We used to have good chats, Dave and me.  Weird!”

“She was under pressure.”  I surmised.

“Off her Da’, you reckon?  Mebbe’s.  How well d’y’know him, Chas?  He’s serious.”

I shook my head.  “I thought I knew him quite well, once.  Mind, it could have been her Ma who was leaning on her.  Jonna says she left in the middle of the night.”

“Aye.  We did get Dave to tell us that much.  It was like he didn’t want to talk about it at all, y’na?  She slipped out in the night, he reckons.  She packed some stuff, cleared her savings book the day afore.  Not even her Ma and Da’ knew.  Just sneaked off.  Doesn’t seem sense to me – she was due to sit her GCEs in a couple of months. Everything goin’ for her, man.  Doesn’t seem sense.”

“She was supposed to be going to live with her aunt, or someone, in Bedeport – study for her ‘A’ levels there, at the college.”

“I know a couple of lasses who go there.”  John volunteered.  “I can find out if she’s there, easy enough.”

It would be a week or two before I knew for certain.  Sue was not attending Bedeport college.

What do you do?  What do you do at sixteen, with all your life before you and a love already in your past?  This you do not do – you do not forget.  You try to find someone who has left this massive hole in your life:  you ask questions, you follow trails that were not taken, you ponder and reason and scheme within yourself as you try to understand; but you are young and your days are full, and with time you learn to consign to the past that which belongs there.

Yes, you ask: at the railway station if anyone remembers a dark-haired girl with blue eyes who boarded an early morning train, at the bus station, the cab drivers your mother knows, even your own mother if she could have taken Susan’s call one night.  You try to get to talk to her other friends, to visit the club where she went to practice Judo, the amdram group where she was cast to play in a Christmas pantomime; but all you find are dropped threads, others as clueless as yourself.  With time and without funds eventually there is no other place to turn, so you cease your search.   Then, finally, you move on.

Carlo made pizzas.  His Emporio Da Pizza wafted an air of toasting cheese and baking bread down the length of Front Street every night promptly at six o’clock, drawing a steady dribble of customers, and no matter if the occasional ‘roach might be seen tanning itself in the reflected heat of his stone oven, his food had a reputation of which he was proud.

“Is the best, the ingredients I use.  Is the tomatoes, sun-dried fresh from Napoli, the best-a mozzarella of the buffalo of my blessed country, the finest pepperoni!  Is beautiful, that I cook!  Is perfecto!”

I met Carlo while my community service group was cleaning the alley behind his Emporio.  He wanted a delivery rider and I wanted a job, so I will always be grateful to Carlo.  From him I learned the joys of riding a motorised vehicle because a scooter with a set of ‘L’ plates came with the package.  He even financed my first licence.

The very first thing I learned about Carlo was his nationality, because Carlo was an Italian of convenience.  His real name was Carl, he actually came from Sheffield, and although he insisted he had an Italian grandfather somewhere I was inclined to believe his parentage was shrouded in mystery.  To his customers, he was from Napoli, which was probably the only Italian city name he knew.  At the back of his shop, in his storeroom, or when the takeaway was devoid of clientele, his accent and his dialect was broad Yorkshire.

Then there was all I gained in knowledge from Carlo.  He taught me how to make his ‘perfecto’ pizza; how to knead and spin the dough into a symmetrical base and how to deck it with the buffalo mozzarella that was analogue cheese, the tomatoes that originated in a tin and the pepperoni that came from Tesco’s.  In short, he taught me much about the quintessence of commercial success; that it is not the integrity of the item you sell but the intensity of its presentation.

“You buy-a from me you buy the finest – the very finest!”

His customers believed him.  They believed him knowing if you wanted pizza the alternatives in Casterley were even worse, or because they liked his floor show, or after ten o’clock because they were so drunk it didn’t matter anyway.

Carlo was kind.   “You ask-a my people he work for me I am a generous man, no?”

“Carlo, can I take the scooter home tonight?”

“Aye, lad, awreet.  Keep it in yer yard, mind, we don’t want it stolen do we?”

He would agree, such was his faith that I would return the bike to him promptly at six the following night.  If it would start, of course.  That was a lottery in itself.

In the meantime, football dominated more and more of my days, as my involvement with Casterley Town Juniors grew.   Although our fixtures were limited in number, I played in all twenty matches against the other Junior teams in our league, and I scored at least one goal in each.  By the following summer we were second in the league and I was the top scorer.   By the summer of ‘eighty-eight I was eager for another season, and indecently pleased with myself.

It took Jonna to remind me of my fan club:  Angela.

