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Gloves

More archived material – this one from 2016 and re-worked a little..

I recollect her gloves.  They first drew my attention to her.  That afternoon at the City Library, she placed them side by side on her desk, arranged with such neat precision they might have been elements of a ritual, pointing towards me across the centre divider between our respective spaces, in perfect alignment with the upper left-hand corner of her book.  They were black gloves, of course.   She could have countenanced no other colour.

Easily distracted, my eyes wandered further from the dry meat of my Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ to her hands – and I saw how long they were, the fingers how sensitive – how the veins within them were no more than a grey trace and how they were suited so, to her porcelain flesh, to the white, neat blouse with its delicate lace trim, to the gentle curve of her shoulders, to her neck’s ennobled grace, to the close- wound curls of her auburn hair.  

And then I remember her face: those eyes of startling pale blue, her pert, upturned nose and the prim set of her mouth, so determined yet so ready to drift into a wisp of a smile when she caught my stare – and how I curled with embarrassment as I buried my nose back into my book, only to feel I must make some gesture to excuse my gaucheness.  I raised Edward Gibbons’ weighty tome to the vertical so she could see its title, giving one of those eyes-to-the-ceiling expressions which conveyed (or so I hoped) my boredom with its cumbersome prose.

In return, she exhibited the object of her own studies, Dostoyevsky, with a little twist of her lips that meant the same.   We shared a smile.  I fell in love.

It wasn’t much, that moment; yet in the obligation of study and the hushed discipline of a library it was all we had, and enough to fill my young mind with dreams.  She did not remain long at the mercy of ‘Crime and Punishment’.   I heard, rather than saw her rise, slip her chair back almost noiselessly, find perfect balance on precise feet and move away.  Only then did I dare to look up and watch her departure, instantly regretting my shyness.  Why had I not spoken – just some little pleasantry to pierce the silence?   

I gazed after her,  indulging my wasted fantasies in the neatness of her short, clipped steps and formal, green-suited style, until distance consumed her.  I heard the brief rush of the street as she slipped out through the library doors.  Then I looked down, and saw the glove!  It was twisted, not neatly posed as when she laid it upon her desk.  In the story I invented for her she made to pick up both gloves as she departed, but retained just one of the pair.   Fanning a spark of hope, I snatched it up and ran in pursuit – past desk and alarmed librarian, down echoing stone steps and back into the city crowds of which she could be no more than a tiny part.  A part I would not see, or ever find.

I looked.  Oh, yes, I looked.  I searched the street that day, I searched the streets every day.   I returned to the library at the same time every afternoon for a month, every week for a year.  And every day I brought that glove, and every day was the same.  She never returned.

Once I saw her – or so I thought.  Upon my route to lectures in the North Bailey I had to take the riverside walk, and a little above the weir where the water is at its widest and deepest, there is a green-painted bridge of Victorian iron, a doughty testament to nineteenth-century engineering.   Was hers the figure standing there, by the rail at the centre of the span – and was she looking towards me?  Although I ran, by the time I reached the place there was no sign of her.  I was mistaken, betrayed by my wishful heart. 

Years would pass.  I would, at last, consign that little glove to an upper drawer and every once in a while expose it, and remember.    But after all, I was just nineteen that day in the library.  She of my memory was probably older than I, had a life somewhere:  perhaps a husband and children.  Every now and then I could persuade myself the fleeting engagement of our eyes had meant as much to her as to me, that she was out there somewhere, dreaming as I dreamed.  Of course, it could not be so, yet it was the matter of many a sleepless night.

Here I must explain a little about myself.  I am reticent by nature, a savagely introverted soul with a disinclination to trust;  a deficit of character I put down to the knowledge I am an adopted child, with all the internalised uncertainties that brings.  My adoptive family kept this from me until my fifteenth birthday, and it scarcely rocked my world until I mistakenly shared the information with my then-girlfriend, who promptly revised her opinion of me on the basis that she ‘no longer knew who she was going out with’.  Thereafter I was wary of forming relationships.   I am, still.

I think I was twenty-five or twenty-six when I at last decided I must try to trace my birth mother and father.  Who had rejected me before I had a voice for my defence?  Of course, it would be difficult.  Agencies are careful to protect the details of those who, by choice or circumstance, offer their children for adoption, and it was made plain to me that my success would depend upon the wishes of my natural parents.  I signed several forms, made a number of pledges, and waited.

This was in the late summer of that year.  I had work in another city at the time.  I suppose I was surprised that my request was resolved so quickly, because I had aimed to be back in my home town before word came.  After only three weeks I received a call from the Agency:  could I make an appointment as soon as possible?   I did so, and I will not forget my nervousness as I made the long drive to keep it.

The woman who faced me across her desk was kind, I think.  Her work must have made her so, must it not?    Yet to me she seemed harshly spoken; her words were clipped at the final consonant and sharp, incisive to my eager ears.

“You cannot always expect a request such as yours to be successful.  I’m afraid in this case…”

“They don’t want to meet me?”

“There is only one traceable parent, your mother.   You cannot make contact with her because she died many years ago.  However we were able to trace her sister, and she has no wish to communicate with you.  She wants to make that very clear.”  The woman reached into a drawer by her right knee, producing a large manila envelope, with the words ‘For Kevin’ scrawled upon it in faded biro.   “Kevin was the name your mother gave to you.  Her sister has retained this in her possession ever since your mother’s death, in case you ever wished to make contact.  I advise you to take it home and examine it at your leisure.  We can be of no further help.”  

Cutting the seal of that envelope took courage.  It contained a letter I shall not share with you, a confession of such sadness and loss it must remain hidden forever.   I will tell you, though, of the newspaper clipping, of the article with the photograph at its side, about a bereft young woman who leapt from the iron bridge above the weir at her life’s end, and I will tell you that the picture was familiar to me.  The face that stared back at me from the photograph was that of the girl I had seen in the library all those years before.

The envelope also contained, neatly wrapped, one black glove.

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  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-Five. Estuary

It is often said that a beloved dog gives heart to a home.  If that be true, the absence of Petra, the Woodcrofts’ canine dynamo had left a void in the lives of everyone at Radley Court.   Her ‘hospitalisation’ after her fight with the dark man had given brief respite to Mrs Buxham, the Woodcrofts’ ‘morning lady’ whose ancient bicycle rarely escaped Petra’s clumsy enthusiasm.

On her morning ride from the village Mrs Buxham customarily collected milk and newspapers from the delivery box at Radley Court’s gates, which made the final portion of her journey along the length of the driveway a precarious proposition.  Petra was forever anxious to reinforce her bond of love with Mrs Buxham, usually while she struggled with her heavily laden bike at the difficult final corner around the end of the stable block on her way to the kitchen.

No-one had warned Mrs Buxham of the exuberant Labrador’s return – perhaps they had failed to take account of the extra energy and joy a week of incarceration in a recovery cage might generate – the greater dimensions of Saturday’s newspapers, the extra order of milk; or the protective ‘collar’ around Petra’s neck that concealed her head within a trumpet of white plastic.  With all these factors conjoined, Petra’s surprise greeting achieved undreamed-of objectives for the dog;  reducing  Mr Buxham to an untidy heap, bringing her face down to a level at which every inch could be licked,  and generating a considerable pool of delicious white liquid that had to be consumed by drinking.

Patrick, snatching breakfast in the kitchen, heard Mrs Buxham’s startled porcine squeal, followed by a clatter of toppling ironmongery.  Given the usual severity of Mrs. ‘B’s Methodist nature, he might have expected her to be apoplectic when he rushed to her aid.  Instead, he found her convulsed in fits of laughter, pinned against the stable wall by Petra’s sixty-six pounds of boundless enthusiasm.  The dimensions of that canine neckwear, together with the wearer’s utter inability to manage it, would plague the family for some days; but the incident involving Mrs Buxham stayed with Patrick always, as demonstration of a dog’s ability to win over the fiercest adversaries, just by the application of a moist tongue.

Amanda was rarely talkative in the mornings, one of her principle objections to her education being, as she saw it, the outrageous obsession with ‘rising before eleven’.  No-one with pretensions to a position in Society, in Amanda’s estimation, should be asked to leave their bed before luncheon.

“Early rising is the province of common people, Patrick.”  She confided as she huddled in the passenger seat of Patrick’s sports car.  “A person of any consequence cannot hope to be at their best at such unearthly hours.”

“I imagine your teachers will have risen around seven,” Patrick reminded her,   “By your definition, that makes them…”

“Common people.  Unfortunately yes.”

“Is this an opinion you’ve made known to them?”

“Of course.  To be taught with integrity one must offer honesty in return.  Now kindly just drive me, Patrick.  It is really too early for conversation.”  As a signal the lines of communication were now closed, Amanda shut her eyes and tucked her little chin deeply into the collar of her jacket.