“When’re yer gonna date the poor lass, man?  She’s gorrit sommat chronic fer thee, like.   Ah’m tempted ter try for ‘er mesen’.  Ah cud let her use me fer a night so she’s cud get to thee.  Wha’ d’yer think o’ that?”

“I think that would be immoral.”  I told him.  “And I wouldn’t advise it, like.  What if Sarah found out? She’d eat you alive!”

Jonna broached the subject in December, the middle of the season.  I was zealous in my asceticism.  Dating was out.  But came spring there was Angela, still faithfully cheering in the home stand, and I weakened.  From the terraces above the tunnel one Saturday in April, the last before our season closed, after a wet match on a soaked pitch, most of which I seemed to be carrying back into the dressing room with me, I couldn’t have seemed at my most attractive.

I called up to her.  “Hi, Ange.  What are you doing after?”

Her face lit up.  “Oh, not much.”

With that Angela Carey and I became friends.   We hung out together that first evening at Mr Pellosi’s, an ice cream parlour in the town, and we talked.  Actually, Angela did most of the talking; rather as though she had been saving up everything she wanted to say to me for a year of distant longing and this was her time to let it out.  Her voice was light and musical, her eyes were icy blue and bright as air, and it was a very pleasant evening, although, looking back upon it now, I cannot remember one thing she said.  I walked her home in the rain to a house very like my own in a street quite near to mine.  She was still talking, her eyes flashing with relections of the lamplight – because somehow evening had turned into night, and at her door her face came suddenly to within inches of mine, inviting a kiss.  Was I ready for that yet?  Did I even think before our lips were touching, reminding me painfully of a sweetness I had almost forgotten?  When she stepped away she was aglow with happiness, so I was happy too, for a time.  Yes, I was ready for that.

“Can I see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, if you want.”

“Yeah, I want.”

The stamping feet of conscience were loud on the street behind me as I walked home.  Almost a year had passed when all I had of Sue was memories and regrets, yet she still spoke quietly in my head, reminding me of our brief moment of union.  A tiny demon, a creature I had kept buried in my psyche for a year sat upon my shoulder now, refreshing my conclusion that love meant trouble.  Attachment always ended in pain.  Concentrate on who you are and where you want to be, and never permit anyone to distract you from your path.  Angela was very, very distracting.

Nevertheless, I fell into a relationship with her.  It was so easy.  She expected nothing from me, and that was her gift.   If I was late, or if I cancelled an outing we planned together she did not complain; if I became impatient or angry she would remain quiet and step aside to let me flail at the cruel air for a while, knowing when to come close – knowing I would return to her when I was tired and ready to bathe in the calmness she bestowed.  Her talk could flow over me and around me like warm rain, no matter that it lacked the food my intellect required.  Angela was nothing about intellect:  she was everything about presence and, I suppose, about love.  Did I ever love her?  To answer in the negative would seem unkind because she was no cypher, and all she gave to me should be acknowledged and honoured, but we were only seventeen.  I felt privileged to be with her, and I think, conceited as I am, she had some love for me.  We enjoyed each other, for a while.

Angela taught me that beauty was power, a lesson that has helped me through many a honey trap moment since those days.   Motorists would stop at a pedestrian crossing when she was still ten yards from it, just so they could watch her cross in front of them, and maybe harvest a smile.  Once, taking her home (illegally, because I was a learner) on the back of Carlo’s scooter the inevitable happened and a police motorcyclist pulled me over.  My background being as it was, I quaked as the copper took out his notebook.  Then Angela unclipped her helmet and shook out her long blonde hair, and the notebook disappeared.   I could never completely define that quality in her, but some of it must have been down to her natural grace and some to her complete lack of angst or defiance.  She exuded gentleness.

So that was my seventeenth year:  Angela was my girl, John Hargreave was my friend, and football was my life.   My photo appeared twice in the sports pages that season so I thought of myself as a pretty important member of small town society – hard though it may have been to equate such high status with a job delivering pizzas.  Had you seen me then, you might have felt that my preposterous self-importance deserved a sharp dose of ego-puncture.  Certainly there were cauldrons bubbling – in terms of celebrity Mackenzie Crabtree outdid me by three to one.  A member of the council now, rumour suggested Mackenzie had his eye on selection as the local Member of Parliament; something of no concern to me, were it not for increasing evidence of the Crabtree finger in every pie.  Mack’s portly figure made front page news for our local ‘paper – attending this or opening that; his money loudly supportive of good causes, his opinions sought on matters as diverse as local housing and national politics.  And Shelley?  Shelley was always on his arm, supporting him or, in my mother’s more acid opinion, being supported.