Patrick allowed himself a quiet smile.  From the shortest of conversations with his eight-years-old sister it was easy to deduce the reason for her frequent changes of school.  The score so far was five, of which this was the second in the current year; and by the look of Elverton Staithes Academy, he thought as he drew up outside its rather severe frontage, it would not be the last.

Once he had seen Amanda safely onto the school premises, Patrick drove his car down the gentle hill that formed the main street of Elverton.  Cottages and a few local shops lined the pavements to either side of the road.  He paused at a newsagent for a copy of the Beaconshire County Herald, then drove the rest of the way along the village street to the riverside and the staithes from which the school had taken its name.

The staithes, or traditional landing places for boats, were the reason for Elverton’s existence, although they were separated from the village by a flat plain of what had once been a wetland, now tamed into pasture.  At this point the River Hart had widened into an estuary, and Patrick’s view of the opposite shore from Quays Lane was still veiled by early mist, promising a warm day.  One or two precarious-looking wooden jetties projected from the river bank, although their usefulness was long past.  There were boats, certainly, moored in the river, but far from the Elverton shore, which had been reclaimed by tidal mud.  Dredging had stopped in the nineteen-twenties, so water barely reached the staithes now, even on a spring tide.  In its place was a brew rich with small creatures, a paradise for waders and coastal marauders to feed upon, and emitting a wind-borne odour made powerful by the scents of salt and reed.

Quays Lane, a neglected thoroughfare, tracked the River Hart on the final part of its journey to the sea, carving a way through that wasteland that always attends the margins of a big expanse of sluggish water.  To the left were ruins of forgotten buildings, rotting wood and blackened concrete, a testament to ill-informed dreamers who believed a café would flourish here, or there a boatyard thrive upon the working trade from the river.  To the right the fallen ships lay, beached and waiting, for their broken owners to return.  They never would of course, long dead, most of them.  Those decaying hulls, carvel, clinker-built or rusting steel, were their legacy to a river that taught them nothing was ever fair in life, that all their years of thankless labour earned them only pain and an early grave.

He would be grateful enough, Patrick, when his drive through that neglected foreshore gave way to harbour walls and the lofty profiles of nobler beasts of the sea; the trawlers of a fishing fleet that little knew its days were numbered, the coastal cargo vessels, the working boats of the estuary and (although only visiting of course), two Royal Navy destroyers, moored up at the head of the dredged channel.

Harterport was all it said:  a working port, and a busy one, too.  Yet it had another and usually gentler side.  As he joined the main thoroughfare at the end of Quays Lane Patrick would find it; a beach that began to the west side of the harbour: a beach of golden sand that ran and ran, straight and true towards a distant headland a mile and some furlongs away.  As if the world was anxious to prove it could still deign to smile if happiness was what you wanted, here the sky seemed bluer, the air more clear.  The sea that had grown from a river was azure blue, the Esplanade wide and regal.  A funfair was striking up bravely with morning music as the first most dedicated bathers began their migration towards the beach.

The seafront lacked that Victorian faux-nautical experience of a pier, making do instead with a pavilion built in the Art Deco style, its white profile honed into voluptuous curves and peppered with acres of creative glass.  Patrick parked on the Esplanade nearby and made for a coffee bar he knew on the first floor, that overlooked both Esplanade and beach.  Here, at a time of day before the first rush of holidaymakers, he could command a table with a clear view (for the mist had not spread beyond the freshwater channel), of a crystal horizon.  He still had a couple of hours to kill, so he ordered a bacon sandwich, collected a cup of black coffee and spread his newspaper out before him, thumbing through its pages more in hope than expectation.  There were several articles bearing Rebecca Shelley’s by-line, but none concerned the disappearance of Karen Eversley.  Obviously Cedric the editor had guillotined her story – or maybe the waspish little Miss Shelley had never written it?

Patrick had not quite time or distance enough between himself and events to think dispassionately, nevertheless there were questions in need of dispassionate answers.  What had really happened to Karen?  He had been first to point out the possible collusion between a member of the County Clerks’ Office and Gasser’s ‘friends’ in attempts to lure her towards those ruins.  If anything his chance discovery of Potts keeping company with the nameless ancient who had been watching him on Monument Hill reinforced this view. What was the connection that kept those two together?  Karen had believed there was a fourth person in the car the night Gasser and Potts came to blows.  Roberts, Gasser and Potts – did the cadaverous old man fill that last seat, and if so, what part had he played?   From all Karen had told him, under examination Perry Roberts had proved a weak link.  Perry was now ‘on holiday’.  Everybody was entitled to a holiday were they not?  But then again, what if Perry was being kept out of reach?

Around Patrick’s inner world of thought, the coffee bar was becoming busy, intruding upon his peace with the rattle of cups, the clatter of chairs, the melodies of conversation.  Someone had turned on a musak tape.  Below the crittall windows the beach was becoming crowded, briefly-clad figures pitching their windbreaks and dancing coyly in the shallows.  Comfortable to have his thoughts disturbed so, Patrick ordered a second coffee and settled himself to enjoy the scene.

Then came the roar.

It was quiet at first, distant at first, but all the world heard it and all the world paused.  On the beach the dancing stopped, in the coffee bar the clatter and conversation was suddenly hushed, as though some dark cloud had overwhelmed it – as, in a way, it had.  In moments the roar had reached crescendo, drowning the Esplanade with its despotic sound.  Fascinated, Patrick watched as the Esplanade below his window became host to a swarm, an infestation of motorcycles great and small, Velocettes and Vincents, Nortons and Matchlesses, Ariels and Triumphs.

Their riders, clad in black leather but bare-headed, for the most part, were by no means all in the first bloom of youth.     Young or old, they milled around the full width of the Esplanade, dispelling normal weekend traffic as they hectored a stream of would-be bathers from the sands and whistled the girls who scurried past them, seeking refuge in their cars or hotels.    At first Patrick feared for his Daimler, parked within his vision close by, but he need not have feared.  These riders, for all they were ‘Rockers’ for a day were motorcycle men.  They respected, even admired a powerful machine, four wheels or two.  A few of them might pause to inspect it, now and then, but no-one seemed moved to do it harm.

“Bloody young thugs, the lot of ‘em!”  A little line of spectators was gathering at the windows of the coffee bar,  bystanders of a sort: scared but protected, as they imagined, by the glass.  “Worst thing they ever did, scrapping National Service.”

“Aye, that’d knock ‘em into shape!”

Remarks of this ilk brought murmurs of agreement from men, many of them still with World War memories fresh in their heads, from women over-brimming with horrified moral rectitude.  Patrick, distancing himself from their conversation, felt estranged.  The balance beam was so thin, and itself a separate expression of outrage.

“Oh, hey!   Look; look!   Here they come!  Here they bloody come!”

A man in florid shirt and florid flesh gestured floridly.  All followed the direction of his outstretched finger to a point much further up the Esplanade where, no larger than flies at this distance, a similar host of motor scooters and their riders could be seen to be gathering.

“Now we’re for it!”

With a little more thought the colourful man might have been puzzled.   Yes, British coastal towns were passing through a phase wherein youth particularly was identifying its new-found freedom in tribalism and yes, gatherings of motorcyclists, defining themselves as either ‘Mods’ or ‘Rockers’ would terrorize the streets, riding in gangs, but at this hour if they had coalesced at all they would be more intent upon vandalism.  They were rarely as organised as this, or so obviously intent upon confrontation.  Alcohol, the detonator, would not be available for hours yet:  the pubs and bars were closed.

Certain something unnatural was going on, Patrick felt, as he studied the throng of bikers for some clue to their unrest. Nothing seemed untoward at first, but then he saw how a vanguard of four motorcycles had been lined up at the leading edge of the bunch of riders like racers on a grid.  Although these four machines were rider-less, a cultured eye could quickly find their owners.  Unlike most of the others, these men moved randomly, away from their bikes, their heads obscured by open-face helmets and their features concealed behind scarves.  They were mingling with the other riders, speaking conspiratorially, all their body language and gestures urging action.  And action came soon enough.

As if by a given signal, the four agitators remounted their bikes and kicked them into life.  Then, in a surge forward that would not have disgraced a cavalry charge, the mass of bikers set off along the Esplanade.  Many of the customers in the coffee bar took this opportunity to disperse but some, Patrick included, remained at the windows, mesmerised as the scooter riders further up the road, though less ordered, were quick to respond.  The two gangs met, their bikes strewn across the road, and then, as if by consent, they parked their machines.  There would be no expensive jousting, the battle would take place on foot.