“Look at ‘er eyes, Chas.  She’s ‘ad a skinful, that one!”

I regretted that there seemed no longer any prospect of personal contact between the Crabtrees and my mother.   I might have wished it otherwise, because it offered the only means to gain information about Sue, but my mother was adamant.

“I’ll never talk to that bitch again!”  And that was that.

Dave Crabtree had been moved to Ramphill, a private school over the river, down Lambtree way, apparently to help his ‘A’ level studies and prepare him for university entrance.  We rarely encountered Dave, and if we did he ignored us.

One evening in July of 1988, just before my eighteenth birthday, Carlo dispatched me with a pizza order for Rossiter’s Hotel.  Rossiter’s, a relatively new concrete barn on the riverside about two miles east of Casterley, is one of those anonymous multi-room establishments frequented by the business community, and popular because of its proximity to Bedeport.   Orders for pizza emanated from there quite frequently, so this was a routine call.  I knocked on the door of room 41.  It opened promptly.

The man whose tall and substantial figure greeted me had a face and a voice I recognised.

“Mr Benton!”

The face grinned at me.  It was a very broad, Cheshire Cat, ear-to-ear grin.   “Ranton; call me Allen.”  He said, standing aside for me.  “Come in, Chas.  Is this my pizza?  Do you want a share?”

“I – I have to be getting back.”  I stammered.  Two years before, I remembered meeting  Allen Ranton while training with Jack Master’s football class.   Then he had been wrapped in an expensive suede jacket, sufficiently opulent for Jonna to suggest he might be a chicken ripe for the plucking., Back then he had commented upon my conduct in the tackle.  Now, three seasons later, I understood what he had meant.  I was in the congenial presence of a man who really knew about football.

“Don’t worry, lad.  I had a word with your boss, Carlo.  He isn’t expecting you back for a while.

Come and sit down, Chas.  We’ve got summat to talk about.”  He had a habit, I remembered, of leaning close to me, bending over me from his superior height and looking down.  I had grown since then, yet not enough to meet him eye to eye.  A coffee table with two tub chairs were clustered beside the room’s large window and he threw the pizza box down on the table, planting himself in one of the chairs, waving to the other.  “Here y’are, don’t be shy lad.  Grab a piece!”

He led by example, grabbing a fistful of Four Seasons and stuffing his cheeks with it.  Trying to catch up with this string of surprises, I followed more timidly, picking at a slice of pizza as I slithered into the chair and wondering what could possibly be happening.

Allen was not averse to speaking with his mouth full.  “Right!  Now this isn’t complicated.   Do you know what I do?  No.  Alright, I’m an agent.  You know what an agent is, right?  Well, I’m one.  I represent footballers.   Why do footballers need me?  Because the bastards who want them to play in their teams try to tie them up as tight as possible and pay them as little as possible.   I do the scrapping, I do the bargaining, I do the politics, Chas.   I get players the money they deserve and more besides.  Now, lad, do you know what this is?”  A briefcase was stashed, open, beside his chair and from it he produced a binder full of A4 sheets.

My eyes must have been as wide as saucers by then.  “A contract?”

“That’s right.  You catch on quick; I like that.  It’s a contract with your name on it, Charles Haggerty, and if you sign it you will be bound to me.  I’ll explain why…”

And explain Ranton did.  He showed me his ‘client list’, names familiar to me as among the top earners in football.  Then he told me how his business thrived on new, young talent, and how he took no more than a basic fee while he ‘developed them’ through the game.

“If I didn’t think you had the ability, lad, I wouldn’t be having this conversation; there’s no money in it for me, not at this stage.  But you’ve got a future, and if you’re my client it’ll be profitable for both of us.”

That was when he dropped the bombshell.  “Casterley Town are interested in you.  They want you in the team for the beginning of the season.”

I remember it so well.  I think – no, alright, I admit, though I’m not proud of it – I burst into tears.  Allen thrust a napkin at me.

“Don’t get too excited.  I’m sure you know they’re in danger of dropping out of the league, and most of the team make up their earnings from their old age pension, so they won’t pay you much, although there are some politics involved – you needn’t bother with them – which give us leverage.”   He passed the contract to me.  “Now I don’t want you to sign this tonight.  Take it with you, show it to a solicitor, make sure you’re happy with everything.  If you are, sign it and give it to Jack Masters when you see him on Wednesday.  He’ll see that I get it.  Don’t put it off, though, I need to get the deal sorted soon.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2017.  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