Battle it was; an exchange of threats lasting less than a minute before forces were engaged and mayhem began in earnest, a tangle of flailing arms and fists that mushroomed into a mob and spilled over the seawall onto the beach.  Lives were rarely endangered in such exchanges, despite the presence of flick-knives, knuckle dusters and other medieval weaponry.  Property would be damaged, windows broken, innocents intimidated, and the reputation of Harterport reduced to one in a list of resorts where visitors might risk experiencing violence.  Those were the costs.

Throughout, the helmeted and masked figures were clearly visible, urging their fellow bikers into the thick of the fighting.  One even took an advantage point atop a high part of the sea wall so as to conduct the melee more emphatically, waving his arms like a manic evangelist.

The affray would be over as quickly as it began.  The whine and whoop of police sirens announced not a victory, not a defeat or even a truce, just the need to disperse.  As they grew close, Patrick noticed how the four activists melted back into the hubbub, ready, as Patrick guessed, to make their escape.

It was time to move.  Since his mother’s suggestion that he should go for a swim was impractical now, Patrick returned to his car, intending to retrace his route along Quays Lane to Elverton and park up somewhere along the way for an hour, maybe to find a riverside walk, while he waited for Amanda to finish school.

The first part of his drive, back to the end of the Esplanade, was fraught with escaping motorcycles, which flew past his car with scant regard for safety in their efforts to evade the police.  This traffic vanished, however, once he had turned off into Quayside Lane, because most of the bikes followed the main road; out of town, as he supposed, towards the bridge that would take them over the Hart and across Harter Moor to the estuary of the River Boult and Bulmouth, where they might look forward to a similar entertainment for the afternoon.  Four-and-a-half miles further along Quayside Lane, some hundred yards beyond a dilapidated boathouse, he found a parking layby beside a footpath that led down to the river.    Here he was able to walk for a peaceful, uninterrupted couple of miles beside the estuary, watching the seabirds and alone with his thoughts until it was time to collect Amanda.

What happened next could only have been down to chance.  Sitting in his car to while away some final minutes Patrick’s eye was drawn to a motorcycle approaching from the direction of Harterport.  Imagining this bike and rider to have been involved with the ‘Mods and Rockers’ confrontation he watched it closely as it approached, only to see it turn off the road and through one of double doors into the broken-down boathouse, but not before he had seen that its rider wore an open-face helmet and a dark scarf across his mouth and nose.  All attention now, Patrick sat up smartly.  Someone had opened the door from inside the building to admit the bike: that same someone was now pulling open the companion door.  The sound of car doors slamming was distinctly audible, followed immediately by the appearance of the doorman, who jumped aside as a line of three large black cars emerged, and rushed to close the doors behind them.  The cars waited for him as he strove to secure the lock, then he climbed into the rear seat of one.  All three drove away.

Patrick was so preoccupied with finding his camera in the glove compartment he barely realised until the last seconds that the cars were coming his way.  He was low down, leaning across to the glove box as he realised, and therefore just straightening up as the second car passed.  Staring through its passenger window he met the coal-black eyes of a long-haired man with sharp features and a wide, sadistic mouth.  There was a cut on the man’s left cheek, with blood running from it.  It was an exchange of glances that lasted no more than two seconds, and Patrick had never plainly seen that face before, but instinctively he knew to whom it belonged.  In darkness he had been just that close to it once, beneath a bridge beside another river.  It was the face of Karen’s nightmare stalker – the dark man.

“How was school?”  Patrick asked as Amanda took her place beside him.

“Actually quite satisfactory.  We had a productive discussion concerning  conventions of dress.”

“Do you feel like a bit of an adventure?”

“Rather!”  Amanda’s green eyes shone.

It was not much of an adventure, really.  Patrick had to make sure the old boathouse was deserted, because he did not intend to expose his sister to danger.  And then, to avoid drawing attention from occasional traffic using Quays Lane he led Amanda around to the back of the building, where he bade her keep watch.  The only window was too fogged by grime to see through, and its glass wired for security, but in such poor repair it could not withstand a determined blow from a rotting fencepost that lay nearby.

Patrick had no need to climb inside, all that was required was time to allow his eyes to become accustomed to the gloom.   Inside the boathouse he could pick out plainly all four of the motorcycles which he was fairly sure had led the unrest in Harterport.  There were also two cars: one was a decaying blue Riley Pathfinder, caked with dust.  The other car was Karen’s.

 

© 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